A/N: Okay, it has been waaaaaaay too long since I've worked on this. I've been going back and re-reading some of the previous chapters to figure out whose already dead, who went into the arena, who's allied with whom... It's insane and I don't know how I kept it all straight before! Anyway, I'll give you a current count at the end of this chapter in the A/N of how many tributes/mentors are still alive in the arena. If anyone out there has a better count, please, save me and let me know who's still left. T_T
CHAPTER 17: ON SAMSON'S MIND
Katniss was still unconscious, bandaged from a shredded piece of Peeta's shirt and recovering from the wound in her side, when the anthem played. Peeta forced himself to leave her side to go out to the opening of the ruins and watch the cloudy night sky, briefly illuminated by the seal of Panem.
The boy from One, Pharon, appeared first. His hulking form seeming even larger as the glowing projection taking up the sky. Next came the girl from Two. She must have been the one who tried to behead Peeta while Pharon was holding him down. He couldn't remember her name and didn't care to right in that moment. Katniss must have killed her, he realized, and the part that needed to believe Katniss was a good person decided it had been in self defense.
A third image appeared in the sky, though Peeta hadn't recalled a third cannon. It must have happened sometime during the freak rainstorm that was still pouring down overhead. It was the boy from ten.
After a moment, the sky flickered back to blackness and rain. Peeta took a moment to fill his makeshift water container and headed back to Katniss. Three dead today—he supposed that was good considering today was the day the Mentors were added into the fray. He would have expected more from those who had already proved themselves as dangerous.
He didn't know which had decided to return—an astonishing six of them—but he could guess that there was at least one ex-career in the mix. And that was something worth shuddering about.
When he reached Katniss, he knelt down and checked to make sure she was still breathing, before he slumped against the wall beside her. He wouldn't sleep, he decided. Not with Katniss unconscious and their location probably known to every mentor in the arena—and whoever had killed Spencer.
No, he would stay up and wait and stroke the dark hair from Katniss' face, because he doubted he would ever get another chance to do it.
Peeta's eyes snapped open as a crack of thunder that could have been a canon sounded through the air, echoing eerily off the ruined walls. His heart raced and he glanced down at Katniss—was she paler than before?—checking for signs of breath. She was fine. As fine as she could be with that wound. He leaned over her and as carefully as he could, lifted the torn fabric that covered the injury. It was sticky and wet, the trauma beneath oozing clear liquid. He couldn't tell if that was a good sign or not. Did clear liquid mean it was healing? That it was trying to scab over or staunch the blood flow or... something? Or was it a sign of infection.
Silently, Peeta cursed himself for not knowing something about this. He tore off his other sleeve and used it as the new bandage. Using the same strip of cloth from his lower shirt, he secured it as best he could. If it hurt, Katniss showed no sign of it. She didn't even stir. If it weren't for the steady, slow breaths she took, he would have thought she was...
Closing his eyes against the thought, he leaned back against the wall. He had fallen asleep. He couldn't do that again. It didn't matter how tired he was, he needed to stay awake, alert. Well, as alert as his tired mind could be.
"Why are you here, Katniss?" he mumbled to the darkness. "What did you think you were doing?"
Peeta wasn't so naïve as to think that this was about him. That the scant few days he had had with her in the Capitol had been enough to win her over to feeling the intense love he had felt for her since they were schoolyard children. It was too much to even hope that her volunteering had been an effort to save him.
But hope he did. And it was a terrifying kind of hope, because if that was her reasoning, then he would never be able to stop her from dying for him. Katniss wasn't one to lose in any endeavor she strove for.
He remembered her words from only a few days ago. "There are no friends in the Games." Maybe she had gotten it into her head that, somehow, if he never considered her a friend, he wouldn't mourn her loss. Had Katniss known about the Quarter Quell twist when she had said that? When they'd spoken, he had been so focused on his own impending doom that he hadn't taken the time to look at hers. Though maybe he should have.
