It doesn't take long to be called back anymore, what with Peeta being dead. Being dead by my hands…
Because of this, President Snow calls with more frequency, and I continue to listen to him as he guides me in any way he decides. Despite what he had me do, I am still supposed to serve him. I'm allows to view the monitors in the rooms, watching the various tributes that are left. I am surprised to find Clove and Marvel still alive, separated, and moving in opposite directions, neither out of place in their solitude. I keep my mouth shut about them and don't give any indication that I am wondering about how much longer they will be around.
With my newfound connections, it's only plausible that I'll be Victor at this point.
I proved my loyalty, after all, by taking Peeta's life. I did it with such swiftness and without so much as batting an eye that I had to have shown enough. I had returned to President Snow with high spirits being evident in every step and he congratulated me on my killing of one of the star-crossed lovers.
Right, I had forgotten that they were lovers. Not by any means truly, but that was their moniker, a way to remember them—as two halves of a whole. And I killed one half already.
The people of the Capitol took the death of Peeta with a resonant cry, as they always do with their favorites, and President Snow assured me that I was still considered invaluable and high on the list of any sponsors when they feel I should be helped. I couldn't care less about them since I've managed just fine. But I had wondered if my chances dwindled rapidly when I removed Peeta from the Games. I still do. The Capitol is loyal and, much of the time, easily persuaded with the right amount of consistency. Even though there are those that are independent thinkers—like Cinna, the stylist of the Girl on Fire—the general population is blissfully unaware that the Games are now staged, for real, behind the scenes.
This suddenly gives me pause.
Despite the work I am doing, and the effort I've done, and that I am still, possibly, another contender that could die…my agreeing to have President Snow helping me now feels like…cheating.
Like I'm not earning this title on my own…
"Is something wrong, my boy?"
I break out of my thoughts and turn to President Snow, "No, sir,"
His eyes return to the monitor where we watch one of the tribute start a fire; in broad daylight. Idiot.
"You had suddenly looked lost in thought."
"Just a relapse of memory, I guess,"
"Well, perhaps you should get some rest," he tells me politely, "After all, tomorrow we are going to put the plan into motion for Miss Everdeen."
Everdeen. I think it's a nice name. Unfortunately, it just has that certain ring to it.
When I enter my sleeping quarters, the bare walls a bright white, I immediately head to the small bed where the soft fabric of the covers slips around me. I find myself missing the silk sheets, though. Bu it makes sense why my space is small, why everything is empty aside from a bed, and how everything is so staunchly white it hurts my eyes if I look for long periods of time.
I am still a tribute. And tributes don't get favors.
This enrages me though I keep down the anger and roll onto my side, willing myself to go to sleep. I shouldn't be angry, considering this is an advantage—surrounded by all the information; but a part of me has never liked that even with all my talents, all my compliancy and obedience, there seems to be this innate urge to keep me locked up from victory; as though I'd be too unstable to handle it all.
My mind freezes as my eyes snap open, heart pounding in my chest. I sit up, trying to steady the heavy thumping. I put my hand to my face, find it cold and damp with sweat. I push back my hair that had gotten longer, sweeping it out of my eyes a little bit. I don't remember what I dreamt but it was enough to shock me into waking up. That much was for sure.
Maybe it's best I don't know.
I need to stay focused, after all.
The door slides open and a woman with blue lipstick and green hair steps in, "President Snow is ready to see you, please follow me,"
I do so and see him settled in a chair, sipping from a teacup. He smiles in greeting, "We are prepared,"
"I am too," I answer, "When do we begin?"
"Right away," President Snow replies, motioning to his left to the hallway. We make our way to where some of the staff is fiddling with controls and monitors too complex—therefore, boring—to understand so I don't bother. I only have one goal in mind.
"We have decided that the best way to get close to her is to do what you did to Peeta,"
I turn to him, "You mean trick her,"
"That is precisely it." He walks over to where a Gamemaker is pressing several controls. He points to something blue, symbol making no sense, "Here is what we're going to use. Our choice is to put you in a location where she'll be able to find you and then you'll have to make her trust you on your own."
"What exactly will I be doing?"
"What you will do is be placed into the arena. We'll start a fire—"
"—and it'll build up into an inferno in the location where she and you will be. Some sort of incident happens where she has to save you and it should work from there on its own."
I may be a devoted citizen of Panem but the words come— "That doesn't sound full-proof to me."
He looks at me, eyes slightly narrowed—in confusion or offense I don't know—and says, "Why ever not?"
