Title: Hands in the Sky
Rating: T (if/when I get to the point where I need to change the rating, I'll let you know)
Summary: When Katniss loses all hope of surviving the Games, she decides that extreme circumstances call for extreme measures, and she finds that one person in her group of forsaken allies will shift her world on its axis.
Spoilers: everything until the moment after Rue's death and right before the change in game rules remains the same as in both the books and the film.
Disclaimer: I don't own the Hunger Games trilogy or its characters. It all belongs to Suzanne Collins. I am just merely writing for my own entertainment. Also, I don't own the title to this story either, I've simply borrowed it from the title to a Straylight Run song: "Hands in the Sky (Big Shot)".
"Tell me everything that happened, tell me everything you saw. They had lights inside their eyes, they had lights inside their eyes... Please please tell me what they looked like, did they seem afraid of you? They were kids that I once knew, they were kids that I once knew"
"Dead Hearts" - Stars
Although a newfound sense of relief had washed over the three tributes when Katniss reentered the cave with the syringe and a brief note from Haymitch -which she had crumpled in her fist so as to avoid Peeta's prying eyes-, Katniss still felt the need to subconsciously hold her breath until the effects of the medication became visible. She knelt next to Peeta to shoot the turbid liquid into his arm, and while Clematis's expression had clearly brightened at the prospect of Peeta's health improving soon, the blonde's remained downtrodden, as if he wouldn't accept the idea of surviving until he received scientific reassurance.
Given that it would take a while for the medicine to work, Katniss decided to make herself useful in the meantime. Since their edible provisions had diminished to almost nonexistence, she grabbed her bow in an attempt to get them supper and rid her mind of some of the stress produced by expectation. She stopped at the entrance of the cave and glanced at the pair sitting there, "I'm going to hunt. Will you two be alright all by yourselves?"
Upon receiving an affirmative pair of nods, she went out. Ever since she had woken up surrounded by a blunt wall of heat and with balls of fire literally flying over her head like planets circling the sun, the brunette had begun questioning everything that seemed odd about the forest, or the weather, or the vegetation. Right then, she had trouble reconciling with the fact that -for the second day in a row- finding animals to hunt had been particularly easy. She had hunted for years, yet she had never encountered such discrepancies between two areas that were so close together; so she knew it was impossible for the increase in the number of animals she found here -compared to the rest of the games before then- to be something natural. She suspected the Gamemakers had something to do with that, and her gut told her that the motive behind this development was the entire opposite of what they tried to make it look like. Every advantage she had had so far had come with an even larger adverse effect. And if their days were looking up as far as food, health, and shelter went, then she had enough reason to believe that the Gamemakers would force them to meet the District Two tributes soon.
Nevertheless, she took advantage of the sudden overpopulation of squirrels and birds, and she was done hunting within the hour, thus she returned to the cave with a rather generous prize that would ensure they were properly fed for at least a couple of days. When she entered the cave, the first thing she noticed was how much the mood had been lifted, immediately followed by the grey and blue smudges on both Clematis's and Peeta's faces. Katniss frowned in confusion at the sight, and she realized she had just interrupted an impromptu lesson on camouflage. Clematis's eyes looked up at her bright and wide with excitement, and as a grin spread on her lips at the sight of the squirrels, the brunette noted that even the red of her hair seemed more vibrant. As she set the dead squirrels by the entrance, she rounded the pair to sit next to the redhead, completely unable to stop a smile from forming on her lips.
Whereas her thoughts had been rather depressing on her way back, Katniss had to admit that -were their lives normal and not even half as underprivileged- she could definitely get used to spending her spare time with her pair of allies. Leaving Prim aside, there were no traces of any kind of childlike behavior around her, and she figured that it would be nice to let go every once in a while and just fool around with paint and make up like Clematis and Peeta had. Of course, it wasn't until Clematis smudged some blue paint on the brunette's cheek -tongue peeking out between her lips playfully- that the smile disappeared from Katniss's face, for she couldn't ignore the fact that these would probably be the last few moments they would get to spend like this before everything came crashing down on them.
