Author: cali-chan PM
"Primrose Everdeen." This can't be happening, Katniss thought. She desperately pushed through the crowd. I volunteer!, she wanted to scream. I volunteer as tribute! But she couldn't, because she wasn't eligible for the reaping anymore. There was nothing she could do. Peeta/Katniss and other pairings, AU.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Romance - Peeta M. & Katniss E. - Chapters: 30 - Words: 161,992 - Reviews: 630 - Favs: 290 - Follows: 543 - Updated: 05-09-13 - Published: 01-23-12 - id: 7768246
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Chapter 22: No more crying
Author: Carla, aka cali-chan
Rating: Most likely PG-13. Nothing worse than what's in the books.
Genre: Adventure/suspense/drama/romance... again, pretty much what's in the books.
Pairings: Peeta/Katniss, Rory/Prim... and probably others. You'll see soon.
Canon/timeline: Same-context AU— this fic still happens in the same world as THG, but the actual events in the books never happened. I'm adding about five years to the characters from the age they were at the beginning of The Hunger Games. Katniss is 21.
Disclaimer: Yeah, just let me go get my transfer laser and switch bodies with Suzanne Collins. Until I find it in the mess that is my room, anything you can recognize belongs to her.
Note: I've never really tried this before (and I'm sure it will eventually come back and bite me in the behind), but each chapter will be from the PoV of a different character. You should be able to tell whose PoV it is fairly easily, though.
Summary: "Primrose Everdeen." This can't be happening, Katniss thought. She desperately pushed through the crowd. I volunteer!, she wanted to scream. I volunteer as tribute! But she couldn't, because she wasn't eligible for the reaping anymore. There was nothing she could do.
"The road to the future leads us smack into the wall. We simply ricochet off the alternatives that destiny offers." —Jacques-Yves Cousteau.
Prim was so glad she listened to Haymitch and stuck around the climbing station at training.
The tree trunks were huge, so there was no way for her to wrap her arms around the one she was climbing like she did on the pole at the Training Center. It was sturdier than the ropes and climbing webs, however, and the bark was rough, giving her plenty of nooks and crannies to grab hold of, kind of like the climbing wall she used at practice. The branches were a lot higher up than any structure she had practiced on during training, so she had to keep reminding herself not to look down or she would lose her nerve, but eventually, she made it all the way up to the lowest branches.
She'd known, even seeing them from below, that there was something different about these trees. They looked and had much the same dimensions as the giant redwoods she'd seen in books, but the lower branches held no foliage; it was only the top of the canopy, the very highest branches, that held huge, forest green leaves, more akin to tropical flora, and packed so tightly, they blocked out the sunlight.
Once she hoisted herself up on the first branch she reached, it became clear: what from below had looked like a sturdy branch, actually had a flat top, around two and a half feet wide, more than enough for her to walk on normally, almost like a sidewalk, but high in the sky. Obviously, these trees weren't natural. She could see that most of the trees around her had similar branches, some even intersecting: clearly, the Gamemakers intended for the tributes to use these branches to move around the arena. There was nothing below her but a huge drop that ended in a swamp of some sort of caustic aqueous solution.
Death. Just death.
So she ran. She ran as fast as her legs could propel her, trying to get away from the Cornucopia, and the other tributes, and the sounds of pain and suffering coming from behind her. She didn't look around her, didn't check over her shoulder, she just ran. None of the other tributes crossed her path that first day.
She only slowed down when her feet started aching; their shoes did not seem meant for running or even hiking. She didn't have any way to tell time, only the small slivers of light that made it past the cover of foliage to let her know it was still daytime. But she figured she'd been running for a long while; surely nightfall would come soon.
She started looking around, trying to find a source of water or food, but saw nothing but trees. She hadn't seen any sign of wildlife: no bird nests, no arboreal reptiles, not even chirping crickets. Maybe if she climbed higher? But she was too tired, and she had already perspired too much. She didn't want to get dehydrated. She needed rest first.
