FernWithy (fernwithy) wrote,

The Last Tribute: Chapter Sixteen

Sorry about the amount of time passing! Writing the canon-heavy chapters is the hardest.

Chapter Sixteen
It's occurred to me more than once over the years that the vast majority of the Hunger Games every year is waiting and watching. It's as true in the arena as it is in the Viewing Center. Tonight, the mandatory viewing broadcast will distill all of this into some kind of exciting narrative, whether Katniss and Rue's plan works or not. Live, I watch Katniss walking through the woods for an hour. That will be entirely condensed to a brief shot of her moving through the trees, probably with someone talking over it. If every moment of the Games became mandatory viewing, the audience would be too bored to let them continue.

That will never happen. The screen that shows the main Capitol broadcast is, at the moment, showing a sketch comedy show. It's officially "Games programming," but as far as I can tell, the only nod to the Games is that Jo Mason is their guest star. I think it aired live last night. At the moment, Jo is playing a flighty Capitol designer who's trying to make elbows the new sexy reveal. She's having fun. I'm pretty sure she's also having one of the regular cast members, but I try very hard not to keep up with that. Jo is not Finnick. She has no one for Snow to hold over her head, and she likes to flaunt that by dating -- in a loose sense of the word -- anyone she happens to feel like that week.

Katniss walks through the woods a little more. She reaches the stream, and eventually gets to the spot where she took her bath yesterday, and decides to slap more mud onto her bright orange backpack. It's a noble effort, but I don't think even Peeta could make that color disappear. She goes downhill along the stream for a while, then spots the leaves Rue used to treat her stings, and realizes that she's on the right path. She actually comes across the broken open tracker jacker nest and pauses there for a while. I guess she could be castigating herself over Glimmer and Char, but I don't feel like she is. Finally, she tightens her grip on the bow and moves on to the little copse that Rue has used to spy on the Career camp from time to time. She settles in for more waiting.

Peeta, meanwhile, is more active than he's been for a couple of days. He manages to take a handful of leaves, soak them in water, and have a long drink before falling asleep again.

I look over at Seeder's screen. Rue has finished setting up the third decoy fire, and is making her way back to the first one to start lighting them. It occurs to me that I probably could have made their lives easier by sending them watches to synchronize, but I guess they're doing all right. The little bit of money I could have spent on them can maybe go toward medicine for Peeta.

I can see Chaff's screen pretty easily. Thresh doesn't seem bothered by the Games. He's secured a territory, and done some damage to other tributes who try to invade it, but for the most part, he's having a nice camping trip. He knows plants well and he sets very good traps. He's just waiting at his little shelter, eating, occasionally getting up and exercising, and, apparently, thinking. I want to send him a book to pass the time.

I can't see Finch, from Five, at the moment, but she's also staying out of the fights. Unfortunately, she seems to be overcautious about the plants in the arena. She seems to know what to steer clear of (there are bushes heavily laden with nightlock berries, which she avoids like the plague), but she also avoids anything she doesn't know on sight, or that she hasn't seen someone else eating. She's still dependent on stealing from the Career camp, which has been made more difficult as they've recovered from their stings. She even managed to steal from Thresh once. But she only takes tiny amounts that won't be missed, and she's getting thinner by the day.

In the Career camp, which Katniss is watching from the copse, the boys and Clove are discussing their plans. They're still uncomfortable from their stings, since the Capitol medicine treated the effects of the primary toxin, but not the giant swellings. They'd have done better with Rue's leaves. I can only see them through Katniss's camera, so it's hard to tell what, exactly, they're talking about… though I've been at this long enough that I think it's reasonable to guess that revenge is on their minds.

Katniss stares at their pile of food. Since Peeta left and the mines were installed, they've made a rough circle of less valuable items, to mark the boundary of the minefield. At Onnisey's insistence, they've also made a kind of shelter over the whole thing with a large piece of heavy netting. (His reasoning, which I consider highly sound, is that it's not going to be helpful if the Gamemakers send a hailstorm and set off the mines that way.) Katniss is trying to figure it out -- luckily, she's smart enough to realize it's a trap.

