Summary: The 74th Hunger Games take an odd turn when something unexpected happens: an alliance no one saw coming. This seemingly simple change does far more than provide an exciting twist for the audience; it changes everything that comes afterward.
So it's come to this; stuck in a stupid tree, with all the world watching, a pack of killers and the boy who supposedly loves me keeping me here. That's the part that irks me the most, really. Not that the Career pack found me, not that the Gamemakers turned my big Girl on Fire theme back on me, not even that so early in the Games and I'm already in big trouble, it's that Peeta, who supposedly loves me, is with them.
If this was his plan then what the heck was his declaration of love for? Just some scheme to get attention and sponsors? I couldn't believe it when I heard his interview; I still don't know what to make of it. We barely know each other. How can he love me? And even if he does, what was he thinking just announcing it like that? We were on the train together, lived together on the 12th floor, he had days to tell me. So why not then? He couldn't just tell me in private on the train or when we were talking on the roof before the games?
No, that would have been too easy. He had to do it on national television, a required broadcast with all of Panem watching. He couldn't even look me in the eye when he said it; I was backstage. I suppose it's a good thing I wasn't on camera; the look on my face can't have been pretty.
But of course he couldn't tell me in private. This is all some scheme Haymitch dreamed up. Maybe Peeta does have some sort of weird attraction for me, but this was all part of a play for the crowd, and what I wanted really didn't matter for that. Peeta must know I want no part of any sort of relationship. It's nothing personal, Peeta's a nice enough guy and all, and I do owe him, but I'm not interested in a relationship with anyone. There's just too many other things for me to worry about in my life. Things like Prim and my mother putting food on the table so my family doesn't starve to death, making sure Gale has enough food to put on his family's table, making sure we have enough game to trade for things we can't get in the woods, making sure we keep the Peacekeepers happy so they ignore the fact that our hunting is technically a death penalty offense. Oh yeah, and the whole fight to the death I'm stuck in. I mean really, what was Peeta thinking? I suppose I'll never know, especially considering it doesn't look like I'll live much longer.
And even if he really does somehow love me, how's he show it? By joining the stupid Career pack; that group of homicidal maniacs. Five of them camped out beneath me, and with Peeta it's a half dozen. If anyone had told me before the games he'd join them I'd have called them a dirty liar, but that first night of the Games I saw it for myself. The Career pack, and helping them track me down was Peeta Mellark. I just could not believe it; I darned near fell out of my tree when I saw him. Things like are why it's a smart idea to tie yourself in when you plan to sleep in trees.
The Games are mandatory viewing; I've seen more than my share of death and misery in them; everyone has. As if the misery and death that's everyday life in District 12 isn't enough. I knew I'd get an even closer view of death in here.
The first night I saw another tribute's fire just a hundred yards or so from my tree I knew what was coming; I knew what the Careers would be doing. And sure enough, they delivered. It was too far away to see exactly what happened, all I heard was the poor tribute's screams and the Career's laughs, but I could use my imagination. In fact, hearing all that I couldn't help but imagine it.
But the sounds I heard next were far worse: footsteps. And loud footsteps at that. There's only one group that walks these woods with impunity. It must be nice to not have to worry about being quiet. A whole big pack of alpha predators at work, gladly letting others hear them and despair. And while the screams of that poor girl are a sure cause for nightmares, those footsteps coming closer could be a cause for my death.
So I do all I can: I sit quietly in the dark, hoping no one looks up. Just sit in silence and pretend you're a part of the tree, Katniss. There's a lot of forest out here; they could go anywhere. And even if they come near me, they have no reason to look up. Besides, it's dark and my clothes are reasonably camouflaged. There's no way they should be able to find me. I tell myself that, and of course I'm proven wrong. Way to jinx it, Katniss.
They don't just walk near me, for that matter they don't even walk towards my tree. They actually stop right at the base of it and start talking. Actually talking. Of all the places in the woods to talk, they decide to strike up a conversation directly under me.
"Did you see the look on her face? Oh, please don't kill me!" the blonde female from District 1 mocks. Glimmer I think her name is. I thought she was just there for sex appeal? You know, look pretty and get sponsors? She has to mock the poor dead girl too? I mean yeah, sure lighting a fire was stupid; anyone with the knowledge to make fire should have the common sense to know not to. All it does it act as a nice beacon to attract the Career pack. And sure I might have even thought a few bad things about the girl, but at least I had the decency to not say them out loud!
