FernWithy (fernwithy) wrote,

The Last Tribute: Chapter Twenty-One

After the feast at the Cornucopia, it starts to rain, which eventually wakes Peeta up, though Katniss is still out cold.

Chapter Twenty-One
The rain continues to fall throughout the night. It must have long-since put out Thresh's fire, but in true Capitol fashion, the Gamemakers have apparently decided to just run with it. There's a creek in the ravine, smaller than the one Katniss and Peeta are camped at, but now swelling and overflowing its banks. The water is slowly pushing its way up toward the level ground near the Cornucopia. Throughout the night, Cato and Thresh periodically launch missiles at each other across it. Thresh makes the mistake of taunting Cato with the smashed armor pack, only to drop it into the current when Cato knocks him off balance with a hurled rock. Cato picks the pack up. I doubt he'll be able to do much with it. Then again, given that Thresh was attacking it with the very sorts of weapons it was meant to repel, maybe the damage isn't that severe.

It will have to wait for morning. Cato finally falls asleep in his camp, holding on to Clove's backpack and one of her knives. Thresh contemplates the creek for a while, then seems to decide to leave it be. Finch returns to the Cornucopia. Her eyes have taken on a glazed and wild look that I've seen a few times in the arena. She's starving, yes, but more prominently, she's alone and frightened. I think she's sticking to the edges of the other tributes' circles now more as a desperate attempt to feign company than out of any thought of stealing food.

I consider making a fake alliance with Faraday to send her food, maybe even encouraging a real one, but two things stop me. The first is that Finch is too far gone to understand anyone's signs.

The second is that she can't live if Peeta and Katniss are going to. And she would be a distraction from the narrative.

It occurs to me, not for the first time, that I'm a bastard.

Johanna drags Finnick back in just after midnight. Effie frets at him and agrees that it was in very poor taste to accost Annie with such an awful question. "Very poor taste" is probably the best we'll get out of Effie these days. There was a time she'd have been outraged.

I sigh. The Effie she used to be is gone. The shell that's left, as shells go, is still sweet, and she's certainly doing her best to be supportive.

I decide to go back to sleep properly, so I'll be alert if anything happens tomorrow.

Effie wakes me up just before dawn. She assures me that nothing is going on yet -- Peeta is just trying to keep Katniss warm in the rain. "But you should clean up," she says. "With things so slow, the press is bound to be looking for commentary."

I nod. "Yeah. I could use some fresh clothes."

"I went back to the apartment and got you a couple of suits to choose from," she says. "I'd go with the dark red jacket. You look very dapper in it." She examines my hair and moves a few curls around. "It probably wouldn't be a bad idea to see a barber, either. Not too much off, but you do need a decent shave, and your skin is a wreck."

I rub my face. She's right, but I don't want to waste time with a barber who will inevitably decide I need a dozen more tweaks. "I'll shave myself. When they put me on television, they always have someone to make me up for the lights, anyway."

She rolls her eyes and hands me a bottle of moisturizer. "At least put some of this on after you shave, all right?"

I nod.

She doesn't leave immediately. Instead, she gives me a fond smile and says, "You're doing very well this year, Haymitch. I was afraid when they wouldn't give you the pills…"

I hold up my hand. "Let's not start me thinking about it, okay? I haven't had time so far."

She nods and leaves.

By the time I'm finished getting dolled up for the day, Katniss has finally woken up. She's apparently told Peeta about what happened, because they're talking about debts. When I get to the table, she's saying, "…I wouldn't even have been here to do it if you hadn't helped me then. Why did you, anyway?"

"What did she say?" I ask Chaff.

"Something about bread. No details."

"Why?" Peeta echoes. "You know why." Whatever he's trying to say, she's clearly baffled about. He looks at her in disbelief. "Haymitch said you would take a lot of convincing."

"Haymitch?" she says. "What's he got to do with it?"

I'm a little baffled on this count myself. I don't remember telling Peeta that she'd be hard to convince about anything. Maybe I did during the four hours we chatted and pretended I had something to do in preparing him for Caesar's interview, but if so, I've completely blanked on it. I suspect he's just trying to keep me in the narrative for some reason of his own.

Peeta doesn't help. "Nothing," he says. "So, Cato and Thresh, huh? I guess it's too much to hope that they'll simultaneously destroy each other?"

It's the first misstep Peeta's made, and it's completely understandable if Katniss didn't tell him the whole story, or glossed over the more emotional aspects of it, which she's prone to do. This time, she manages to fix it. "I think we would like Thresh," she says, and I wonder if she even notices the plural. "I think he'd be our friend back in District Twelve."