Rue lights the first decoy fire.

It takes the Careers less than five minutes to notice the smoke.

I can tell on Katniss's screen that the Careers are fighting about something, but it's not until the Gamemakers notice and put it on the main screen that I can tell for sure. Apparently, Cato is insisting that Onnisey come along on the hunt, since they're short three people after the tracker jacker attack and Peeta's defection. He still seems to think that Peeta is going to die any minute, despite not having checked on his condition.

They leave.

Katniss continues to behave intelligently, waiting until they're definitely gone, staring at the pyramid and trying to figure it out. She might or might not get to it on her own, but she has an extraordinary stroke of luck: She's not the only one watching the Career camp.

Finch comes out of the shadows before Katniss moves and approaches the pyramid carefully. She keeps her eyes to the ground and moves gracefully around the outer mines, just as Onnisey showed her. She almost falls once and gives a little shriek.

Katniss frowns and lowers her bow, continuing to watch as Finch collects up a few supplies here and there, filling her bag without making it noticeable. She looks around, then leaves.

The main coverage switches to the camera on Katniss, so I'm seeing her double when she whispers, "It's mined."

I don't know if she played it to the camera deliberately or not. I'm inclined to think not -- she was alone long enough that she's comfortable talking to herself -- but it's a good camera moment anyway, making her seem clever and perceptive. The clip of her whisper will play tonight, I'm quite sure, as they build up to telling whatever story is building.

She slowly comes out of hiding as Rue sets the second fire, though I doubt she notices this. She passes the plates where the tributes came up from the tunnels. They look innocuous now. She can see perfectly well where the dirt was disturbed when the mines were dug up.

She bites her lip and stares at the pile.

Her eyes narrow.

I can't tell what she's looking at. My inclination would be to find a way to knock over something on top and destabilize the whole thing, but I can't see how she'll do it with only a bow.

She pulls three arrows from her quiver and nocks one of them. It's the first time I'll really see her make a shot. I missed both of her early hunting kills.

She takes aim at a bag of apples and fires.

My first thought is, she missed, but I hear Gloss gasp and look up. He never got a chance to use a bow and arrows in his Games, but it's a talent he's developed for the cameras since, and he's watching Katniss with frank admiration.

The main screen gives a close-up of the bag, which now has a neat tear near the bottom.

The second arrow opens another tear, creating a flap of fabric. An apple pokes out tantalizingly.

"She'll never make that," Gloss says, loud enough for me to hear, but I don't think with any intention of it being shared.

Katniss lets the third arrow fly. It catches the flap of fabric and tears it away from the bag in a steady strip.

The bottom of the bag falls out, and apples come cascading down.

The explosion takes out the close-up camera, and the Gamemakers switch to an aerial view. The fire blooms out from the supply pile like one of Snow's roses, brilliant orange and red, with black leaves of smoke billowing out around it. Katniss, a tiny speck on the screen, is thrown backward like a bit of debris.

Even in the Viewing Center, the sound is almost unbearably loud.

In the woods, Rue stops about halfway to the third fire and climbs a tree to see what's happened.

The Careers know immediately.

"Sounds like we had a thief," Clove says.

Onnisey shakes his head. "That's not just one mine."

"What are you talking about?" Cato demands. "How many? How many?" He grabs Onnisey by the lapels and shakes him. "How many mines was that?"

"I don't know! I couldn't hear all of them once they started. It could be all of them, for all I know."

"You better hope it's not."

Cato starts pushing back through the woods.

"We should find the partner," Clove says to the others.

"Not now," Marvel says. "Later."

"She could get away."

"I have half the woods booby-trapped out here, with those rattle-traps from the old cans."

Clove thinks about it, then nods. I guess Marvel must have done that while I was sleeping.