The recollection was sharp, as though he had lived it himself. Prim's name being called at the Reaping. Katniss' little sister only a year younger than Katniss herself. Then Katniss stepping up to volunteer before Prim even reached the stage. They had both been so young... Then the name that surely she dreaded most after her sister's being called: Gale Hawthorne. It was no secret the closeness that spread between them. No secret the hours they spent hunting—illegally—in the woods.
No secret that surely they must be in love, despite Katniss' youth.
But love does not stop the Games. It doesn't give you reprieve or immunity. The Games will never be canceled, never be stopped, and no tribute would ever be pardoned from the honor that was mass-murder.
They burned together in the chariot, clasping their hands together and waving to the crowd as though this were a parade, not a montage of impending death. They seemed ablaze with excitement and power. The crowd roared in applause, screaming their names—Katniss' name.
And then there was the interview. Just a tiny little girl in a bejeweled red dress, Katniss' almost frivolous, yet intoxicating charm opened the audience's hearts and surely earned her sponsors. But it was her last words that had moved Peeta most.
"Her name's Prim. She's just twelve. And I love her more than anything."
Anyone who had ever witnessed Katniss with her little sister would know it was true. They were only a year apart, but Katniss had become a lifeline to her family long before the Games had ever made her Victor.
"What did she say to you? After the reaping?" Caesar had asked.
"She asked me to try really hard to win." Katniss' eyes had been the size of saucers, her emotions for once on display for the world to see. There was her innocence. There was the scared little girl who had done the only thing she could to save that which was most important to her.
Peeta had thought she might cry right then. Prim alone could bring the girl to tears.
"And what did you say?" Caesar prompted gently.
You could tell by the silence of the audience that they were waiting with baited breaths for her answer. That she had hooked them with her story, her courage, the way only Katniss could. The dress had grabbed their attention; Katniss had held it. And you could tell by the harsh expression on her face, that she had no idea. She was lost somewhere in her memories of Prim and District Twelve and what she would have to do to get back to them.
"I swore I would."
If you have never seen a thirteen-year-old girl have the face of a battle-hardened veteran, then count yourself lucky. It was horrifying in a way that came only with the Games.
She had sworn to come back to Prim.
Peeta knew it was true. But even he couldn't have guessed what it was she would have to do in the end.
When Gale took the stage after her, he was an immediate favorite. Fifteen-years-old, tall, tanned, and handsome, he won them with looks where Katniss had won them through sheer force of personality.
When he took his seat next to Caesar, there was a stir of giggles from the crowd, but no one could have guessed what he would do on that stage. He could have talked about his family. His little brothers, Rory and Vick, or his only sister, Posy, or his mother Hazelle. How his father had been lost in the mines, just like Katniss'. He could have talked about the determination he had to get home, how hard he would fight. Hell, he could have gone up there and just smiled the entire time, making Capitol girls swoon and cheer for nothing more than a pretty face. It had been done before.
But he didn't do any of that.
When Gale sat next to Flickerman he didn't smile, he didn't laugh, he didn't try to win everyone over.
All he said was this: "I'm in love with Katniss Everdeen and I always will be."
The crowd loved him.
In the arena, the two were automatically allies. From the moment they jumped from their pedestals at the Cornucopia, it was obvious they were already working as a team, their movements planned. Katniss had stolen a bright backpack before the area was picked clean, while Gale had gone for the gold: a bow and arrow placed like temptation atop the mound of prizes at the golden horn. Although he reached the bow and quiver of arrows, he wouldn't have made it out alive if Katniss hadn't lodged the blade of a knife in the throat of the female tribute from District Three.
The Games had only just begun and already they were working as a familiar team. And Katniss already had her first kill.
Instead of following a plan of mere survival, they went on the offensive. Peeta knew without knowing that it was Gale's strategy. Katniss never would have chosen to go hunting—not like that. But she went along with it just the same. The two of them weren't Careers and never could be, but they weren't pushovers either. They wouldn't be like the other tributes from District Twelve.
It was obvious to everyone who was watching—all of Panem—that they had worked closely together for years prior to the Games. Their movements were sure and confident. Each knew what the other was doing without needing to check to make sure or to ask. It was simply ingrained in their minds after so much time spent with one another.
