Part One: The Quarter Quell: Announcement
I crouch behind a fallen tree and watch as a deer walks through the snow. It’s small, too small to feed a decent amount of people, but I’ll still bring it to the Hob. They need it more than I do and anything will help. Especially during the winter. The deer nibbles on a bush as I ready an arrow, hesitating to pull back the string.
Twenty five years and I still can’t kill something as easily as I used to. It isn’t just my Games, my memories of the arena; it’s all the tributes I’ve lost since then. Seeing them die, being unable to save them or even to help after they were reaped.
I understand Haymitch a lot more than I used to. Why he drinks, why he doesn’t bother to get to know them and I would have given up long ago too if it weren’t for Peeta. Every year he tries. Every year he coaches them as best as he can. He shows them how to camouflage, how to win the crowd, but they never make it out.
I give them survival tips and sometimes it’s useful, sometimes I think they might win. But I haven’t seen it happen yet. These kids grow up around me. I watch them get older every day, take tesserae, put their names in more times. And then I hear them called and I lead them to their deaths.
I can’t beat the Capitol and I can’t change the Games. I can’t help them when they go to the arena. Even as Peeta and I try to get them sponsors, nothing works. Nothing changes.
Our victory tour saw to that. And a year later, amongst the 75th games and the third Quarter Quell so did our marriage. We had to mentor adults our first year. I remember the announcement clearly.
“For this, our third Quarter Quell, to remind any remaining rebels that everyone suffers during war, this year’s tributes will be reaped from the adult citizens of Panem.”
I didn’t really know either one personally. Gale did. The male tribute, Sodor, worked in the mines with him. I see Sodor’s son around the Hob some days, but I can’t look him in the eyes. Just like I can’t look at any of the other families I’ve failed because I couldn’t save their children. Peeta talks to them, sends them food and I leave them rabbits or squirrels I catch, but it doesn’t make up for their losses. Nothing will ever fix it.
Rumors of rebellion died with the birth of our daughter and Snow stopped watching us when our son came along. I had never wanted children, not in this world, not when I saw them die all the time. Not when I knew they would be taken from me for the Games. But after about six years of marriage, the Capitol began to question it. Other districts questioned the lie again, started fighting back once more in the name of the Mockingjay. And a fresh white rose addressed to me with congratulations told me more than any threatening words would.
Peeta and I healed each other after our Games. Both plagued with nightmares, both stuck under the Capitol’s rule. While I wanted to forget, to move on, to pretend when I had to, he was honest, sincere, forcing himself to relive it so he could change things when the time came. He kept me whole when Snow threatened our family, even more so when my nightmares could no longer be contained.
The marriage may have started out as a lie, but my love for him is not. He understands a part of me that only people who have been in the arena can. But it goes deeper than that. He knows what to say when the nightmares come, the right food to bring me, all the secrets and fears that I don’t want to share with others or can’t. He knows me better than anyone else.
So when the letter came. When our future was written for us, he knew what to say, how to lie to the Capitol.
“We can pretend we can’t have them. That there’s something wrong with me,” he said, his hand gripping mine, the other holding the letter.
I was the one who decided it was better to let it happen. Maybe some small part of me wanted them. Maybe I knew there was no fighting Snow. He wouldn’t buy it and our families would be at risk. I’m not really sure if it was an act of giving up or bravery to go through with it. There are days where I question if it was both or neither. But I do not question how much Peeta loves them. Maybe even more than me.
I fear for them every day, but the worst day is always the reaping. Waiting to hear their names, waiting to know if I will have to make sure they survive the arena. And that fear forced me to make sure they knew how to hunt, how to find water, and the right plants to eat or heal. Even if I am sure they will never starve, I can’t guarantee that they will not go into the arena. And that fear has lessened as they have aged, but it will not truly go away until they are both out of that bowl of names.
I know I will protect them with my last breath. I don’t know how much of me loves them. I don’t really think I know how to love them when I never wanted them. But I try. I make sure they never go hungry, that they are strong enough for this world. Peeta does the rest. He teaches them how to be kind, how to face the cameras, and the entirety of Panem, who knew their names before they did.
I tried to teach Basil to hunt. But after years of him stomping through the woods, grumbling and huffing about not wanting to kill anything or even see it, I let him stay home. He’s fourteen now. He likes to paint with Peeta or run around with other children in town. We let him, because it’s normal, because he should be allowed to have a childhood. They both should. Ivy is another story however.