The branches were wide enough for her to lay down comfortably, but for practicality purposes she laid back against the trunk of the tree, stretching her legs in front of her. She thought she was a calm enough sleeper that she wouldn't roll off the branches, but she remembered some of her climbing instructor's lessons: If you're going to sleep in a high perch, make sure you're strapped to something because you don't want to roll over and fall off to your death in the middle of the night. The only thing she had on her that she could remotely use to tie herself to the tree was her belt.
She realized, just as she was trying to figure out how to secure the belt around a large knot that protruded from the trunk, that the buckle was detachable. She twirled the little metallic cylinder in her hands for a few minutes while she tried to think what use she could give it, but eventually, it hit her: it was a spile. The Gamemakers had worked in tricks like these before. She remembered a few years back, the male tribute from Four had received a spile from one of his sponsors and when he inserted the instrument into a tree, water poured out of it. Maybe she could try that.
The possibility was a small glimmer of hope that bubbled in her chest, or at least it did until she heard the sound of the national anthem playing. With her heart in her throat she looked up, but she couldn't see the sky through the forest canopy. It was a little disconcerting— she feared the Gamemakers might intend to keep them in the dark about the fallen this year. A couple seconds after that thought crossed her mind, the huge leaves overhead started shimmering and images started appearing on the surface, like the leaves were a screen.
The boy from One. The boy from Three. The girl from Four, whom Prim had seen die in front of her eyes. All four tributes from Five and Six. The girl from Seven. All six tributes from Eight, Nine and Eleven. And then... KJ.
She fell against the tree trunk, unable to hold back the sobs that came up on her throat. KJ was dead. He was only fourteen. Just a kid. He had suffered so much already. It shouldn't have been him. He shouldn't have died. Why did he have to die?
Tears started spilling down her cheeks when it hit her that he probably died because of her. He saved her at the Cornucopia. The girl from Ten would've killed her if he hadn't intervened, and now he was dead. He didn't even know her, but he saved her, and she'd just run away. Ran for her life and left him there. She knew she couldn't fight, but she should've helped him somehow, there had to be something she could've done... But she hadn't, and now he was dead...
She pulled her knees up to her chest and cried. She knew the cameras probably wouldn't find that very interesting— one more young girl breaking down during the Games, what else was new— so she let herself weep openly. She wanted to stay strong for Katniss, for Rory, for everybody, but she couldn't keep it inside; it hurt too much.
She cried for each and every one of those fifteen kids whose lives got cut short today. She cried for the people who loved them, who would never get to see them again. She cried for the people of the districts, who lived in fear of getting their children taken away from them. She cried for everybody who had ever been touched by the Games.
She cried for KJ, who had lived such a hard life, who had probably never known happiness, and who would never get that chance now. She cried for the people of Twelve, who could've been his friends. For the friendship she never got to offer him. For the great person she didn't get to know. She cried for his father, who never got to do right by him, and now never would. She cried for his mother, who had lost a part of her heart today.
She cried for herself. Because she felt guilty. Because she felt weak. Because she felt impotent. Because she was scared. She didn't want to be here. She wanted to go home. She wanted to be back in District Twelve, in the places she knew and with the people she knew. Where she could lose herself in a smuggled medical textbook. Where she could play with her cat in the meadow. Where she could smile at her sister as she walked in from a hard day's hunt. Where she could wrap herself in her boyfriend's arms and feel safe from anything and everything.
She knew she shouldn't be crying; someone could hear her, and she needed to conserve water anyway. But fifteen children had died, and KJ had died, and she was going to die eventually, and she would cry if she felt like it. None of this was right, and someone should cry about it. Dehydration wouldn't kill her in one night; she'd work on finding water in the morning.
Figuring Haymitch's advice had helped her this far (she felt horrible for doubting him), she decided to stick with his plan and spent the next two days trying to make her way to the edges of the arena. She knew the Gamemakers would eventually try to draw all the tributes together, especially since there were so few of them left after the bloodbath, but they weren't pushing that yet, so she was going to run as far away from the Cornucopia as she could. Or at least in the direction she thought was away from the Cornucopia— it was hard to tell which way she was going since she couldn't see the clearing anymore, and the trees obscured her view of the sun.