Glimmer and the brutish Cato from District 2 look back the way they came as the rest of the pack saunters pas, not a care in the world: Clove from 2, Marvel from 1 (I guess they left that girl from 4 to guard their supplies) and then Peeta comes along. I had no idea he was with them and I can't help but make a surprised noise. For a second I'm terrified they'll have heard my gasp, but after several long seconds it seems not. I guess Careers aren't observant hunters, more like brutish killing machines. They aren't even looking for more tributes in face. Glimmer seems more interested in asking Cato why they don't just kill Peeta now.
"Because he can lead us to her." is the response. Wonderful, not only is the guy who made a weird declaration of love for me working with the people trying to kill me, he's being played for a fool while doing it. As if I needed more proof that relationships were headaches I didn't need.
This all might be bad for my nerves and opinions of relationships, but that's the extent of my bad luck for the night; the Careers, along with their new District 12 recruit move on. I manage to eventually calm down and get some sleep, and when morning rolls around I climb down and continue on my way. I definitely don't want to go the same direction as the careers went, so I decide to head towards the edge of the arena. It gets me away from most of the other tributes and once I get there I'll have something to put my back against.
Once I'm back on the ground travel is easy enough, actually; these woods are close enough to the ones back in District 12 that they feel familiar. I know I can't get complacent or let my guard down, but this is so close to what I know I have a definite advantage. I'm able to make good time throughout the day, managing to stay fairly quiet (not like Gale, but still I'm a lot better than the Careers were). I even manage to find water. But I've seen enough of the Games on TV to know I have good cause to be worried.
Things are going my way, and that never lasts. Even worse, all I've done all day long is walk, which means I've been boring. I haven't heard any cannons, which means no deaths, which probably means boredom for the audience. Bored audiences make for grumpy Gamemakers, and that's very bad for tributes.
I keep looking around as the day drags on; more and more I search for danger. In the trees, in the bushes, in the air, under the ground, somewhere there's danger out there and I have to find it. The fact I can't feel it just makes me more nervous. At least danger you see coming you have a chance against.
By late afternoon I'm absolutely sure something bad is about to happen. I can't see any threats, but the feel of them in the air is almost crushing. And the worst part is I can't do a thing about it; not to prevent it, and not to deal with it if it does happen. The only weapon I managed to get is a knife that girl Clove threw at me at the bloodbath. I was lucky; it put a hole in my pack rather than me.
A single knife isn't much at all. In the woods of 12 it might be enough, but in the Games, a place filled with mutts and other tributes it feels like it might as well be a sharpened stick. I'd really prefer to have a bow, but that's in Glimmer's hands, so all I can do is tie myself up in another tree and hope. The sun is setting and there's nothing else I can do. Maybe the Gamemakers will pick on someone else tonight and I won't have to run for my life. Stupid Katniss, like an idiot I thought that and jinxed myself.
I wake up to a wall of fire headed for me. Not bothering with any sort of witty remark (I usually have Gale for that) I frantically untie myself from the tree, plunge get down from my branch, running for my life the moment my feet touch the forest floor. I don't know where I'm going and frankly, I could care less. For now away from the fire is a plenty good direction for me.
It feels like I've been running forever, but the TV audience back home has probably seen less than a minute of my frantic sprint; it's long enough for me to start thinking straight though. Animals have better sense than people, and in a natural (or not so natural) disaster they tend to know where to run. I trust in their instincts and follow the first small animals I see. Unfortunately, this is only a temporary measure; they're far faster than I am, quickly leaving me behind. I have to settle for trying to keep going in the same direction.
I keep running, but I haven't managed to open up any sort of gap on the still advancing fire. There's a sudden explosion off to my right; a burning tree falls in my path. I try to run around it, only to hear another explosion, to my left this time; another tree falls and blocks my path to freedom. By now I've been inhaling enough smoke that I'm coughing and wheezing, lightheaded and my eyes are tearing up so much I can barely see; all I can do is rely on pure instinct and hope it's good enough. Maybe my miserable luck will change long enough to not die here. If I have to die make it anything but fire. Please…
Whether through some unexpected bit of luck, or just Gamemakers deciding I'd be more entertaining left alive, I start to see open forest through my tears; just a bit more and I'll be there. But of course that'd be too easy; dramatic TV demands more. A loud whistling noise is my only warning of a fireball flying right at me. Again, reflexes, this time in the form of a quick roll to my left is all that saves my life. In the following few seconds come two more fireballs and two more dodges.
