The Arena: Searching/Watching
I dream of my mother. She’s younger, lying in a tree watching a dark sky. And I realize she’s in her arena. I’m dreaming of her in the arena.
The scene changes. She’s crying over a little girl, Rue. And she’s singing to her. She’s placing flowers. She’s honoring the little girl who died. Who was so much more than just another tribute.
And no one will do the same for me here. Maybe Bas if I find him. But I don’t know how far apart we are.
A cannon wakes me. And I’m immediately on my feet looking around. I won’t know who it is. Not until later. Please don’t be Bas. Please don’t be Bas.
It’s the only thing I repeat as I start to move. The second thought creeps in; please don’t be close to me. Please don’t be near me. I’m not ready for another fight.
It’s still dark out, but the sun is just beginning to rise. And I keep running, shaking off any last remnants of sleep as adrenaline kicks in. I trip over a rock and roll down a small slope. My back lands against a tree. The wind knocked out of me.
I force my breathing back to normal and stand, my back throbbing.
The sound of rustling and footsteps crunching through sticks and leaves approaches. My muscles tense as the footsteps grow closer and my heart pounds. I listen, hoping it’s just an animal, but there’s no mistaking it. Someone is coming this way.
My throat burns and I feel the ache in my body from both a lack of water and yesterday’s exertion. But I push through it, the adrenaline dulling everything but my survival instincts. I reach for the bow and remove an arrow from the quiver before standing, using the tree for cover.
And I wait.
The footsteps grow closer and closer, as the sun peaks through the trees, shining brightly. I hope whoever it is isn’t one of the Careers. I don’t know if I have the strength to face them. I hear the squawk of a bird as the rustling slows then stops. Whoever was coming this way saw me, I have no doubt. They peer out from behind a tree and I hesitate to fire.
The sun shines off a pair of glasses.
“Grover?” I ask the boy in front of me, my voice coming out creaky and hoarse from running and lack of water. He steps out further from the tree and smiles, relief washing over the both of us in an instant.
“I’m glad it’s you,” he says looking around. “Did you hear—?”
“Yeah. I heard. Did you see who…?” I can’t finish the question.
He shakes his head as he continues to glance around.
“We’re safe.” I move towards him, though the pain begins to return. I slow my movements.
He sighs, “Yeah, until we’re not.”
“Still trying to joke about everything?”
“All I’ve got left is my sense of humor,” he says with a chuckle.
I glance to the canteen at his belt, the number seven shining in the sun. He follows my eye line and removes it without hesitation. Once again I’m reminded of how he’s too kind for this arena.
He unclicks the lid of the canteen and looks inside. He frowns, shaking it before turning it over. There’s nothing, not even a drop, left.
“I’m sorry, Ivy. I must have finished it on my walk up here. That tall grass…”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll be fine.”
He glances at my belt and I’m grateful he doesn’t ask where my canteen is. Instead he shrugs and says, “We’ll just have to find some water then.”
“And you can look for the both of us.” I adjust the quiver on my back and force a smile. He’s confused for a second before understanding my meaning. He takes a step forward, the concern etched onto his face.
“You’re not coming?”
I feel the sting of the reminder of my little brother. How many times had he asked me that question when he would run off to play? How many times had I asked him when I wanted to go home from the Seam?
And I know it’s not the smart thing. Grover could help me. He’s had water. He’s good to search for more for at least another two days. I don’t know how much longer I can go without it. But like both my mother and my father I have a fierce stubbornness that won’t bend or break. It’s steel inside of me that’s never been malleable once my mind has been made up, just like them.
My brother is much the same. We vary in how we handle it. My brother is more vocal when he’s forced to do something he doesn’t want to. I resist quietly, and stick to my choices despite whatever else is going on. My father and I share that.
“I have to find Bas. Have you seen him?” I ask, hoping against hope. That somehow, someway, Grover knows where he is. And hoping that the cannon wasn’t for him.
“At the cornucopia, for maybe a second. He grabbed a knife and ran right by me. I didn’t see where he went. And then I saw Cain…”
I nod, remembering Cain during training. How deftly he handled nearly every weapon, how strong and capable he is for this environment. And the cruelty that comes with being a trained killer. The cruelty I almost succumbed to. But none of that matters because Bas has a knife and for that I’m grateful. He has something he can use, whether it’s for protection or making a fire or trap. He’s got a knife.
