Chapter 30: Taking cues...
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.
It could have been days since she was visited by President Snow. Weeks, even. Once again she had no way of telling the passage of time, and this time she was almost glad for it; she couldn't handle counting the days by the deaths of her squad members anymore. She felt horrible for thinking this way, but she was glad they were gone now. No more screams. No more torture. No more pain. It was better this way. The Capitol couldn't hurt them anymore.
They hadn't hurt her either. But of course they wouldn't; they needed her to sell Snow's fallacious message to the districts, they needed her to convince them not to rebel. There was not a thing in the world she wanted to do less, but didn't know how to get out of it. She couldn't risk the President's wrath. She'd already dared too far by talking back to him, and he quickly put her in her place. It was easy for him. He held her life, and Prim's, in his hands.
They wouldn't hurt her, but perhaps she could hurt herself; the thought crossed her mind several times through her captivity. Death was a better option than anything President Snow had in store for her. But then what would happen with her sister? They'd kill her, for sure. Not to mention, short of bashing her head against the concrete walls, she didn't know how she could do it. Whatever idea she came up with, they'd know, and would stop her. They were always watching.
But they hardly needed to threaten her in any way, as her own mind was providing enough torture to render her nearly catatonic. With nothing to do within those four walls, and no one to talk to anymore, there was nothing for her except to think over and over about everything that had happened up until then. Most of the time she couldn't keep what little food they gave her down. She couldn't sleep. Every time she tried, Snow's snake-like eyes and cold threats to her sister and her district jolted her back to reality.
Perhaps that limbo was actually shorter than it felt to her, but eventually two Peacekeepers came to get her out of lockdown. They dragged her out of the building and into a car, moving her to a different location. The place was no prison, that was for sure. She barely had time to take in the luxurious accommodations she was thrown into when three people— Capitol people, as made obvious by their exaggerated features: the green skin, the orange hair, the gold tattoos— burst into the room in a flurry of urgency.
The three were professionals, sent in to prep her for the cameras. This consisted mainly of making her look like a human being after weeks of imprisonment— no easy task, she guessed, if the dismayed looks on their faces when they first saw her were any indication. "You can take the girl out of prison, but you can't take prison out of the girl," the male, Flavius, muttered, hissing out the s-sounds as he spoke.
Still, they went about their assigned task with all the zest they could muster. They went through several complete hose-downs, lathering several different lotion-like substances on her (all of which she could only think of as "goop"), and then scrubbing, spraying, "exfoliating" (she didn't even know what that meant), filing and combing nails and hair respectively, and more than anything, removing all body hair except that on her head. By the time they were done with that, her entire body was sore and raw, but she knew she was in no position to complain. This was nothing. At least she hadn't been killed yet.
Even the prep team appeared to be affected by the obvious tension in the room. The actions required to make her presentable were practiced motions to them, but underneath all their vapidity, there was a sense of anxiety. Surely a direct order from the President to prep a prisoner for a live TV appearance wasn't something that happened every day, and they seemed rather nervous about it. It's like they weren't sure if they should treat her like a criminal or a celebrity.
It made them awkward enough to babble. They went on incessantly with that odd Capitol rhythm to their sentences, chattering about every shallow topic that crossed their minds. Katniss quickly learned to tune them out, until they hit one she didn't want to think about: Peeta's propo. It confirmed what Snow had told her— unbelievably enough, their "love story" seemed to have become the ultimate source of entertainment for Capitol audiences in a matter of just days.
She had willed herself not to think about Peeta's "confession" since she was shown that video, but now she kept straying back to it. It annoyed her because out of everyone, Peeta was probably the one person in the least danger. He was with the rebels, as far as she knew, and safe. But then she felt bad because even that wasn't for certain: if that one appearance was enough to raise the alert all the way to the President, he had basically become Panem's most wanted, in one single move.
He had put a target on his back for her.
