Alright everyone, let me first just apologize for the crazy amount of time it took for me to update this. May was unbelievably busy for me, and once I actually got time to write this chapter, it ended up being a total pain in the ass. But, after much suffering, it's finally done! And the best part is that it's much long than the previous chapters, so I hope y'all enjoy!
I also want to thank everyone who reviews. You guys really brighten my day! Unfortunately I don't have the time to get back to all of you individually, so just know that you're putting a smile on my face and most likely kicking my butt into gear to make me write faster. :P
A million thanks to my betas, tweety4be and madamemouse. Tweety helped me tons with this chapter, so everyone blow her kisses! :)
Disclaimer: Peeta (and the rest of the Hunger Games) still does not belong to me.
The following day, Peeta and I were both working in the store section of the bakery. It was slow—only a few people had come in to buy bread before breakfast. Peeta was also being oddly quiet. Instead of being his usual talkative self, he was silent for the most part. Late morning, however, the games snapped into action.
Most of the morning had been focused on the Careers as they recouped after their injuries from the following day, with the occasional screen jump to one of the other players who was not in an alliance. The only excitement so far, if you could call it that, was when Marvel stabbed the boy from Four in the back, eliminating another tribute. But right then, Rue, Pearl, and Thresh were center. Apparently, Rue was devising a plan to eliminate the Careers' food supply.
All three of them had been confused as to why the Careers' food was positioned like it was. They had put it in a pyramid-like structure, and left it seemingly unguarded. What we as an audience knew that they did not, however, was that it was protected by explosives. We had learned that the boy from three had managed to reactivate the land mines that the tributes stood on at the beginning of the games before he was killed. Nothing like that had ever happened in the games—even the Gamemakers were probably surprised.
Rue and Thresh had decided to distract the Careers while Pearl took care of the food. They had been hesitant to let her go by herself, but she finally convinced them. None of them, however, knew about the explosives guarding the food.
The smoke from a fire was what brought the Careers away from their camp. Pearl had been hiding in a tree, waiting for them to leave and trying to figure out how she would possibly sabotage what they had to eat. Finally, it dawned on her what was going on when the fox-like girl from seven made a move to steal something from the pile and quickly ran away, seemingly from nothing. Pearl strung a bow onto her arrow and shot a bag of apples.
The apples tumbled down, exploding the entire pyramid. Pearl was thrust out of her low-hanging tree branch and onto the ground. Her left ear was bleeding heavily, and disoriented, she ran as the bombs continued to burst.
The screen cut to the Careers, who were now at an abandoned fire and swore miserably as they ran back to their camp. Their worst fears were confirmed when they saw all their food had been burned to a crisp—all of them furiously screaming and blaming one another. After several threats and accusations were thrown about, they all wordlessly set off on a murderous rage, hoping to ease their fury with the shed of blood.
Cut to Pearl, who had somehow gotten back to Rue and Thresh. They were tending to her ear, which was still bleeding heavily, and she was swaying as if she would pass out at any moment. The best they could do was splash some antiseptic on it and bandage it.
The Careers came back into focus, right as Marvel stabbed the boy from four through the back and into the heart. The boys from eight and seven were killed as well, falling victim to Clove. They continued to stalk around the arena, trying to find more tributes to eliminate, but coming up empty.
The TV began to quiet after a while with no action, but the sound immediately spiked when Rue left the shelter by herself. Thresh had stayed with Pearl, but we didn't catch why Rue had left by herself in the first place. She quietly leapt through the trees, but she had to go by ground once she reached a small clearing. Unbeknownst to her, Clove was waiting silently in a shelter of trees, her eyes glued to Rue like a predators to prey. Marvel handed her the bow without a word, and I bit my lip, already knowing what was inevitable.
The arrow zipped through the trees and into the clearing, planting itself in Rue's chest before she had a chance to blink. She fell to the ground, coughing and gasping for breath. When Clove shot her fist up in the air, punctuating it with a gratified "Yes!" I wanted to be sick.
The Careers left the area, venturing farther into the trees. Rue sat by herself for several long moments, slowly dying, before Thresh and Pearl ran into the meadow, their eyes washing over with terror once they noticed the arrow stuck in Rue's tiny body.
Thresh pulled the arrow from her and grasped her hand once he reached her, murmuring things I couldn't catch and looking like he would begin weeping any moment. Pearl sat on Rue's opposite side, brushing her fingers through her hair, just as I often did for Prim after a nightmare or some other scary event.