Her pace was slower than she would've wanted, though, because she was looking for water and sustenance at the same time. It had taken her a while to figure out how to use the spile; she didn't have that much upper body strength to insert the spile onto the tree trunks, and she didn't have any kind of blunt weapon she could use to help herself on that endeavor. Her shoes, flexible and close-fitting as they were, were obviously meant to facilitate climbing, not to hammer a spile into a tree.
Eventually she got the hang of it. The first tree she tapped into had produced a stream of clear, odorless liquid she initially thought was water. She was so excited she almost went to drink it immediately, but she had the good sense to remember Gale's words: Test everything. She touched the liquid with the very tip of her pinkie finger and it burned; it was probably the same caustic solution that filled the bottom of the arena, the one that had melted the skin off the girl from Four's body. Shuddering at the memory she immediately took the spile out, being careful not to touch the liquid.
Different trees produced different substances. Some were harmful, like the caustic solution. Some didn't cause any harm nor gave her any benefit, like a brownish liquid that caused a slight discoloration on the back of her hand but otherwise had no ill effects on her; it only occurred to her later that it might be some kind of iodine solution, which she could maybe use as a disinfectant, or to purify water. Unfortunately she had only come across that one once, so she'd have to wait until she found it again to really know.
Some of the substances she came across on the trees were very, very good. She eventually found water, and also a thick, transparent substance that tasted sweet, and after much deliberation she took a risk and decided it was probably syrup. Ingesting nothing but pure sugar for days was hardly adequate nutrition, but under these circumstances it would have to be her "food." It didn't feel like eating real food, but the sugar content would give her the energy she needed to keep going.
It didn't take her long to figure out that she could know which substance she would get from which tree just by looking at the foliage overhead. The size and width of each tree was similar, but their leaves were different: some were rounder and wide, some were narrower and long, some were lobed like maple leaves, and so on. She began keeping a mental catalogue of which leaves corresponded to which substance, and every hour or so she would stop to drink some water or have some syrup. For this reason her pace was slow, but at least she wasn't hungry or thirsty.
Thankfully, she had yet to come across any of the other tributes. By the second night, one more tribute had died: the girl from One. She didn't mean to be morbid, but she found herself wondering how she died. Did one of the other tributes get to her? Had she succumbed to thirst, maybe? If she didn't get any water from the Cornucopia and hadn't figured out the spile, she might have. Death by dehydration could take a week, up to ten days, but given the level of physical exertion tributes reached in the arena and the high temperatures during the day, it could've taken much less.
At one point during the second day, she thought she heard a rustle near her, like another person was running close by. She immediately grew alert, but there was nowhere to hide up there. She could only crouch down against the trunk, hoping its imposing width would conceal her from whomever it was that was near. She waited like that for a while, willing herself not to move, trying hard not to even breathe for fear of giving away her position. But nobody ever made an appearance, and after a few minutes she decided to just run. She didn't stop to check if anyone was behind her. That night she wondered if maybe it had been her, if the one person who had come nearest to finding her was dead now.
There were only eight tributes left in the Games by then. The family interviews would be coming up soon, she knew. She wondered what Katniss would say; she was never the most expressive person, and she probably wouldn't take well to being on camera. Would they interview Rory? He wasn't family, technically, but since she'd brought him up on her interview with Caesar Flickerman, the Capitol would probably want to talk to him, too. She hoped they were both holding up okay. Once again, she went to sleep with a heavy heart.
In the morning of day three, it started to rain. Just like with the sunlight, the canopy of the trees managed to catch most of it, but a few drops managed to get through the small spaces between and when it touched her it burned her skin, it even burned through her clothes. She didn't feel any dizziness or shortness of breath, so she figured it was a just superficial corrosive— likely the same one she'd encountered before— and the burn would be the worst of it. It wasn't an excruciating pain or anything, it really just stung, but there was always the worry of it hitting sensitive places like her eyes or the soles of her feet. So she climbed up to the top of the trees, pulled out one of the big, impermeable leaves, and used it as a cover from the rain.