Or had he? She kept trying to find some ulterior motive to his actions, but nothing she came up with made sense. He did say before that he wanted to stop the Games if he could, but could Peeta Mellark really be some kind of revolutionary mind? No, that was something she associated more with people like Gale. Peeta couldn't really be in love with her, obviously. There was no way. But everything he said sounded so sincere. And it was ludicrous to her that this man, this genuinely good man, who had once given her the bread that saved her life at the cost of a beating— a truly selfless action— could now be using her name, her plight, for his own agenda.
It didn't really matter. Whether he was using her or doing this for her, the fact was he had helped her. And for that alone, she dreaded the idea of him being at the top of a government hit list. But the fact that she cared bothered her, too. She didn't know what was real and what wasn't real with Peeta. It confused her. Confusion led to uncertainty, and uncertainty led to hesitation. And Katniss knew, as a hunter, as a killer, that one second's hesitation could be fatal. She couldn't afford to second-guess herself, not with everybody she loved in danger.
She was sharply reminded of that the next time Octavia, the youngest of the three, spoke up. She said the words like her mind was somewhere else, which was not surprising to Katniss given that she had brushed the same section of her hair three times already. "You have such horribly split ends. Your sister's hair was in a much better condition. Obviously she took better care of it."
The mere mention was all it took for Katniss to push herself up immediately. She moved so suddenly, she thought she might've kicked Flavius in the stomach. "Prim? You met Prim? Were you three her prep team?" she asked, on baited breath.
She saw Octavia cringe, like she wasn't meant to mention Prim at all, and Venia and Flavius threw glares her way, reinforcing that idea. "Please," she begged, "I need to know if she's okay. Is she still alive? Are the Games still ongoing?" Last she heard from Plutarch Heavensbee, her sister was still alive, but who knew how many days had passed since then.
The three exchanged worried glances, and she could see they were afraid of saying too much; the room they were in was probably bugged, just like every room in the Training Center had been. She was just about to insist, tell them to just nod or shake their heads if that was safer, when the door to the room opened and a man walked in. The simple lines and colors of his features and ensemble were a stark contrast to those of his fellow Capitolites. She briefly remembered him from past Games; he'd been assigned to District Twelve for a few years, but his appearances on TV weren't as frequent as the other stylists', for some reason.
The prep team scattered away from her like they were a band of pigeons someone had shooed away. "She's almost ready, Cinna," Venia piped in. "I believe all that's left is one last layer of body shine."
"I don't think we're going to need it, thank you," the man, Cinna, replied, with a nod in Venia's direction. "The more natural she looks, the better," he added. Katniss wasn't sure if that was meant to be an insult. He certainly didn't sound like he was being sarcastic. His voice was deep and even; it was almost calming, in comparison to the prep team's high-pitched tones.
The three minions scrambled out of the room, intent on getting more supplies so they could do her hair and make-up. Before she left, however, Octavia leaned close to Katniss and whispered in her ear: "Your sister is really sweet, and beautiful, too. We really like her." With that she skittered out. Katniss felt intense appreciation for her in that moment, and for the whole of the prep team, really. Silly and superficial as they were, it was hard to hate them if they truly cared for Prim.
And she had said "like." Present tense. That could mean Prim was still alive.
She was left alone with Cinna. She asked him if he had styled her sister, and he assented. "I had that honor, yes," he responded. He lightly held up her jaw with his hand, inspecting her from up close. "She told me she wanted to be like you. I can already see you two are very similar." He was looking at her as she figured an artist would appraise his blank canvas. "Both survivors."
That clinched it. She felt a huge weight lift off her shoulders, and she gave the man a nod— it was the only way she knew how to thank him without making it obvious to the hidden microphones that he was giving her information he shouldn't. He smiled at her. "I lit your sister up with fire," he pointed out, re-positioning strands of her hair this way or that as if he hadn't quite decided yet which style he would give her. "But something tells me flames would suit you much better."
The mention of Prim's parade getup reminded her of what she was here for. She swallowed hard. "It doesn't matter if I look good," she replied, grave. And it was true: it didn't really matter what she looked like, as long as she could convince the people of the districts not to rebel. That's all Snow wanted.
Cinna seemed to have a different opinion of it, however. He shook his head. "It matters that you look strong."