“I saw you too,” Grover adds with a hint of sadness. And he doesn’t have to say what he saw. I know. I have to clench a fist to stop my hand from shaking.
“It was my…I had to.”
“I know. I saw August with the rock, but I was just, I wanted to get out of there.”
“You did what you had to.”
“And so did you.” I nod, but my neck is stiff and I can’t tell if Grover sees the movement or not.
“I’m sorry about your District partner.”
He nods. “April. Her name was April.”
“I’m sorry about April.”
“She made me a little card for my birthday. I don’t know how and I wasn’t gonna ask, you know, it’s a gift, but she made me a card. It was nice.” He stares at the ground for a minute and I think he’s done. But then he adds suddenly, “Johanna hated it.” He looks up at me and before I ask why he says, “I asked her why and she…just you know, flat out said, you can’t kill someone who gave you a gift. Or you can’t just push it aside, something like that.” Grover shrugs.
“She’s not wrong,” I say after a long silence. He half nods in response.
I feel a little faint, but I steady myself. Grover must see it because his next question is, “How long has it been since you’ve had water?”
I shrug. “Probably two days. Maybe yesterday? I can’t remember.”
“You should come with me to find some. I’m sure it’s not far. And we can help each other, like allies.”
I sigh, giving Grover my best camera voice. The voice of reassurance and calm, peace and routine. The Princess of Panem. “Tell you what, you find some, you come back to this spot, leave a mark on this tree and I’ll find it. Fair?” I ask. I have no intention of returning. I have one mission. Find Bas. He’ll have water. He’ll share. And then we can find some more. I can’t worry about Grover too. I can’t protect him and us. I can’t make the choice of him or us. Because I know how I would choose and I can’t see Grover’s eyes when I make that choice.
It’s better if I go it alone until I find Bas. The cannon wasn’t for him. It can’t be for him. I have to believe it isn’t his cannon.
“Yeah. I can do that,” Grover agrees with a nod, “But you have to promise to check, ‘cause I’m coming back.”
“Sure.” I smile, but it fades as soon as he turns his back.
“Ivy,” he says, turning back around, the camera smile returns, “Good luck.”
“You too.” And I drop the smile, sincerely adding, “Stay alive, Grover.”
He nods and walks away. I turn and head in the opposite direction, further into the woods. I wonder if the Capitol is shouting because Grover and I left each other alive. How are the mentors fairing as they watch all of this play out? Did Johanna watch me with worry in her eyes as we approached each other? Would she have reacted at all?
She must love him. No one cares for another person if they don’t. Or maybe they do. I’m no expert on what true love is. I only recently started to realize and accept that my mother loves me and I’m still struggling with that. Love is protection. That much I know. Self-sacrifice and protection. Johanna protects Grover. She must love him.
Just like my mother must love me. Just like she loves my father, my brother, and my aunt. She protects us all, or tries to and she’d walk through Hell if it meant we would live. That I’m sure of.
I don’t know why I go back and forth. Why I can’t just say definitively one way or the other. Why I’m even thinking of this now. And as the day drags on and I still find no sign of my brother or any water I start to realize why.
I’m in Hell. I’m walking through it. My time is running out. I’m dying and I keep wondering why my mother didn’t say I love you back.
I shouldn’t be wondering that. I shouldn’t be wondering if she’s watching me with fear and panic that she’s going to lose me. I shouldn’t be concerned that she isn’t. That she’s staring passively at a screen with my sweat and dirt streaked face, huffing at each labored step forward. Though I’m sweating much less now, and I’m sure that’s bad.
But that doesn’t make sense. She doesn’t want to lose me. She wouldn’t train me just to not care that I’m in here.
But I haven’t gotten any water from a sponsor, so how hard are they trying? Is the Capitol laughing at me tripping over my feet walking through these woods? It’s only the second day. I’ve only heard one cannon so far. Although I’m sure another will sound once I fall. And I know it’s coming. I can feel it with every step.