A few hours later, the rain had come down to a drizzle, and she contemplated if she would need the cover much longer; her arms were going numb from having them raised for so long. She was looking around for a water tree (mainly to drink but also to rinse a couple of burns she got on her fingers where she held the leaf over her head), when she caught sight of someone slumped down against the trunk of a nearby tree, in a branch lower than the one she was standing on.
She thought about running away, but she was intrigued by the posture. The person's guard seemed to be completely down. Was he or she asleep? Seemed strange, since it was past noon. Maybe he or she was hurt, or sick? She should check; if anything, knowing what happened to this person could help her avoid the same happening to her.
She moved to a different branch, so that she was almost directly above the person. From a closer vantage point, she recognized him as the male tribute from District Ten— he was maybe fifteen or sixteen, and generally eclipsed by his dangerous female counterpart. He was awake, his eyes wide open and his hands were on his chest, almost like it hurt. She was close enough that she could hear his deep, gasping breaths. She'd treated enough miners from coal dust inhalation to know when the desperation in their attempt to draw air in was real; he couldn't breathe, he was dying.
Her feet were moving before her brain even had time to remind her coming closer was a bad idea.
She climbed down until she was at his level, and approached him carefully from a nearby branch. He noticed her presence, his dark eyes widening even more, his hand stretching toward her shakily and then back at his chest, as if signaling desperately for her to help him, to save him. Her breath hitched; he was obviously suffering, and even though she didn't know him, even though she knew he would've killed her without a thought had he come across her under different circumstances, it tore at her. She couldn't stand to see people suffering. Nobody deserved such a horrible, painful death.
She took in the scene, a quick check to see if there was something she could do. There was a large gun lying at his feet, which she recognized as the oddly-shaped, rifle-type weapon the girl from Four had with her when she died. The boy must've picked it up afterward. She grabbed it and set it down on a different branch behind her, so he wouldn't be able to reach it and use it against her if he got better.
There didn't seem to be any physical injuries on him, no lacerations or bruising, save for a small cut on his forehead, which appeared to be about a day old. Nothing seemed to suggest physical trauma as the reason for his asphyxia. She thought maybe he had choked on something and the only solution might try and dislodge whatever it was from his throat, until she saw his spile was inserted into the tree beside him, a clear liquid dripping out. The thin stream touched his shoulder and didn't burn through his shirt, so it wasn't the caustic solution she was by now so familiar with. Poison, maybe?
She took a step closer to check his pupil reaction, but before she could, his eyes rolled back and he started convulsing. She rushed to him, hands shaking, but immediately going into healer mode. She'd already seen one person die without her being able to do something about it. She couldn't let it happen again.
She pulled him down so he was lying on the branch instead, so he wouldn't hit his head against the trunk, and then undid his belt and stuffed it in his mouth, to keep him from biting his own tongue during the seizure. His skin was turning an unnatural shade of pink. He had definitely ingested some kind of poison, but it was quick-acting and it was already too late for her to induce vomiting.
She knew it was dangerous, but she needed to know which poison it was exactly before she could even think of finding an antidote, so she leaned in and took a sniff close to the spile. She could barely smell it, it was just a trace, but she recognized the smell of bitter almonds. Cyanide. She had to hurry.
She looked around, eventually locating a water tree she rushed to; diluting the cyanide in his stomach might at least give her a little more time. But she didn't have a container to hold the water, so she was limited to what little she could carry in her cupped hands, and even then his involuntary writhing made it almost impossible for her to pour it down his throat. She tried with syrup as well— she vaguely remembered reading somewhere that sugar might be an effective antidote to cyanide— but that was equally hard to administer.
Tears were spilling down her cheeks by then. Once again, there was nothing she could do. For all her trying, she could only wait and watch as he died, all her knowledge worthless. But she was going to stay there. If she failed to save him, the least she could do was stay with him until he died. So she took the spile out, clearing the excess liquid from the branch with her shoe before she sat down beside the boy, crying silently as she tried to hold his torso, keep him from thrashing too hard.
