I find her at my cliff at the end of the world.
Inside the arena, everything is the same as it was. The scrubby grassland, the back of the hedge, the sharp drop-off before the forcefield comes down and separates the arena from the rest of the world. Maysilee and I are the same -- sixteen years old, our clothes tattered and worn from our time in the arena. Her hair is sawn off roughly, which she did to free herself of the matting that happened almost immediately. The following year, people would try to imitate the cut. I'm covered with little cuts and bruises, and I'm hungry. I've been hungrier. I'd gone longer without eating at home than I ever did in the arena.
I see her there on the cliff, the place she turned away from me in life, and I go up to join her. Beyond the forcefield, I can see several districts, and the Capitol. People are working busily in all of them. Though it ought to be impossible to recognize anyone from this distance, I clearly see Effie working her connections. Danny is drawing on the paper that will go under a cake (not only can I see that he's drawing, I can tell from here that he's making one of the pictures the street artist was making of Katniss and Peeta). Drake is hiking around in the mountains in District Two. Plutarch is strutting around the Gamemakers headquarters. I even see myself in Victors' Village, drinking heavily and staring at Mimi's statue, which is alive and dancing around.
"It's nice up here," Maysilee says without turning to look at me. "You can see a long way. I should have come with you."
"I shouldn't have let you walk away."
"I didn't ask your permission." She turns and smiles, and her long, golden hair grows back. She looks at it and raises an eyebrow at me. "Really, Haymitch? Aren't you a little old to be worrying about my looks?"
"We're the same age. Especially here."
"Have you brought me with you, all the way to the dizzying heights of being forty?"
"I brought them all with me. Not much of a view from up here."
Maysilee sits down on a rock that's conveniently appeared (it was further up the cliff face in the arena). "I think I'd like to be forty."
"I know I'd like it if you were forty. I mean, I wouldn't know you, but it would have been a good trade. You'd be better at being forty."
"So make me forty. Would I still look like Kay?" For a moment, her image flickers, and she becomes her twin, Kay Undersee, bent under the pain of her old injury and the addiction to the painkillers she uses for it. Then she's Maysilee again. She sighs. "It wouldn't have to be like that. You don't have to be like you are, either. You can be who you were supposed to be. You be forty like you should be. Show me."
I try, but I can't change my shape. "Sorry. I'm not good at it."
"Show me," she says again.
I think about what I am now, and suddenly, I'm here, dressed in my fine, filthy clothes, my hair a matted mess, stains from spilled booze all over me. From the feel of my face, I haven't shaved in a couple of weeks.
She sighs and touches my shoulder, and the years melt away. I am back to sixteen, like I always have been here.
"Abernathism," she says. "A belief system predicated on the idea that the proper response to everything is that it's impossible, and all the world deserves is a big eye-roll."
I smile. "As opposed to Donnerism, which is based on the idea that guys who tie their shoes together with packing string can change the world by snapping their fingers."
"You don't tie your shoes together with packing string anymore, Haymitch. You're not sixteen, you're not poor, and you're not powerless."
"Well, not sixteen and poor, anyway."
"You were never powerless." She takes my hands in hers. "And you have changed the world."
"The Games are still going on. Snow is still in power."
"There's more to the world than the Games." She thinks about it. "But it's the Games you know, isn't it?"
"It's all I know."
She smiles. "No, it's not. But that's not what you're trying to tell yourself, is it? What are you telling yourself, Haymitch?" She becomes Mom now, her bony fingers twined through mine. I realize with a bit of a start that I'm only two years younger than she was when she died, but she still looks ancient to me. "What is all of this?" she asks. "What did you bring Maysilee here for? And the others? What are you reaching for?"
"I don't know. Nothing that'll work."
"You brought them because you've loved them. Every year, you've loved them because there's no one else here to love them."
"For all the good it did."
Her shape changes again, and she's Effie. Ronka Blaney comes up and steals a wig from her (there's another underneath it), and Butterfly Skaggs is nearby, glowering at a set of forks. Effie smiles and puts a warm hand on my face. She's fully herself, and I kiss her palm. She straightens a curl. "Of course it did good. What's more powerful than that?"
"Most of them could have done with less love and more weapons."
"But they're not the only ones you love." She nods down the cliff, and I see a group of my sponsors having a picnic. "Lonely people, like you and me. All of them. They need someone to love. Just like you do."
