Chapter Twenty-One
They pass the spile around, staring at it dumbly. Peeta tries using it as a whistle, because apparently, he thinks I want him to attract the attention of everyone in the arena. Finnick sticks it on his finger and takes a few tentative jabs before deciding that it's probably not a weapon. Katniss (who, of all of them, ought to know) asks Mags if they can fish with it, then rolls it back and forth and stares at it, looking puzzled.

"Come on, Sweetheart," I say. "You can do it."

But she can't. She gives up in frustration and lies down, letting Peeta rub her back. He looks like he'd be happy to spend the rest of the Games doing just that. Finnick smiles. Mags, much more practical, goes back to the bowl of nuts and rodent meat she'd been eating.

I put my head down, then suddenly, I hear, "A spile!"

I look up. Katniss has sat upright, and she's holding the spile triumphantly. Once she tells them what it is, it takes them about two seconds to realize the water is in the trees and they can get to it.

Jack Anderson stands up at the District Seven table and yells, "Let's hear it for Haymitch!"

I take a sarcastic bow as the other mentors hoot and holler, and start trying to figure out how to get spiles to their own tributes.

Once they've managed to successfully tap a tree, coverage returns to Johanna, who is becoming desperate enough to try Beetee's idea for a desalinating still, though he says it's too late and the leaves she wants to use aren't going to provide a tight enough seal.

"Do you need some sleep?" Effie asks me. "You're looking a little worn out."

"Hey, not fair. He's the only with an escort this year," Toffilis says beside me. "The rest of us have grown-ups to look out for."

"Well, he's also the only one who doesn't have anyone especially called in to spell him," Effie says. "Really, did you even read your orientation booklet? All single mentors have back-up. If you need sleep, call your speller in from the lounge."

This is news to me, but then, I haven't read the orientation booklet for roughly two decades. "Effie, you've been up all day, too," I say.

"Yes, but I got some sleep last night. I have a feeling you didn't."

I try not to tell Effie things like that, but I can't argue. Katniss and Peeta have had food and water, Finnick has built them a shelter, and they have enough people to keep up a guard. I can't do anything for Johanna until she joins the alliance. I nod. "I could use a couple of hours, but you send someone for me if anything happens."

She nods impatiently and answers the ringing phone. I go to the lounge.

There are twelve curtained beds set up, and a long table piled with quick finger food. I grab a sandwich and a beer and eat it at a dark little table in the corner. Some of the team mentors are also here, but it's mostly the Capitol attendants who've been tapped to spell for districts that only have one mentor. It seems I'm not the only one not to read the handbook. Another attendant comes through the door shyly and hands me an envelope. "From the Gamemakers," she says.

"Thanks," I tell her.

She bites her lower lip, looks around anxiously, then says, "I'm supposed to not have favorites while I'm working, but I love Peeta, and I just know you'll save him!" She scurries away without waiting for an answer to this declaration. I don't really have one, anyway.

I go to one of the curtained beds, light the sign that says it's occupied, and crawl in, barely remembering to kick off my shoes. Before I drift off, I open Plutarch's note. It says, Timing is everything. Watch the bread.

I can't pretend to make sense of it, at least not before I get any sleep, so I shred it, put the pieces in different pockets (and some under the mattress), then lay my head down on the pillow. I'm asleep before I can even pull up the covers.

I dream in disconnected images. Katniss shooting at the sky. Digger laughing in the snow. Peeta playing with his niece. My mother coming home tired from the mines and still finding the time to play games with Lacklen and me. My clever little boy, she used to call me, especially if I'd figured out a way to fix something in our house, or to stretch the little bit of food we had, or to escape the elaborate traps Lacklen and I built for each other. I am settling into a deeper dream of this - a pleasant one, for once, where I'm Rhona Abernathy's clever boy, and the worst thing that's happened is a pretty older girl named Hazelle making fun of me for reading poems. My mother tells me girls only tease boys they like. I know even then that this is a lie, but it's a kind lie, and I don't mind it.

I'm sure that it would have turned into a nightmare, probably about the big, sturdy house I traded her life and Lacklen's and Digger's for, but before that happens, someone rips open the curtains of my bed. I take a swing, and it's lucky that I don't have my knife, because I connect with Toffilis Taggart's neck.

"Jack Anderson said to get you," he says, pulling way and rubbing the spot I hit. "Blight's dead. Blood rain. It's moving towards your team."

"Right. Thanks. And sorry about..." I gesture at his neck.

He shrugs. "I should know better than surprising a victor. I broke my sister's cheekbone the first time she woke me up after I got home." With that, he shoves me out of the way and takes over the bed.

I go back out to the viewing center. On screen, Johanna is brushing furiously at her face, but it's useless. She's drenched in gore. The scene is shot with heat sensors, giving everything a surreal look. Wiress is clinging to Beetee, who is unconscious. Jack grabs me. "Can you think of anything?" he asks.