It only took a few minutes for his convulsions to die down. He lost consciousness, looking almost like he was asleep. So still. She took his wrist and started counting in her head, feeling his pulse slow down little by little, until it was gone completely. It took less than fifteen minutes since she found him, for him to die.
His cannon came, and she knew she should move, that a hovercraft would come pick the body up soon, but she couldn't. She leaned against the poor boy's shoulder and sobbed quietly, hugging herself out of sheer fear and relief, and crippling guilt over that relief. Could this have happened to her? If she had come across this particular tree before he did, would she be dead instead? She hadn't even thought to check these substances for smell. And even if she had, there could be any number of poisons out there that were completely undistinguishable from water. Three days had passed, and it was sheer luck she was still alive. That couldn't hold much longer.
About a minute later, when she finally felt strong enough to move, she wiped her tears and stood. She picked up the boy's discarded weapon and stood in a branch a few yards away. She waited— solemnly, she felt; he deserved that much because she failed to save him— and watched as a claw descended and lifted the boy's body through the tree leaves and, she could only guess, onto the hovercraft.
She continued making for the edge of the arena. That night, as she waited for the fallen's faces to appear on the forest canopy, she examined the weapon.
It wasn't a rifle, as she'd initially thought. It did have a handle and a trigger, but the barrel wasn't hollow, instead it was a sturdy shaft of some kind of plastic material, about the length of her forearm, with a thick metal wire coiled tightly around it all through its length. There was a small box attached to the back of the handle, shut with screws, and it was pretty heavy compared with the rest of the weapon.
Two parallel tips, metallic and about two inches long, protruded from the very end of the shaft, where the muzzle would be on a rifle. They seemed sharp enough that they could penetrate flesh, but she doubted such a complicated weapon had been designed just to stab people.
Making sure to aim below her just in case, she experimentally gave the trigger a squeeze, and was surprised when a crackling tendril of electricity appeared between the two tips. Now that she knew she couldn't accidentally shoot herself, she lifted it closer to her face and once again hit the trigger. The electricity came to life again and she couldn't help but gasp. She'd seen power like this, when someone stupidly got shocked by the electrified fence back in Twelve, but she'd never seen it harnessed as a weapon.
She had heard of it, however: if she remembered correctly, it was called a "cattle prod." They were used to get cattle to go where people wanted them to go. It made sense, then, that the boy from Ten had picked it up after the girl from Four died; it was probably meant for him from the beginning.
If it was strong enough to startle cattle, she could only imagine what it could do to a person. Maybe the voltage wasn't strong enough to kill, but it was a weapon that didn't require skill or brute strength; she just had to pull the trigger. It could be enough to get her out of a tight spot, get a would-be attacker off her back long enough for her to escape. Maybe she wasn't completely defenseless now.
The anthem came and only one face was shown that night. Seven tributes left. She wondered what was going on with the rest of them, where they were. Was the arena that big that they could go on for days without coming across each other? Why had the Gamemakers not done something to bring them all together yet? She wouldn't have thought the tributes dying one by one from dehydration or poisoning was sufficient entertainment for them. Or maybe they were just trying to stretch it out? It had only been three days, after all.
She was almost drifting off to sleep when her eyes caught the reflection of a small ray of moonlight on something that was falling from the sky. It was silver parachute. She rushed to climb up to the higher branch where it had landed, mostly surprised and excited that she had sponsors, but also somewhat confused that Haymitch was sending her something nowthat she didn't really need anything.
But what she pulled out of the small container was not a gift from a sponsor: it was the mockingjay pin Madge had given her as a token from her district the day she was reaped.
She frowned down at the object she held in her hand, wondering what it meant. Why send it to her now? She appreciated having something from home with her, but a pin wouldn't help her in the arena. She couldn't eat it, she couldn't use it as a weapon (they wouldn't have let her have it if she could). She hadn't thought about that pin since the day Madge gave it to her. She hadn't even seen it since...
She gasped. "Katniss!"