She changes again. Now, she's Katniss, though she's dressed in Maysilee's uniform, right down to the mockingjay that they should have let Maysilee wear. She is looking at me solemnly, this girl who has somehow brought it full circle, back to the end and the beginning. She is carrying one of her father's bows, the kind Digger was trying to trade for when she died. She's as fragile as Mom, and as lonely as Effie or Mimi. I see all of them in her.
But I mostly see me, before I managed to throw away everything I had. I try to tell myself that it's just ego, and that even if it's not, that's hardly a good thing. But I look into those solemn gray eyes and for the first time in more years than I remember, I feel like there's a real, tangible future.
"You're coming home," I tell her.
She lets go of my hand and stands up, then goes to the cliff edge. She doesn't have any words of wisdom for me. Of course she doesn't. She's not in Maysilee's uniform, she's in mine. I don't know what I'm trying to tell myself, so of course Katniss won't. How could she?
She turns her head and looks over her shoulder. "So, what are we going to do?"
"But after that. What comes after that?"
"What do you expect -- a happily ever after? Look at me. No such thing."
"Yeah, I guess." She bites her lip. "Only, what if that's what everyone wants?"
Beside me, Maysilee laughs. The two of them look at each other, the mockingjay pin duplicated and reflected in the sun, bursts of light arcing in the air around me. "Abernathism," she says, rolling her eyes. "You need a new philosophy, Haymitch… and you need it now."
"How do you know? You've never tried."
The dream begins to break up after this. I wander the arena, changing ages sometimes. I see Drake, and all of my tributes. The Cornucopia fountain is gone, and Mimi's is in its place, though she doesn't appear. I have the impression that the fountain is her grave, and I keep trying to put flowers on it, but they crumble to dust before they reach her.
Lonely people, like you and me. All of them. They need someone to love. Just like you do.
I open my eyes in the dark of the mentors' lounge. There's snoring going on now, and nothing else that I can hear. A clock tells me that it's four-twelve in the morning. I've slept for a little over five hours.
They need someone to love.
The idea that comes to me is hardly even in my head. It seems to be residing in my solar plexus, trying to work its way out.
Peeta wants to sacrifice himself for love of Katniss. Katniss sacrificed herself out of love for her sister. And there's… whatever it is between them that made her voice go small and soft when she said she'd been helped.
I love them both, even on only a few days of really knowing them. I believe in them both.
And I want them both back.
What if the others, who need someone to love so much, want them both back as well?
I know what I need to do, but it's a huge risk. If Snow suspects what it could really mean, he'll likely order both of them killed by mutts.
I lie in bed, staring up at the ceiling of the dark lounge. There's soft emergency lighting, and it casts shadows on the decorative moldings.
You're not sixteen, you're not poor, and you're not powerless.
I need to pay a visit to Aquila Grant, and the other ladies from the Daughters. I think Finnick can help, if he's willing. I actually think he can help a lot. Maybe Seeder. Chaff and Johanna are friends, but for this, I don't think they'd be helpful.
And Caesar, of course. Caesar Flickerman will be the linchpin. That's the weak spot, too -- Caesar's a good and decent man in his way, but he's not as easy to fool as people think. He'll know what I'm doing as soon as I ask, and he could derail me in a second. I doubt he'd turn me in for sedition, but will he go along? I'm just not sure.
I am lying there, trembling with the audacity of the idea that's growing in my head, when I hear the rapid footsteps of one of the Capitol Dreams runners. I sit up and throw aside the curtain.
The girl runs up, panting, and barely catches her balance when she totters on one training heel. "Fire," she says. "In the arena. Miss Trinket sent me for you."
I don't bother with my schemes or my shoes. I run out to the Viewing Center.
Katniss is up on the main screen, so they must have cut into early morning programming to show this development.
I was sure they'd leave her alone until daytime coverage started.
That means the fire isn't the main event.
I look up at the map. The line of fire is pushing Katniss away from the forcefield. It curves around at the southern boundary, nudging her back up the hill. It's also caught Finch, who has been hovering not far from the Career base camp, using Onnisey's instructions to get past the landmines and steal food. While Katniss runs almost directly north, Finch veers off and goes toward the lake and the high grasses. This will eventually lead her to Thresh, but Katniss is in more immediate danger.
The Careers know the Games, and know the tricks. They know the fire is flushing someone out, and Cato leads them all into the woods just ahead of it, leaving Onnisey to guard alone (with a renewal of threats to his personal safety if he's not there when they get back). If it were a natural fire, this would be foolish, but the straight line of the flames is more than enough to reveal it as a fake. Cato just keeps them ahead of it. Peeta must realize who the Gamemakers are flushing, because he's frantically trying to convince them to go back and wait for people to run from the shelter of the trees. He's ignored.