She wants to be around me, to learn what I have to teach her and she soaks it all up, understanding it easily. It didn’t take her long to learn how to shoot a bow and she’s quiet, resourceful.
“Just like you,” Peeta said once when I told him about our first walk in the woods. There’s a feeling I get when I think about those words. About our features mixed on her. My dark hair. His blue eyes. Its warmth and a sinking feeling. Pride and guilt.
I’ve passed on the legacy of those berries and the girl on fire, but she never talks about it. Or about the questions she gets every year when the cameras arrive and the Capitol wants a glimpse of her. They always make comparisons to me, even worse now that she’s seventeen. They constantly wonder if they should expect her to volunteer for the arena or wear one of Cinna’s dresses. He’s always sent some, but she refuses them. I don’t blame her. I never ask her about all of it. I should ask, but I doubt she’d tell me anyway. We’re similar in our stubbornness and our inability to talk about how or what we feel.
Bas doesn’t get the same amount of attention. He has my grey eyes and Peeta’s golden hair, which he cuts short to avoid the curls. The Capitol doesn’t react to him like they react to Ivy. Maybe because she’s the first. Maybe because his attitude is too close to mine. Ivy can play it off. She has a way about her that echoes Peeta in interviews, but Bas gives short one word responses with nothing more. They don’t seem to enjoy making comparisons to myself or Peeta with him.
The deer I’ve been watching, readying to kill, continues eating, unaware of the threat from three feet away. I take a breath, aim and pull back the bowstring. It’s down with an arrow through the eye before I can even think to take the shot.
Ivy steps into my line of sight from another tree. She throws the bow over her shoulder before tying her tangled hair up in a knot. She avoids wearing it in a braid and has ever since she was old enough to do her hair herself. It’s only once a year that she wears it that way. And only because Effie insists. Prim is always the one to do it for her. She refuses to braid it herself or allow me to do it.
She looks to my hiding place as I step out from cover.
“Shouldn’t you be in school?” I ask, not because I really care that she isn’t there, I always thought it was useless. I’m curious as to how she got all the way out here, in an area that I don’t normally go, without anyone else noticing.
“Early day. Quarter Quell announcement and all,” She shrugs and I remember why I went further than usual. The 100th Games. The next announcement. How many more tributes will I lose this year? What other atrocities will I have to try to guide them through? I didn’t want to think about it and I didn’t want anyone to find me while I avoided it.
“How did you find me out here?” I look around but see no sign that I left. No trail she could have followed.
“That’s impossible. Even with the snow, I was very careful.”
“You broke some branches about a mile back.” She smirks. She is a much better tracker than I could ever be. It would scare me if it wasn’t so useful when we are looking for game.
Gale used to hunt with us and taught her a few things a while back. Before the shaft he was working in collapsed, burying him and a group of five beneath coal and rubble. I miss him. I see him in the faces of his brothers, who now work in the mines themselves. I see Rory more since he and Prim have been married for five years. They are expecting their first child in a few months and I see how happy they are during this time. I wonder if I ever looked happy during my pregnancy. I can’t imagine that I did. Prim, however, seems to think so.
“Let’s get this to the Hob before the announcement,” I tell her with a sigh. She nods before she pulls the arrow from the deer. I make sure to add, “Good shot,” which makes her smile. I’ve learned to spot the difference between the fake smile she puts on for the cameras and the genuine one usually reserved for Peeta, myself, or Bas. Prim will get them sometimes and so will my mother, but Ivy is very guarded. She’s only herself out here with me in our woods, where we are safe and the Capitol cannot watch us.
We are silent until we reach the fence and she asks, “What do you think it’ll be?”
I shrug, “Nothing good.”
“Do you think things could change?” She asks quietly. I have to take a second to realize what she’s truly asking and how to answer.
“I think it would mean a lot of death and destruction.” I remember a time when Snow came to visit me. When he threatened me and told me about war. I don’t want a war. I want it even less than I did that first time it was a possibility. I don’t want to see my children faced with it.
“But if it meant the Games could end, would you still try?”
“Where is this coming from?”
