"Of course we are, pipsqueak."
Haymitch closed his eyes and breathed out heavily, before downing the rest of his wine. He slammed the glass down on the table he was now sitting at, bringing his hand up to rub his temple.
After Adara grabbed Nicholas and ran, and Haymitch decided to start drinking early, the camera had panned back to watch the fight. The mentors and Capitol citizens had watched in awe as the battle raged on - tribute against tribute, district against district. Haymitch had seen it so many years in a row he was almost immune to the violence, the blood staining the floor of the arena and the scream escaping from the lips of the tributes who couldn't survive an hour.
The camera had focused on one fighting pair - a boy and a girl only a few years apart, the boy armed with a dagger, the girl only her body. As hard as she fought, screaming furiously with every punch, kick, and bite, there was a collective, unspoken agreement throughout the hall that she wouldn't get far without a weapon. Sure enough, the boy's leg soon kicked out, tripping the girl and making her fall to the floor. Before she could look up, she let out a sharp gasp of pain as the boy's dagger pierced her chest. The malicious grin on the face of her fellow tribute from Two was the last view she ever saw.
Haymitch was almost immune.
That had been around half an hour ago. Though the viewing hall had been in complete silence during the beginning fight, and there'd been a loud murmur when Adara kicked in the hedge, a low-level of conversation had now broken out. Haymitch had decided to let Effie handle the possible sponsors for a while, instead grabbing another drink and sitting down to watch the first day.
As he looked back up at the screen, he noticed the camera had changed. Sitting up, he studied the group of tributes heading down one of the arena's pathways. The conversation in the hall dimmed slightly as the mentors and Capitol citizens got their first look at the year's Careers.
Julius was at the head of the pack, his head held smugly high, a sword in his hands. His strength alone would be enough to kill any of the tributes, but Haymitch guessed he couldn't resist the chance to show off with a fancy weapon. The girl from One was behind him, talking animatedly, mimicking screams and cries for help. The boy from Two was laughing along with her, a bloody dagger still in hand, and the girl from Four was smirking contentedly. Sparks was walking along side them, but she didn't look too happy about her acceptance into the group. As the cameras closed in, it was clear she was gritting her teeth, flinching in annoyance as the girl from One let out a particularly high-pitched laugh.
Suddenly, Julius stopped. The Careers halted behind him immediately, waiting for their orders. Even Sparks stopped to listen. Haymitch tried to hear what they had noticed over the renewed conversation in the hall, but before he could get any idea, Julius was yelling "Come on!" He grinned, and began running along the pathway. The rest of the group followed him, all whooping eagerly except Sparks, who sprinted furiously beside them. Julius was first to turn the corner, slowing down to a complete stop. The Careers copied him, and for the first time, Haymitch saw Sparks smile as they looked upon the tribute they had cornered.
Nicholas had somehow disappeared from the dead-end while the cameras weren't watching, but Adara remained, standing with the biggest knife in her belt pointed directly at the group in front of her. The viewing hall fell into silence as one by one the mentors and Capitol citizens noticed the scene. Out of the corner of his eye, Haymitch could see Effie had come to sit with him. He held his breath, watching the screen as Adara's eyes flicked between the group. As the viewing hall watched with bated breath, she lowered her knife, shaking her head as she turned away and picked up the backpack.
Effie gasped, but before Haymitch could react he heard Adara's voice carry throughout the room. "So it's only you lot, then."
A low murmur spread around the hall, and mentors looked at each other confused. They had all been expecting a fight, or at the very least an easy kill. Adara's lack of interest seemed to have baffled the Careers too, a few of whom looked to one another for reassurance. Julius, on the other hand, stayed still, watching Adara curiously. Slowly, his low chuckle started to fill the hall.
"Are you not scared of me, darling?" He teased, walking slowly towards Adara. Haymitch tensed, loathing Julius's tone. He despised the tribute even more the closer he got to Adara, looking her up and down as though she were some sort of prize. Or meat.
Haymitch smirked as Adara rolled her eyes. "Hardly," she replied, getting the thermal jacket out of the backpack. "A brute with more muscle than brain, and no idea how to use the blade he's holding. I'd say you're more likely to hurt yourself than me."
Julius simply laughed, only inches away from Adara now. "Such a shame," he replied softly, watching her intently. "I for one think you're terrifying."
"Can we hurry this up?" Sparks interrupted, her voice a tone too high to be intimidating. "I don't have time to sit around and watch you two flirt. Where's the boy, darling?" She hissed the last word, her hatred of Adara clear as could be. "We saw you run off with him." Adara raised an eyebrow at Sparks, and Julius turned to face the girl from Three, his expression unimpressed by the interruption.
"I don't know," Adara replied, her tone exasperated. "I thought he might be an easy kill, but the little bugger bit my hand. When I dropped him from the pain he ran off." She held her hand out, and the camera quickly zoomed in. There were clear red teeth marks on the back of her hand, standing out from the scratches Nicholas had left earlier.
Some quiet comments spread through the viewing hall, and when Effie whispered to Haymitch, "Where did they come from?", Haymitch shook his head in confusion - that was always the downside to only seeing what the cameras decided to focus on, especially for the mentors. Every year there were mysteries that went unsolved. Before he could wonder too much about it, Julius was talking again. He'd returned to his position inches away from Adara.
