Part Three: The Arena: Countdown
I sleep in fits and starts, never really resting. Every time I’m pulled under, I’m greeted by the frozen face of Cinna lying on the floor, his blood staining the carpet while Peacekeepers pull my family apart.
I feel Ivy’s fingers slip from mine as the elevator closes.
I see the glimmer of the wedding rings shining off of Bas’ neck while his wide eyes say goodbye.
I see my children’s fear. And I’m terrified it will be the last thing I ever see on their faces.
And when the nightmares turn to the riot in Eleven. The attacks in Twelve. I feel the failure to stop all of this consuming me. Threatening to break me further than I thought I could be broken.
But I can’t let myself be broken. Not anymore.
Peeta’s arms hold onto me, keeping me safe in our small room. My head finds its place on his chest. His warmth is comforting. And it puts me back together, knitting my shattered pieces firmly in place, preparing me for what daylight brings.
I know he’s not asleep but there’s nothing for us to say to each other. Every so often I feel his arms tighten around me. I know he’s remembering the very things I am. And his fears are my fears.
What if we never see them again? What if we have to watch them die? What if we watch them become just like us?
His thumb rubs circles on my back as sunlight begins to filter into the room. With it, I find myself shaking again.
Peeta kisses the top of my hair and holds me closer.
I remember our second year as mentors. When we said goodbye to our Tributes and came into this room.
“You’ll get used to it,” Haymitch had said.
And I wanted to believe that I could. I had tried to. It would have made things so much easier. Saying goodbye, watching them die. It would have all been easier. But I’ve never been able to make things easy.
“I don’t want to,” Peeta had replied.
And I knew then that I couldn’t try to forget whether I wanted to admit it or not. I spent so long trying to fight that truth. Trying to force myself to bury the memories.
But trying and succeeding are two very different things. And trying to forget, trying to be numb, trying to get used to how things are, playing a part. It was always going to come crashing down.
I can only pretend for so long.
As the sun rises, my heart sinks. I slam my eyes shut, knowing that at any minute there will be a knock on the door. And it will mean that it’s time for us to get ready. Time for us to face these Games.
I feel like I’m in the arena all over again. Like I’m following my children into it.
I love you. Ivy’s words repeat in my head over and over again. Her whispered voice, fragile, like it was the last thing she’d ever say. And it very well could be. And I couldn’t say anything back. Gale begging me to fight follows. Then I see Rue’s face. I hear her Mockingjay song and the tears start.
I buried her memory. I let her die in vain. I forgot her.
Her and the fifty other Tributes I’ve led to the arena. I killed them all.
And soon my children will join them. That is, if I let them.
I have to be better than before. I have to be stronger. Peeta and I need each other to get through this, to get them through this. They have to win. Both of them.
I’ll find a way. I have to. For them. For Rue. For Peeta. We have to find a way.
The knock comes. Short and loud. Haymitch telling us it’s time.
“I don’t know how to do this,” Peeta says, and his voice shakes.
“Me neither,” I reply before repeating the words that started all of this, “Together?”
“Together,” he answers with a small smile.
The trading floor no longer bustles with sponsors and sales pitches. Mentors pace, nibble on small bits of breakfast or talk quietly with allies. Each District is given a small seating section and screens for each of their Tributes, but no one has taken a seat yet.
Peeta and I follow the pace of the others, never wanting to give away our worry. They can’t see weakness. Even when we’re not the ones fighting for our lives, we have to remain vigilant. We have to pretend and keep up the act.
Cashmere and Gloss, normally reserved and put together, look just as sleep deprived as I do. They’re still dressed all too well and wear large smiles but I can see the way their eyes hang heavy, fighting to stay open. They walk like they’re carrying a weight.
“Katniss,” Gloss manages as he passes me and there’s sympathy in his eyes. It’s brief. All too fast for anyone to notice but me. Instantly it turns back into an unyielding mask of pride and excitement. All I can manage is a nod before he’s on his way to get something to eat.
I glance around the room. Some hide their fear better than others, the more damaged don’t.