A few hours later, she was standing in front of the mirror, completely shocked at the incredible transformation that had been achieved. She had never been one to care about her appearance— looking pretty wasn't going to put more food on their table— but it was impossible not to be impressed by this degree of change. She didn't just look pretty; she looked like a completely different person. Beautiful, absolutely radiant, in a way she never imagined she could. Surely Cinna had to be some kind of magician.
Her dress was bejeweled, much like Prim's interview dress had been, except where hers was white, Katniss's was a sharp, rich red. It fit closer to the body, strapless and with a deeper neckline than Prim's had had, but the skirt flared out at her hips, with the reflective gems shimmering at the bottom in a pattern she knew would resemble flames when she moved. There was no forgetting whose sister she was.
The prep team hovered near her in various degrees of excitement. Flavius looked particularly smug. Cinna, however, was looking at her with a critical eye, as if measuring critical little details that still needed to be fixed. "Amazing," he told the three, who beamed back at him. "Though I want to take a closer look at her makeup. We'll just go to the bathroom; there's better lighting there."
"Let me just get the color kit—" Venia started, but Cinna interrupted her before she could rush to it.
"No, that's alright," he said, with a light shake of his head. "It's just some eyeliner smudging. Nothing that can't be done with a cotton swab." Without waiting for a reply, he pulled Katniss gently by her arm and led her toward the conjoined bathroom. It was as luxurious as the room itself had been, and very large, so she waited for Cinna to tell her where it was better for her to sit.
He did not point her in the direction of the best lighting. Instead, as soon as the bathroom door closed between them and the prep team, he ran around the room opening up every faucet and tap that was available. Every sink and basin, even the huge bathtub, began filling with water.
She began to ask what he was doing, but he only signaled for her to be quiet for a moment, That's when she understood: he was using the noise from the water as a cover. The flowing sound reverberated through the room and it would hide his voice from any recording devices in the room. That immediately set her on edge. Whatever he had to say, it was important enough to hide from Capitol ears, which meant it was dangerous.
She looked at him anxiously as he finally made his way back to her. He grabbed her by the shoulders and nudged her toward a chair. "Sit. We don't have much time," he said in a low tone, leaning close enough to her that she could hear him over the sound of all the faucets, and straight in her face so that she could read his lips if she still didn't hear him.
"Why are you doing this?" she asked him before he could speak again. She didn't understand why a Capitol citizen, someone so closely involved with the Games as a stylist at that, would risk his position, his life even, to give forbidden information to a known criminal.
He shook his head, though that wasn't really an answer. Instead, he jumped straight into it. "Your sister's alive. The Games are over. The rebels got her out. She's in Thirteen right now." She opened her mouth to ask him something else— how did he know this, was he with the rebellion, was Prim really okay— but he interrupted her again. "There's more. We received intelligence that President Snow is about to launch a missile attack on Thirteen. It hasn't been confirmed but if it happens, it'll be tonight. We need to warn them but the usual means of communication won't get the message to them on time."
Whatever relief she had achieved in the past few minutes flew out the window with those last few sentences. She tensed up as she remembered Snow's threats the day he visited her in her cell. Could it be true? Had the rebels really planned this whole thing only to have the President easily render it all a waste with the press of a button? Had she merely sent Prim from one certain death to another?
Cinna looked at her straight in the eye. "Katniss. They need to know." His green eyes bore into hers. She understood. She knew what she had to do.
Once out of the bathroom, she was taken a few floors below, to the ground floor, where this charade of an intervention would be televised. The stage, she recognized: it was the same one they used for the Tribute interviews. It hit her immediately that she was back in the Tributes' Training Center, though she couldn't recognize any of the rooms she'd been in that day.
The stage was lit up so brightly, it was hard to see anything beyond it, though she couldn't catch a glimpse of an audience there. She snuck a peek at the balconies on buildings surrounding the stage, and she saw that they were all filled with camera crews, even the one where the Gamemakers would usually sit as Caesar Flickerman asked the tributes questions.