"Then let's hope Cato kills him, so we don't have to," Peeta says grimly.

Chaff and I don't really look at each other during this.

The whole conversation is obviously as bad for Katniss as it is for us, and she turns away from it, pretending to be upset just because she wants to go home. Peeta tells her to go to sleep and dream of home. He name-checks me again, to thank me (along with Katniss) for seeing to it that he's well-rested. Then she goes back to sleep.

Peeta stays beside her for a while, stroking her forehead and watching her with great concern. He finally gets up and looks for a dry part of the cave. There really isn't one.

"I guess a fire would be a bad idea anyway," he says aloud, looking directly into one of the hidden cameras. "Even if I could build one when it's this wet. She's so cold. Come on, Haymitch. Isn't there anything?"

I wonder if he's bringing me into the narrative because he thinks I've forgotten about them somehow. I guess I could excuse it if he did think that, given how little I've sent for him. But the truth is, there's nothing on the supply list to warm Katniss up. I finally find some self-warming bandages in the first aid section and send him some at around ten in the morning. They look exactly like the ones in their kit. There's enough of the material for her head and his leg.

He wraps her head and her feet in them.

Unfortunately, the charge that keeps them warm isn't permanent, and she starts shivering again after about twenty minutes. He smiles and says, "Thanks, I think it helped for a while." He rolls up the bandage around her feet and puts it in the kit. The other one, he leaves alone. It's just a bandage now, but she needs one of those.

At lunch, I'm called out to do a news show. I get a full third of the time (ten minutes) to talk about how well they take care of each other. The host, Milonia Beers, asks rapturous questions about how it must be to have people help each other out. Apparently, the romance has set the Capitol off on another of its wistful pipe dreams about the simple life of the districts. You can't quite set a watch by these moods, but they're pretty frequent. "That's the way it is in District Twelve, isn't it?" she asks.

I consider playing up my bumpkin accent and turning it into part of the show, but I don't do it, because they stayed up with Katniss. They stayed up with me. The Capitol may be having a fantasy, but there is also a reality. I say, "There are a lot of decent folk there."

"And what could it teach us here?"

"I don't think it's anything to teach," I tell her. "It's a human thing. And over the years, I've seen plenty of folks in the Capitol reaching out to help." I don't mention that these are mostly in the various rebel circles, of course. There are others. Effie. Mimi. The Daughters. Most of my sponsors, actually. I think what bothers me most about these periodic fads is that they seem more of a fashion than a lifestyle, and they ignore the people for whom it really is a way of life. Those people -- like the people in Twelve -- don't run around bragging about it. It's just the way they are.

When I leave the studio, I look carefully at the people on the street. The ones who were watching live this morning are quite enamored of Twelve, since Katniss talked about wanting to go home. I'm mobbed by people wearing their hair in the new "natural" style, many of them wearing cosmetically applied coal dust. They want to know how they can be more "authentic."

I can't think how they could be less authentic, but it seems the better part of valor not to say so.

"Could you sing us a song from Twelve?" someone calls out.

"Oh, no. You don't want to hear me sing. I'll see if someone at home will do it on television, how's that?"

This gets a cheer.

People want to know what's really worn in Twelve (whatever's in one piece), what we eat (not much -- but I promise them recipes), and especially, what the marriage customs are. Do people stay together forever? Will Katniss and Peeta, if they make it home? Finally, a little boy asks for a story, which is a question I can reasonably answer. I sit down on the back of a park bench, with a crowd gathered around me. It's mostly kids, though a few parents are with them. I tell the old story of John Henry, which I imagine sounds more like a District Six story -- it's about laying down a railroad track -- and then move on to some of the ghost stories from the mines. I keep my handheld in view, but mostly all I see is Peeta exercising to stretch out his bad leg. I've just settled in for a few "Jack" stories that Daddy used to tell when I spot Effie at the back of the crowd. She taps her wrist.

"Well," I say, "it seems that Jack outstayed his time. Princess Timewell came to fly him right back off to the glass house. I bet you can find some of the stories up in the library."

There's some disappointment, and it takes me a few minutes to get through the crowd to Effie because they want my autograph for the first time in ages. When I reach Effie, she says, "Princess Timewell?"

I shrug.

When we get back to the Viewing Center, I find out that some of it made the local broadcast. Johanna snorts. "Way to package up your district culture for sale."

"I'll sell it at a bargain if it keeps them on my side," I say.

Johanna accepts this as a complete truth, instead of the quasi-lie that it really is. I don't know if she'd quite get that I was enjoying myself.

"What's been going on?" I ask Seeder.