Sure, why not? Lets shoot fireballs at Katniss! That sounds fun, doesn't it? I swear, I'm starting to think Gale's rants on these people were too kind hearted. But of course no anti Capitol thoughts go unpunished, and that one makes me just slow enough dodging that the outside of my right leg gets caught by the fireball. God it hurts! It probably looks even worse than it feels, but I can't afford to stop and look at it now. I let my mind wander once and it cost me, I can't afford to do it again. All I can do is keep running and hope when all is said and done I'm not hurt too badly.
I tear through the forest blindly. It's been a minute or two since anything was shot at me or any burning things were dropped on or near me, but I don't care; I just want to be as far away from that place as possible, and right now forward and downhill seems like as good a direction as any. Turns out to be better than most; my lucky direction even; I see a stream just up ahead. Exactly what I need for this burn and to rinse my eyes out.
I run headlong into the stream, stopping when I'm about knee deep to sit (well, collapse really) and try to catch my breath. Of course this means I'm more hacking and wheezing than anything, but if it gets fresh air into my lungs and smoke and ash out, I'll take it.
The cool water feels nice on my legs. Burns are the worst; I've always hated them. Cuts scrapes, even real lacerations, I'll take any of those before a burn. Burns hurt, burns blister, and I don't know how to treat them; Prim's better at this than me. I catch myself before my mind can manage to find the words 'I wish she was here.' After all, she should be; I came in her place. This is the last place in the world I want her to be.
With no healer at hand I just have to suck it up; whatever's happened to me already's happened, not looking at it won't change anything. I take my knife and carefully cut away the section of my pants over the burn. I'm lucky; nothing really bad like flesh and fabric being melted together happened. When I look at the burn itself, I'm actually even luckier than that. It's red and angry looking and starting to blister, but all of me is there; no missing flesh, no big charred section. It still hurts, don't get me wrong, but at least I'm all there and I shouldn't be slowed down too badly, which as it turns out is a good thing. I hear people coming. A lot of them. There's only one big group that doesn't care about making noise in this arena.
I get up and scramble to shore, hoping to make the woods before they see me, but it doesn't go quite how I hoped. Guess I used up whatever lucky I had not being charred. Oh well, like I said burns are the worst, so I'll take it.
It looks like the Careers got a closer look at the fire than they probably would have liked too; judging from how they're coughing and breathing rough they got their share of smoke same as me. Unfortunately they're still bigger than me, there's more of them than me and they train for this, which probably means faster than me. So I do the first thing that comes to mind: I climb.
I pick the first big tree I can find and climb for my life. By the time the Careers catch up I'm well up into the tree, thirty or forty feet off the ground I'd say.
"Well hello there!" Cato taunts from the below. "What have we here?"
"Oh, hiya!" I answer with a friendly wave. They've already found me and plan to kill me, no way will I give them the satisfaction of seeing me scarred too.
"You look lost up there. Why not come on down, we'll make sure you get to where you need to be."
Yeah right. This idiot thinks he's going to talk me down? Not happening. "No thanks, I'm fine up here. Actually, it's pretty nice, some genuine fresh air up here." I guess my banter isn't going over so well, because by now that blonde girl Glimmer's aiming an arrow at me. She didn't look like she was anything special with a bow in training so maybe I still have a bit of luck coming my way.
She fires, and I watch the arrow flying higher and higher, like it's in that weird slow motion Capitolites do on broadcasts to make it needlessly more dramatic. Come on, miss! Miss! And… Yes!! The girl misses by quite a few feet, the arrow stuck in the tree above me. I quickly climb higher and pull it out, waving down to them with a grin. "Thanks! I appreciate the free stuff!"
The Careers don't look happy at all. Maybe they think I was a bit insincere in my thanks? Glimmer lines up another shot, but Cato stops her and instead starts climbing. This is even easier for me to deal with than inaccurate arrows. Cato's huge, like Gale sort of huge. Me? I'm a girl, and small for a girl at that; climbing higher is a no brainer. Sooner or later he'll come a branch that can't hold him, but managed my weight just fine.
It turns out I don't have to wait for Cato to get particularly high in the tree. He grabs a branch way too small to hold him and falls down ten feet onto his butt. Seriously, they don't climb trees in 2? This should have been easy until he was an awful lot higher than me. Oh well, his loss!
Cato gets up plenty ticked off, but not hurt. Shame he didn't break his neck, but at this point, I'll take what I can get. Besides, it's not often you see one of the favorites in the Games look that stupid. I hope everyone watching is having a good laugh at how stupid he looked falling on his butt.