Speaking of Caesar Flickerman, he was standing toward the side of the stage and intensely discussing something with a man with rainbow-tinted skin— she assumed he was one of the people who would be producing this TV intervention. Caesar's hair was still lime green, and he was dressed to match, much as he had been when he interviewed Prim. He looked a little more tanned now, however, to the point the contrast with his bright hair made his skin look almost orange. Apparently even during the Games he could get some time off to spray tan.
Before she was ready— as if she could ever be ready for this— Caesar walked off to get his microphone on and rainbow guy was hurrying toward her. "Okay, you're going to sit there and Caesar is going to ask you questions. Just let him lead, less chance of you messing it up that way." She had no idea how to even reply to this man, she was pulled in so many different directions, so in the end she only scowled at him. Not that it mattered, as he waved her off and walked away without even bothering to see her reaction.
Next thing she knew, she was being pushed, almost tripping over her own feet (thanks for the heels, Cinna), toward the chair rainbow man had just pointed her to. A group of people started fussing over her, flashing even brighter lights at her face and then measuring something with some odd rectangular clickers.
She tried to ignore them, to ignore it all, retreat into herself— it was the only way she could even dream of pulling this off— and then when she raised her eyes again, there he was, where Caesar had just been standing a minute ago: President Snow himself, his dark eyes fixed on her, as if daring her to step one toe out of line. She tried to swallow, but her throat was suddenly dry.
She was so caught up on his chilling presence, she didn't even notice Caesar had sat down on the chair next to hers and had started asking her questions. "...Katniss?"
She snapped her gaze in his direction. "I— What?"
"I asked if it would be okay for me to call you Katniss," Caesar repeated, with patience. He sounded graver than he usually did in the tribute interviews, but again, these were very particular circumstances. "She might be a little nervous," he started, almost jokingly but not quite breaking his serious semblance. He wasn't talking to her, but somewhere toward the front of the stage. "It's not every day one can be seen on every television screen in the country."
She looked in the direction he was looking and found herself facing dozens of cameras, all of them pointed straight in her direction. It was instantly overwhelming. Every single person in Panem was seeing her make a fool of herself right at that moment.
Right in front of the stage, a couple of steps away from the gaggle of producers and/or technical crew, was Cinna. He had probably been allowed there in case something went wrong with her dress or her hair. She didn't care about either, but his presence gave her a brief sense of relief— she wasn't completely alone in this madhouse. He nodded at her, as if telling her: You can do this. It helped.
Doing her best to swallow her hesitation, she answered Caesar's question: "No, I don't— I don't mind."
"Very well, then," Caesar replied, lightly patting the armrest of his chair as if in assent."Katniss, you have become quite the household name lately. It's nice to finally get to talk to you." He paused, as if waiting for her to say something. She had no idea what he expected to hear. Should she agree? Nod? "Now, what many people don't know," he started again, quickly trying to cover up her unresponsiveness, "is that you have been in prison for the past few weeks..."
She froze, caught off-guard. She didn't expect Snow to want to reveal that part. Once again Caesar rushed to fill the silence, leading her in the right direction, much like rainbow man had said he would. "...On charges of unlawful migration outside your district borders. Is that correct?"
He was basically telling people she'd been thrown in jail only for leaving Twelve to come to the Capitol. No mention of her killing Seneca Crane; obviously that one detail they meant to keep hidden. Having no choice but to go with it, she nodded.
"This was after your sister, Primrose, as we all know, was reaped as a tribute for the 79th Hunger Games." It was more a statement than a question, but she nodded again. "Why did you feel the need to follow your sister to the Capitol?" he asked at her response. "I had the chance to interview her, and she seemed like a very smart, capable girl. Were you worried she wouldn't properly represent your district in the Games?"
She bristled (on the inside) at the mere suggestion. Just the idea that she may be disappointed with Prim's abilities like performing well in the Games was some sort of dignified ideal, when in reality all she wanted was to save her baby sister's life. These people had no business knowing anything about her life; they'd already taken her freedom, her sister's innocence, her squad mates' lives, and they might yet take hers— she wasn't going to let them have anything else. But she couldn't just let everyone think she was disappointed in Prim. She could never be. Prim was everything to her.