She nods at the screen. "The boys have been throwing things at each other. Thresh let the river take him downstream, but the fool of a boy is looking for a way back across, so he can get to Cato."

"What about the armor?"

"It's cracked in a few places, but Cato's got it. They can batter each other for ever like this." She hisses in distaste. "They sent your boy medicine, and the girl from Five got food. Useful things. This armor for both of them doesn't do anything except make the fights take longer."

I don't bother pointing out that the Gamemakers will undoubtedly consider this a great advantage.

The rain is still going strong in the arena. Peeta is trying to shore up the cave a little bit. He's using the broth pot as a drip catcher, and he's repositioned the plastic sheet to get the water off of the area where they sleep, but there's not a lot to be done. Like the cave Finnick hid in, it has plenty of air shafts to the surface. They help provide at least some natural light for the cameras, and I suspect the Gamemakers use them to send in nanobots to get better angles when the kids aren't looking. I've never caught them at this, but I feel like it has to be true.

If anything, it's raining even harder when Peeta finally wakes Katniss up, just a few minutes after mandatory viewing starts. I don't know if it's coincidence, or if he has a good sense of the time.

He wants to eat, but, after inhaling a lot of their food yesterday, he's decided to wait for her to split what's left evenly. Katniss is clearly feeling better, since she decides that they'll hunt tomorrow. She reminisces fondly about warm bread from District Eleven.

They get into possibly the most boring conversation I've heard in the arena short of Career strategy sessions, this one about where Thresh went, and -- incredibly -- how tall the grass is. Eventually, it comes back to hunger. There's a reason the Games are called what they are: both kids are clearly hungry. Neither is starving, of course. They've been eating more steadily than some Seam families eat. But they're also both pretty used to regular meals.

"Maybe there's a bread bush in that field," Katniss gripes. "Maybe that's why Thresh looks better fed now than when we started the Games."

Peeta shrugs. "Either that, or he's got very generous sponsors. I wonder what we'd have to do to get Haymitch to send us some bread." He looks straight at another one of the cameras. I'm not going to reward that anymore.

There are a few bawdy jokes in the Viewing Center about just what would earn them some bread, all of them made by former tributes who know better. Meanwhile, Katniss seems to be floundering. She tries to tease Peeta about having been drugged to get his medicine, but he is clearly not amused, and wants to make utterly sure that she knows she did something wrong. That's fine. It probably was -- it certainly wasn't anything done with his consent. On the other hand, he's alive to complain about it, so I'm morally comfortable with the decision.

Katniss is trying her hardest to turn the subject back to romance, since she's clearly figured out that it's selling. Unfortunately, she's as awkward at pretending as she was during interview practice.

"Maybe I did it for myself, Peeta," she says stiffly. "Did you ever think of that? Maybe you're not the only one who--"

She stops very suddenly, her face going rather blank. I frown.

"… the only one who worries about… what it would be like if…"

"What's wrong with her?" Effie says.

I'm not completely sure, but I suspect that somewhere in the middle of her performance, she struck truth, and she isn't sure what to do with it… or if she wants to share it. I remember her saying that they couldn't have her past. I doubt she wants the world to have her present, either.

"If what, Katniss?" Peeta asks.

She turns up her nose and pretends to tease him. "That's exactly the kind of topic Haymitch told me to steer clear of," she lies. I put my head in my hand.

Peeta saves it. "Then I'll just have to fill in the blanks myself," he says.

He kisses her.

Unlike the other kisses, this one is clearly and definitively real. Katniss isn't a good enough actress to pull it off otherwise. It goes on for a long time, and I'm sure the people on the street are eating it up. When it finally stops, Peeta just mutters something about her head bleeding again, and suggests turning in for the night. He also starts talking about her socks, and putting on his coat, and keeping warm inside rather than trying to keep a watch in the rain. It's a kind of nervous prattle that surprises me.

I think he may actually be daring to believe it.

I believe it, too, though I expect Katniss will take a long time to come around to it. She doesn't see herself as a person who could fall in love. Thinking about the way Ruth fell to pieces after Glen died, I guess she probably just assumes it would mean weakness.

"Well, we're not going to need the analysts for that one!" Claudius Templesmith says, obviously amused as they cut back to the studio. "I think everyone can see for themselves!"

This is, of course, followed by twenty minutes of analysis and recaps from several angles. Finnick comes in from a date in the middle of this. There are rope burns on his wrists that I don't ask about. He watches for a minute, then looks at me and says, "I hope you know what you're doing with this show."

I nod. "As long as they're both alive at the end of it, I do. I think they'll be all right."

He watches for a while, uncharacteristically sullen -- I'm guessing that after his exploits, Snow made him do something particularly vile -- then says, "Whatever you need for them, I'll play along."

