The Conspiracy

Chapter XVIII: Friendly Ally

That first one probably wasn't the worst hallucination I experienced, but it's the one I remember most vividly when I finally come out of it. They weren't all involving our friends from school and training either. Some were about my family, some were just me. When the venom has run its course, I'm lying, still curled up, my hand locked with Cato's, my head against his chest just like the night before the reaping. I knew we were here before I came to because sometimes between hallucinations I could feel him. My eyes have been closed so I haven't seen him, but I knew we were both still here.

I keep my hand tightly locked with Cato's but begin to try moving my other limbs. I've been curled up for I don't know how long so my joints are more stiff than they've ever been. I haven't had water since the night before 23 dropped the nest and my head and muscles are feeling the adverse effects. When I check the watch, it tells me it's a little after two in the afternoon. No wonder it's so hot. How close are we to the water? "Cato?" It hurts to talk. "It's Clove. We're in the arena, but I think we're safe for now. Remember the tracker jackers?" I'm not sure if talking will help bring him out but I have to try something. I can't carry him. I don't even know where I'd go if I could. All I can do is continue to talk to him. I tell him what's going on around us, whistle something simple for the birds to imitate when my throat hurts too badly to continue.

He looks like he's still hallucinating. He's sweating and shaking and holding tightly to my left hand with both of his. I shake his shoulder gently, fairly certain this is the opposite of proper procedure but I just want this to stop. It's cruel. I put my hand on the side of his head, thinking maybe human contact will help. Dirt and sweat have matted locks of his hair together. He wakes up like I did, just lies there on the ground, getting his bearings while I talk to him. I tell him more than once who I am and that we're safe. Eventually he sits up and makes eye contact with me. When he puts my voice together with my name and face he looks relieved and hugs me. Uh, no. Not very Career. Not Hunger Games mentality. Though maybe screaming for him at the start of my hallucinations wasn't either. "Uh," I say, trying to sound nonchalant. He remembers where we are and pulls away.

"Sorry," he says, "It's weird that we can't still be friends in here." This is painfully obvious. Maybe his judgement's off.

"You carried me out here away from those things. Made sure I wouldn't die of sun poisoning. We've apparently been right next to each other since then trying to fight off the venom. Maybe we're better off being friendly allies at the very least. Try to get the pair of us as far as we can. Starting with water. How far are we from the lake? Do you remember?"

He doesn't exactly know, but we retrace the trail he trampled as he swerved through the trees and find the water. Our packs and portable supplies dried while we were out so we fill our water bottles with fresh water, add iodine, wait half an hour and drink slowly, trying not to make ourselves sick. We talk about the fight with 24, trying to be nonchalant, though both silently hope he's still alive.

"I was wondering when you two would come around," calls 2 from behind us. We jump up, weapons drawn, then lower them when we realize who he is. He's smirking at us. "Glad to see you too."

"How long have you been up?" I ask.

"Maybe an hour," he says, "I found berries. Want some?"

"How long were we out?" Cato asks. I take a few of the berries from 2's outstretched hand and inspect them. Just because we're allies doesn't mean he wouldn't like us both dead soon. We're eventually going to be threats to him.

"No idea. Where have you two been? How long have you been up?"

"We were over under some trees," as Cato says this, I realize how very hot I am. I unzip my jacket. "We've been up for what...half an hour?" He looks at me for confirmation. I nod and break open one of the berries, just to be absolutely sure.

"Were you two together?" He must know we were in the same vicinity at the very least, otherwise he's incredibly dense. Maybe he means together like together, taking care of each other. He looks suspicious of us, like we should have all been separated because he was.

"Here," I hand Cato a berry. A change of subject is in order. "They're fine. We should get back to the supplies." I start to head back in the direction of the Cornucopia.

"Wait, what-?" asks 2, taking hold of my arm as I pass.

"Don't worry about it," I answer, yanking my hand away from him. As I do, I catch a glimpse of Cato, one hand on his sword. He's glaring at 2, who looks like he knows he could be in trouble in a second here. He holds up his hands.