The boy from Ten’s father is the worst out of all of us. He can’t stand still. His eyes are bloodshot and he picks at his cuticles until they bleed. He’s on the verge of tears and the bloodbath hasn’t even started.
I hope his son goes quickly. I hope Ivy isn’t the one to do it, though I know if she is it’ll be painless. But I can’t bear to look at him knowing what could happen, what will happen.
Annie stands quietly in the corner, Finnick beside her. His hands twitch and his thumbs circle around each other. I’m surprised by how still Annie is while Finnick shifts his weight from foot to foot.
She takes a step closer to him and he stops fidgeting, if only for a minute.
I meet his eyes and he takes a step away from Annie. She looks from him to me and gives a small smile. It’s then that I notice her shell necklace, hand woven, just like the one Beck was wearing the night before. Just like the one Finnick tries to hide behind his shirt.
It’s then that I put it together. Their closeness. Finnick’s fear and worry, so much like Peeta’s, so much like a father. The way Beck acts just like him.
I wonder what they’ll do to me if Ivy kills their son.
What would I do to them if Beck killed Ivy?
The screens change from the faces of the Tributes to Claudius and Caesar. Their excitement is written all over their faces. It makes my stomach turn.
“Here we are folks, another exciting Hunger Games. In a little while we’ll be seeing all our lovely Tributes begin the competition. But before we do that, let’s recap.” Caesar smiles.
“Yes, let’s begin with the current favorites,” Claudius says before breaking into a long speech theorizing strategies and advantages amongst the top scores. Ivy and Bas are the first to be discussed with their impressive twelves, but I barely pay attention.
Their theories and discussion won’t make a difference once the cannon goes off and the frenzy for survival begins.
The only thing I listen to is a rundown of the arena. Where the water is, where there’s places to hide, if there’s places to go.
Peeta grabs my hand when they finally show the cornucopia.
And my grip tightens when there’s a wide shot on every screen of the whole thing.
I manage to drag myself to bed after I’ve cried myself to the point of exhaustion. I’m not sure when I fall asleep or if I ever really do. The next thing I know its morning and there’s a loud knocking.
I grip the pin tight and open the door. The Peacekeeper, a tall man with dark eyes and a hooked nose waits.
“Get dressed.” He throws black pants and a long sleeve shirt to me. The fabric is tough, thick to keep warm, but breathable. A pair of boots and a belt soon follows.
“Do I get breakfast?” I ask.
He sighs, annoyed with the proceedings before shoving a plate of some toast and eggs in my hands. He waits by the door as I balance the plate on the clothes.
I eye him as I sit on the bed and eat quietly. The food is cold and hard to swallow, but I know I need to eat. I look for a glass of water, but I never get one. When I’m done my guard takes the empty plate.
“You have one minute to get ready,” he says, shutting the door.
After I dress and braid my hair, I open the door once again. The Peacekeeper grabs my shoulder and leads me from the room, making sure to keep one hand on me and another on his gun.
I keep the Mockingjay pin hidden from sight. It’s my token, something I’m allowed to bring into the arena, but I’m sure if they saw it they would take it. Anything that reminds people of my mother will be destroyed.
I glance towards Bas’ room but there’s no sign of him or any Peacekeeper posted at his door. I wonder when he was pulled from his room. And if he slept. I wonder if I’ll see him again or if last night was goodbye for me and my little brother as well.
My little brother.
I was three when he was born. Six when he tried to chase me through the house, falling down more than he could stand. When I was ten and him seven, we would play hide and seek through the Seam.
He would hide as best he could, leaving me false trails, moving from spot to spot. But I always found him. And when we took our game to the woods, I found him there too.
But this Game. This one will be the hardest to play. And my only hope is I’ll find him again. I have to.
The ride to the arena is met with the hum of the hovercraft and a brief sting of a needle as a tracker is implanted in my arm. All the while the Peacekeeper guards me. Ensuring I arrive to my death sentence.
“What’s your name?” I ask. I’m not sure why. I’m tired of the silence, of the constant sound of the blood rushing in my ears as my heart pounds. Maybe I’m just hoping for one moment of decency before I fall into an arena of blood and violence.
He only sighs in annoyance.