Katniss herself is running wildly, staying barely ahead of the flames. She's pulled her shirt up over her nose and mouth as a rudimentary air filter, but she can't get low enough to stay under the smoke. By the time she's been running for five minutes, she's in clear distress. A clumsy leap over a burning log has set her jacket on fire. She's smart enough to save what she can, but it won't hold in much heat. She finally dodges under a rock outcropping and vomits, falling to her hands and knees. She stays there for a minute, trying to catch her breath in the hot and smoky hell of the arena.
Then something hisses, and the fireballs start to explode out at her.
I don't know what the Gamemakers even think they're imitating. Growing up around the mines, we saw a lot of simulated explosions. None of them spit out flying balls of flame. These things look more like something spit out of a volcano.
There's nothing else she can do, and nothing at all that I can do. This is the kind of attack that no mentor can adjust for. All I can do is sit here and watch to see if she makes it through.
Finally, the attack seems to slow down enough for her to take a few shaky breaths, then vomit again. Her braid tumbles down by her face, and she puts her hand on the end of it. A few hairs crumble to ash (an inset shows a distraught little Capitol girl stroking her dolly's long braid).
Then the last fireball comes.
She's relaxed too much to move in time, and it skids across her lower leg, setting her clothes on fire. At this, atavistic horror finally seems to set in. She scrambles backward, crabwise, her hands on the ground, going over hot coals. She shrieks.
Luckily, the Careers are too disoriented by the smoke to be able to track her, though Peeta clearly recognizes her voice. He points in a random direction and insists the sound is coming from there.
Claudius's jovial laugh comes over the scene, and the studio returns to view. "Well, well," he says. "I guess Katniss Everdeen really was on fire this morning." He recaps the fire attack, showing how close all of the tributes now are, then says, "We'll be back live at ten, and don't forget mandatory viewing tonight!"
Katniss has actually stumbled nearly on top of Rue's hiding spot, and she's weak and injured, but I guess even the Gamemakers don't have visions of Rue taking advantage of that.
Programming returns to a show about the best ways for Capitol families to get around their income-based credit limits when borrowing for this fall's home fashions.
Luckily, she's pretty much walking into one of the shallow ponds in this part of the forest, so I won't have to divert anything to getting her rehydrated.
Katniss lurches forward a little bit, seems to realize that her feet are wet, and begins to take care of her hands.
"Come on, sweetheart," I whisper. "Check the leg. I need to see it."
It takes her a long time, and I'm guessing she's imagining the kinds of burns we see in Twelve all the time after mining accidents. It could be. I don't know. Neither her nano-cam nor the ones hidden in the foliage are getting a good look.
She finally sits up and gingerly moves her leg. I'm instantly relieved. It's red and ugly, but it's not charred. The tissue and nerves are most likely still alive. Which means she's in considerable pain, but it will heal, if I can get her help.
I turn to Effie. "I need you to go to Portia," I tell her. "Find out if that ointment she used is good on a burn, or if there's another kind we need to ask for."
"You don't think Cinna's beautiful costume drew that on her, do you?"
I nod grimly. It was certainly unintended. I probably should have thought of it. After all, Cinna doesn't know Snow. I do. I should have realized.
I turn to the list, then check today's prices. Even as I'm looking, the price of the ointment doubles. It will take almost everything I have. Whatever plans I have for anything beyond getting her through this are going to have to wait.
And waiting is all there is to do.
Peeta leads the Careers down the hill, until they finally stumble on the stream, where Peeta's luck holds up. This section of the arena has slate cliffs, which bounce sound around -- which he demonstrates by shouting -- and they accept that it has somehow made the shrieks they heard echo to a point of being impossible to locate. I'm no physicist, but I gather from the expression on Beetee's face that Peeta has just fed them a line that they never would have bought if they'd brought Onnisey along.
They decide to stop and have breakfast from their rations, then Cato goads Marvel into a sparring match, mostly to get themselves on the broadcast. He refers to it as a "demonstration." Peeta wisely refrains, choosing to tend their cook fire instead. Marvel is hesitant about the fight, jabbing feebly until Cato knocks his spear away and closes in, pressing the flat of the sword against his chest.
"You're worse than loverboy," he says. "At least he can do it."
"I can do it."
"Yeah? Prove it."
"On who? We're still allies."
"Come on, you know most of them are in this part of the woods. That oaf from Eleven is keeping them out of the grass. I saw you set traps. Set one. Catch someone."