"Fine," he sounds defiant but we know he means 'fine, I won't do it again.' Cato grunts, or something like that, and walks past him to continue back to camp next to me.

"Where have you guys been?" asks 6 when we walk out of the woods. "You've been gone for two days."

We ignore him and sit down in the mouth of the Cornucopia. "Well there's one of his answers," Cato tells me, watching 2 take a seat on one of the cases. 6 continues to talk to him, but he ignores him and 6 eventually decides it'd be smarter not to press the issue. I guess Cato and I are scary enough that simply not answering him when he first asked was sufficient. Good to know.

6 disappears into the woods, carrying a bowl and returns half an hour later with it full of green leaves. He approaches me. "Here. For the sting on your hand. Well, for any of your stings." I take one of them and inspect it. So does Cato. Apparently 2 wasn't invited. Now I'm glad I've made friends with this annoying kid with a knack for both plants and explosives.

I don't spend as much time inspecting the leaf, figuring that he's not nearly bold enough to try to kill us this way. "Take another and chew on it. It'll make a kind of paste. Put that on the stings." 6 instructs us, looking at me.

"You first," Cato invites/orders him. The kid makes an expression like 'Fine. I don't care,' which I find amusing, and takes another leaf. He chews on it, then spits it into his hand to show us. Then he places it on his own sting. Leave it to 2 to draw the tracker jackers all the way back to camp. Cato continues to look suspicious, but I'm sick of having my throwing hand look and feel like sausage so I take the risk and copy 6.

"It looks fine," I tell Cato once I'm holding the chewed up leaf to the back of my right hand. "Thanks, 6," I tell him. "Leave the bowl here, will you? I got stung a bunch." He nods, sets the bowl down at my feet and returns to where he was sitting before we got here.

"I'd have gone first," Cato tells me. That's no way to talk if he wants sponsors. They won't help him if they don't think he's in this to come out.

"Playing the hero?" I ask him, giving him a look like, 'just play along.' I put another leaf in my mouth. They're leaves so they don't hinder my speech. "Saving the damsel in distress from the tracker jackers, the mean boy from One, and the evil leaves?" I throw one at him and put the second chewed up one on another of my stings. The leaves are sticky once I've chewed them so I continue as we talk. He looks like he's about to react the opposite way he should so I decide to be a little more direct, "That's no way to talk if you want sponsors." Or a lot more direct.

I watch the lightbulb go on in his head. "We're good allies," he says, "You made sure I was up to run from the tracker jackers and sat there waiting for me to wake up. You've had my back in here just as often as I've had yours. I know I'll win if we're in the top two so, yeah, if that counts as saving the damsel in distress, then yes, I am." I've finished with the leaves now. I tell him something vulgar, roll my eyes at his fake threat and stand up. He knows I'm just playing with him so I'm not worried about making him angry. I climb up on the Cornucopia, and lay down on my jacket. The metal is hot so I keep my triceps off it. Cato comes up a few minutes later.

"What are you doing?" he asks. I squint up at him and he moves so my face is in shadow.
"Trying to get a tan." Ha!

He snorts, then it turns into a laugh, "What? You're gonna get a sunburn." He takes off his jacket and drops it over my face. I hear him walk away from me.

"What are you doing then?" I ask, pulling the jacket off and looking over at him. He's lounging like I just was.

"Getting a tan." Touche, my friend, touche.

"Shut up." I throw the jacket back at him and pull mine back on. We stay there for a little while longer, maybe half an hour. The heat begins to make me feel sleepy.

"Hey," Cato is tapping on the Cornucopia, on the metal near my head. "If you sleep up here, you'll fry. Come on."

"Saving the damsel in distress again," I tease as I sit up. I realize I have leaves and all sorts of dead plant bits in my hair, which is falling out of the hair tie. I pull it loose and begin combing it through with my fingers.

"Come on, princess. Get off this thing. Do that in the shade." I throw one of the dead leaves at him but it gets caught in the breeze and blown back toward me. He smirks and slides down the side of the Cornucopia. I follow him.