Peeta seemed to notice the quick change in her demeanor, and his face fell. It was then that Katniss realized that there were no visible traces of sweat on his face, and that the medicine must have worked. Determinedly, she leaned forward to press her palm against his forehead, and was immensely pleased to find that his temperature had dropped considerably since the last time she had checked. Now that his health was on the right track and the prospect of having to leave the comfort -so to speak- of their den soon became apparent, Katniss thought it a good moment to discuss how they would go about the plan once Peeta had fully recovered.
"At this rate, we'll be on the move again early tomorrow morning," she commented, indirectly prompting the other two tributes to offer their opinions on the subject. Peeta leaned forward, clearly eager to know more now that his brain wasn't hampered by the haziness induced by his fever, "To look for Thresh or for Cato and Clove?"
"I think," Clematis piped up as she crossed her legs indian style, "that, although Cato and Clove will surrender more easily if we have Thresh on our side, due to the evident menace of being outnumbered, we'd have more luck finding them first and then getting to Thresh. They will definitely be closer to us, and the sooner we convince them, the sooner we can follow through on everything else", she explained simply, and she could instantly see the wheels turning in the brunette's head.
Katniss nodded silently before confirming the redhead's theory verbally, "Yeah," she turned towards Clematis, "do you know where they could be now? The arena is pretty big, and we don't have time to waste going around and waiting for the Gamemakers to bring us against them under circumstances we have no control of."
"Well, they're probably at the Cornucopia," Peeta replied matter-of-factly, making himself comfortable by resting on his side as he looked at the two girls before him. Katniss pursed her lips, considering the possibility, and turned towards the District Five tribute once again, "Even after their supplies were blown up? Do you think they'll be out in the open?"
Although Peeta suddenly felt rather lost at hearing that, he deemed it more practical to just let it go and let the redhead answer. There was no point in asking how the explosion had happened, since it wouldn't render any advantages for them as far as tactics went, and what's done is done, and that's all there really was to it. So he merely blinked at Katniss before facing Clematis expectantly, "They are careers. In fact, they are quite arrogant careers. Even if their chances of winning have diminished, they will still believe that the odds are ever in their favor by far," the redhead explained sarcastically, making air quotation marks as she imitated the accent that proliferated in the Capitol, "besides, even if they were positively frightened, they would still keep up appearances in order to make their district proud. So yes, they will be out in the open," she finished with a sharp nod.
"Good," Katniss replied curtly, "then it'll be easier to find them. We'll go tomorrow," she stated determinedly, pushing a stray lock of hair that had escaped her braid behind her ear. Peeta straightened up at that, "What do we do until then?"
"You mean aside from giving the medicine enough time to heal your wound completely?" Clematis raised an eyebrow at him. As kind as he was, the more he talked, the more she got the impression that -although considerably smarter than the likes of Marvel- he wasn't the sharpest tool on the shed, so she couldn't stop the rhetoric question from blurting past her lips. She regretted it as soon as it happened, so she was thankful for the fact that Katniss ignored the comment completely and gave the blonde an adequate answer, "Until then, we eat and get as much rest as possible, because we'll need the energy, so it'll be best to not strain ourselves too much."
"I'll take first guard," Peeta offered, the improvement of his health serving as encouragement enough to do something for the pair before him.
An early dinner followed after those arrangements, the preparation for which had all three tributes engaging in distinctly necessary activities. While Katniss skinned the squirrels, Peeta got a modest fire going and Clematis reorganized all their supplies in their respective backpacks according to each of their individual skill sets. Dinner was a rather quiet affair, although Clematis couldn't tear her eyes away from the pair before her. Her eyes shifted back and forth between the metamorphosis of the brunette's face -from discomfort to awkwardness, from confusion to resignation-, and Peeta's blatantly oblivious expression. Even though she hoped Peeta would take the hint and realize that it was all an act on Katniss's behalf -for his sake-, she also hoped that the resolution of the cameras spread about the arena wasn't good enough to pick up every little tell that could betray the veracity of the brunette's act in the eyes of the Gamemakers.