I look at it and shake my head. "Not a thing. Is it drowning them? What happened to Blight?"

"He ran into the forcefield to get away from it. It's not hurting them!"

I don't answer this, because Jack needs to get it out of his system, but of course, the point of something like that isn't to directly hurt anyone. When you're being showered with blood, atavistic instinct takes over. Mind games. Jack knows it. I know it.

Suddenly, the rain stops. It doesn't dribble out, the way real rain does. It just stops. There is one final crash as the last of it falls to the ground, and then it is over. Johanna looks around, her eyes round and very white in her red-stained face.

The coverage goes to Katniss, who is on guard at the camp. She looks up and frowns at something, then tenses and wrinkles her nose.

"Ah," Claudius says. "Looks like another late night surprise. Will Katniss Everdeen be able to rouse her companions?"

She is certainly giving it a try. Finnick is up immediately and gathering Mags. Peeta is still groggy. The camera focuses on Katniss's hand, where blisters are starting to rise.

"What the hell is that?" Harris asks.

"Let's hope they move more quickly," Claudius says. "This fog is laced with nerve agents... ah, yes, we can see here, where Peeta Mellark has fallen, his facial muscles seem to be affected... Finnick Odair is blistering... Katniss Everdeen seems lame in one leg... Is this the end of our power alliance?"

"Will someone shut him up?" Harris Greaves whispers. "Please."

No one does. Blood rain. Nerve gas. This arena isn't just set up for the tributes to kill each other. All arenas have some Gamemaker traps, but this one is one big trap. Plutarch told us it was deadly.

I wonder again when he really knew who the tributes would be. This isn't set up for scared teenagers who have no loyalties to each other.

We watch them stumbling through the woods. Katniss could escape the fog line easily by climbing, but she's trying to help Peeta. Finnick is carrying Mags, but I can see him flagging. He comes back to help Katniss haul Peeta, but it's no good. "I'll have to carry him," he says. "Can you take Mags?"

Effie grabs my hand. "Haymitch, Katniss isn't walking properly. And she's not that strong."

"I know," I say, watching, unable to help as Katniss stumbles through the jungle, trying valiantly to carry Mags. They're heading for the beach, but Katniss is beginning to crumble, no matter how easy Mags tries to make it for her. Finnick runs back with Peeta on his back.

Katniss, looking ashamed, says, "It's no use. Can you take them both? I'll catch up."

But Finnick can't. His arms are starting to twitch from the gas. It's all he can do to hold on to Peeta. I see Peeta start to tell him to put him down, but instead Finnick says, "I'm sorry, Mags. I can't do it."

Mags smiles and gives him a kiss, then looks fondly at Katniss and Peeta.

Then walks directly into the gas.

The coverage returns to Claudius, who looks utterly baffled. "This is... Mags Donovan must have been affected mentally by the nerve gas... she... forgot... or didn't realize..."

But nothing he says can erase what the entire nation has just seen: One tribute has sacrificed her life, of her own free will, to give others the chance to escape.

When they return, he does his best to portray that escape as somehow cold - the narration implies that Finnick and Katniss have "abandoned" Mags to the fog - but it doesn't hold, especially when they reach the water. Katniss realizes that the water leeches the effects of the gas, and after she and Peeta have recovered enough on their own, they pull Finnick into the water, gently purging him of the poison, waiting with him as he comes back to life.

No one seems to know what to make of this. Claudius is silent - maybe he's hoping it's all a feint for an attempted drowning - and the other victors in the room with me are taken aback. For me, it's just Katniss being Katniss and Peeta being Peeta, but I guess I've forgotten over the last year exactly how amazing that is.

As the last of the poison leeches out of Finnick's body, he dives into the water, doing something that's less like swimming than dancing. The kids watch him, leaning against each other with their hands linked. So far, no one has commented on the fact that everyone is down to underwear. I think about sending them some clothes, and probably will if it goes on much longer (I may tap Julian Day for it, since he gave me such an open-ended offer), but at the moment, I don't have enough money, and judging by the sores from the gas, I'll have to spend whatever I get next on medicine.

I wonder whose head will roll for leaving the coverage on them for this. The audience probably loves it, but the point of the Games is not for tributes to rescue and heal each other. Maybe it's Plutarch's call. Showing Katniss as heroic would serve his purposes. Of course, it also might tip his hand, which distinctly would not serve his purposes, so I really don't know.

Maybe it's just that the other tributes are probably sleeping, rather than doing anything interesting. Maybe they assume that something airing at two-thirty in the morning won't have many viewers, even on the first day of the Games.

Claudius returns with the map of the arena. "Our power alliance has rejuvenated itself in the water, but they have also come into the territory of another tribute." The three lights that represent Katniss, Peeta, and Finnick are now joined by a fourth, alone in the woods.

