8 – Rebel
Caesar Flickerman only reaches up to Gale's shoulder. He holds out his hand as Gale walks out, but once it is made clear that it will not be shaken, he makes as if to introduce him to the audience.
"Our final tribute, Gale Hawthorne!"
Gale and Caesar sit down, Gale leaning forward a little, looking intently at Caesar, assuming Caesar's usual stance. My stomach sinks, my pulse quickening. I can see line between his eyes that always indicates an imminent outburst.
"See, sweetheart, he's being confident, making eye contact…" Haymitch points to the screen in a very Effie-like way. "He'll get sponsors. He might even survive for a while."
I don't respond. We're not in the woods, Gale, I plead.
"So, Mr Hawthorne, how are you finding the Capitol?" Caesar asks conspiratorially.
"You really want to know?" Gale asks in the same tone, and the crowd screams.
No. Please, Gale.
"There's more food at one dinner than my family gets in a month at home," Gale's tone is unchanged. There is a momentary silence. I hear Effie gasp a little, and something comes out of Haymitch's throat that I can't quite place. A laugh? Gale smiles at the audience, some of whom laugh uncomfortably, echoing into the silence. For a moment, I let myself enjoy the moment, seeing the Capitol squirm under Gale's gaze. I see him for a moment from the point of view of someone else; see in the contours of his face and his burning eyes something to be feared. A shock runs through my limbs, a thrill.
"So I guess I'm lucky to be here!" Gale adds, and the crowd cheers again, glad their ethereal conscience has been cleared.
"Indeed!" Caesar says smoothly, pulling the interview back onto his side. "And, tell me, what can the audience expect from you in the days to come? Do you have any particular fighting skills? You all have yet to be rated on potential, I believe."
"I wouldn't want to ruin the surprise," Gale laughs, and I recognise it as humourless, the one that constantly points out irony.
Caesar is more prepared for an uncomfortable moment now, so he continues smoothly.
"Oh, no, that's not the fighting spirit!" Caesar exclaims. "Don't you plan on winning?"
I can see a slight crease between Gale's eyes again. Perhaps it's the lights, the confusion in the heat of the stage, but I wonder if he's actually considering the question. Of course, he has to say it for the cameras. We want sponsors, even if neither of us is going home.
"If the odds permit," Gale says, and I can tell he has chosen the words carefully. To Caesar, to the rest of them, a reference to the slogan that they know so well; to the rest of us, something much more. Haymitch can feel it too, I can tell by his change in stance beside me, because only he can understand how it really feels to have your life taken away before you are dead.
Caesar laughs warmly. "We'll see about that, strong man like you!"
The crowd is deafening now, mainly feminine, fanatic screams that were only rivalled by Cato's interview. Thinking about Gale being perceived this way, as an object of desire, makes me uncomfortable. I find myself wishing we could be in the arena, my hunting partner at last. Suddenly I understand why he seemed so angry to see me on the train; the Capitol is changing us. Caesar shakes his hand warmly, each nod of the head dulling the edge that Gale brought to the interview
Gale comes through the door into the viewing room. He has a small smile on his face as he comes up to me, but before he reaches me, Haymitch is in the way.
"Careful, young man," he growls. Gale looks at him, unflinching. "Even if the crowd are too stupid to figure it out, that was a very fine line and you came too close to crossing it.
"Damn," Gale breathes, and I can't stop myself smiling.
"The two of you, you're more trouble than you're worth," Haymitch turns away, but not before I see his grimace soften.
"You don't know how much I wanted to cross that line," Gale murmurs to me as we turn back to the screen.
"Don't I?" I answer, smiling at the floor. Then, after a pause, "Why didn't you? In the woods, all the things you say – said – all the time…"
Gale's eyes darken, and I can tell we've reached the point when we both stop talking, because we know exactly why. "Rory…" is all he says, and I understand. Our families. He hates having to toe the Capitol's line, each smile, each handshake grating against the spirit that he kept up against the place back at home, but it's necessary to protect them. I used to wonder, sitting at home, knowing Prim was safe, why none of the tributes ever made a stand, but I know now. It's not weakness, it's good sense.
"So," Effie begins, her hands spread on the table, leaning forward to speak to Gale and me.
"Those interviews went well, I thought. Your social skills could do with improving, but I don't know if they teach that in District 12…Still, it's a solid performance from both of you. Just a word to the wise, and don't mention your home, it makes people…uncomfortable…"
Haymitch sits heavily down. "What did I miss?"
"Nothing," Gale assures him.
"So, tomorrow is the last day of training, exciting!" Effie trills, snapping her fingers at a nearby Avox, "And then it's the scoring. So we have to make sure we show ourselves off well. Do you have any strengths?"
There is silence. The realisation that we will be in the arena in two days was sudden and unexpected. I should have seen it coming, but in the ache of training and rush of the interviews it has not been at the forefront of my mind. I am used to ignoring the things that I keep in the back for when I am alone, which recently is never.
"Katniss can use a bow and arrow," Gale offers. My palms are clammy, my head light with wine and exhaustion.
"Oh, how bizarre! I sometimes wonder what it would be like to spend a day in 12" Effie remarks. "Well, make sure you use it, anyway. The higher your score, the more sponsors you get, and the greater your chance of- of making it as far as…"
She trails off.
"So meet you both at 9 in the Training Compound," Haymitch concludes.
"May I be excused," I say pointedly, feeling a little nauseous.
"Me too," Gale stands, and Effie waves her hand to dismiss us. We are already halfway to my room.
"We'll be fine," I tell him, my voice cracking as the door slides open.
"We will," Gale confirms, wrapping me in his arms and resting his head on mine.
"What if it comes down to it? And we don't...one of us can't…we end up…" What if one of us kills the other.
"It won't come down to it, Katniss. We have a plan, remember? Stay alive until it does come down to it and then…cannons together."
I can feel him smiling a little at this expression. I nod. Limp, supported only by him, I remember how exhausted I am.
"I'm going to sleep," I manage to say.
"Ok, Katnip," he says, releasing me, and I sway. Catching me, he lays me down on the bed and tucks the covers up to my chin. "See you in the morning."
I don't want him to leave. I only have so many days left with him anyway. "No," I say, my eyelids heavy. "Stay."