“I don’t know. It’s almost my last year. But Bas’ll still be in the bowl for four more. And I mean it’s not like I don’t know the kids who get reaped. I just, I don’t want to see it anymore.” She shrugs and there’s a waver when she says anymore like there’s something else she doesn’t want to see. Like she isn’t sure what she’s trying to say.
I know what it is. My nightmares. My screams when I wake in the middle of the night. There are times when I relive Rue’s death, the time I shot Marvel, but there are worse ones, ones that haven’t even happened. Times I’ve seen her die in the arena. Bas die in the arena. And I wake shaking with a need to find them, make sure they are real and safe.
Bas, like Peeta, comforts me without words. A hug and he’s back to sleep, letting me watch over him. Ivy is different. She’s frightened of this version of me. The damaged victor. She should be.
On the nights when this happens, she’s usually left her room; the one across from Peeta’s and mine. When I find her, she’s sitting outside on the steps, unable to sleep because of my screaming, and shaking worse than I am.
I am afraid to hold her in these times. Afraid that she will recoil and that fear will shatter whatever small relationship I have with her. I can’t love her, but I will not let her believe that she is unloved. Peeta is the one who has to coax her back in the house, who brings her to her room and gets her to sleep. He is a better father than I am a mother. They need him more than they need me. I have taught them how to stay alive and Peeta has made sure they are loved. That’s all we can do.
“I don’t want to see it either. But there’s nothing we can do.”
She looks at me with an anger I have never seen. There’s a spark in her eyes that’s been gone from my own for years now. The very fire that I’ve tried to put out has been reborn in my daughter. I try to think when I missed the moment that it started. Or maybe it’s always been there and I couldn’t see it. Embers waiting to ignite when given the chance.
“You can. You did. And you can do it again,” She speaks with pride and I’m taken aback by it. There’s nothing about me she should be proud of. I have killed people. I have been responsible for letting children die. I have let the Capitol control me. I’m ready to tell her the same thing I’ve always said, the same words I’ve been repeating to Panem for years. How the Capitol and President Snow are good for Panem, how I was so in love with her father that it wasn’t defiance. It was just the actions of two star crossed lovers who couldn’t live without each other. Nothing more.
Then, she whispers, “You’re the Mockingjay,” and I forget the script that I’ve been following for twenty five years.
“Where did you hear that?” I look around, afraid of being overheard even though no one is near the fence and we are miles from town.
“No one ever really says it, not loud enough to hear anyway. But I’ve seen it. In dad’s paintings. When we take the train to the Capitol, sometimes, it’s in the other districts, and it’s new. It’s never gone away. You could change things. Even now.” Her eyes are wide with hope and I feel the weight of Snow’s gaze all the way from the Capitol. I know it’s impossible out here, but I feel it. I fear it.
“We are done talking about this. Don’t ever say that word again.” I pick up the deer and head through the fence, too afraid to look back and see the light in her eyes die from my cold words. There is no revolution. There is no Mockingjay. There is no hope. It all goes on and on. The Games. The victors. The Capitol ruling over the twelve districts. There is only making it through the year alive. She needs to live with that, like I do. Like we all do.
We sell the deer. Ivy is silent for the walk home. Only the sound of her boots through the slush remind me she’s there.
When we get home to our house in the Victor’s Village, Peeta has dinner ready and Haymitch is waiting, drink in hand, readying for the announcement. His mind is still as sharp as ever when he’s sober, but his body has gotten slower after years of drinking. Bas returns home from The Seam covered in dirt and coal dust. I make him get himself cleaned up before we all sit down to eat.
“How was hunting?” Peeta asks, glancing from me to Ivy. His blonde hair has streaks of grey in it now and the same lines surround his eyes as they do mine. When he laughs he looks the same as he did when he was sixteen, but as the games get closer, we both show our age and the weathered lines brought on by twenty four years of dead tributes.
“I shot a deer,” Ivy says as she bites into a piece of bread. Peeta looks at me for confirmation and I nod. He ruffles Ivy’s hair, impressed, and she brushes him away.
“I would have loved to see the look on your face when the kid brought it down.” Haymitch smiles as he swallows some of his stew.
It’s times like these that I can forget about the world I live in. That I can pretend that my family is safe, and that there are no Games. Sometimes I wonder if that world could exist, but then I remember that it can’t. Not without a cost and a war that I am unwilling to be a leader or a symbol for.