We decide that the rest of today should be a rest day. None of us says it out loud, but we're all still sore, reeling from the venom, tired, and aren't really in the mood to hunt down other tributes. There must be something intense going on elsewhere in the arena because otherwise they'd be sending something over here to mess with us. When the anthem plays in the evening, no faces appear in the sky. "Hey, 6," Cato calls. By now, 6 just knows that's his name. He knows what it means, but seems to have accepted that this is the way it is. "Were there faces in the sky when we were gone?"

"Both girls from 1 and 4," he replies. So it's 2, 3, 4, 9, 12, 21, 22, 23, 24. Not quite the top eight.

Cato and I sit in the mouth of the Cornucopia, our hoods up, my hands in my sleeves as the arena gets colder. I'm shivering but try to cover it up for a little while. I haven't noticed for the past few days because I've been unconscious but the Gamemakers are really dropping the temperature now. Cato's much bigger than I am, so he's cold, and probably colder than he should be because his jacket is unzipped, his hands in his pockets.

I scoot closer to him. He turns and I wrap my arms around him, under his jacket. "Hey friendly ally," he says, pulling the jacket up over my shoulders so we're one big bundle of less than freezing.

When I wake up, it's already warming up and my neck is killing me from sleeping sitting up on Cato's chest. As soon as I realize this, I sit up and stretch. Cato stirs then because in sitting up, I dislodged both his arms, which had been around me near my hip, his hands still in the pockets, holding the jacket around me.

"You ok?" he asks. I immediately stop stretching, making it look like I don't want him to know about any weaknesses.

"Fine," I answer. It's how we were trained to answer. No matter what is actually going on, we're fine. "Hungry." He says he is too so we stand up and head over to the pile of supplies. He jumps over the mines, then tosses breakfast food back to me. Cereal, which we'll have to eat dry, a couple of apples, and some bread. We sit down on either side of 6, hand him an apple and a bowl and begin eating. 2 wakes up a while later and is annoyed that we started eating without him. Cato's eaten his apple which only makes him madder. I roll my eyes at the other two as 2 jumps to the pile, and grabs an apple and bowl for himself. He returns to us and sits beside me. Cato doesn't look happy about that but he acts normal. He knows if this punk tried anything I'd take him. He's just looking out for me. We've never babied each other and he's not now.

"What do you say we go look for Lover Boy?" 2 breaches the subject of our injured but not quite dead opponent.

"We don't need to look for him. I know where I cut him. He's dead."

"Right, which explains why his face was in the sky." Oh good, sarcasm. That always goes over well with this crowd.

"It is possible you missed, Cato. Weren't you stung by then?" 6 suggests.

"Maybe Lover Boy and Fire Girl are together," 2 muses out loud. "We should at the very least try to find them."

"One problem. You told me yesterday Fire Girl took the arrows. My bet would be that if she risked running into you again to go back to get them, she's a competent archer at the very least," says 6.

"What do you care? You're not going after her? And who cares if she's armed? Have you seen her? She's tiny. We could take her." Right 2, you can take any tiny tribute. How's that gash in your face?

"How do you think she got that score? I wouldn't want to be near her and those arrows if I were you guys." How did he figure that out? I don't remember him people watching in the Training Center. He was too busy pestering me. How had he noticed she'd avoided archery? "To tell you the truth, if I were you guys, I'd probably have stopped chasing her by now. She seems to have outsmarted you––" What the hell is he doing?

"Watch it, 6!" 2 barks at him, standing up. He looks mad enough to fight him right now. Before I know what I'm doing, I'm on my feet too.

"I was just––" 6 begins but I speak over him.

"Stop it. Both of you. Now." It's an order and they both look at me. 12 is looking at me like 'why do you keep doing me favors?'. 2 is livid. "We'll go look for 24. Come on." Cato's up now too, sword in one hand, spear in the other.

"You two go ahead. Let us two have a talk." 2's eyes haven't left 6's face.

"No," Cato answers, glaring at him. "You think we want you two forming some second alliance against us? No you come with us. And you stay here. Guard the stuff."

"You got it," 6 answers.

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