They sat there until Rue finally passed, the canon confirming her death. Pearl and Thresh looked at each other with solemn expressions before Pearl finally began to speak.
"Let's—" she began, only to be cut off by the camera being focused elsewhere, on something that wasn't nearly as important.
"Why did they do that?" I asked Peeta, suddenly jumping back into reality. "Cut her off like that, I mean. It's like... they didn't want us to hear her or something."
"That's probably exactly why," he told me, finally turning on his stool to look at me, his blue eyes full of sadness. "Haymitch has told me that if anything the Capitol doesn't approve of—anything that so much as hints at the slightest form of rebellion—happens during the games, they'll immediately cut away from it.
"Oh," I said dumbly, still a bit surprised. I wasn't aware that they would do this, although it made sense considering how strict the Capitol was over anything that had to do with disobedience towards them.
"I just—that was so terrible. How she did that..." Peeta murmured, his thoughts going back to Rue's recent death.
"I know. And she was so happy about it..." My insides felt cold as I spoke, mentally re-witnessing Clove's glee at her kill. Peeta turned to me and squeezed my palm. I almost jumped. I welcomed his touch, but whenever I received it I had always had a moment to anticipate it, ready myself for the reaction my body seemed to get from him. This time, it was unexpected, and a bit... shocking. I stared at him, not wanting him to let go, but just a short, gentle squeeze was all I was given before he took his hand back.
We had a costumer come in then, an older man who bought five rolls and didn't speak to us other than to tell us what he wanted. Shortly after he left, the sound surged again, and our eyes made their way back to the television.
Rue's body was being lifted by a hovercraft, and we now knew what it was that Pearl had been suggesting before she was cut off—to cover Rue in flowers. Every inch of her tiny body was blanketed in wildflowers. It was beautiful, in the most bittersweet way. Pearl then pressed the three middle fingers of her left hand to her lips and then towards the hovercraft. Thresh watched her, then did the same, though he probably didn't know what it meant. It's an old gesture from District 12—it means thanks, admiration, goodbye—usually something someone does at a funeral of a loved one.
I blinked, now in serious danger of crying. But I kept the tears back, refusing for them to fall, and my eyes were fully dry by the time Peeta looked at me.
"Beautiful," was all he said.
Later that evening at dinner, my mother announced that she would be going to convert our old home into a make-shift hospital.
"It will bring in a little more money," she told us. "Although I won't expect everyone to pay for visits if they can't afford it. I just can't stand thinking of people suffering and getting no help because it cost too much."
"That's a great idea," Theo said, patting her hand. They exchanged a smile.
"And you said I could help you there, right?" Prim asked, nearly bursting with excitement.
"Of course," my mother told her with a grin. I smiled at them both, glad they were doing this, but knowing that there was no way I would be going anywhere near our old house. Sickness and death make me want to run screaming in the opposite direction—there's no way I'd be able to help an injured person.
After dinner, we all settled in the living room, spending time together as a family. Three more deaths occured that night—the girls from six and nine by the Careers and the boy from ten by Thresh. Once everyone started heading to bed, I looked at Peeta, hoping that he'd stay up to talk to me. He didn't, though—all I got was a soft goodnight before he headed to his bedroom and shut the door. I went upstairs and settled into my own bed, trying to ignore the ball of disappointment that was heavy in my stomach.
The action started early in the games the next morning. Peeta had only just flipped the sign in the window to "open" when the TV speakers began to blare. There were only six players left in the games, so there was a good chance that that would be the final day before we had a victor.
Thresh and Pearl woke together under their tree. Pearl was curled in Thresh's lap, and I had a sick feeling he would get attached to her like he had to Rue, and maybe vice versa. It would just be too terrible for him to have to lose both of them within twenty-four hours. They spent the morning collecting food—all they had left were a couple small pieces of dried meat—and Thresh got the idea to take a small pouch and fill them with poisonous berries, nightlock, and leave it out in the open, hoping one of the other tributes would find it and unknowingly end their own life.
By afternoon, Cato and Marvel had left Clove to scavenge for food also. They ended up fighting each other. Cato won after giving Marvel a deadly whack to the back of the head, but he was in bad shape. He decided to tend to his wounds rather than go back to Clove, who would most assuredly kill him immediately.
