“Anything salvageable?” Gaspar demands of Renatus as soon as he joins the rest of them by the fire.
“None of the food,” the boy answers with a wry smile. “I've pegged out the hammock and the sleeping-bag might be usable tomorrow. But I can't find that tube of cut medicine.”
“I'm–“ She's cut off by a particularly violent shot of pain. “Surprised,” she finishes in a gasp. “It was– outside pocket. Ah!” Her hand flies to her left temple and then, realising the futility of exploring the injury with her finger-tips, Iristina presses her palm over the raw mince that used to be the side of her head. “I need… to lie down,” she gasps out before standing from the log on which the other girl had seated her. Once on her feet, however, she staggers and it's only Renatus' hand on her arm that stops her from falling.
“Here,” he says with a soft smile. He gets to his feet and helps her to a bank of cut turf.
“Don't go to sleep!” snaps Winnow. “Or you will die.”
“I know that,” she retorts, weakly. Once her head is down against the cool sod, the irony of Winnow's concern strikes her; they are meant to want each other dead but here are Winnow and Renatus showing such tender care. She reaches out and catches the younger boy's hand. “Thanks, kiddo.” She grins at him and a shy smile spreads across his face. There might not have been a chance of Darnell being her last opponent but Renatus might and she really isn't sure she could kill him.
“Isn't that sweet? They're holding hands,” drawls Amina.
“The sponsors love it,” Adolphus informs her, coming into their private sitting-room. “I have three of them begging me to let them pay for the medicine she needs.”
“Well, let's send it,” insists Cai, almost out of his chair and pacing with nervous impatience.
“Do not worry, Caecilius, I have already authorised the gift. It should be arriving at any moment.” At that very moment on screen, Gaspar looks up and spots the silver parachute, which has gotten stuck on a branch above Iristina's head.
“Looks like you've got a fan,” he observes, dryly.
“What…are you… talking… a-bout?” she asks, sounding distressingly faint and her eyes are half-closed.
“Look!” Renatus laughs. “Someone's sent you a parachute.” She just smiles a little, although Cai is sure that she should be making some wise-crack. It worries him to see her so quiet and peaceful and accepting. “Do you want me to get it for you?” The boy is so damn cute and shy that he must fancy her. Of course, he does, everyone does, every man and woman in the Capitol. And she loves them much more than she could ever love him; he was fool to fall in love with a creature of the Games like her. The memory of his girl flirting with Haymitch after her interview is flogging him, when her present-day voice brings him up short.
“Please,” she rasps. His heart constricts at how feeble she sounds.
“Will the medicine be enough?” He finds that he's asked the question out loud.
“The medicine will close the wound and Seeder tells me they are sending Winnow four loaves of bread,” Adolphus informs him, clapping a hand on the younger man's shoulder. “Just watch, she'll get better.”
Renatus wakes her every couple of hours to apply more of the medicine and to force her to eat something. She revels in the feel of his fingers – cool, callused and gentle – on her abused skin as they are the only thing upon which she can concentrate apart from the pain; even sleep doesn't give her much relief. It's some time after dawn when he leans over her and she realises she can't see his face clearly. The blurring of her vision scares her more than the entire attack by the girl yesterday.
“Fever,” she stammers and tries to rise but hands press her back down. She can hear voices speaking but it would take too much effort to decode what they're saying, so she lets her attention drift and, soon enough, she's asleep again.
When she wakes next, her head is throbbing, her throat is tight and scratchy, and she can taste the residue of sleep syrup on the inside of her top lip. She opens her eyes, gingerly, but finds only darkness on the other side; there's not even the light of a fire.
“Hey,” she croaks but no-one comes. She wonders who's on guard-duty and how far away they are. “Hey.” This is a little louder but not as loud as the painful coughing fit that follows. However, either her call or her coughing roused someone because, when she opens her eyes following the fit, there's a cup of water right in front of her face. The hand that supports the back of her head as she props herself up to drink is cool like Renatus' but the fingers are longer. “Thanks, Winnow,” she whispers, after taking in as much of the water as she can manage. She is rewarded with a gleam of white teeth that, much to her relief, are not in the least blurry.
“Are you still with fever?”
“No,” she sighs, relieved.
“Good. I will leave the water here. Try to sleep more. Tomorrow, we must move.”
“Of course. Did anyone die today?”
“No. It is most surprising.”
“Right, well, we'll move at first light.” She pushes herself up on one elbow and pain cracks through her head like lightning and she screams. The scream is soon muted as Winnow claps a hand over her mouth but the pain remains. “I… need… more, um, medi– ahh… medicine.” There are tears in her eyes and she cannot imagine how she will be able to hike tomorrow but she knows they must. The long, cool fingers return with a dollop of the warm, oily paste. Winnow works it into the wound but, while Iristina can tell by the friction between the other girl's fingers and her skin that the wound is healing, it does nothing for the pain. “No. I need… ah, painkiller.”
“I think there's some morphling in the–“
“No!” she yelps. She knows that she's had one too many morphling treatments in her life and she does not want to develop a habit, especially not in the arena. “Too addictive.”
“I will look to see if there is anything else.” The injured girl allows her eyes to drift shut as she waits but sleep feels about a million miles away. “Here is… acetaminophen. It says it is for pain. I know not.” Iristina takes two of the tablets and, almost half an hour later, they begin to work.
“OK. I'm going to try for more sleep,” she tells the other girl but it proves impossible. She lies awake for hours, hearing Gaspar take over guard duty. If it had been Renatus, she might say something but not to Gaspar. The reality of that statement hits her and she starts to laugh as silently as possible. She and her district-partner are supposed to be best friends and have known each other for years but, with the possibility of death hanging over her head, she would rather talk to a kid she's known for less than a fortnight. Then, she remembers the narrative they are supposed to be spinning for the sponsors. So, she gets up and joins him at the fire-pit, a little unsteady on her legs.
“Are you sure you should be up?” he asks, sounding genuinely concerned and offering her a hand with which to steady herself as she sits down. This is a good start, if they're going to convince the Capitol that they are still good friends.
“I'm a little wobbly but we need to move tomorrow, so I'd better get used to walking again,” she grins at him but he's still looking worried.
“You had me really worried, Tina,” he explains, gripping her hand. “That hole in your head looked really bad and you keep shouting out in yer sleep.”
“You know, you are meant to be trying to kill me,” she reminds him with a broad grin and, this time, he grins back.
“You know… none of us thought of that as a remedy to yer wound.”
“Good thing I'm awake, then; you obviously need someone to do the plotting.”
“That we do!,” he laughs. “Any ideas where we should head tomorrow?”
“Yeah… I think we ought to scout out the Cornucopia.”
“Sooner or later, we're going have to meet them head-on and I want to know what we're facing when we do.” He continues to stare at her for a moment before a brilliant grin splits his face wide open.
“Yeah, the strategy-er be back.” They high-five and clasp hands.
“Any chance of getting ya to stop calling me 'Tina'?”
“Not a chance,” he laughs but there's something menacing in his eyes and she knows the respite from the Games is over.