"Forget it, she's not going anywhere. Let's just wait her out." Peeta suggests.
"Fine. Grab some wood and make a fire." Cato barks back. At least they're making a fire in their camp rather than setting my tree on fire. Oops! Gotta be careful. Thinking things has been making them happen way too often lately. Guess I'll have to trust in my luck (Or Cato's lack of creativity) to keep me safe.
This time, my luck (or Cato's lack of creativity) carries the day, and my tree remains safely unburnt and I settle in for the night. Well, technically it's still afternoon; the sun hasn't set yet. But since I'm not going anywhere there's not a lot else I can do.
I'm not far into my evening of trying not to think too much of home or otherwise let my mind wander to unhelpful places when I hear something coming from the next tree over. It sounds like a low, quiet whistle; the sort of thing you'd do to get someone's attention. I look into the foliage and sure enough, that's exactly what it is. That tiny little girl from District 11 is there; Rue I think her name is. Once she sees she has my attention she points up.
It doesn't take me long to find what she was point to: a tracker jacker nest in one of the branches above me. Tracker jackers are nasty creations of the Capitol, who needlessly made wasps (already jerks if you ask me) bigger, more aggressive and made their venom truly evil. As in it makes you hallucinate, and if you're stung too many times, it just flat out kills you.
Tracker jackers were one of their ways of fighting the rebels back 74 years ago. There's no nest left around the Capitol, of course, but we have plenty in the districts. I've seen my mom and Prim treat the stings before. They're definitely not the sort of thing I want, but on the other hand I wouldn't mind if the Careers got them. And the way the nest is hanging from a thin branch and it looks like the smoke from that big fire has the tracker jackers pretty calm, maybe I can arrange just that. The only question is how to do it without them noticing. And that's when the Gamemakers give me an actual bit of help.
The Capitol anthem starts playing, with their logo displayed on the artificial sky of the arena. I don't have time to waste, so I quickly climb up to the nest and start sawing the branch. Fortunately that little sadist Clove threw a utility knife at me, not a throwing knife, so it has a saw back on the reverse side. The branch isn't thick, but I'm short on time. What, the stupid Careers couldn't kill more people to give me the time to finish?
When the daily death count ends the branch is still there. I made it more than halfway through, but it's not enough; I'll have to finish later. Maybe before dawn I can be quiet enough to not wake the Careers or those stupid bugs up. For now I climb down and settle in for the night. Amazingly, when I get back to the branch I'm calling home tonight, I find more good news: a parachute. Wow, I'm not sure I can remember a tributes from District 12 ever getting one of these.. I open it and inside is exactly what I need (No not one of those chainsaw things I saw on the Capitol TV) It's medicine, and considering I only have one real injury it's not hard to guess what it's for. I scoop out a healthy portion with my fingers and as soon as it touches my burnt calf the pain is gone. I have to hand it to the Capitol, they may be miserable sadists everyone in the districts hates, but they do know how to make good medicine.
I tie myself into my tree try to rest. Hopefully the Careers aren't attentive about keeping watch, especially around dawn. Just a bit more luck and I can still survive this.
I knew the moment I was reaped my chances of coming home alive were pretty much zero. I'm not an idiot, I know what these games are like. And people like me don't do well in them. I just don't like hurting people. Maybe if I took more after my mom…
But just because I didn't want to hurt people didn't mean I would be useless here. Oh, I'm sure if my back was against the wall I'd fight back; I'd hurt people, I'd kill them. But I don't want to be that person, so instead while I was still in the Capitol I came up with a plan. And that plan was all about the girl I love: Katniss Everdeen.
I decided that before I died (Since, well let's face it, that's what's going to happen) I'd help her out all I can; I'd make sure she was the one to go home alive. I talked to Haymitch about it and we came up with the public declaration of love during the interviews. Katniss didn't like it, but it did what it had to do; we were all anyone could talk about, as Effie put it. And that talk would translate into sponsor money, both for her and I, but I made Haymitch promise every dime would go to Katniss.
But as good as getting sponsor money was, I knew I could do more, so I teamed up with the Careers. I knew Katniss and Haymitch wouldn't like this since it could and probably eventually will get me killed, so I didn't tell them. Honestly, they'd have been right: it almost did get me killed just minutes into the Games.