“I’m Ivy,” I offer.
“I know,” he responds. “Everyone does. Now shut-up.”
And I know I won’t get any note of human kindness from the Peacekeeper with the dark eyes and hooked nose. So I shut-up and listen to the hovercraft and my own heartbeat for the rest of the trip. Thinking of all the other Tributes and wondering if they feel what I feel now.
Are they afraid? Are they worried? Do they know that they won’t come home? Do they know that I could be the one to kill them? Are they trying to work up the courage to kill me?
I remember my mother’s words. How she had to make a choice, them or her. Even when she wasn’t fighting to save my father, she was fighting to go home.
It’s them or me. Them or Bas. And I’ll have to choose. I’ll have to kill whoever gets in my way. Even if it’s Grover. Even if it’s little Zero from Ten.
If they try to stop me from saving my brother, I’ll kill them.
That’s my choice.
My footsteps echo through the metal hallway of the staging area and my hands begin to shake. I grip the pin tighter until it hurts, reminding me to breathe.
I’m led to a solitary room with a locker and a platform that I know will take me into the arena. I freeze before I can take another step. My stomach clenches and drops as I look at the platform. This is it. This is where it ends. Where it begins. And I can’t move.
“Sixty seconds,” a voice says through a speaker and I can’t tell if it’s Claudius or Caesar.
The buzzing of the lights drowns out the Peacekeeper. He’s shouting something but I can’t make it out anymore. I’m barely aware of the gun being pressed into my back. And I keep staring at the platform, knowing that once I step onto it I’m in the arena.
My breathing sputters and I can no longer feel the air I’m trying to force into my lungs.
I want to go home.
“Move!” the Peacekeeper shouts through the fog in my brain. And I’m shoved onto the platform. He opens the locker and removes a jacket, throwing it to me as the tube descends to keep me here.
I hear the faint sound of something moving in the locker. And it sounds like metal hitting metal as if something sways inside and clashes against the door of the locker. He’s forgotten something. Something I’m supposed to have.
Or maybe he never intended to give it to me at all.
“Hey!” I try but I’m surrounded by the glass tube now and there’s no way for him to hear me. I bang against the glass. He turns, watching me like an animal in a pen. And I see no pity, no apologies.
I see the faces of the soldiers who shot the people back home.
I see helmets and boots crushing those beneath them.
I see his dark eyes reflecting years of order and hatred for anyone who threatens the system.
And I stop slamming my fists into the glass, trying to get him to save me. I know he won’t. No one will. No one but me.
I grab the jacket. It’s made of heavy, black leather, similar to my hunting jacket at home only this one has a hood and pockets. Whatever environment I’ll be in won’t be warm. That much I can gather.
After I securely zip up the jacket, I pin the Mockingjay where it will be visible for everyone. I watch the Peacekeeper as his eyes fall on the gold pin and he shakes his head.
And I think that’s all he’s going to do until he points his gun at the glass and fires. I drop to the floor but no bullets crash through. There’s only the muffled sound of the gun.
When I stand I see cracks where the bullets hit and two more Peacekeepers yelling at the one who escorted me.
He points to me, smiling, making a joke. One laughs with him. The other, probably a commander turns to face me. He’s gauging my reaction, analyzing me like a rat in a cage.
Like I’m some kind of experiment.
Then the platform starts to rise. And I stand tall, watching them. They can’t do anything to me. They can try to scare me, in fact I’m sure they were ordered to, but they don’t. Not anymore. The only thing that scares me now is not finding Bas and failing to keep him alive.
My escort mocks the salute in Twelve. Kissing his three middle fingers before spitting on the ground towards me. His friend continues laughing and I want to wipe the smiles from their faces.
I watch them until the platform rises into darkness. Then, my guard falters and I find my breathing quickening. What will I face? Where will Bas be?
I try to form a plan. Get a weapon. Get water. Find Bas.
That’s my goal. That’s my task.
When daylight breaks through the darkness I shield my eyes and feel the air on my face. It’s cool. Almost welcome from the stale air underneath.
And once my eyes adjust and I lower my hand, I finally see where I’ve been set to die.
I face my arena.