Hunting came easily to them both, though Katniss was clearly the better shot. Gale instead brought skill with snares and traps. These were traits used and honed from hunting, survival. But they weren't using them just on wild game anymore. This wasn't about putting food on the tables of their starving families or in the bellies of their emaciated siblings.
This was about taking their futures in their own hands. And in the Games, that meant survival on a very different level. They weren't hunting rabbits or deer, they were hunting tributes.
And they were doing a damn fine job of it.
They had already picked off a few stragglers that came their way—like the female from District Eight, Jeraldina, who was stupid and desperate enough to set a fire on the second night, or Morash, the male tribute from District Ten who had the bad leg. That one might have been viewed as a mercy killing in the end—but ultimately, it was the Careers they were after.
Like the clever Deedin from Three who had been kept around to protect the spoils of the Cornucopia. One of Gale's traps made sure he went up in one of his own careful designs. They had found his leg a few feet from where he had been blown to pieces and the look on Katniss' face made it clear that she was both capable of making it to the end of the Games and that she was horrified by the fact.
Gale stared blankly for only a few seconds before grabbing Katniss and dragging her off into the woods. If Peeta had to guess at the boy's personality, he would have said heartless. But the way he looked at Katniss would have proved him wrong.
Rue was not part of Gale's plan. She was sweet, innocent, and so terribly small. A weak link for sure. Already Gale knew that only one tribute could become Victor and he wasn't planning on it being this little wasp of a girl. Katniss was the only one he planned on saving.
But Katniss wouldn't have any of it. Whatever she saw in that little girl was too powerful to ignore. She insisted on adding her to the alliance, despite any protests from Gale.
He couldn't say no.
But he could separate them. He could devise a plan that split the three of them up—and a good plan, too. One that had a high potential to succeed—and make sure there was enough space between the three of them to do the deed.
Katniss never knew what Gale was willing to sacrifice for his love.
When Katniss found the little girl, watched the spear enter her tiny chest, she saw only the boy from District One, Marvel as the murderer. Her arrow pierced his throat, spurting blood in a wide arch. For that kill, she felt no remorse and never would. But she never thought to ask how Marvel found little Rue, or whose trap it had been that scooped her up in that carefully woven net.
She never figured out that Gale had made sure that Katniss wouldn't have anyone to die for in the end.
They were standing only fifteen feet apart, Katniss at the edge of the forest, Gale at the edge of the pool. Nothing but grass between them. Tracker jacker venom still pumping strong in their veins, they aimed arrows at each other. Their hands shook, their vision blurred, their limbs threatening to buckle under the weight of the world.
A whispered no. Begging, pleading, tears, and hoarse cries. Hallucinations and reality all the same.
Gale pulled his arrow back stronger, ready to release. But it is Katniss who shoots first. It is her arrow that whips over the fifteen feet of grass to nick Gale Hawthorne in the neck. The nick is enough. He falls to the ground, weapon slack, and stares ahead with cloudy eyes that turn a deep shade of purple, before crumpling completely to the dirt.
Nightlock is a merciful death.
No one knows why she did not shoot him through the throat, the heart, the eye. Death blows. Whether it was the tracker jacker venom that threw off her aim or some regret in her heart that made her change trajectory when it was too late to stop the shot.
No one knows, and Katniss will not tell.
Peeta looked at the girl beside him. In sleep, she still looked like that scared little girl from Twelve whose only thought was to save her sister. "Why're you here?" he asked again. But only the sound of rain pelting their shelter responded.
A/N: Okay! Living Count! We've got ten tributes left and six mentors! For the tributes we have the boy from Two, the boy and girl from Three, the boy from Four, the boy and girl from Seven, the girl from Ten, the boy from Eleven, and the boy and girl from Twelve (obviously). For the mentors, we have Katniss, Finnick, Johanna, Gloss, Brutus, and Seeder... I think that's right.
Anyway, there you go! A synopsis of Katniss' Games! :) Aren't you glad I started updating again? XD Please let me know what you think (or if you've spotted any corrections that need to be made... I know I already have.)