Or not alone, as the case happens to be. Berenice Morrow is awake, but the creatures around her are sleeping. They are orange-furred monkeys with long claws and fangs. She is petting one of them like a kitten.

"Berenice Morrow of District Six," Claudius says. "She's been in this part of the arena since the battle at the Cornucopia, and has been keeping herself warm with these genetically engineered primates. You'll recall that in her Games - the Fifty-Seventh - she took an injury from a muttation..."

He breaks away to show Berenice, not terribly pretty, but not emaciated from years of morphling abuse, fighting with three spider mutts that dropped from the trees onto her. She rips one apart with her hands, tearing out its fangs, but another bites her before she can crush it against a tree. She stabs the last with a branch before passing out. Claudius narrates that she was sent medicine (I'm guessing it was her first dose of morphling, along with the anti-venom, since she looks like she's in terrible pain), then cuts to the end of her games, where she uses a fang from the dead spider to stab her last opponent in the throat.

"She's been overlooked in the odds," Claudius tells us breathlessly, "but like everyone in the arena, she is a victor. She is not to be ignored here."

They then proceed to ignore her, and go back to Peeta, who offers to get water. Katniss watches him, then suddenly goes pale. She grabs Finnick and looks at the trees.

The orange monkeys are awake now. They're lining the trees near the beach, heavy on the branches, their eyes avid in the moonlight. Berenice has followed them. (Claudius tries to portray this as using them to track her prey, but I don't imagine too many people believe it, as she seems more like she's looking for a runaway puppy.)

Katniss and Finnick quietly arm themselves, and Katniss tries to alert Peeta to the danger without startling the animals. It seems to be working, until Peeta inadvertently looks up, and all hell breaks loose.

The monkeys attack in a pack, screeching and biting. Finnick and Katniss rush in and Peeta draws his knife. They fight well together, smoothly maneuvering to cover each other. Katniss takes down a monkey with each shot. Finnick spears them with his trident. Peeta is vicious with his knife when he has to be (Claudius inevitably reminds people of Peeta's expert knife work last year, defeating Clove at the Cornucopia and killing the District Eight girl with a single cut... that she was begging him to do it is left out).

But there are too many mutts. These are obviously designed to swarm onto enemies, overpower them with sheer numbers.

"They need to start backing out of the woods," Harris hisses beside me. "Finnick could fling them into the water from the beach."

I'm sure this is very good advice, but not exactly practical. They're surrounded. If they break up their fighting formation, the monkeys will swarm in on whichever they think is weakest.

Claudius comes up on half the screen, now hosting the president of the Muttation Appreciation Society - a regular guest at the Games, and not a bad guy if you ignore his weird interests - who tells us about the base animal, an extinct primate called an orangutan ("our closest cousin in the animal world, and very smart!"), then talks about the apparent mutations the Gamemakers have made. He is very enthusiastic about this particular mutt, and hopes the Capitol will have some in the Mutt Gardens next year. Claudius corrects him, saying that the proper name of the Mutt Gardens is the "Panem Allozooligical Gardens," which is conveniently located just beyond the city center, and admission is half-price during the Games. The M.A.S. will be there to conduct educational tours.

During this fascinating segment, Katniss, Peeta, and Finnick have been fighting for their lives, but it's all so repetitive, really, that there was apparently no point in commentating on it. Katniss reaches for an arrow and finds her quiver empty. Peeta has her second one.

For the first time since I've seen them working together, they miss a step. Peeta reaches around to slide the quiver from his shoulder, and as soon as he does, one of the monkeys leaps at him, claws extended, mouth open to reveal huge, sharp fangs.

Katniss screams and runs for him, but she won't make it. There's no way she'll make it.

For the second time in twenty-four hours, I'm sure that Peeta is going to die, but Berenice launches herself through the pack of mutts, howling fiercely, throwing herself between the leaping monkey and Peeta.

I remember Lyme saying that Berenice loves Peeta's paintings, that she wants to protect him, even above her protection of Katniss. I remember seeing her on a little screen, painting herself with flowers while Peeta helped in the training center.

Berenice may or may not be clear of morphling, but it damaged her beyond repair years ago, and I'd guess that all that's going through her mind right now is protecting the artist whose work managed to make it through to her after all of these years. She opens her arms and grabs the mutt out of the air, letting it bowl her to the ground. It sinks its teeth into her chest.

She sinks down with a strangely peaceful expression on her face.

Peeta rushes onto the mutt, stabbing it over and over, pulling it off of Berenice and yelling as crazily as I've ever seen Katniss yell, daring the mutts to come after him. But they've made their kill. Their job is done (for now). Katniss tells him to get Berenice out of the woods. She and Finnick cover him, but there's no point to it. The monkeys are gone.