Marvel snorts. "Right, that would look good on television. Catch them in traps and spear them when they can't move."
"Odair did it. Went through half the field that way. People loved it."
I glance over at Finnick. He doesn't talk much about his Games. He is carefully not responding now, though he's close enough that I can see how white his knuckles are around the pen he's holding.
Marvel and Cato bloody each other up a little bit, then Clove challenges Marvel. Glimmer and Char roughhouse on the rocks. By the time they finish, they all look a little banged up.
After this bizarre playtime, the Careers continue to hunt in an area of the woods where no one is hiding. Rue has climbed a tree across the pond from Katniss, and is watching her warily, ready to run if she needs to. I doubt Katniss has the slightest idea that she's there. She's dozing in and out, her body dealing with shock.
Onnisey turns his back elaborately, and lets Finch steal more food. She takes only enough to eat for the day, and carefully places things so the Careers won't notice.
Thresh gets into a little tangle with a mutt. It looks like a really large weasel. He ends up eating it for breakfast.
Cinna and Portia meet me for lunch at the little restaurant in the Viewing Center. Portia says that the ointment in the supply book will work for burns.
"But you have to let them cool down first," she says. "I burned myself a lot while I was working on that plasma for the costumes. I used the ointment four hours after I got burned once, and it was still too hot. It just sealed the burn in and got infected and blistery. The doctor told me I should wait about twelve hours."
"I hope she doesn't have to run too far in the next twelve hours," I say.
"I hope not, too," Cinna says. "I never even thought of… what's she done to them that they'd need to mock her like that?"
"She upstaged Snow," I say. "But it's not your fault."
"So whose fault is it? I'm the one who made up that stupid girl on fire bit."
"You got her enough sponsors that I can send her medicine," I tell him. "If you want to be mad, be mad at the Gamemakers, not yourself."
He looks at me, and I'm pretty sure there's at least one Gamemaker that we're both mad at. I don't dare yell at Plutarch right now, but he's high up in the Games hierarchy. He'd never consider worrying about Katniss's comfort levels, but I would never have thought he'd let them mock something that's a viable rebel symbol.
During the afternoon, the Careers seem to realize that they're on a wild goose chase -- probably because the Gamemakers send a flock of mutt hummingbirds to drive them back in the other direction -- and turn back toward the part of the woods where Katniss and Rue are hiding. They're miles away, though, and it's almost time for mandatory viewing when they get back to where they started. The arena barely shows the fire marks, because that would be boring. There's still smoke hanging in the air, but plants have come back up from the underground nurseries, and it takes them a moment to realize that they've gotten here. They look around and blink, red-eyed, at their surroundings.
"Whoever it was, we must have been on top of them," Clove complains, throwing a knife into a tree in frustration.
"If they were in the middle of that, they're hurt." Cato looks at Peeta. "Hey, loverboy, See any sign of your girl?"
Peeta shakes his head, and this time, I doubt he's covering for her. Any tracks that Katniss may have left are gone, and she hasn't exactly been setting snares. Of course, she was hurt and took the path of least resistance to end up where she is, which isn't far, so there's not much chance of them not finding her.
I will her to be ready to move. She's been soaking her leg all day, but at least looks like she might be contemplating a relocation now. She's packed her things.
Mandatory viewing begins. They recap the fire again, then cut to the Careers, because Char announces that she can smell water.
Annie gives me an apologetic look.
The Careers begin to trample down the woods on the way to the pond where Katniss is.
She hears them at least a minute away. She doesn't bother trying to hide her own sounds -- she runs across the shallow pond, splashing all the way until she reaches the base of a tree. The Careers have split up, spreading out to chase down their prey. They call to each other, their voices smoke-raspy.
"There!" Glimmer yells.
Katniss grabs hold of the tree trunk with her burned hands and starts to climb. She's quite a ways up when they reach the tree. The limbs will block projectiles, but as far as I can see that's the only protection.
They all look at each other. Peeta looks away quickly, glancing at the bow, but I doubt Katniss sees his signal.
She forces a smile, like she did when she first saw Peeta with them, and calls down, "How's everything with you?"
I can hear the tightness in her voice, and I'm sure the Capitol will, too, but I don't need to wait for commentary to know they'll chalk it up to the burn pain. They'll eat up the insouciance as she banters with Cato, too.
I'm relaxing a little bit. Maybe Peeta even can talk them into taking her, then they can steal the bow and run away.
Then she invites Cato to climb up after her.