"No. Prim is... she's amazing," she started, wanting him and everyone to know what an amazing person Prim was, and it had nothing to do with any "honor" the Capitol had bestowed on her. "She's the smartest, sweetest person you'll ever meet. She never lets anything bring her down. I knew she'd try her hardest, and I will always be proud of her for that. I just..." She took a deep breath, trying to think of a way to state her motivation without sounding like she was blaming the Capitol; she could see Peacekeepers standing to the right and it wouldn't do to get herself shot. "...I just wanted to help her, somehow."
"A noble ideal, certainly," he commented, sounding solemn. "Unfortunately leaving your district without a Capitol sanction is, regardless, very much illegal." She had to try very hard not to glare at him. Was this what Snow intended with this charade, to mock her in front of the whole country? It would be one way to damage the credibility of the rebels. Raising her eyes she looked behind Caesar, and found the President's gaze still fixed on her, his expression steely.
Caesar wasn't done speaking, however. "If I'm honest, Katniss, I'd say your words are very much along the lines of something your husband said, in his televised interview a few weeks back," he pointed out, like Peeta's interview was just another TV special in the Capitol's regular programming, nothing else. "You have seen that clip, correct?"
Somewhat shakily, she nodded. She knew Caesar would touch upon Peeta's propo, since that was precisely what Snow wanted her to discredit, but irrationally she'd been hoping against hope he wouldn't. Somehow acknowledging it and talking about it made it feel more real. Caesar smiled at her for the first time since their interview began— a smile designed to make him seem sympathetic. "The Capitol audiences are quite enamored with him, you know," he added, as if it was some big secret. "He must love you a lot."
He might. She wished he didn't. "I... I guess," she replied, her throat so dry, she might as well have swallowed a spoonful of sand.
"Oh, anyone with eyes could see that he adores you," Caesar added, and it was like he was pouring salt on an open wound. She'd always thought Capitol people were silly, flighty, and could never see anything past their own noses. But was she the one who was completely blind? Had they seen something in Peeta she'd somehow missed this whole time? "As romantic it was, there was more to his story than just his love for you," Caesar continued. "I'm sure we all saw it. I'm sorry, Katniss, but I must call things as they are: your husband was sending a rebellious message."
Again, it was surprising that they would admit this, but probably things were too far gone now for them to even attempt to deny it; there was no credible excuse they could make for the way the Games ended. "Now, being his wife, you probably know Peeta better than anyone." Except she wasn't, and she didn't. "What do you think might've been his reasons for doing this?"
She couldn't know his motivation, or perhaps she didn't even want to know, but she knew whatever it was, he felt he was doing the right thing. Because he was a good person that way. And so she answered Caesar's question with what she knew for certain was true. "It wasn't his fault!" she blurted out, an edge of desperation to her words. "He's not a rebel. They're using him— they're using him and it's all my fault, because I was the one who insisted we come here."
"Because you wanted to help your sister," Caesar once again interjected, making it more of a statement than a question.
"I thought I could save her," she went on, the words coming faster and faster the more agitated she got, "but I got wrapped up in this whole thing, this rebellion. And in the end I couldn't be there for her."
"Surely you must know by now that the Games were... interrupted," Caesar acknowledged, carefully. In the small television screens that were at the front edge of the stage, she could see the transmission cut to scenes of the day the rebels stormed the arena. She saw Prim slamming a weapon against a translucent patch of something like a force field, and then it was like the entire arena exploded. Then the rebels started going in. She caught a glimpse of Peeta, the mentor from Eleven, and even Finnick Odair. They were easily recognizable. Victors turning their back on the Capitol... must have been quite the scandal.
"Your sister is out of the arena now," Caesar continued his train of thought, clearly used to letting the producers do their thing. She noticed he never said exactly where Prim was, even though they certainly knew. "Do you believe everything you went through was worth it?"
The fact that they still refused to acknowledge the existence of Thirteen made her angry. Of course they'd want to keep it under wraps: there was little a small band of rebels could do against a powerful, oppressive entity as the Capitol, but the knowledge that there was the structure of an entire district behind this revolution, an entire district that not only was outside Capitol control and as such free to amass as much military power as they desired, but also a district that had already survived the Capitol's force once, could give the other districts an entity to band around against their common enemy. It was the last thing the Capitol wanted to happen.