With their stomachs full -or as full as they could possibly be in the Hunger Games, anyway-, Katniss put out the fire as the sky slowly turned into a chimerical blend of pinks and lilacs, a few bright clouds scattered about its expanse, linings glimmering in bright shades of orange. Meanwhile, Peeta threw on his jacket so as to avoid the cool dew from falling on his skin while he kept watch, and Clematis thoroughly buried the remaining squirrel bones so as to erase any trace of them having been there once they left the following day.
The redhead retreated into the cave to sleep regardless of the fact that it wasn't night time yet, since she had offered to take the late night turn. Aside from wanting to contribute to the up-keeping of their safety, she had decided to keep watch after Peeta because she was used to staying up until the wee hours of the morning back in District Five -usually reading clandestine novels and stories from times before the origins of Panem, which she had obtained in contraband from some of her father's co-workers. And besides, the eerie silence of the night would provide her with a chance to reflect on the events of the last two days she had spent with the District Twelve tributes without any interruptions.
On one hand, she still felt a wee bit awkward about being figuratively bound to her two companions. Yes, she had had trouble making friends back in District Five, because she was unusually bright, and she was far more mature than her peers -her parents reminded her of that every chance they had, since they were proud of her and they weren't afraid to show it- so she never laughed at what they thought to be jokes. The decay of society as a whole had been followed by an ever-increasing disinterest in education, and thus her class mates had taken to making fun of her for even doing her homework -which, it should be noted, was always right- or getting high grades in her exams. They had all stopped interacting with her soon after the teasing had begun, so the only people she talked to were her parents or her parents' co-workers whenever they decided to take her to work to help.
It wasn't just that she'd been consistently left aside. No, she had also kept it that way because that was how she preferred it. Although she had oftentimes craved the company of people her own age, she had always felt more at home with adults. She was lucky enough to be a pretty accurate reflection of her parents, so they understood her and explained everything she inquired about. She thrived on the acquisition of knowledge, she thrived on being privy to the mechanics of the system whilst every other kid only cared about enjoying their childhood. She was incredibly thankful for the fact that she was so astoundingly rational and detached, and blessed with an advanced intellect, because that made it easier for her. The more she pushed her peers away, the less questions they asked. That meant that they had absolutely no idea of how she spent her free time: reading book after book on the history of Panem, perusing novels dated before the origins of this dystopian nation, learning every quirk and secret of her parents' respective trades in the district; so she spent her days alone at home reading under the flickering light of a candle way past curfew.
On the other hand, Peeta's obvious kindness and Katniss's unwavering determination made the warming up process much easier than she had thought it would be. For the first time in her short life, she had encountered someone she could consider an equal. Even though they were blatantly different individuals, she knew she had found her match in Katniss. Clematis had thoroughly enjoyed challenges from a very early age, and although she hadn't had the chance to even hold a debate with the brunette, she was certain that their disparaging perspectives and experiences would force her to challenge both the District Twelve girl and herself. Leaving aside the prospect of her possible death, she found herself looking forward to spending more time with Katniss and forging a friendship with her the more time went on.
Her rationality also made her unsurprisingly realistic, thus she was also aware that -despite her hopes and wishes- there was a high probability that she wouldn't get to expand the boundaries of friendship. However, she hoped that, if they got out of that mess alive, she would develop a relationship with Katniss, because she knew the brunette would prove to be her first real friend. Not to mention, the idea of converting the remaining tributes to their side created the possibility of getting to know them and judging whether their personalities could be compatible, therefore prompting an influx of exhilaration to rush through her body as she thought that maybe they could all become more than deathly rivals or acquaintances.
Her thoughts suddenly deviated from that topic, and she found herself wondering -for the nth time since she had been reaped- what would become of her if she survived. Gruesome images filled her head as she recalled one of the stories she had obtained via contraband: For Esmé, With Love and Squalor. Although she deduced that the living conditions of the protagonist were very much similar to the way the population of Panem lived daily, her concerns lay on which poison would she take to taint her mind free of nightmares and terrible memories. Would she turn to morphling? No, she wouldn't. She'd want to forget, not destroy her beloved brain. Maybe alcohol? No, not that either. She may be a severely rational being, but she had some vanity hidden deep within her, so she would never do anything to harm herself physically -aesthetically or otherwise. She chewed on her lip as she thought of her remaining options. She could always turn into an insensitive workaholic to get her mind off everything connected to the games, although the outcome remained unknown to her, so perhaps she wouldn't need to forget at all -if she was feeling optimistic enough, that is.