I stand up. "What the--"
But it becomes obvious very quickly. When it comes right down to it, Katniss may have a lot of inner strength, but outwardly, she's a wisp of a District Twelve girl. She climbs so far up the tree that the limbs will never hold Cato's weight. A branch breaks, and he's thrown to the ground. It just knocks the wind out of him, but Brutus still gives me a dirty look.
Glimmer tries to climb the tree and fire at Katniss between the branches. Katniss looks down at her with the unfeigned disgust of a seasoned professional watching a rank amateur. She actually mockingly grabs one of the arrows and waves it down.
Glimmer also loses her footing and falls down. Since she's the smallest of the Careers, the others don't try.
They grumble for a while about setting a real fire to get her down. Cato, Clove, and Glimmer all think it can be done, but Char and Marvel are worried about it spreading too fast to get away from. Peeta is staring up at Katniss and not participating. I can't figure out what's going on in his head. She's certainly blown any chance of getting close enough to them to get to the bow.
He finally raises his voice above the fray. "Oh, let her stay up there," he says, doing his best to sound impatient and bored with the whole business. "It's not like she's going anywhere. We'll deal with her in the morning."
She has at least found a solid fork in the tree. I'll be able to drop a parachute with the ointment to her as soon as she's ready to rest. As she tries to settle in for the night, which can't be easy with so many burns, I feel a light tap on my shoulder. I look up to find Seeder, who's carrying a mobile screen. She points at a tree, and I realize that Rue is still nearby, watching very carefully.
"What's she going to do?" I ask.
"No idea, but I thought you'd want to know she was there." She taps the screen again, and I see something circular hanging from the tree. A wasp nest. Or, more likely, tracker jackers. We had one in our pine tree once when I was little. Dad had to smoke the bugs to sleep, then poison them with something he got at the apothecary. He made Mom and Lacklen and me go into town while he did it. The smoke's done, but I can't imagine what Katniss is going to use for a fumigating poison.
She shrugs casually and turns around, flashing the back of her handheld at me. On it, she's stuck a note: "Get boy out."
She goes back to the District Eleven table. I look at the nest, hanging from a branch. Hanging right above the spot where Peeta's allies are waiting impatiently to kill Katniss.
I would suddenly love to take Seeder's advice, but I can't think of a single thing that will prod Peeta away from that tree.
Katniss's eyelids are drooping when she seems to come awake abruptly. She looks across at Rue.
"Ah-ha!" Claudius says. "It seems our fiery girl may have an ally after all!" He cuts to a shot of Rue in her fairy princess dress, and places it next to Katniss in her finery. I guess it's more subtle than the fire joke, but not much: Look, she's found a silly little girl to idolize her.
But whatever Rue is, silly doesn't fit. She points to the nest and makes a sawing motion.
Katniss gets it immediately, but wisely waits until the anthem plays at the end of mandatory viewing, which covers up the sound of the branch. Unfortunately, it's not long enough. She's most of the way through, but the rest will have to wait. Even Cato isn't dumb enough to just sit there and wait for her to finish dropping wasps on them.
I take the opportunity to order the ointment from the book, and while she's sawing, the parachute descends gently into the fork of the tree. It's depleted my reserves to what I usually have, which isn't enough to buy anything else for a while, unless I get a lot more sponsors. But if she's going to get away, it's necessary.
When she crawls back, she finds it and opens it. As soon as her finger touches it, I can tell it's going to work. She holds it up to the camera, then says, "Oh, Haymitch. Thank you."
I'm not sure how to respond to that. None of them has ever said that, at least not so sincerely. I've never been able to send them anything so extravagant, of course, but it's a necessary extravagance, and she… well, I have the money for her.
I think of my dream, of her looking at me and saying, So, what are we going to do?
"Stay alive," I tell her.
She seems determined to obey that order, and proceeds to put the ointment on her wounds, then goes to sleep.
Peeta doesn't. He stays awake at the base of the tree, even when it's someone else's turn to guard. They don't let him guard alone, but when Marvel is on guard with him, he talks in a low, soft, even tone until the other boy falls asleep.
"Katniss!" Peeta whispers. "Katniss, come down. Please. You can."
But she's long asleep, as her flesh knits itself back together. When Marvel wakes up, he's in an ecstasy of terror about what Cato will do to him, but Peeta promises not to tell.
I don't go back to the mentors' lounge, but Effie makes me put my head down on the table "for just a few minutes," and she doesn't wake me until dawn, when Katniss wakes up and signals to Rue to get away. She heads for the nest. A golden tracker jacker is crawling on the outside.
She begins to saw.