She couldn't care less what they were afraid would happen. It was disgusting to act as though the brutal murder of six good soldiers was something they could simply swipe under the rug. She shook her head emphatically, though it wasn't a direct answer to his question. "I won't answer that until I get to see my sister and my husband again," she stated, her words unintentionally clipped.
She saw Snow narrow his eyes at her, and she knew he'd caught her disgust. She couldn't afford to mess this up. "I just... None of this is what I wanted," she attempted. She still sounded snippy, but she hoped it came across as anxiety. Anxiety was understandable; anger was seditious. "I was desperate; all I wanted was to get my sister back. I didn't mean to get caught up in a war." She recited, much like Snow had instructed her to. That part was true. But that didn't mean she thought the uprising should be quenched.
"What are you saying, Katniss?" Caesar asked, springing forward in his chair like he had just latched onto an especially juicy scoop. "Are you saying this conflict is pointless? That you believe the districts should not get involved in these attempts at rebellion?"
She saw his clear attempt to direct her in a particular direction— the direction Snow wanted— but she wasn't going to let him lead anymore. She was done playing the Capitol's game. She had a message to get across. But how? She didn't know how to get people's attention. She was terrified of saying something wrong that would either get her killed or harm the people in the districts and Thirteen even further. She didn't have a way with words, not like Peeta did.
The only thing she could think to do was take her cues from Peeta: remind people what they were fighting for. "What I'm saying is," she started, trying to channel all her anger and fear into determination, a sense of confidence she didn't really feel, "that I was afraid this fight would take everything I love away from me, but I've realized they're what makes me keep going. And so should you!"
She stood up. She could see the producers and cameramen around the stage growing agitated, flittering back and forth as if discussing amongst each other what they should do with this decidedly off-script turn. The President had no such qualms: as she continued speaking, he was already signaling to the assistants to call for the Peacekeepers standing guard by the entrance door.
It only spurred her to speak louder and faster, the words pouring out of her mouth almost without conscious intent, only pure feeling. She had to get this out. "If we stand together, we can be the fire they can't quell! People of the districts, people of Thirteen, you must fight!" The producers were screaming at each other now. Caesar sprung up from his chair and ran to the side of the stage, eager to get away from the confrontation that was surely coming.
This was the breaking point: she had revealed to the entirety of Panem the one secret the Capitol was most intent on hiding. But she couldn't falter now: there was one more thing she needed to say. "No matter how many missiles they throw your way tonight, you have to keep fighting—!" That was the straw that broke Snow's cool façade: for once looking urgently irate, he grabbed one of the flabbergasted producers roughly by the arm and barked at him to "End it!" just as two Peacekeepers rushed in and grabbed Katniss, interrupting her words.
As they dragged her offstage, she squirmed to turn her head and locked eyes with Cinna. Then one of the men who were holding her had enough of her struggling and hit her hard on the back of her head with what she imagined was the butt of a pistol. The last thing she saw before she blacked out was two more Peacekeepers bashing Cinna's head in.
Well, it didn't take two months, but the wait wasn't as short as I'd initially intended it to be. Sorry about that! Chapter 35 grew into an 8K words monster before I even noticed, and that's why this took so long. But I hope it was worth the wait! As you can see, stuff (not necessarily good stuff, but stuff) is happening.
I hope you're enjoying the parallels I'm going through here, and I hope you look forward to how these events will be similar AND different from the way things happened in the books. We'll be back to Thirteen next chapter, to see the repercussions of Katniss's message, so stay tuned!
Thanks for all the reviews, favorites, kudos and just the support you all have given this story. It means the world to me, and I hope I keep hearing from all of you as we go along, because it truly helps me so much. Also, sometimes I post sneak peeks of future chapters in my tumblr and twitter, so if you want to get some hints as to what's coming up, that's where you should start looking! The URLs are in my profile. See y'all next time! :)