The tributes spent a good two hours just hiding out from each other. But if something didn't happen soon, the Gamemakers were going to create something to keep all the fans in the Capitol entertained. During those hours, Gale came in to the bakery to visit me. He didn't even acknowledge Peeta, but smiled brightly at me.
"Hey you," he said. "I haven't seen you in a couple days. Been busy?" I nodded, though that wasn't necessarily true.
"I can only stay for a couple minutes before I've got to get back to the house, but come by tomorrow, alright?"
"Okay. I will," I smiled at him. He grinned at me and squeezed my hand. Before he left, he shot a not so subtly glare in Peeta's direction. My smile faltered.
"He's quite the friendly one, isn't he?" Peeta said once Gale was gone.
"He's not usually that way," I told him defensively. "He just..." I trailed off, realizing that the reason Gale was rude to Peeta was because I had given him the impression that Peeta was rude to me.
"He just what?" Peeta asked.
"He, um... I guess he, you know, got off on the wrong foot. He didn't have a very good first impression of you at the wedding..."
"Well he's being pretty harsh for a bad first impression. Rudeness like that usually comes after more than one bad experience." Peeta was trying to joke, but it didn't meet his eyes.
"I told him you were mean to me, alright?" I blurted, feeling both terrible and relieved the minute it left my mouth. His face fell slightly.
"It was after you said you didn't want to teach me how to bake, and, well, it hurt my feelings, I guess. And I told Gale about it but it didn't really transfer to him like I intended it to. I'm sorry." I could feel a blush rising in my cheeks as I told him this. I expected him to be angry with me, but instead he reached out and grabbed my hand.
"No, don't be. I shouldn't have reacted the way I did, and I can understand you wanting to tell someone about it. And Gale has every right not to like me—I don't think I'd be able to like anyone who was mean to you, either." I could tell every word he said was completely sincere by the look on his face, and I reached out and wrapped my arms around him.
"Thank you, Peeta," I murmured into his chest.
"Katniss, I—" he started, only to be interrupted by the TV. We pulled apart to look at the screen, but our bodies were still very close. Pearl and Thresh were out hunting, and the girl from seven was rooting through their belongings—and she was eating the nightlock, just as Thresh and Pearl had anticipated. It only took around fifteen minutes or so for her to die. That left only four players in the games.
The screen flashed to Thresh and Pearl just after we witnessed seven's death. Pearl was looking at Thresh in the strangest way—as if now that there were only four of them left, he would turn around and stab her at any moment.
"What?" He asked her. She just stared at him. "Hey," he stepped towards her. "I'm not going to kill you, alright?" She stared up at him, her eyes full of fear.
"I'm scared, Thresh. One of us is going die. Soon." She looked like she was going to cry. I covered my mouth with my hands and pressed my back closer to Peeta.
"I'll protect you for as long as I can. Okay? Do you trust me on that?" He raked his fingers through her hair, pushing it out of her eyes. She nodded, and he kissed her forehead before leading her deeper into the forest. The speakers quieted.
Peeta took a step back to take a seat on the stool behind him and exhaled loudly. His face was distraught. I leaned over and squeezed his shoulder.
"The end of this one is going to be terrible," he said. "I can understand how he'd want to protect her, but... What happens when there's only the two of them left?" I bit my lip. It was beginning to sink in, what he was saying. I don't know why I hadn't realized that earlier—my brain may have blocked the thought, too terrible to comprehend.
"You... you don't think one of them will kill the other, do you?"
"I guess we'll find out." He grabbed my hand and held it, rubbing my knuckles with his thumb. We fell silent for the rest of the afternoon.
That evening, the games came to an end. I was sitting on the couch between Prim and Peeta, grateful for their warmth as I watched the horrors unfold before us. We watched Thresh kill Clove after she taunted him about Rue. Furious, he had slammed her skull to the ground, ending her life with a sickening crack.
There were only three players left—Cato, Thresh, and Pearl. They stayed hidden from each other for too long, and the Gamemakers eventually released a pack of Muttations on them. While they looked enough like wolves, each mutt held a frightening resemblance to one of the previously killed tributes. Their eyes especially—so terribly human and vicious.
The mutts had ganged up on Thresh, nearly shredding his leg. He and Pearl had somehow managed to make it to the top of the Cornucopia, safely away from the mutts. Thresh, however was in terrible shape. He had lost so much blood from his leg, and bones were visible. It was sickening.