"Why don't you come with us, darling?" He smiled slyly, as the rest of the group stayed far behind, not looking particularly inviting. "I've seen you throw - you're one of the best fighters in this thing. Like us." He gestured back to the Careers who tried to carry on looking intimidating, all but Sparks failing as they enjoyed the compliment. "But you're not going to get far on your own. So how about it?"
Haymitch frowned. As far as he could remember, he didn't think a tribute from Twelve had ever been a Career. He watched Adara's face intently. He was sure she wouldn't take Julius up on his offer. But as he thought about how differently she was acting around the Careers, and the way she had charmed the audience in her interview, he couldn't help wondering - had she blinded him, too?
On the screen, Adara looked up to Julius, his face still far too close to hers for comfort. She raised an eyebrow again, and replied "I'm fine on my own, thanks." Taking a few steps back from him, she put the jacket over her shoulders, zipping it up. The surprise was evident on Julius's face, though he quickly covered it up, stepping back to join the group.
"Okay," he began, turning to face her one last time. "Then how about you stay here? We'll check in with you every now and again, to see how things are going. And you can let us know if you find that kid again." He grinned, and winked at Adara. "Sound fair?"
Haymitch felt his jaw clench. The brute's cockiness was sickening. His eyes widened, however, when Adara smiled and sweetly replied "Sounds good to me."
Julius smiled approvingly and turned to leave the dead-end, the Careers already leaving in front of him. "See you soon, darling!" He called over his shoulder. As they left, the girl from One firing question after question at Julius about what just happened, the cameras stayed with Adara. She waited a few seconds until she was sure they were out of ear shot, before calling, "Okay, they're gone."
The rectangle Adara had cut out of the hedge earlier fell to the floor, and Nicholas emerged from the inside, a look of disgust on his face. "'Darling'?" he asked, repulsed, "You're letting him call you 'darling'?"
"It needs to be done. Unfortunately." She shuddered, and looked back at Nicholas. "I've got his attention now at least. He thinks I'm on his side, and you saw what the rest of the group was like. They'll go along with whatever he says, for fear of him tearing them limb from limb.
"Look, let me worry about the brute - I know what I'm doing." She rolled her eyes, before they fell on Nicholas's hand. "What's that?" She quickly grabbed his hand, snatching something out of it. The camera zoomed in as she opened her hand, focusing on a few squashed red berries. The camera zoomed out again as Adara's face took on a look of pure panic.
"How many of these have you eaten?" She asked quietly. Nicholas didn't reply, stunned by her sudden concern, and she raised her voice. "Nicholas, how many of these did you eat?" She was yelling now, advancing on the boy.
"Only a few! I was hungry, I didn't eat this morning!" Nicholas backed away, holding his hands up. "What's the problem?"
"These are poison, Nicholas!" Adara threw the berries down, stamping on them hard. "Poison!"
"No they're not." The boy replied, stopping in confusion.
"Yes they are! I looked these up in our last training session!"
"No, they're not!" Nicholas's voice rose, and Adara took a step back, alarmed by his sudden firmness. "They look very similar, but they're not." He turned around and leaned back into the hedge, coming out with a handful of berries. "These ones are poisonous."
The camera immediately zoomed in on Nicholas's hand, and Haymitch, who had held his breath since Adara's accusation, leant forward. The berries he was holding looked exactly the same to him as the berries he was just eating. The mentors seemed to think the same - they began murmuring to each other again, something they hadn't done since the Careers left.
Adara appeared to be just as confused. "Nicholas, these look exactly the same," she said, beginning to laugh. "How am I supposed to tell the difference?"
"You won't have to. I can." Nicholas smiled up at Adara, standing straighter and pushing his shoulders back. "I can protect you." He tossed the poisonous berries away, and leaned in to grab some others, that Haymitch assumed were safe. "They hydrate you too, which would explain the lack of water around here. We just need to make sure to eat enough of them."
Adara smiled, shaking her head. "Come on, let's see if we can figure out how to sleep. It'll be pitch black soon." She unzipped the jacket and shrugged it off her shoulders, holding it out to Nicholas. "This doesn't really fit me."
Nicholas hesitated, before eventually taking the jacket. "I don't believe you. But I'm not arguing." As he put his arms through the sleeves, he added "I think I get why you had to bite your own hand now. Does it hurt?"
"Nah, I barely broke the skin." Adara shrugged, smiling.
"Good," Nicholas murmured, adding, "I don't like Julius. He thinks everyone loves him when they don't."
Haymitch smiled. Nicholas was a good judge of character. The mentor would have been content to watch the two tributes settle down, but the camera changed at that point to a shot of a boy Haymitch didn't recognise. Sighing, he got up to get another drink. He didn't know what Adara was up to, and a very small part of him didn't want to know. However, he could probably play up her act to the sponsors.
As for Adara breaking her promise... he didn't want to think about it. It was obvious now she'd had a plan all along she'd never told him, and he felt slightly betrayed. He'd trusted her after their agreement to share all their plans, and their late night meetings, and he couldn't help wondering if she'd treated him the same way she was now treating Julius. He shuddered at the thought.
Grabbing two new glasses of wine, he returned to the table, handed one to Effie, and braced himself. Whatever Adara had planned, he needed to help her and Nicholas. And if that meant socialising with rich Capitol citizens, then he'd need to do it with a drink.