Clematis sighed in relief when the first signs of morning light filtered through the canopy. That meant her turn was up. She took a fleeting moment to enjoy the scenery of wilderness and the first chirping sounds of invisible birds waking all around her; and then she retreated into the cave to shake Katniss awake, although she didn't hear the subtle artificial chirping outside.
Alert from the very moment her hearing came back to her as she slowly pried her eyes open, Katniss headed outside while the redhead curled up in the sleeping bag that still held some remnants of the brunette's body heat. Katniss slung her sheath of arrows over her shoulder and lowered herself against the rock that provided her with the widest vantage point to fix her unruly hair back into a braid. It was when she was tying the ends that she noticed it: the unmistakeable chirping of a parachute right above her head. She looked around for any signs of danger before tossing her braid over her shoulder and propping herself up on a rock to reach the metallic artifact. However, the moment she opened it to find it empty save for a tiny note that was clearly not addressed to her, she barged back into the safety of the cave hoping Clematis hadn't fallen asleep just yet.
"Did they get to us first?" was the redhead's slightly disoriented response to her rude awakening. Katniss felt slightly guilty for her timing, but it was a truly pressing issue, so she waited for Clematis to wrap herself in the sleeping bag a walk outside with her silently. Once they had both settled in the spot Katniss had previously occupied, the brunette handed the District Five tribute the tiny note she had retrieved from the parachute, "I figured R is your mentor."
The redhead held the small paper precariously between her fingers, a small frown marring her features, "Yeah, Robin. This was all there was?" she questioned curiously, to which she only received a disappointed nod in response. She twirled the paper back and forth gently, slightly mesmerized by the stark contrast between black and white, and read its content over and over.
Katniss bit her lip as she eyed the clearly focused redhead, "I would have let you sleep, if it had been something else, or if I had managed to figure it out," she commented regretfully, "What does it mean?"
Clematis couldn't detach her eyes from the almost offending piece of paper, "I don't know yet," she replied absent-mindedly as her frown deepened. She held the note a bit farther away, as if that would change the characters imprinted on it, yet its content remained exactly the same:
"STORI 198/7-5-1+1+2 - R"
"Anything?" Katniss asked impatiently, a tinge of hope noticeable in her voice. Clematis shook her head, "Not really. For some reason she's referencing a book I read, called 1984? But I don't know why."
"It's alright," the District Twelve girl answered with a rather resigned sigh before watching Clematis cover a yawn, so she patted her on the shoulder with a half-smile, "Go back to sleep, we can figure it out later."
The redhead shook her head violently, "No," she retorted simply, and upon seeing Katniss's confusion, she made herself comfortable next to the brunette and explained, "I wouldn't be able to until I figured out what this means." The brunette nodded in understanding before standing up with a bright smile, "Then let's at least eat something so that we can find out its meaning faster."
After a short breakfast that consisted of cold squirrel leftovers, the girls watched as a fully healed Peeta grinning from ear to ear. "Well, someone's definitely feeling better," Katniss commented as she handed him a cold squirrel leg and a handful of almost dried berries. He hummed out his assent while he munched vigorously on the meat. He then glanced at the redhead confusedly while he swallowed, "Shouldn't you be asleep?"
Before Clematis could respond, Katniss held the note before his eyes, "We've been trying to figure this out," she stated simply, and Peeta leaned closer for a better look while he ate. "Why is story spelled out wrong?" he asked almost innocently without stopping the chewing motions of his mouth. Clematis huffed in frustration, "I don't know yet!"
"Either way," Katniss interrupted earnestly as she turned to stare at Peeta, "you should hurry. The sooner we go look for Cato and Clove, the better," she then turned to the redhead, "Clem, while we're on the move, it might be better if you stay in between us," she motioned to herself and the blonde, "that way you won't have to worry as much about protection, and will be able to focus on that," she explained nodding towards the note she handed back to the District Five girl.