And just like that, it was very clear. She didn't know what the pin meant to Haymitch, or how it even got from Katniss's hands to his, but she knew what it meant to her: it meant that her sister, no matter where she was, would always be by her side, supporting her, encouraging her, and never giving up on her, on them. They had been through so much pain and hardship, and they had made it through. She could make it through this, too. It didn't matter if all the odds were against her; Katniss would never give up, and neither would she.
The pin was a symbol of strength, of survival. It was a symbol of hope.
A tear escaped her eye and rolled down her cheek as she looked down at the golden circlet, but she wiped it away quickly. "No. No more crying," she told herself with a slight shake of her head. She remembered Cinna's words: I think you're both cut from the same mold. She smiled. "I'm going to be strong like you, Katniss. I promise."
She lifted the ornament to her lips, lightly kissed it, and carefully pinned it to her jersey, before closing her eyes and falling asleep, feeling in better spirits than she had in weeks.
(Ridiculously long) Author's notes!—
The thought crossed my mind, as I was writing this chapter: what would people think if they could see my browser history? I mean, most of the time when people are embarrassed about that stuff it's because they're hiding their porn collection or something, yet here I am, looking up chemical burns and cyanide poisoning. Gosh, I really hope I never have to show it to the police or something. I doubt the "I was researching for a fanfic!" excuse would fly well. :S
Anyway, this chapter was pretty much heaven for my nerdy sensibilities. I'm a chemistry geek, what can I say. So of course I have some notes to make: that one brown substance Prim found in a tree was tincture of iodine, which is a solution of iodide/iodine in ethanol and water, normally used as a disinfectant on skin or to purify water. People often have it at home to rub on small cuts and it's commonly used in hospitals. I would not recommend living on syrup (that is, sugar) for any extended period of time— it may keep you going for a while, but it's hardly appropriate nutrition and it will have other consequences.
Cyanides are a family of highly poisonous substances. The cyanide ion binds to the enzymes that bind oxygen, which means even if you breathe, you're not absorbing anything. It has a slight bitter almond odor, but not everybody can recognize it: it's a genetic trait. I just randomly decided Prim would have that gene. Even then, I don't recommend trying to smell it because even in gas form it's highly toxic. The Nazis used it in gas chambers and it's a common component of military "suicide pills"... the "nightlock" pill in Mockingjay, for example, could very well have been cyanide. There's a strand of medicine that's studying whether sugar might be a good antidote for cyanide poisoning, but this hasn't been approved by any international medical institutions.
And oh, one last morbid note, since you're all already convinced I must've been a serial killer in a past life: keeping track of which tributes are dead and which tributes are alive is damn hard, even when you're writing it yourself. My respect for Suzanne Collins increases with each paragraph I write, I swear.
More to the chapter itself: remember the rebel propos have only aired in the districts so far, so Prim has no idea what Katniss and Peeta have been up to. Speaking of which, I have to thank guest revierwer Meg for pointing out a slip-up on my part in the previous chapter. I've corrected it now. To clarify: Yes, Gale, Madge, and the entirety of the districts know at least Peeta reached the Capitol. Madge is still worried, though, because it's been a few days since the last propo happened but they haven't heard anything new. And no, I'm not just going to ignore Peeta's appearance on TV. You will find out exactly what he said... just not yet. Sorry 'bout that, guys, but it's all about timing. :P
For those who were curious, the 90's movie quote I paraphrased in the previous chapter was from You've got mail, starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks: "For the first time in my life, [...] I knew exactly what I wanted to say and I said it." It's stupidly girly of me, but YGM is really one of my favorite movies ever.
VERY important announcement: Okay, here's the deal, guys: I'm moving soon. And I don't just mean picking up my things and moving to a new house, I mean I'm moving overseas. I'm starting a postgraduate course in Europe, so I'll be flying there by late September. With my new schedule I expect come October I'll have a lot less free time to write. I have the next few chapters well planned out, so I am still going to try my best to pump them out as fast as I can, but please have a little patience with me. I promise I will not abandon this fic.
But well, there's still a little under a month to go before that happens! So for the moment, I hope you enjoyed this chapter, and I'll shut up now because my notes are nearly as long as the chapter itself. Reviews are always a great incentive, hint hint! See ya next time. :)