"She is nothing like Peeta. Peeta was kind and caring—it would make sense for him to save my life; but her, she owes me absolutely nothing and seeing's what's happened around here, I'll be the last person she'll ever want to save,"
He ponders this, fingers on his chin in meditation, "Hmm. I suppose that is correct. Very well, we'll change that. Instead, you'll be the one to rescue her."
I blink. "Why don't I just finish her off there and then, though, sir?"
He chuckles good-naturedly, "My boy, it's a game. It needs to reach the finish."
We speak no more of that. "Alright, I'll do my best."
"It's all we ask for, Cato. You'll be put back in the arena shortly. Don't worry about how you'll rescue her—the Gamemakers will take care of that. You just be alert—you'll know when it happens."
Even though it's broad daylight, I'm placed back into the arena effortlessly. No one is around me and I walk in the direction they told me to—towards the distant mountaintop. I climb for a while, sweat dripping off my brow, clinging to my hair. I take a gulp of water. Walk on. It takes forever until I reach a summit. And then it happens—
A great wall of flame is burning towards me, the smoke overwhelming my sense with an intense quickness I begin to cough. I shut my eyes, feeling them water, before I open them to see a figure running in the distance, nimble and sure.
Until the figure gets closer and I realize it's not her—it's the little girl from 11.
She comes out of the fire later, a shadow scathing the forest floor, and she grips the child by the hand, pulling her along. Together, they move faster in my direction. Neither one has seen me. This is good.
Then I hear a cry and I rush forward.
Being nearer to the mountaintop, where cliffs are unknowable, a piece—larger than normal, so it's the Gamemakers—had fallen to the forest below, crashing loudly.
I find the girl leaning over the side of the cliff, reaching out a thin dark hand, "Grab my hand! Please, I can't lose you!"
The Girl on Fire is hanging on desperately, fingernails digging into the mountainside, trying to grab a solid foothold, "I can't! Rue, you have to get away—"
"No! I won't leave without you!"
"Rue! You need to get out of here—" she coughs from the smoke.
Before the girl can say anything more, she begins to cough as well, violently, and she shakes. She stretches her hand out further, a limb of a tree, but then she halts when she sees me and screams. She's suddenly aware of my too and her voice is harsh, loud, similar to the blaze around us.
"You leave her alone!"
I don't say anything as I bend down, stretching my hand out and she pulls back, as though she suddenly saw a viper. She recoiled so fast that her foot slipped and she slides another foot or two. The girl cries out her name and stretches out her hand, forgetting me, "Katniss! Climb back up!"
She doesn't reach out her hand, even though she now could, and only stares. I stare back. But my impatience gets the better of me, "Come on! You'll die here—don't be stupid!"
Something in her snaps and she reaches out. My hand is closest so she grips it; hers is sweaty and small and firm. I pull and when she's high enough, takes the child's hand. We pull her until she's on the surface but then I heft them to their feet and dash with each one in hand, not caring what they're thinking or their mingled protests. They eventually realize I'm in the right state of mind and let me pull them. I remember the map I saw briefly before I left and head to the river nearby.
We head into the water, cool and dark, before coming back up, listening to the roar over us.
It subsides and we head to shore. Where my face is instantly the target of her bow and arrow; the bow Glimmer had once.
"Why'd you help us?"
I cough, finding my throat clogged, "Why wouldn't I help you?"
I snort, "You're welcome,"
She doesn't put her bow down, "You have too many reasons to kill us. Why should we trust you?"
"I'm not telling you to," I answer honestly; maybe she's the type that appreciates straightforwardness, "All I know is I saved your life and I don't appreciate you pointing that thing at me for it,"
Her eyes flicker and her bow lowers a little. Only a little. But it's a start.
"Katniss," the girl whispers, tugging the older girl's sleeve, "We did almost die…"
She looks at me then glances at Rue, her position unchanged aside from the turn of her head. I turn, wait. Not paying attention. Privacy is valued so maybe she'll like that too.
We're all caught up in our own thoughts for a while. They talk and I think.
I think of how close all of us had come to dying.
We're putting on a show for them, too, now, not just Panem. But something in me, in the quiet of these moments, has come back up, a fierce awareness of the situation from an objective point of view. That wall of fire never bothered to halt—it licked the back of my head, even as we dove into the water. The smoke was powerful and heady, filling my lungs. These are manmade. They are manipulated. But I was still going through what they dealt with. None of my emotions were fake.
I reach to touch the back of my head. The hair there is singed and my fingers come to my eyes dirty.
I look at her; meet her eyes that refuse to waver. Then they do, "We're leaving now. Don't drag behind,"
I blink slowly at her retreating back and meet the child's dark gaze. She offers a small, tentative smile before running off to catch up with her.
I'm going to win.