A/N: I'm not even going to try to make excuses for the massive length of time since the last chapter. What matters now is that a new chapter is here, thank you for waiting and I hope it lives up to your expectations.
Chapter 26: Day 16
Chaff, Seeder and I are the only mentors still intently watching the games in the mentor control room. The others have gone to drown their sorrows or watch what remains of the show in their own comfortable Capitol apartments. At present, the three of us are simply staring dumbfounded at the screens in front of us. The final two tributes, both from our outlying districts, are refusing to kill each other – such a thing has never happened in the games before.
I should have seen this coming. Katniss is so stubborn; I should've known she'd cause some kind of a scene and end up getting us all in trouble.
Our shocked silence is interrupted by the door slamming open and Seneca Crane, the Head Gamemaker, storming in. It is unusual for the Gamemakers to enter the mentors' area, but nothing about this situation is usual. Crane looks awful, like he hasn't slept in weeks.
"I need this to end," he states, not even acknowledging us, "Right now."
"What do you want us to do about it? You're the Gamemaker." I ask, not bothering with pleasantries for the jumped-up young man who has power of life and death over our tributes.
He beckons for me to come over and talk to him privately.
"You know the girl. She can win this, you just need to send her the right equipment" he says, enigmatically. "What do you suggest?"
Rue eventually falls asleep. It's ridiculous, almost, how much she trusts me. I can't sleep. I'm mulling over all the possible options in my head. Only one of us can win. The Gamemakers will intervene soon enough – in fact I'm surprised they haven't already – and I'll have to decide whether to run and save myself, or help Rue.
The logical part of me says I can't save her, that I should just kill her now and save all the trouble. But I can't do it. She is so innocent and reminds me too much of Prim.
I am broken out of my thoughts by the telltale sound of a parachute descending towards us. At first I'm reluctant to pick it up, thinking it could be a bomb or something, but realise there's no point in delaying the inevitable.
I unscrew the canister. It contains two spoons, a small dish of some kind of porridge, and a handful of dark purple berries - nightlock.
Haymitch is giving me an out. I can give Rue the berries, making myself the victor, without having to brutally slaughter her. I could tell her the Capitol sent us some breakfast to share, give her the bowl and just let her eat the berries. Nightlock is a quick and relatively painless death. She wouldn't even know what was happening; 10 seconds after swallowing the berries she would be gone. I could go home, see my Mother again, play with Prim and her stupid cat, go hunting with Gale. It would all be over.
Then again, there's the other option. I could eat the berries myself.
It's barely evening but the arena is still in artificial night. Rue somehow falls asleep – or maybe passes out – on top of the Cornucopia. Shortly, a parachute falls containing nightlock berries and porridge.
I groan. There is no way Katniss will use those berries to kill Rue; she'll use them to kill herself. She already sacrificed herself once, to save Prim, and I'm certain she'll do it again to save Rue. My heart rate increases. Beside me, I sense Peeta tense – he must be thinking the same as me. This cannot end well.
I wake with a start when Katniss nudges me in the ribs. I didn't mean to fall asleep, but I am so tired and drained I couldn't help myself. Seeing Thresh killed, being in the final two and the worry of what will happen next, I can't keep up with all the emotions and thoughts running through my head.
I see that Katniss has received a parachute. I flinch, wondering whether she has received a weapon and is going to kill me, but stop myself when I realise that makes no sense – why would she wake me up to kill me? Strangely, she is smiling.
"Look what our mentors sent us!" she says, still smiling, although it seems kind of forced. I look into the bowl, inside is some kind of fruit and porridge.
"Breakfast?" I ask, confused.
"They're nightlock berries," she says, I vaguely recognise the name. "They're deadly poisonous."
I look at her, still really confused. Why is that a good thing?
"It's a way out of this," she says. "Neither of us is going to kill the other, right?"
I nod, of course I'm not going to kill Katniss.
"This way we won't have to," she whispers. "If we both eat these, we'll both die and they won't have a victor"
"But…" I start.
"It's the only way. Otherwise it will end with mutts or lightning strikes or a horrible, painful death. This way, it'll be just like falling asleep. I'll be right here too and we'll eat together." She explains.
I'm scared and I don't really understand what she's saying. There is always a victor, someone always wins. If we both eat the berries and die, I have no idea what would happen.
After a minute of thinking, I feel Katniss push a spoon into my hand; a spoon of porridge with a small purple berry on top.
"It's the only way" she says, holding up her own spoon, topped with an even bigger berry. I look into her eyes. We owe each other. I saved her life once, she saved mine. We cried together when we lost Steffi and we slept together and ate together. I trust Katniss, and she wouldn't hurt me.
Slowly, I nod my head. She pulls me into a hug, then releases me and raises her spoon.
"Close your eyes. It will be quick, I promise" she says, "On three?"
I close my eyes like she says. She counts to three and on the third number I put the spoon into my mouth. The berry is sharp and juicy, the porridge sweet and warm. It would be delicious if I didn't know it would kill me. I think of my family, my Mother, brothers and sisters. They smile at me as the darkness descends.