And I should be far more concerned with that. With how dizzy I’m getting. How at each breath my throat burns and my lungs ache. My muscles are screaming still. Shouldn’t it have gotten better today? My hands can barely hold the bow anymore, I feel so weak. And I feel heavy, like I’m collapsing in on myself as the arena pushes me towards the ground. The quiver is weighing me down, each arrow feels like rocks on my back. And I should worry about all of this more than the last time I saw my mother. Than the fear I saw in her eyes as we were pulled apart.
She loves me. But she didn’t say it. So how real can it be?
But love isn’t based on words. It’s based on action and her actions say she does. But my father has said it. Why can’t she?
A stick cracks somewhere to my left and I jump, dropping the bow. The sound echoes in my head and I’m no longer sure where it came from. I turn to the right and back to my left, but there’s no one there. No animal to be seen. I reach down to pick up the bow and find the broken stick beneath my feet.
But the sound was somewhere else. No, I’m just confused. My hand shakes as I pick up the bow. It feels so heavy. It’s not. I’m just weak. I lean against a tree, trying to breathe, but it feels like I can’t get enough air. And every breath seems to burn. My heart hammers in my chest, too loud for me to make out any other sound. It’s beating so fast it hurts. And I don’t know where I am anymore. Or what I’m supposed to be doing, but I know I had a reason for being here, for not getting water.
And I remember a blonde curly mess of hair throwing a snowball at me. I hear laughter as I chase that head of curls through rich green trees and the smell of earthy woods.
It doesn’t smell the same here. There’s no life here. Not like there was back home.
Home. Bas. My brother. That’s what I’m supposed to be doing. I need to find him. But I’ve lost the trail. I’m so far off the trail. Was there even a trail to begin with?
I should worry about that, but I can’t. My mind won’t let me focus on anything. Even my surroundings are starting to fade in and out. But that’s from lack of water. I should be looking for water. I should worry about that. But I’m not worrying about it.
All I can see. All I can think about is the room back in the Capitol. The Twelfth floor where I said goodbye. Where I said I love you for the last time.
And I should have said it more. She should have known that I never hated her. I’ve always loved her. She should have known that I don’t regret that she’s my mother. I don’t regret her winning or what that meant for us. I’m glad she’s alive. And I miss her. I miss my father. I miss Bas. I miss Haymitch. I miss Effie. I miss home.
I don’t want to die.
And I realize why I’m hung up on my mother not saying I love you back. Why I care so badly that I didn’t hear it.
Because I never will. And I would have liked to die having heard it once. Having known for sure, with no room to doubt.
And I fall. And I can’t get back up. I’m too weak. And I’m blinking slowly, watching the sun set above the trees. And the anthem starts playing as soon as the darkness blankets the sky.
The girl from Three stares at me. And I remember standing in the tall grass, waiting to shoot her. And in another life, maybe I did. Maybe the cannon sounded because I took her life. And maybe I walked through the woods, confident, drinking the water that I took from her.
But that’s not possible. Because even in another life I wouldn’t do that. I couldn’t do that. And I’m lying so still, I wonder when the world with finally fade and I’ll die. I can’t move anymore. And I barely feel anything.
How long until the cannon sounds for me? When will my face appear in the sky? How will Bas feel when it does? All I can think is how sorry I am that I didn’t make it farther. That I wasn’t strong like my parents.
“I’m sorry,” I choke out through my labored breathing, but it’s so quiet, so cracked and broken. I don’t think anyone will hear it. Not the cameras. Not my parents. No one but me.
The Mockingjay pin stares at me from my jacket. And I’m too weak to hold it, too weak to even try. I can only stare at the stars as they blink into existence from whatever sky and universe the Gamemakers have created.
I fight to keep my eyes open, but I lose quickly and the world finally fades into nothing. And I imagine my mother telling me it’s okay, telling me she loves me. But it brings me no comfort.
Because it isn’t real.
I want to scream. I should scream. I should be shouting, making a display of myself. But I’m frozen. I’m too used to pretending. Even though this isn’t an act. I can’t move. I can’t do anything but watch the screen. And it’s been this way since the bloodbath.
Bas is asleep, or as asleep as anyone can be in the arena. He’s well hidden in the tall grass. And he’s been moving carefully for the past two days. He’s safe. He’s killed a squirrel, he’s eaten, he has plenty of water. He’s safe.