The three of them bolt off after Cato.

I look back at my screen.

Katniss gets to her feet, but there's obviously something very wrong. I can't tell at first, because of the way the shadows are falling, but then she puts her hand to her ear. It comes away bloody. The commentators speculate that she's blown out her eardrums.

She sways back and forth, staring at the blood on her hand, then pulls her hood up and starts to crawl away. She barely makes it back to the cover of Rue's copse when the Careers get back, and Cato loses his mind. I'm not sure how right in the head he was before, but when he sees the utter ruin of their supply stash, he starts screaming to the heavens, tearing at his hair and pounding the ground with his fists.

He calms down enough to order them to check the remaining supplies. Onnisey throws rocks at the ground until it's clear that every one of the mines has gone up, then they start digging through the wreckage.

Then Cato kills Onnisey.

There's no warning, no change in his attitude before or after. He's ranting and raving, then he turns and snaps Onnisey's neck, then he goes back to raving. After a while, the others convince Cato to go to the far side of the lake, so the hovercraft can come.

Katniss tries to move again, but she sways and slumps to the ground.

I realize that we've reached the final eight, and both of the kids are still in there… though I'm not sure either will make it long enough for reporters to reach District Twelve.

The phone starts to ring.

In the next ten minutes, Effie fills up my entire afternoon with sponsor meetings. I'd rather be keeping an eye on Katniss and Peeta, but rationally, I can't do them any good in the Viewing Center. Peeta needs a medicine that's expensive even by Capitol standards and Katniss needs surgery on her eardrum. She's not going to get surgery in the arena, and there's nothing to do for her but watch and wait. If she gets through the night, she'll be down a sense, and she might not be able to feed herself as well.

That means sponsors.

So I go to meetings.

The fight about whether or not two tributes from a district should be able to survive is in full swing, and Finnick is working the angle for me with everything he's got. I see him on large screens talking about the great romance. He's got Jo working as a foil -- not arguing against the notion of dual winners, but making fun of it as a romantic angle, getting the people on board who think the romance is silly. I hadn't thought about that.

I meet with old women and their cats. I meet with gamblers. I meet with a deeply creepy old man who tells me that I used to be beautiful, and wants to know if all District Twelve men let themselves go so badly (I think of Peeta and opt not to take his money). I meet with a doll-maker who is creating a camouflage-it-yourself Peeta toy, and a Katniss doll with fully braidable hair.

Effie sets up dinner with the owner of an art gallery, and sends a messenger to me with Peeta's sketchbook. I take out a few innocuous drawings (they do not need to see the confused, cold drawings of his mother, or his impressions of the fear he felt during training) and show them to her. She seems to forget that it's a sponsorship meeting and the artist is dying in the arena. She buys one for her personal collection. The money goes toward medicine.

I have a very brief breather after dinner, and I look through the drawings. He must have been up nights doing them. He's lovingly drawn his brothers and his father. He drew me a few more times. The last sketch is of Katniss on the roof. She looks confused.

I don't know enough about art to say whether or not they're as good as I think they are. They could be sentimental tripe, for all I know -- there are plenty of poems that other people like that make my head spin. But I like them. I put the sketchbook in my briefcase and move on to my next meeting, which is with a filmmaker who says that if I get Katniss through, it will be a huge story, do I hear him, huge. A monster. He tosses the names of a few actresses at me and seems vaguely stunned that I don't know them. Apparently, they've already been calling him about the part.

Mandatory viewing has already started during my last two meetings (a city councilwoman and, of all things, a former Peacekeeper who has an unlikely amount of money that he all but shoves down my throat), and I have to have my handheld on. They have to be watching as well, and that makes it hard to concentrate. The meetings for the day dry up.

