Chapter 1: Diverge
Katniss never knew when the broadcast failed -- none of the Tributes knew.
Primrose, Haymitch, and Seneca's viewing of the 74th Hunger Games was cut off with the death scream of the Tributes girl with the open flame.
Precautionary measures were taken to ensure no one got close to the edge, though some commentators opined that the ring of fire was too much of symbolic favoritism of for District 12's Tribute.
Haven't heard the cannon much today. There's less firing than there was yesterday, and there was less yesterday than the day before when we were all assembled at the Cornucopia at the start of the Games.
I'm making my way from one tree to another, using all the muscles and willpower I gained from my years of going after wild game, to keep silent... even with the burn on my leg. Shouldn't be surprised at the size of the blaze back there - Haymitch as good as said they like keeping Tribunes on our toes.
Metal touches my neck, and I stop where I am. Flat, not as cold as it should be. I can feel how easy it would be to rotate the blade and open my throat, or to slide up and go for my tongue. "Clove," I say. Almost everyone else prefers either larger blades, spears, or blunt objects. And with one exception, everyone else would have been too easy to hear their approach.
She moves out of the shadows, staying at the same distance from me, not lessening or deepening how her knife lays on the bulge of my throat. Clove doesn't say anything. I can see lots of little nicks and cuts on her face and arm - my eyes flicked to look there for only a moment, never more than that - and her clothing looks like its seen as much of the wrong side of a hill and shrubs as mine has.
Clove hasn't killed me yet. It's like she's waiting for something, and something tells me she isn't waiting for reinforcements.
I need to live, to make it out of here. I promised Prim I would try. And if nobody's coming to help Clove, maybe I could...
No, that wouldn't work. Would it? Maybe, maybe it's the edge I need.
Speaking of edges... "Truce?" I ask Clove.
She looks at me, and something in her eyes shows surprise, alongside disbelief.
"Me and you against the others," I say. She hasn't moved the knife, which I'll count as a victory.
"The Girl on Fire needs help?" Clove asks, mocking.
"I'm the only one who doesn't call me that. And I never claimed to be a one-person army."
Something about that amuses her. I'll ask later...maybe.
Clove just stands there, and I have no idea if she's thinking it over, mulling over the best way to kill me, or if she's fallen asleep with her eyes open. I've done that; Gale has too.
Maybe it was desperation, maybe something else, I'm not really sure why I blurted out, "This is a TV show!" I say to Clove, nearly shouting it. After all, she knows it as well as I do. Maybe its my inner Haymitch coming out to play. I'll give it a beer later.
Me. Work with you? Against everyone else. At least until we're the only ones left - that's what Cato screwed up, he got impatient.
I nod. As my nan reminded me often, 'It isn't just how well you do, but how you go about it, that wins you the advantages where the sponsors are concerned.' And the sponsors are the ones who send in the really useful stuff.
A Career and a Twelver. The sponsors will just eat us up. "Fine. We work together. But Cato's mine," I tell her, leaving no doubt or question on the matter.
Cato. Bastard turned on me. Turned our team against me. All to save his and Melark's hides; idiot convinced the team Melark - not me - was key to victory. I'll let Katniss have first go at Melark - Lover Boy was too wide-eyed for me to affix blame to.
I'll vivisect Cato. Then we can decide what to do with Lover Boy.
Katniss nods; fine by her. Now that we understand each other.
She shifts her weight. Leg's bothering you, I see. "Do you have any medicine I can use?" Katniss asks.
"No. But Glimmer does - saw her lift it off Campfire Girl." I smile. "Ever go hunting?"
'You can win. You're good at hunting.' Prim's words echo between my ears for a long while after Clove asked me if I've ever been hunting.
We ran into two lone Tributes on our way to get the medicine. The first one, Clove did him in almost before I realized he was there. The second one mistook me for Clove... until he noticed my braid.
And that gave me an idea, one I shared with Clove after the cannon. "You think they'll mistake us for each other?" Clove asks me.
I nod. "If they've been looking after their campfire, they won't have any night vision."
"And if not, there's a limit to how well anyone can see at night anyway. I'm familiar with the concept." Clove says. That's true. "Besides, there's this," and Clove's got her fingers on the end of my braid. I expect her to tug. I close my eyes to brace for the yank.
Which never comes. I open my eyes. "Point?" Clove asks.
I don't look away. Draw my knife. This' for you, Prim, I think as I saw through my braid. I'm going to win this, and I'm going to go home.
Clove looks impressed. I think.
"And height's not a problem," I say. Off her snort, I add, "Posture's key." Looks like mom's lessons'll actually pay off.
I know Clove knows what I mean, because she manages to look me in the eyes for a little bit. Eye level. My eye level.
We rehearse as we hike stealthily through the woods, doing our damnedest to walk and carry ourselves like the other one. At first, I try walking while angry at everyone, at the whole Panem world - and I nearly walk into a tree. Then I think back to when dad died and I was walled-up and doing everything myself and not wanting anything that even smelled like charity - and that earns me a surprised word from Clove. That's it, I feel.
Doesn't take Clove any longer to step into my skin and move like me, than I took me to get into her skin.
Takes a bit longer to get a proper feel for the weights and balances of her blades and my bow.
No idea how long it would take for us to sound the same. Or for each of us to sound like the other. That would be an extra level of completeness, because otherwise we'd have to avoid talking if we want to fool anyone long enough for the takedown.
The cannon fires twice as we're syncing our accents - we can mock the Capitol accent flawlessly - and we look overhead. In the sky, "Cato and that kid from 11," Clove says, IDing them.
“I’m sorry,” I say.
“Why? I watched him in group training and in the opening fracas for the Cornucopia’s supplies -- if it was at his hand, Cato won’t have passed painlessly.”