The main coverage cuts away to show Johanna and Wiress trying to move Beetee down the beach. On my screen and Harris's, I can see that Finnick has gone to guard against the return of the mutts. Katniss and Peeta stay with the dying woman. Katniss holds her hand. Peeta speaks to her softly about painting. She listens to him, rapt, her eyes wide with adoration as he strokes her hair.

Claudius doesn't acknowledge it on the public broadcast at all, and when it goes back to him in the studio, he claims that Berenice was brain-damaged from morphling abuse, and possibly suicidal, though of course, suicide is explicitly forbidden in the arena. He shows her arrest record in District Six, and headlines about her repeated admissions to a rehabilitation hospital. He calls in a doctor to explain how long-term morphling abuse might have caused permanent damage that might have led to such a bizarre, self-negating action as trying to soothe an agitated mutt.

"Trying to soothe the monkey?" Lyme says behind me. "That's what he's going with?"

I look over my shoulder. "Looks like."

Effie smiles and says, "But everyone could see she was really trying to help Peeta. What a shame that they're not showing his goodbye."

"I'm glad," Lyme says. "Let her have a little privacy at the end." She sits down behind me. Now that both of her tributes are gone, all there is for her to do is wait.

Berenice's paintings come up, starting with shocking abstracts after the Games, eventually winding down to childish painted flowers (he does not show that her last act in life is painting of these flowers on Peeta's cheek with her own blood). This is contrasted with Peeta's work, though his "descent" from the literal painting of the Games to the strange, gray picture of Katniss is suggested to indicate that he might also have problems.

"He certainly is talented," Lyme says.

I nod. "I'm sorry about Berenice."

"You knew her better than I did. I always stayed away. Wish I'd stayed away this time."

"Well, I'm glad you're here," Effie says. "I'm sure it meant a lot to Berenice and Paulin to have someone here looking after them."

Lyme looks at her coolly, much as Hazelle did back in District Twelve, then nods. "I need to go for a walk," she says. "Clear my head." She stands up, sways, then says, "Or maybe I'll go home. They're not requiring me to stay. Maybe it's time to go home."

"You should stay," Harris says. "You never know what will happen." He looks at her over Effie's head, and the head of the attendant sitting in for Toffilis, making so much effort to project a thought that he may as well be shouting, We're being picked up and taken away.

She smiles faintly, obviously knowing exactly what he means, and says, "No. I have a feeling I'm needed in District Two. Maybe I'll see you both again." She turns and leaves.

Effie frowns. "Well, that's too bad. She seemed quite lovely. You know, Haymitch, you could do worse than a lovely woman in your life."

Beside me, Harris laughs, more in surprise at this change in conversation that at Effie's comment. I hope.

"What?" Effie says. "It would do him good, and keep him sober."

"But she'd be so jealous of you," I say. "How could I live with it?"

"You'll tell her that you have a much greater fondness for women you haven't thrown up on," she says, then smiles and winks.

"Or at least that they have a greater fondness for me."

"I doubt that." She turns back to watch the screen, where they've returned to our group.

Katniss lies down beside Peeta, who puts a sleepy arm around her. Finnick goes to the edge of the sea, supposedly on guard duty. As soon as he hears Katniss start snoring, he buries his face in his hands and cries for Mags.

The shot goes back to Johanna, who's finally given up near the edge of the woods, and is leaning against a tree to keep a guard. Wiress and Beetee are asleep on the ground. In the Career camp, Brutus is up and moving around, tossing a spear at the nearest tree. Faraday Sykes has escaped whatever the Gamemakers sent at her while I was up talking to Plutarch, and is sleeping high in the branches of a tree. Chaff is asleep while Earl sits on a rock and looks at his district token, which seems to be a badly made clay bracelet, with names painted on it in a childish hand.

The arena is quiet, and gentle music plays over pictures of the fallen tributes, all from their original tribute parades. I can't watch it. I know I can't. But I can't look away. The best I can do is turn off my mind and not let myself see it. If I let myself start feeling this, I'll be useless. And, as likely as not, drunk. I'm pretty sure I can beat the remnants of Valentine's detoxers if I hit the serious booze hard enough, and when Seeder's picture comes up, impossibly young and lovely, it's pretty much all I want to do.

We return to the studio.

"It's the end of day one," Claudius says. "Ten tributes have fallen since the Games began, and this year's arena promises much more excitement before the end. Tune in at six in the morning to watch live, and don't forget tomorrow's mandatory viewing, which starts at four o'clock in the afternoon, with recaps of anything that happens in the morning. Now, stay tuned for Bellona Baynes in the premiere televised performance of last winter's musical theater sensation, Star-Crossed!"

"Tell me that's not what I think it is," I tell Effie.

She gives me an embarrassed little smile and says, "Well, it's actually quite tasteful. I saw it on opening night. The number where she sings to Rue is quite wonderful."

I rub my head. Of course it is.