But Ivy hasn’t been safe since the bloodbath. She hasn’t been following the right trail, and I can’t send her anything to tell her that. And now she doesn’t move. And I’m just like her. Stuck lying on the ground, lying in the arena, dying. I’m dying too.
And I wish I could save her. I wish I could hold her. I barely watch the screen, so lost to my own thoughts as she croaks out I’m sorry. And my heart shatters.
Hours pass as contraction after contraction hits. Each one worse than the last. When it’s finally time for me to push, I’m glad it’s almost over. Until I remember what that means and the crippling fear that’s been pulling at me these past nine months takes over me again.
I can’t do this. Why did I do this? Why did I let this happen?
Prim tells me to push as another contraction hits. I can’t be afraid right now. I shove the panic down and do as I’m told, gripping Peeta’s hand in the process.
When it’s over I hear a soft cry and my heart swells before breaking. I’m so sorry, I keep thinking. I’m so sorry I did this to you. I’m apologizing to her and to Peeta.
“Congratulations, I have a niece,” Prim says, breathless. “It’s a girl.”
I sit up despite my muscles begging me to stay put as Prim hands my daughter to me. She’s so small I’m afraid I’ll break her. Peeta’s eyes are wide, on the verge of tears.
She continues to cry and I want to do anything I can to make it stop. She’s scared. I can’t let her be scared. She’ll spend far too much time feeling that way. I have to do what I can to keep it from her for as long as I can.
I shush her. “It’s okay, baby girl, I’m here. You’re safe,” I croak out. She quiets at the sound of my voice and I fight back tears.
Prim laughs. “Lucky you, not many babies stop so easily. I’ll give you two a minute.” She walks out as Peeta comes closer, drinking in the sight of our daughter as much as me.
He kisses my forehead, and runs a finger over her fine dark hair.
I’m terrified that at any minute she’s going to be taken. That some Peacekeeper is going to run in and rip her from my arms to be used as Snow’s personal anti-rebellion poster child. I pull her closer to me, afraid to look away, afraid that I’ll forget what she looks like.
That’s impossible. I don’t think I’ll ever forget a single strand of hair.
But I know. I know that it might be weeks, it might be years, but they will come for her. They will use her. They will show her off to the districts, like they do me and Peeta. She’ll end up in the arena, I can feel it, and I need her to be ready for it. I can’t lose her. We should run, we could run, but where? I can’t bring a newborn into the woods. But I can’t just stand by and let the world destroy her.
It happened somewhere around the third month of my pregnancy. I stopped crying, I stopped hoping something would go wrong and that there would be an excuse not to follow through with Snow’s message to us. I started wanting her. And at each kick, I imagined what she would look like, sound like, and I felt myself loving her. And then I tried to stop myself, but I couldn’t.
I know now that it was selfish. That I should have started building a wall, because having to build it now hurts so much more. She can’t have a mother, she needs a mentor. I can’t watch her die in the arena. She’ll have to win. She’ll have to live. I can feel a ticking clock above her head, staring me down as Snow watches.
“Peeta, take her please,” I say, he looks at me confused.
“Katniss, I think—“
“Take, Ivy please.” I realize what I’ve done as I hand her to him. I’ve shut her out and named her at the same time. Peeta takes her and she starts crying again. He tries to calm her down but she doesn’t stop.
I bite back tears, gripping the sheets of the bed until my nails dig into my palms.
“Let’s let mommy sleep, okay, Ivy. I like that name, it’s pretty, like you,” he coos as he leaves. Once the door shuts behind him I let myself cry with her, my being shattering with each sob until I have nothing left in me.
I have to be strong so that she can live.
I remember that day as I watch Ivy lie on the ground, dying. She won’t make it through the night. I can feel Peeta pacing behind me, glancing from screen to screen. Checking on the child who’s safe and the one who isn’t. The one who we will lose if something doesn’t change.
Haymitch talks to a sponsor as I twist my hands watching her. The empty space where my wedding ring used to be reddens as my finger grips the bare skin.
“No. She’s just lying there why would I send her anything?” I overhear the sponsor, some Capitol man with blue hair, ask.