Cato threatened and intimidated plenty before I convinced him I could help hunt down Katniss. Her score did make her the biggest threat to them, and since they obviously thought they could kill me any time, the let me join their alliance. I know they think they're using me, probably having a good laugh at how weak and pathetic my love for Katniss is, but the joke's on them. I've been lying through my teeth the whole time I've been with them.
I'm no expert on wood lore and hunting and whatever else Katniss knows, but thankfully I don't have to be. She and Gale are low key about what they do, but, well, I've loved Katniss a long time so, well, to be honest, I watch her. A lot. I think the Capitolite term is 'stalkerish', but so what? I love her. What's so wrong about watching the girl you love?
As it turns out watching Katniss and making sure I hear as much about her as I can means I see and hear a lot about Gale as well. I know they're close, but in the woods their skill sets are different. So I've been feeding the careers all the info I have on Gale and telling them it's what Katniss can do. I've heard enough details to be plenty believable. I guess it helps I have an honest face too.
My plan's actually been working. They've got no idea Glimmer's carrying around the weapon Katniss needs. Instead they're looking for snares and traps and that sort of thing, thinking stray bits of rope on the ground are their biggest threats. I bet they never even imagined Katniss could even climb a tree.
When we saw Katniss in that stream, though, it all broke down. It doesn't matter what sort of traps you think someone might have waiting for you when you see them a few dozen yards away, running for their life. Definitely not the reunion I hoped for.
When Glimmer shot at Katniss all I could do is hold my breath. When Cato started climbing after her I broke out in a cold sweat. I don't know what I would have done if they'd gotten her. Die I guess, since the careers would be out of reasons to keep me alive.
Unfortunately no matter how clever I thought my plan was, I didn't have anything in it for this. The best I could do was stall and suggest we make camp. At least it buys a night for me to think of something, or hope that somehow Katniss does. As the hours wear on and the evening turns to the dead of night I'm getting more and more worried. I might have been the guy with the big plan so far, but I'm drawing a blank now that it really counts. Maybe in the few remaining hours I'll have some brilliant inspiration, but right now, laying on my back staring up into the tree she's stuck in, I think I might have to depend on her for something to get her out of that tree Because I've got nothing.
The sky is just starting to get light when something wakes me up. I'm not sure what it could be. This tree isn't that uncomfortable as trees go, and after the past two nights I'm certainly used to sleeping in them. But whatever it was, the timing isn't terrible. It's about the right time to finish cutting that tracker jacker nest down.
Ouch! What was that? I was about to look down and see if the Careers were asleep when something hit me. I look around and what do I see? Glimmer standing at the base of my tree throwing acorns at me. Really? Trapping me here isn't enough, the girl has to annoy me with acorns too?
I give her the best dirty look I can muster and she just puts a finger to her lips telling me to be quiet and gestures for me to come down. Seriously? This is her master plan to get me out of the tree? I know she probably can get any male to do whatever she wants looking the way she does, but come on! Does she really think this lame brained plan will work?
She rolls her eyes at me and gestures harder. Yeah, right, wave your arms harder, that'll work. Seeing I'm not convinced she takes out her bow and waves it above her head. Great. Now she's taunting me. I wish I could have just slept in.
But before I can start calling her names in my head (and maybe out loud), she does the absolute last thing I ever expected her to do: she throws the bow up at me. She's obviously not trying to use it as a weapon, she throws it with a perfect gentle arc right to my waiting hand.
Ok, now I'm officially confused. Armed, but confused. I stare at the bow in my hands for a few seconds before looking down at the (probably insane) Career below me. She flashes me a smile and gestures for me to come down again. The girl may be insane, but she certainly has my attention. Maybe it's a trap, but if it is it's a bad one; I still have that arrow she shot at me last night.
I stare at her for a bit, considering my options. One way or another I have to get out of this tree, and my current plan to drop a tracker jacker nest on the Careers unnoticed is obviously out. I think about it, and I can't come up with any sort of plan B, so, I decide to take my chances with Glimmer. If it's a trap, at least I have one arrow to take her with me.
I quickly and quietly untie myself from the tree, nock my lone arrow and start making my way down. I stop about ten feet off the ground and give Glimmer a look that Gale would understand to mean Ok, now what?
Glimmer's no Gale, but she seems to get the gist at least. She puts a finger to her lips to tell me to stay quiet (duh!) and points away from the Career camp. I'm not sure what she means at first, but when she starts walking in that direction I figure it out; she's leading me out of here. I drop to the ground, and with just a quick look to make sure the rest of the Careers are still asleep I set out after her.