Rue’s still out there in the Games. I don’t know which is worse - that I’m worried about having to fight Rue to the death, or that I’m worried someone will kill her before me.
And that's when we hear laughter. Glimmer's. Peeta's.
This would have been a far far weaker chapter if Deathmallow had not weighed in and provided excellent advice. Thank you!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Soon as she ran out of arrows - she's a very bad aimer - Glimmer tried fending us off with that sword. Laughable. Almost a sad sight, if she weren't a hurdle to winning the Games.
A very low hurdle, at that. "I'll get her," I tell Katniss, "you get him," and Katniss nods, advancing on Peeta.
"Now Katniss, I'm your friend, I can help you," Glimmer says to me. "Let's get rid of Clove and -" and she collapses against a tree trunk, one of my throwing blades in her thigh. "Clove?" Glimmer asks, with a very 'oh crap' look on her face. A second throwing blade leaves her hugging the tree, now that both thighs are crippled; good throw, Katniss, and don't leave your back to the boy too long. "Who...?" Glimmer asks.
"The ones no-one wants," I say. "The ones who are going to win." Well, one of us will. But cut that cord when we reach that bridge.
"We're good at hunting," I hear Katniss saying behind me, and that scares what little remaining blood from Glimmer's face, after she paled at my two-part answer.
"Very good," I agree.
I don't draw out Glimmer's death. For one, I had planned a lingering passing for Cato, not for her. For another, I wanted to see what Katniss would do to Peeta.
"I appreciated the bread, Peeta," Clove says behind me, says it to Peeta in front of me.
Did you tell her about the loaves you threw to the pigs in the rain, Peeta? Of course you did - make sure they knew how little you thought - think - of the girl you've told the Capitol you're in love with.
"Clove," Peeta tells me, "you don't have to do this. I'm not Clove.
"Why not?" I ask him, and I can see that he still can't tell me from her, or her from me.
"Because..." and he trails off. Like he can't finish his own sentence.
I've wanted to know this: "Nothing? Didn't your trainer give you any advice? Your mentor, maybe?" What did Haymitch say to you in your private tutoring?
That was just plain disappointing. Suppose I should be thankful the kid didn't piss his pants or start crying. But I expected more from him...more the fool me, for expecting. "Now there are only four," I say.
"And one is," Katniss says, stopping me with a gesture most cameras wouldn't have caught; we're good and improving. She's looking up. "It's okay, Rue," she says to the branches.
I look up and I see the little girl cleverly hidden in the branches. This late in the Game, she should be holding a rock or something with enough heft to cave in a brain when she drops it on someone.
She's not looking at me. She's looking at the mockingjay pin on the jacket I'm wearing. And she climbs down the tree like a squirrel, like my little sister.
I told Rue about Clove and what we're doing, and that we could really use her help. Rue says she'll help, but she's mostly looking at Clove. You're okay, Rue.
"We get Marvel," Clove says. Rue nods.
"Let's go hunting," I say. I don't know how long our little group can survive before we go after each other too, but it won't be soon.
Marvel killed Rue, but he didn't live long enough to even think a triumphant thought.
We use Marvel's spear to bring down the muttation that comes after us. Damn thing drags us into a thick-mudded swamp. Capitol can't even make decent quicksand.
"Yeah. You too." Shoulders hurt, ribs're bruised, a gash on my forehead's mixing its blood with the mud coating my face.
And she's the same. Fortuitous. "Let's get out of here and make some weapons." If we're going to go after each other, it won't be with our bare hands - we can agree on that.
In the control room, one tech said, "Only two remain," and called up the stats:
District 2: Clove
District 12: Katniss Everdeen
Statistics had been all that had been going out since the failure of the cameras and sound systems. A list of which Tributes were still alive.
"Cameras are working," another tech said.
Finally! "Split screen, show them both," Seneca said.
The two small Tributes sat in the open field of the Cornocopia, a safe distance from the Cornocopia, the explosives, and the forest edge. Beside them, a dead muttation lay on the ground, sliced open and - The Tributes are making weapons from the muttation's bones? Seneca asked himself.
Pieces of the Tributes' clothing were stitched where torn, though there were gaps here and there - particularly on the shoulders where the number badges had been. The shoulders looked to have been stitched with the same needles as the clothing had. Seneca shuddered.
"Readings can't get any more precise," the tech said apologetically. On the screen, the marker for D12 overlay the marker for D2. Yet on the screen, the two Tributes were facing one another, passing bones and rocks back and forth in what appeared to be a quest to get the best blades and spears. "Their implants aren't at full capability anymore."
It would be simplicity itself to run a DNA test on them, Seneca thought. Then he spoiled that idea with reality: To test them, we would need to remove them from the Arena. And no amount of bending or twisting of the rules would let a Tribute be taken out of the Arena before a Victor is declared.
"Should I contact President Snow?" Seneca's top assistant asked Seneca.
"No," Seneca said. "No, I have this." Now this, THIS will truly make my mark.
"Attention. Attention," the announcing voice said all over the Arena. Certainly, said it where we're sitting here, working.
I look at her, and she looks at me. Now we'll see, we both thought. See how closely they've been paying attention. See what they're going to say to get us to slit each other's throat.
"Owing to novel problems and clear problem-solving, we are declaring a tie. From District Two, Clove. From District Twelve, Katniss Everdeen. Stand up."
"We won?" we ask each other. "We won."
In addition to Gale's line in the movie, there's the old story of the pangolin, which inspired this fic. The turtle and the armadillo, to fool the jaguar cub who was hunting, each began to look and act like the other, until the jaguars gave up and left...by which time, the turtle and armadillo couldn't go back to what they were - they were now pangolins.