Once Peeta was satisfied -or, at least, as satisfied as he figured he would be while in the arena-, the trio packed their belongings and erased every trace of having ever been there, which included burning the curtain of leaves down to a crisp. Throughout their trek towards the Cornucopia, worry pricked at the back of Katniss's mind. It had nothing to do with Clematis muttering what sounded like mathematical formulas under her breath, or with Peeta crunching about a thousands twigs with every step he took. No. There was something wrong, and although she couldn't pinpoint what it was, exactly, she could definitely feel it creeping up her spine in a slow-motion shiver as they avoided branches and open spaces.
Leaving aside the riddle that Clematis was preoccupied with -because it came from her mentor, so it had to be some form of help-, she couldn't help but think of the Gamemakers. It was just downright odd that they hadn't influenced anything since Rue's death. There had been no setbacks, no surprise attacks -or fire balls, for that matter-, no unsubtle prompts to force them into engaging the District Two tributes physically whilst unprepared. Either they had heard of their intentions to find Cato and Clove, and were leaving them to do it their way and expected some kind of throw down once their paths crossed, or they had no idea about it and were busy messing up with the other half of the remaining tributes. Either way, Katniss was concerned, for she had been pestered by the Gamemakers' whims and manipulations since the very beginning of the games, and this lack of attention being unprecedented, she couldn't help but wonder what their next strike would be.
After about three hours of silently wandering through the woods, Katniss held up a hand before the pair walking behind her. They both ceased their movements immediately, and even Clematis's whispered ramblings stopped short as Katniss pointed at something behind a set of shrubs where the light of the midday sun filtered through. All three of them peered through the tangle of leaves and, sure enough, there were Cato and Clove under what little of their tent they had managed to restore. From what Katniss could tell, Cato was busy cooking some animal while Clove was sitting cross-legged on the grass -back ramrod straight- and seemed to be rearranging all their provisions so methodically that Katniss thought the tiny girl would have a stroke if anything disrupted the other in which everything was set on the ground. What she also noted, however, was that Cato's weapons were nowhere near him or Clove, and that the District Two girl wasn't wearing her vest of knives.
She knew that Clematis and Peeta noticed the same thing, so she motioned for them to follow her silently in the hopes of getting as close as possible to the careers without raising alarm. Of course, Katniss held her arms tense ahead of her, ready to shoot them if necessary -not to kill, obviously, but somewhere that would slow either of them down enough to listen to what they had to say. She wasn't naive, she expected Cato to attack quickly, or at the very least take on a fighting stance, but what she hadn't expected was to see Clove's eyes widen in terror the moment she looked up and her gaze caught the glint of the older brunette's arrow and the warning in her eyes.
Even though she was aware that, unarmed, Clove wasn't the threat in their current situation, her eyes never left those of the shorter girl's even as she stood up and called Cato's attention. Katniss lowered her bow as a sign of faith, "We just want to talk," she exclaimed from afar even as she kept stepping closer to where the District Two tributes were. Out of the corner of her eye, she could notice several little things happening at once: she could see Clematis shaking like a leaf as she faced the careers for the first time, she could see Peeta all but snarling and glaring at Cato, she could see Cato glare back and forth between Peeta and herself, and then tilt his head in confusion as his gaze fell on the redhead; yet her focus still remained on Clove, since she knew that if the girl got hold of her knives, she would turn out to be more lethal than Cato would from such a distance.
Regardless of her efforts to sooth their worries, she saw Cato slowly shift to stand between herself and Clove in such a blatant display of protectiveness that Katniss was momentarily thrown off balance. The tall blonde narrowed his eyes at her, clearly wary of her every move, "Why shouldn't I just kill you now, huh? Tell me!"
Katniss bent down to drop her bow at her feet, now seemingly completely disarmed, "Because I think all six of us can get out of here alive!" Cato stared at her wide-eyed, as if the concept were incredibly outrageous to him, an impossible wish. On the other hand, she was surprised to see the hopeful shock in Clove's face, as if -despite her obvious talents and her confidence- she had never even considered the idea of living past her fifteen years of age. Cato's jaw tensed as he seemed to relent, if only slightly, "Oh, really? And how do you suppose we do that? What reason do we have to trust that you won't try to kill us the moment we join your little party?"
