The Conspiracy

Chapter V: The Same as Always

At first, I'm not sure whether or not to believe him. Tributes do this all the time to each other, even tributes from the same District. Careers included. Everybody wants to come out of this alive and everybody knows that he or she has to do whatever it takes to do that. Even Careers who have known each other like Cato and me have had to kill each other, and because both want to get out, both for themselves and for the honor of their District, they fight it out and their deaths are brutal.

But this is Cato, my friend and partner from training. It'd be insulting not to trust him. I've always trusted him. And I know this is exactly what other Tributes who have stood in my shoes thought. But by the end of the Games they were nothing but blood-covered human shapes on the ground and their so-called friends had to go home and live with the guilt of killing them.

"I know there's nothing I can say right now that'll make you believe that, and you don't have to, but I promise you-"

"You'll kill when you have to. You know it's what's expected, especially of us." Us again. Well this time I meant us the District 2 Tributes, not us the Team.

"I didn't say that. I said we're friends and we've always been friends and I will not go home knowing I killed you. Our families are friends; our friends from school are friends. Every one of them would remind me of you. I can't." He's right. I put my finger on my upper lip and walk away from him, into the center of my room, thinking. I pace. Everyone in my life is in his and vice versa.

"If we're both gonna get out, we have to trust each other from here on," I say. That 'what are you thinking?' game will have to hold true for everything we ever say to each other. No messing around.

"I trust you." He says it without hesitation.

"Did you ever consider the fact that we could be adversaries?"

"I tried. It made me want to wreck that TV compartment instead of just throwing the magazine across it." He must know I have considered the possibility seriously, must know that was why I shut him out last night.

"Sorry," I say, dropping my hands, wrapping my arms around my stomach and looking at the ground, feeling guilty.

"Head up," he corrects me, stepping closer. It's his go-to phrase in the gym. I always lift looking down or to the side or anywhere but up unless someone reminds me to. There's no reason for it, but it is bad for my spine so Cato used to walk by and pull gently on the end of my ponytail and say 'head up' and usually walk away. I smile at these memories.

The simple 'sorry' is all I can seem to manage. He's said it all already so I just lean against his chest and put my arms around his waist as he hugs me. He's strong and even this non-crushing hug is tight but comfortable. If I stepped back he'd let me go but otherwise I can't move without hitting him first.

It's nice, knowing Cato and I will make every effort for both of us to come out of this alive. If I think about it now, I could never have been the one to kill him and I'm glad we've formed this alliance. There's also some value in knowing that Cato and I, the two most promising tributes in the arena, are allies, real allies because we're friends above these Games.

I feel him loosen his grip in order to lean away and look down at me. "So, what was your idea last night?"

I pull the rest of the way out of the hug as I tell him to sit on the foot of my bed. I want to say this quietly because I know this room is bugged. It's got to be. He sits and I kneel beside him, cup my hands around his ear and whisper to him about how, maybe if the Capitol liked seeing 12 work as a team, they'll like seeing us as a team, too.

He shakes his head, turns and whispers to me. "No. If we act like that now, the Capitol will think we're copying them, and since when has 2 ever copied 12? We'll have to reinforce their liking of those two as a pair and keep them alive in the arena, at the very least long enough for the Capitol to like them enough to make an exception to the rules this year."

"What if they don't? What if it gets down to just you and me?"

"They can't make us kill each other."

"Maybe not, but they could send something else in to do the job for them."

"We'd protect each other. It'd be better if they changed the rule though, so we have to show them what a good team 12 makes but we can't make it obvious that we're helping them. As far as you and me go, we have to act normal, like Careers, allies but not particularly close."

He's right.

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