Bas looks at me, “I drew this today.” He hands me a folded piece of paper and I open it. It’s a charcoal drawing of Prim and Rory and I smile. “Dad says he’s going to put it on a cake for their anniversary. Or when the baby is born, whichever is first, we can’t remember.”
“The baby, I think. That’s very good, I’m sure they’ll love it. Can I keep this?”
He nods, but before I can fold it back up, Peeta stands, gravely serious and I understand without him saying.
It’s time for the announcement.
We wait as the Panem anthem plays, its symbol bright against the triumphant horns. Peeta and I stand beside each other, unable to sit due to our anxiety. Haymitch is already halfway through his flask and lounging on a chair. Ivy and Bas sit on our couch, silent and waiting, like all of us, for what horrors this year’s games will bring.
The 100th Games. It’ll be bigger than all the others. I can feel it.
President Snow is wheeled out by his granddaughter, in her thirties now and just as cold as him. He manages to stand, shaky, but making a point to show his strength. Even as he approaches ninety two, his health has never been a public concern. I’m sure the Capitol has some medicine keeping it that way, but I hope one day it’s no longer useful. Although I’m not sure how much relief I would have when another President would just take his place.
Snow is handed a yellow envelope marked 100. And he speaks about the previous Quell and the Games with a smile. I recall the memories of my tributes dying as Capitol citizens cheer at the appropriate times. I remember Sodor’s face as he was drowned. The girl last year, Briony, only thirteen, who was killed during the bloodbath. On and on the memories continue until Peeta grabs my hand and silences them. I do my best to focus on the floor until Snow reaches the point in his speech that we’ve been waiting for.
“This year we honor our fourth Quarter Quell.” He opens the envelope and my heart begins to pound. He reads the card to himself before looking into the camera with a satisfied smile. And I realize it then, what that smile means. What Ivy’s words mean. She’s not the only one who whispers about the Mockingjay. Who have hope as to what it could mean. Even as I try to forget and make others do the same. Snow never did. Nor has he forgiven. He’s merely been very patient.
And this is his moment of revenge.
“On the one-hundredth anniversary, as a reminder to the rebels that even the strongest among them can’t always protect those they love from their past actions, this year’s male and female tributes will be reaped from the children of previous victors.”
The citizens of the Capitol begin cheering wildly in a roar that echoes through the walls of the house. I can barely hear them over the sound of the blood pumping in my ears. I feel like a weight is crashing down on me, a weight that I’ve been waiting for but forgot was there.
I stare, stunned, at the dark screen as I hear footsteps leave the room in a rush. A door slams and I hear a rage filled scream from up above me as something comes crashing to the floor.
I can feel an anger I’ve pushed down rising. A fire burning in my stomach, reaching my heart where my fear has encased it in ice, melting it and burning away any last remnant of complacency I had forced myself into. I want him to pay. I will make him pay.
Peeta grabs my arm, pulling me back into the room, the reality of everything around me and my anger recedes. Replaced with despair, and a heartbreak that I can’t fully comprehend. I turn around and face Ivy, sitting stunned on the couch, staring at the floor, putting it all together.
I reach out for her, my hands shaking, but she stands too quickly for me to reach her. She’s upstairs and in her room before I drop my arm and turn to Peeta.
“This can’t be happening,” He says, voice fragile, about to fall to pieces.
Haymitch stands, dropping his flask in the process, “But it is happening. And denying it isn’t gonna help them now.”
“Haymitch, what do we do?” Peeta asks, as I try to think if there’s anyway, by some unimaginable miracle, Haymitch could have fathered some kid somewhere, but I know he didn’t. And I know what I have to do come reaping day.
“Make sure they survive.”
“Both of them can’t win, how do we—“
“We do what we’re supposed to do. We mentor them and make sure they live the longest,” Something in Haymitch’s words eases Peeta’s tension but is lost on me. Haymitch hands me a bottle and I don’t care enough to question him further. I feel like I should be in mourning, but I know I’ve been expecting something like this for so long that I can’t feel anything. How do I mentor them? How do see them through the arena when I haven’t managed to do it a single time before?
I take a drink. I can’t think about the announcement right now, the Games or what’s going to happen come reaping day. I can’t think about the fact that both of my children are going into the arena. And if I’m lucky one of them will come out.