“If you send her some water she won’t be lying there,” Haymitch tries, but the man shakes his head. I can hear the worried tone in Haymitch’s voice, the waver that betrays his steadiness. Things are bad. They were interested before, but barely so. She had killed someone. She looked confident, a possible victor, but then she couldn’t stand upright. Then she started looking worse for wear. And they didn’t want her anymore. They understood that she wasn’t going to win.
“I’m not going to sponsor someone who can’t even find water. The others have canteens why didn’t she fill hers?” The man walks away. And before I can even register my movements, I’m chasing after him. Peeta and Haymitch try to stop me but I force my way through.
“Hey! Come back here.”
The man keeps walking, ignoring me. I want to hit him, but if I do I know he definitely won’t send the water. I’m in front of him before he reaches the elevator. And I’m worried my voice will waver, that it will betray the fierce anger I’m trying to show.
“She needs water.” It comes out flat. But I know there’s still time to strengthen the threatening tone I want to deliver.
“That’s not my problem, she’s not my tribute,” the man says stepping around me. I grab him by the lapel, his wide eyed expression satisfying. And rage is burning through me, radiating off my skin, breaking through the Capitol façade I’ve crafted.
“Send her the water,” I threaten. Haymitch pulls me back quickly and I fight against his grip, but I can’t break free.
“I’m sorry about her, she hasn’t slept.”
“See that you do,” the man says to me before walking away.
“Threatening the potential lifesaving individuals is not helping,” Haymitch says, dropping his hand from my arm.
“Then tell me what to do. How do we help her?” I ask, my voice cracking. I know we can’t be the ones to send her water. They don’t let mentors be sponsors. But we can’t just stand here and do nothing.
I pass Finnick who watches Beck’s screen intently. His eyes are red and tired and he hasn’t slept since the Games began. Just like me.
He couldn’t watch the bloodbath. Annie did, which surprised everyone. There were no screams, no covering of her ears. She just watched, her hands clinging to her chair, threatening to rip through the fabric.
There was a moment when I thought she was going to lose it. It was when Ivy could have killed her son. She looked at me. She didn’t watch the screen, just me. And when Ivy killed August instead, she turned back to her screen, but not before she gave me a nod. It was grateful, I think.
We haven’t said a word to each other the entire time we’ve been here. But there’s an understanding we have between each other.
She glances over to me, giving me a look of sympathy as I reach Peeta, who has returned to watching the screens and pacing. He’s focused on Ivy, whose eyes are closing. And I feel sick.
Any minute now I expect to hear a cannon blast. My hands shake.
“Get up,” I whisper to myself, hoping maybe she can hear it. Maybe my words can fix this, they certainly helped create this.
Annie leans over and says something to Finnick. He straightens in his seat, turning towards me, his hand in his hair. He opens his mouth to say something, but closes it, unsure. His hands circle around each other for a second and he tries again. And I’ve never seen Finnick at a loss for words. He’s always been able to create some remark, a smirk. This is the first time I’ve seen the man beneath the act. And I’m sure I’m just as much of a mess, but my anger doesn’t allow me any time for sympathy.
“What? Here to say I told you so?” I ask him, bitingly. He shakes his head before looking back at his screen.
“Katniss,” Peeta says, his voice tinged with worry.
“What?” My anger fades as I wonder what else could worry him. What could be worse than watching our daughter fade away? “Is it Bas?”
“Look.” He points to our screen and glances over to Finnick and Annie’s. It follows Beck who heads towards the very spot that Ivy now lies in. It doesn’t take long before both screens show the same image.
He stands over her, trident in his hand.
I’m screaming to myself for her to wake up, for her to see him. Beck steps closer to her and I’m ready to hurl myself at Finnick if Beck kills her.
Peeta grips the back of his chair so hard his knuckles turn white. I watch Finnick, trying to figure out the best way to attack as Beck crouches down beside her. Is this how Johanna felt when Grover and Ivy crossed paths? She had stood from her chair and stepped closer to the screen, her expression darkening as Ivy raised the bow, but it lifted once Ivy didn’t fire. And she let out a breath, almost like she had been trying to scoff, but she couldn’t manage it. And then she sat back down, pretending to be disappointed that Grover didn’t have a kill yet.