By the time I get back to the Viewing Center, Katniss is up and moving around a little better, though the way she's swatting at her left ear, I guess she's still at least partly deaf. She's wearing her night vision goggles, and she's washed her face to get rid of the blood. It occurs to me that she's spent more time washing in a few days than most of my tributes have in the whole course of the Games. Maysilee and I took advantage of daily rain showers, but neither of us was exactly a stickler about the hygiene. We were both pretty ripe a long time before the end. Maybe living with a healer has brought this about. Or maybe it was Glen. I never knew him as well as I knew Danny or Ruth, but I'm pretty sure I once heard him rant about coal dust getting into everything and making it look dirty.

However she came by it, it's serving her well. She's getting wild-eyed, but the cameras still love her. She digs herself a hole, covers herself with leaves and pine needles, and goes to sleep. They do a cross cut to Peeta, who looks remarkably similar. He's muttering "Katniss" in his sleep, but there's no one nearby to hear.

The Careers have gone back into the woods to hunt. They've set up a temporary camp in the woods not far from where Rue is hiding. She can't make it to the last fire, because they've set up trip wires that she can't see in the dark, and she's inside their circle.

"At least she overheard them talking about it," Seeder says. "She can stay calm and quiet for a while longer."

Cato has gone back to his mostly sane persona. He's needling Marvel about trying to kill by remote control with the net traps he's been setting, using the tattered remains of the netting they'd had over the supplies. Some was burned, but most burst off, tore, and blew away on the shockwave. Between these and the clattering scrap metal traps, Rue is forced into a rather small section of the woods. She's able to move among the trees a little bit, and even comes close to Katniss, but Katniss doesn't hear the call of the mockingjays, and Rue moves on as far as she can.

There is nothing more to see. They move on to general coverage. The issue of the tribute "teams" makes the mandatory broadcast, though they don't talk about the fights in the streets of the Capitol. They just talk about how unusual it is that the final eight tributes only come from five districts -- two each from Two, Eleven, and Twelve. Five and One barely get a mention, much to the annoyance of Gloss and Faraday.

They go back to the streets to talk to people who are carefully edited to avoid mention of the increasingly more common idea of letting a district pair win. District Two fans are looking forward to the annual visit by the media to Two, where they name all the victors they want interviewed. District Eleven fans have made up a dance for Thresh, based on his heavy-footed tread. There's a great deal of artwork showing Rue in the trees. For both of these districts, they find separate groups of fans for the separate tributes.

District Twelve's fans are together. Some are in costume. Many are in camouflage. Women weep over the shots of Peeta calling Katniss's name. A teenage girl hopes that they'll at least find each other long enough for Katniss to get pregnant, so it could be just like they both survived. That disturbing bit is the closest we've come so far to mass broadcast of this growing idea. Claudius laughs and points out that the Capitol makes it impossible for girls to get pregnant during the Games. He doesn't mention how this is accomplished, as it would ruin too many people's fondest fantasies.

Effie sighs. "Oh, Haymitch. What can we do for them?"

"We're doing everything there is."

"Did you get the notebook all right?" She bites her lip. "I hope it's all right, but I took the picture that Peeta drew of me. It's very well-done, but I look…" She reaches into her purse and pulls it out. In it, her wig is slightly askew, and she's rolling her eyes fondly at something at the dinner table. She looks like an indulgent big sister. "See?"

"Yeah," I say. "I see."

I send her to bed. About five hours later, I get some sleep myself. I dream about Effie with her wig askew, smiling and rolling her eyes. We are not at the dinner table.

I get up in the morning at around the same time Katniss does, and I'm watching her watch Finch dance around the ruins of the supply stash when the reporters arrive in Twelve.

This is not generally something that gets a good deal of coverage, but of course, it’s not very often that anyone gets a glimpse of us outside of the reaping.

Danny and Mir are interviewed on a porch swing which Mir would never actually allow on her porch. It might encourage people to loiter at the bakery without buying anything. Danny might even have a place to talk to his friends.