"1984!" Clematis blurted out from behind Katniss, causing the brunette to whip around towards her in confusion and the rest of the tributes to simply stare at her, "The book, 1984! It talks about-"
"Orwell's 1984?" Clove interrupted with a slight frown, and Katniss tilted her head at the shorter girl, because although she had somewhat expected it from Clematis, the notion of outdated books being available anywhere had been a bit of a shock to her, yet the idea of Clove having read such a thing was almost unfathomable to her, perhaps because -until then- she had only seen a pair of dark green eyes behind the shiny points of the girl's knives.
The redhead seemed to be equally as surprised at Katniss, but she recovered much quicker, and went on, "Yes, it talks about a dystopian world in which simple yet basic concepts have been tarnished, and leaders have made people believe impossible principles such as War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength. That is exactly how Panem is being ruled, if only not as blatantly. By banding together, we can do enough to start the process that can stop such hypocrisy. If you say you don't care if you die, I won't believe you, because human nature implies a desire to live. If you say that even if it's better than our districts you live as alright in District Two as you would in the Capitol, I won't believe you, because the Capitol rides on the back of every district. So take just one moment to be honest with yourselves and do the right thing, please!" she pleaded nobly.
Katniss took a moment to glimpse at Peeta, only to see his jaw tense and his gaze open and vulnerable as he remained resolutely silent. She then turned to look at the District Two tributes, heart beating wildly as adrenaline coursed through her veins; until it all stopped and she had trouble catching her breath as her brain caught up with what her ears heard, "If we say yes, how would we go about it? And how the bloody hell are we going to get out of here?"
Cato turned towards his district partner -now suddenly standing next to him, arms folded neatly across her chest, glaring sun hitting her square on her face- with an almost offended, questioning frown, "Clove, what are you talking about?"
The short brunette averted her eyes away from Katniss to settle her gaze on Cato, "They are not wrong, you know?" she began with a rather sad smirk, voice softer than Katniss had imagined it would be -certainly softer than it had been while she had been cowering high on a tree-, "I am dead anyway," she shrugged in a seemingly nonchalant way, although Katniss could tell there was more to it than apathy. No, what she saw was resignation to a fate she hadn't chosen for herself. "I mean," Clove went on, offering Cato a masochistic grin, "we all know that if she didn't put an arrow through my skull," she confessed nodding towards the other brunette, "you would have put me to sleep when it came down to the two of us," she then turned towards Katniss again, her face instantly masked by an earnest expression that conveyed as much determination as Katniss knew the girl had, "I don't want to die, but at least this way, if I do, it'll be because it is meant to happen. Games aside, I personally have no reason whatsoever to kill any of you, and since what you're saying is that you want to go all fuck you on the Gamemakers and the Capitol, therefore increasing my chances of survival, I'm in," she explained civilly.
Although she appeared to be devoid of all emotion, Katniss was sure she heard her voice tremble slightly with a tinge of pride and expectancy, and even though she knew -consciously- that she should have expected it, she wasn't emotionally prepared to see Cato's eyes glassy with unshed tears. Sure, she knew that he and Clove had probably known each other since before the games, and she had been told about how protective he was of her -she had actually just witnessed it herself-, yet she hadn't expected him to be so caring towards the smaller girl -even if he wasn't actively doing something to show it- or to see him so openly emotional about anything, or anyone, in this case.
Clove then stepped forward cautiously, "Question, though. How can you be sure that whatever you've planned will work? And why the fuck haven't the Gamemakers had a hissy fit over this not being a bloodbath yet?" she inquired, tone clearly curious even as she looked up at the sky as if addressing the people behind the cameras. To be honest, every other tribute around her suddenly wondered the exact same thing, yet it wasn't until they saw her eyes widen unexpectedly as she muttered a rhetoric, "Oh, shit," that they realized exactly why they had been left unbothered for so long.