She even said as much. But Finnick and her had looked at each other, and they shared the same look, the same worried look that most of the mentors who are also parents share. Well most of them except for Brutus and Cain’s father, Roman. They’ve been nothing but confident and even annoyed at everyone else’s stress and worry.
Stress and worry that I’m sure is now apparent on my face, because Beetee is watching me and Wiress is muttering. Repeating, “mother,” over and over, growing louder as other mentors turn towards me.
And I don’t care. All I keep thinking about is how fast I can get to Finnick before I’m removed from this room by Peacekeepers. I stop and stare at the screen dumbfounded when Beck drops his trident, and crouches near Ivy. He removes one of three canteens from his belt, carefully unclicking the lid so as not to spill any water. He lifts her head up and helps her drink. She’s groggy, but comes to her senses. He continues to help her until she’s able to take the canteen from him and hold it on her own.
“Easy,” he says, never taking his hand from behind her head. “Can you sit up?”
She nods and struggles to pull herself up into a sitting position, but she eventually does, resting against the tree. She takes a few more swigs of the water, her strength returning. Peeta relaxes but I’m afraid to be relieved. More confused as to why this tribute from Four is helping her for the second time since they arrived in the arena. Why would he leave the Career pack and risk the open arena to help her?
Ivy looks at the canteen, reading the number four on it.
“Why are you giving me your water?” She asks and it comes out hoarse and shaky.
He points to the other two canteens, both with the number nine. “I have extras.”
Her face falls when she reads the numbers and I know she’s remembering the two they both killed. “You took theirs?”
“They weren’t using them.” Beck shrugs, looking around. “Where’s yours? Did you lose it?” He jokes.
“I didn’t get one.” And I know what was done. I knew it the second I saw the others had theirs and she didn’t. The Peacekeeper must have shoved her in the tube and never gave her the canteen. She’s lucky she got the jacket.
Beck nods, putting it together, his joking tone gone. “You can hold onto that one.”
Ivy shakes her head, trying to stand. Beck places his hands on her shoulders. “You should sit for a little bit.”
“Can’t.” She uses the tree to help herself stand and leans on it to stay balanced but stumbles, almost tipping over. Beck catches her, almost tripping over himself in the process.
“You can barely stand. You really think you can just start trudging through the woods? Have some more water.” He reaches for the canteen in her hand, trying to help her lift it. She shakes him off.
“I’m trying to help you.”
“Can’t. Trust you,” she answers flatly, her words broken. I can tell she’s trying to be strong, trying to play the role of Career like all the others, like she’s meant to. But she’s failing and she’s still shaken. And I don’t care what the sponsors will think right now, I’m just happy she’s alive. Beck sees through it, he can see that she needs help. He rolls his eyes and lifts the canteen for her anyway. She drinks from it despite her previous protest. She knows she needs it.
“If I was planning on killing you, why would I save you? Twice.” She shoves him off, or tries to. She’s too weak to do any damage. He helps reposition her at the tree, and this time she manages to lean on it on her own.
Beck reaches down and picks up his trident before reaching for the bow. She stiffens as he hands it to her. Snatching it from him, trying to hold onto it as her hand shakes.
She repositions the quiver on her back. Somehow it managed to remain in place when she fell with only a few arrows falling from it. Most of them fell beside her, or nearby. Beck picks them up quickly, putting them back in the quiver. Once again I’m grateful it wasn’t worse than it could have been.
Ivy tries to stand up straight, but has to put her hand back on the tree shortly. She’s still too shaken and dizzy to walk, but she’s going to try. She’s too much like me not to. And she’s too much like Peeta not to have a comment to match Beck’s. Her voice comes out a little stronger when she says, “I don’t know, maybe your Career pack friends wanted the opportunity.”
“They’re not my friends.”
“Right. Tools.” She rolls her eyes. Beck fights a smile. “Either way you were close with them during training.”
“Not really. I just blended in with them. It’s better for them to think you’re useful than to stand out against them. Which you know all about.” He gives her an amused look which she doesn’t buy into.
“I’m leaving now,” she says taking a step forward, walking stiffly and too slow to really go anywhere. Beck follows her. She stops instantly once she realizes and sways on the spot. “What are you doing?”
“I’m going that way.” He points forward.
“No, I’m going that way.”