Nevertheless, they look as cozy as ordered. Mir's as good with the cameras as Peeta is, telling fabricated stories about their romance-filled home. Danny's fighting for his son's life, so he puts on a good show as well, playing a self-deprecating white knight who just thinks being a gentleman is a good thing. Peeta's brothers are on, bragging about how they trained him to be tough, and he can beat a little cut on the leg. Someone has gone and dragged in half the school's wrestling team. A girl who says she was his first date seems utterly thrilled to say that he spent the whole time talking about Katniss, and a girl identified as Delly Cartwright (filmed under a willow with so many shadows that she might well look like Lavinia, for all I can tell) talks about how Peeta would borrow her notebooks, and they'd come back with sketches of Katniss. She's not as good at this as Danny, and I can tell she's a little irritated to spend Peeta's interview time talking about Katniss… though of course, the coverage skews it as her being a little jealous. And who could blame her?

For Katniss, they spend a lot of time with Prim, who talks up her sister and makes a point of speaking well of Peeta. Ruth looks nervous and on edge, but she rallies and talks about Katniss's ear injury, of all things. Madge Undersee doesn't mention Maysilee's pin, but she does talk quite fiercely about how Katniss is a symbol of hope and strength. A boy from the Seam named Gale Hawthorne says that she can survive anything. They ask how he knows her. He stumbles over it, I'd guess because they hunt together -- he has a well-fed look for a boy with three siblings and a widowed mother. This gruffness is obviously considered something of a threat, because the interviewer abruptly jumps on the fact that he and Katniss look alike.

They don't, at least not any more than Katniss and I look alike, but most of Panem has no idea how closed off the gene pool in District Twelve is, so when the reporter suggests that they might be cousins and Hawthorne, bewildered, shrugs and says he guesses that most of the Seam is somewhere, this becomes an immutable fact. By noon, Gale Hawthorne is a scion of the close-knit Everdeen family. They won't have seen this at home yet. I wonder what he'll make of it.

Meanwhile, Katniss has made her way back to the camp she and Rue shared. She's been eating like crazy (a few brave souls on the street are making jokes about her appetite), and has clearly regained the hearing on the right side. Rue is nowhere to be found. She's still trapped in the circle the Careers made, which Marvel is patrolling regularly, but Katniss doesn't know this. At first, she's untroubled. She washes her hair and jacket, eats a fish, and climbs a tree, where she grooms herself more, and eats everything she has in her pack. I get a few joking calls from sponsors suggesting that I send her a full picnic basket. I get them to pledge what it would cost.

She starts to get agitated as the day grows late and gets down from the tree. She goes to the site of the third fire, and realizes that it hasn't been touched, that Rue never made it there. Her eyes go wide -- I'm guessing she imagines something worse than being treed -- and she starts to work her way back along the trail to the second fire.

This is cut in with shots of the district interviews. In Two, Clove's brothers sing the praises of her knife work. In One, Marvel's parents assure people that their son isn't the weakling Cato is trying to portray. In Five, a weeping teacher shows incomprehensible diagrams that Finch has made. In Eleven, they show Rue's coworkers in the orchard, singing to the mockingjays. It's one of the most staged shots I've ever seen, but it doesn't come off as corny, because just as they show it, Rue catches sight of Katniss's movement.

She calls to the mockingjays, and they sing her song.

Katniss looks up and starts moving faster. Finally, she sings.

Her voice is clear and as lovely as Glen's ever was. The mockingjays pause, then pick up the song and carry it back to Rue.

Rue smiles brightly and climbs down the tree.

She hasn't eaten since yesterday. She didn't get much sleep. She's tired and frightened and maybe that's why she forgets to be careful.

She moves backwards away from the tree, obviously meaning to follow the mockingjays toward Katniss.

Instead, her foot trips one of Marvel's traps.

A net falls from the trees, winding her inside of it, the way Finnick's victims were wound.

She struggles against it and screams, "Katniss!"

Katniss starts to run.

But she's not the first to get there.

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