Cai watches in split screen as Calidia cleans her dagger and the girl from District 3 is carried away by a hovercraft. They're down to nine – the girl from 7 and the two alliances. He asks himself, without really wondering, how much longer the alliances can last. They're showing the overhead map again and he's mildly reassured to see that the cluster of gold dots are on the opposite side of the mountain to the three active red dots. He's less pleased by the fact that the green dot seems to be moving in the direction of his girl.
“So… nine tributes left,” purrs Caesar Flickerman, portentously. “Just one away from the all important final eight.”
“Yes,” nods Templesmith. “And I'm sure Districts 7 and 9 must be delighted.”
“I know, I'm excited. Ares promised us that both the tributes from District 9 would make it to Day 2 and here we are on Day 5 and they're both still alive!”
“Yes, and I think it's been at least ten years since both of the District 7 tributes survived this long.”
“You'd think they'd had a bloody hand in keeping the blighters alive, wouldn't ya?” snarls Haymitch, sinking into the seat beside him. This surprises Cai as the other man has a reputation for only watching until both of his tributes are dead. At least, he's not sober; that would really worry Cai. “I like your girl. Wonder why she cut your boy, though.”
“He probably tried to kill her,” he sighs and runs a hand through his shaggy hair.
“Why'd he do that?”
“Because they hate each other.”
“I thought–“ Haymitch turns his chair so that he can look Cai full in the face. “Wow! That's some story! Wondered why they've been nettling each other the whole time but it make sense if they hate each others' guts. You think they'll make it to the end without killing each other?”
“I have no idea.”
Once they've cooked the fish, they pack up without eating anything as Winnow is certain she can hear movement in the trees.
“Must be Viatrix,” Iristina mutters to her district-partner, falling into step beside him. If the mentors want them to act friendly, she'll do her best. Anyway, she doesn't want to encourage Renatus' puppy love and she definitely doesn't want to leave the two boys together. Gaspar, the antithesis of a team-player, just grunts and speeds up. She matches her stride to his and tries again: “If it were the Careers, they'd not be hiding from us and I think it be more like that they'd catch up to poor frightened girl from 3 as'n Viatrix.” He hoists his pack more securely on his shoulder and then bends down abruptly, leaving her to walk past him. Exasperated, she lets herself walk away and, soon enough, Renatus is at her side. He walks quietly for a while but then his fingers brush her hand and she knows that he's trying to take hold of it but she does not know how to respond. They are in the middle of the Hunger Games and they can't both make it out alive, so it can do no good to encourage him, except to possibly make him happier. The question is: can it do any harm? They're already allies, so it's unlikely to infuriate sponsors and might even play on their sentimentality; Gaspar won't care, he couldn't care less who she does and it's not like their narrative has a romantic element; Winnow isn't interested in the boy but she might think that Iristina is manipulating or humouring him, although she's hardly proven herself likely to do that; so, that only leaves Caesar and Cai so, that only leaves Caesar and Cai; and herself. If they see her holding hands or even kissing this boy, will they assume she was playing them and stop helping her? Well, she has no way of knowing if Caesar has been helping her and Adolphus won't let Cai stop acting like a mentor. As long as she can come up with a way of selling it to Caesar Flickerman, she might as well do it. So what if it might haunt her if she makes it out of the arena alive? It's too late to start worrying about the impact her immoral actions will have upon herself. She smiles slightly, keeping her eyes fixed on the way ahead and slips her hand into that of the boy beside her.
The cameras are following the Career tributes as they attempt to catch Viatrix. She's leading them a merry dance all around the crown of the mountain, safely away from Ares and her allies. Cai is watching all this from the massive, silk-sheeted bed of his latest client. She's draped across his chest, trying to imprint herself on him as something more than one of a thousand Capitol floozies he's had. They always try it and it never works; at this moment, lying naked in her bed and drinking her champagne, he's more interested in the screen, hoping for a glimpse of his girl.
“So, who do you think will win?” simpers the ingénue, smiling up at him.
“Why, one of my two, of course,” he smirks at her, turning up the charm again. After all, anyone who can afford to rent a victor has the money to sponsor a tribute.
“Really?” Her smoky blue eyes are impossibly wide, he notices. “I put my money on Proc. Now, he's what a victor looks like… like you.” He can't even find it in himself to pretend to be flattered.
“That's not what I looked like when I won,” he tells her, shortly. “I need to jump in your shower before I go.” He starts to roll her off him and she giggles as though it's a game.
“I'll join you!”
“You paid for an hour, not an afternoon,” he points out with a sneer. Her jaw drops and she stares at him.
“I thought… thought we were having fun,” she whimpers.
“Frankly, madam, I've had more fun with women thrice your age. You're just another dime a dozen débutante who thinks it'll be fun to have her first time with a victor. It is rather less than tiresome for us.” Once he's safely in the bathroom, he shakes his head violently; he hates it when he sounds like he's channelling Adolphus.
They keep moving all day, not heading anywhere in particular but reluctant to stay still now there are so few tributes left. Eventually, as darkness falls, they stop and pitch the tents under overhanging branches.
“Anyone wanna come down to the beach with me and see who died today?” she offers, straightening from laying out one pair of sleeping-bags.
“I will!” grins Renatus, jumping up from where he's been repairing the fishing net. Winnow grins and gives the older girl a quick shake of her head.
“You two go ahead,” grunts Gaspar, who is bent over the fire-pit and struggling to get the green wood to catch.
“Come on,” Iristina chuckles at the younger boy and jerks her head towards the shore. He runs over to her, catches her wrist and drags her to the beach. She has to fight to keep her laughter quiet, although they are both armed and could probably take anyone who tried to attack. Once they're on the beach, Renatus spins her around and then tugs on her wrist so that she falls against his chest. She lets out a gusty laugh, surprised by his boyish assertiveness, and looks up at him, expecting him to kiss her. Instead, he hesitates and bats his eyelashes at her.
“I've never kissed a girl before,” he whispers and and looks up at him, expecting him to kiss her. Instead, he hesitates and bats his eyelashes at her.
“I've never kissed a girl before,” he whispers and her heart breaks for him, killing her elation. If this was anyone else, someone who could give her an edge, she'd make some quip but this is just a little, lost boy and she's not really so cold-hearted as to add insult to uncertainty. She slides her hands up his chest, so her arms encircle his neck, and then pulls him down to kiss him, slow and tender. “Wow,” he gasps and smiles at her. “Wasn't that magical?” When she doesn't agree at once, he frowns and pulls away. “Have you kissed someone before?”
“Yes, Renatus,” she sighs, feeling as though she's humouring a child. “I have kissed other people.”
“Oh… well, you're beautiful,” he shrugs. “I bet lots of people want to kiss you. Have you kissed lots of people?” Now, she knows, is not the time to tell the whole truth. Unless there's in-fighting among the Careers, they are probably being featured on every screen in Panem and, even if they aren't, if she wins, this will undoubtedly make the highlights cut. Part of her wishes she had just told him that it was magical for her, too.
“Rena,” she sighs, finally voicing the nickname she's been using in her head for a week now. “I'm three years older than you. So, yeah, I've kissed other people. It's normal.” He still doesn't look happy, so she goes to him and slips her arms around her waist. “I'm sorry that you haven't kissed lots of people but you can kiss this person, lots, OK?” He raises his head and grins shyly at her.
“So, you liked it?”
“Yeah, baby, I did,” she whispers and brushes the hair out of his eyes. They stay wrapped in each other's arms until the anthem sounds. Then, they turn to look up into the sky and the dead tribute has a number 3 beside her picture, which tells Iristina that they really have reached the final stage of the Games.