The mutts went after Cato, and killing him was apparently not an easy task. They chased him around for two hours, biting and shredding until he was so bloodied and torn that he was unrecognizable. Sometimes the Careers had something done to their bodies to make it much harder for them to be killed—that was clearly the case with Cato. He finally made it to the Cornucopia and stared at Pearl desperately, silently begging her to kill him. She did, with an arrow to his heart. The cannon sounded, and the mutts vanished.
And then there were two.
Thresh put his hand to Pearl's chin, guiding her to look at him. He was so pale, and weak.
"Kill me," He told her.
"No," she shook her head, almost violently. "No, no, no, no. I won't do it."
"You have to," he insisted. "One of us needs die and it sure as hell isn't going to be you."
"I won't kill you," she whimpered, crying now. He opened his mouth, ready to protest, but stopped himself.
"I'll go first anyway," he said finally. Pearl ignored him, resting her head against his chest and squeezing his torso.
They moved to the lake after a while—Thresh said he was thirsty, but I could tell he just wanted to put more tension on his leg to end his life sooner. Pearl had protested, but gave in at his insistence.
When they finally reached it, Thresh was in much worse condition. He requested for Pearl to kill him more than once, but she refused, each time telling him that she would notend his life. I couldn't believe what she was doing—refusing to kill him seemed to be quite the act of defiance against the Capitol, and we hadn't ever seen any player pull something like this in any of the games before. There was no doubt there would be some complications for her after she left the arena.
Finally, after three miserable hours, Thresh died, his head resting in Pearl's lap as she stroked his hair. Pearl had been keeping herself together fairly well throughout everything, but as she watched Thresh take his last breath and then heard the booming of the cannon confirm his death, she fell apart. Her sobs shook her entire body, and when the hovercraft came to pick Thresh's body up, she clutched him tightly to her chest.
"No!" She screamed through her sobs. "You can't take him! I won't let you!" Several intervals of silence indicated they were editing out some of what she was telling to them. Prim cuddled into me as we watched, and I felt her shake, indicating her silent tears.
Eventually, they had to take both Pearl and Thresh in the same hovercraft. Of course, they made it appear as though they planned to take them together in the first place. The Capitol never let anything appear as though it happened without their prior planning.
Finally, the screen cut to President Snow, who announced our new victor, and smiled about the end of another "great Hunger Games." The anthem followed him, and then the TV shut off for the first time in days.
We all were shaken by the end of the games, especially at Pearl's reaction to Thresh's death. My mother's eyes glistened, as did the rest of ours, and her fingers were white as they clutched Theo's hand. The both of them quickly bid us goodnight and excused themselves to bed. Ben, Terence, and Prim followed, but Peeta and I stayed. It was almost one in the morning, but I didn't want to go to bed just yet.
I leaned against Peeta.
"You were right," I told him.
"I was right?"
"About the end. It was terrible." I pressed my face into his upper arm, trying to prevent myself from tearing up again.
"Oh. It was," he agreed.
"Why didn't she do it?" I asked him, meeting his eyes. "Kill him when he asked her to, I mean. Because... he was going to die anyway, and he would have had to suffer less if she did."
"I guess, in theory, killing him would have been easier. But having been there with him, survived with him, killing him probably would have been impossible. If it was you and me in the arena, and I was in his place and you were in Pearl's, would you have been able to kill me?" I opened my mouth to answer him, but he interrupted me. "Wait—never mind, don't answer that. I might not like what you have to say," he teased, trying to lighten the mood. I smiled.
"I guess you're right. I mean, right now, it's easy to say that I'd end your life if you were dying and asking me to, but actually doing it..." I trailed off. "No. I don't think I could." Peeta brushed a strand of hair off my forehead and tucked it behind my ear. His fingers left a trail of... something, in their wake. I didn't know what it was, but it felt nice.
"Are you tired?" he asked me, changing the subject.
"Yes," I said, resting my head on his shoulder and curling into him. He leaned back and his arm found its way around me. My eyes drooped, and I couldn't help but think that I really should go upstairs and get to bed, before I fell asleep on the couch against Peeta's warm, sleeping body.
So the games are done! Yay! Honestly can't even begin to tell you how happy I am about that, because they were torturous to write.
Anyway, just wanted to let you guys know that the next chapter will revolve more around Katniss and Peeta, since the story has kind of been lacking in that and I know it's what you're dying to see! ;)