"Are you okay?"

He grins faintly. "Peachy. You?"

"Fine as paint. And after I get them through, I want to get you out."

"I feel freer already." He starts to leave, then looks over his shoulder. "In case it's not clear, I wasn't being sarcastic."

He walks over to the lounge. He has no reason at all to stay here, but he does. He sends Effie out (she's been taking a nap), and, sometime in the middle of the night, comes out to spell me. A little rest seems to have turned his mood around, and he's joking freely about a sleepy Katniss suggesting that she and Peeta will sleep more comfortably in trees tomorrow night.

I go to bed.

There's no reason for anyone to wake me early. It's still raining in the arena. Katniss and Peeta are napping now and then, and occasionally having dull conversations about keeping warm and getting food. I need them to open up. If I can get them to actually express something, I'll send them a real feast.

It doesn’t seem to be in the offing.

The Capitol coverage is filler material. They re-cap the Games mostly from Peeta's perspective, complimenting his fine knife work in the murder of Kersey Green of District Eight. I hope this doesn't make the highlight reel. They interview fans, who are bored with the rain. They interview beauticians, who are extremely busy creating natural looks for Capitol girls. It's mind-numbing, and it's doing nothing for my mood. I want a drink. I snap at everyone in sight. Effie has to wield my old district token at me to get me to shut up.

What little is happening in the arena is happening near the ravine, which has filled up and become a raging river for some distance. The ongoing flooding has forced Finch from a shelter. She wanders around, dazed, and tries to catch a fish, but the current is too much for her. She starts tailing Thresh, just far enough away that he never gets a glimpse of her. He is also forced out of a shelter he's made when the ground becomes too muddy to hold the stakes. Cato is struggling to maintain his hold in the flatlands near the lake, but the whole area is becoming a swamp. From the looks of it, the Gamemakers mean to force the three of them into combat at the Cornucopia.

"They want Thresh to kill the girl," I say.

Chaff looks at me. "What?"

"To make up for not killing Katniss."

He swears under his breath.

If so, nothing seems to happen on that front during the daylight hours, and when mandatory viewing starts, the entire plot seems to be three wet kids wandering around each other in circles, and two cold kids shivering in each other's arms and talking about the weather.

I could send them a basket just so they'd talk about food. I've already had the supply craft pack one, with Katniss's stew and some rolls that Peeta liked during training. But I need them back on topic.

I guess if they don't come through in the next fifteen minutes or so, I'll send it anyway, because they're too cold and tired to get particularly romantic, and at least food would be something new to talk about.

Katniss is obviously turning this over in her head, though. Like she did when I didn't send her water. She knows there's something she should be doing, and she finally manages to find a path to it. She asks Peeta when his crush started.

It's the best thing she could have done. She's better than he is at knowing when I need her to do something, but he's the one who can really make the story shine. Almost as soon as he starts talking about their first day of school, the show warms up.

Of course, I imagine things are a little chilly back in Twelve, given that he starts the festivities by telling her that Danny walked him to school and pointed her out as Ruth's child, and saying that he once wanted to marry Ruth. He must realize that the whole thing is strange, because he segues it into the stories of Glen's singing voice, which fascinated him so much that he couldn't wait to hear Katniss sing, and wasn't disappointed. Supposedly, he hasn't maintained a long term interest in any other girl since.

By the time he's finished, Katniss is sitting back and staring at him in awe. "You have a remarkable memory," she says.

"I remember everything about you," he says. "You're the one who wasn't paying attention."

"I am now."

"Well, I don't have much competition here," Peeta jokes, and it is the perfect opportunity for her to say something romantic, something the Capitol can quote for days.

"Say it," I whisper.

And, as if she can hear me, she does: "You don't have much competition anywhere."

I don't even wait for the kiss. I just order them to drop a picnic basket.

At this point, I'm inundated with calls for lyrics and music to the valley song, a little ditty about a miner and his daughter that fathers with daughters love to sing, or so I've heard. I know the beginning of it goes, "In the deep, deep valley - In the tall, tall grass - lived a broad-shouldered miner - And his wee little lass." After that, I'm lost.

I spend most of their conversation on the phone with Merle, getting the words. It only takes about three minutes, but I miss most of what they say to each other. The basic gist of the song is that the miner finds a room full of jewels underground, but it's not as valuable as his little girl. I feel that, even without a little girl of my own to compare it to, I can still vouch for the worthlessness of money after a certain point, if there's no one to spend it on.

I send the words to the Gamemakers. No one in Twelve has written down the music, but I guess the Capitol will make up its own tune anyway.
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