“Yeah and so am I. You don’t own the arena.” He takes a step closer to her. She backs away, going right. He follows.
She turns around, almost falling once again. “Why are you following me?”
“Because you need my help.”
“You can barely stand upright. You almost died, again. I know you don’t like it and you don’t want to believe it, but you can’t do this alone.”
And before she begins her argument, she sways again, dropping the bow. She reaches for it and is slow to get back up, but she holds onto it once she rises. Once again finding another tree to support herself. Beck takes a few steps closer to her but she holds a hand up to stop him. “I’m fine.”
“No you’re not.”
“Walk in a straight line, go ahead, from here to that tree, if you can do it without tripping, I’ll admit you’re okay and move on.”
She looks at the tree and I see a determination and denial in her eyes. She’s going to try. I remember when she took her first steps, how many times she fell over, how many times she cried because she couldn’t do it. Until one day, she didn’t cry. She let go of the table, falling at first, until she used it to pick herself back up again. And then she stumbled her way over to me. Not to Peeta, who sat with his arms outstretched waiting for her. To me. As I was putting on my coat to go out to the woods, she hobbled her way over to me, grabbing onto my pants once she got there. I couldn’t move. She held her arms up, she smiled, and I picked her up and handed her over to Peeta without a word. He nuzzled her close, cuddled her and told her he was proud, and they went to bake cookies while I left.
I cried once I was safely hidden in the woods where she couldn’t see me. And once again I had to remind myself to be strong so she could live. Be her mentor, not her mother.
She moves slowly. Letting go of the tree and walking forward, towards where Beck had pointed. It reminds me so much of that day, only this time I can’t be the one to catch her or hold her and tell her how proud I am. I can’t be there to help. I can’t do it over. And I wish I could go back and change it all. She’s stiff as she moves. Each step meticulous, slow and calculated.
She manages to keep herself in a straight line, fists clenched at her sides, her eyes opening and closing to stop any dizziness. When she reaches the tree, she leans on it, breathing deeply. Beck stands, a little impressed, a little annoyed. I smile. She tries to smirk at him but her expression comes out flat.
“Alright fine, you made a point but now you’re pale and you’ve exhausted whatever energy you had left. How long do you think you’re gonna make it without help?” He asks, staring her down.
“Why do you…why do you…?” She shakes her head trying to clear the confusion from her mind. She can’t find the word. Her voice is tired, drained, and what little strength she managed in it before is gone. She needs to rest. She needs to recover. She won’t get far alone.
“Care?” He asks, finishing. He sighs, “Because of this.” He removes an arrow from a sheath on his back. “You saved my life with it, so I owe you.”
“Well you saved my life too, so we’re even.” She can’t look at the arrow. The thing that killed the boy from Nine. Beck realizes this quickly as he puts it back in the sheath. He looks apologetic as he puts his words together. When he speaks it’s with a sincerity that I didn’t expect.
“Look, the only way either one of us is going to survive is with each other. I didn’t spend two days trying to find you just for you to go off on your own and get us both killed.” He clears his throat. “The others, they’re not equipped for survival. They can kill, but they won’t survive. I want to survive. And you’re the best person for that. And if you don’t help me, I’m dead. You’re my last hope.”
Ivy looks him over, determining whether to trust him. She takes a breath. He’s winning her over, but I can see a darkness behind her eyes, a warning. “If you really want to be my ally, you should know my only interest is in finding my brother and keeping him alive. That means we don’t win.”
He taps a rhythm on the trident with his fingers. “I can be okay with that.”
“What?” She’s surprised.
“There’s many ways to die in this arena. With you at least I know when. Top three?”
I look over at Annie, expecting her to curl up and retreat into herself at her son’s words. She watches intently, a small line of worry in her forehead, but an otherwise passive expression.
The other mentors, namely the group from One, Two, and River from Four, watch our screens, glancing between us, waiting to see if they should fear this new alliance. Gloss grinds his teeth as Stone tries and fails to start a fire for the other Careers. Emery pulls her jacket closer, fighting against the chilly weather. Minnow does the same. Cain and Victoria sit and watch, neither trying to help nor really seeming to care about the lack of a fire. Beck is right. They have no survival skills. But soon enough a silver parachute falls and Stone takes a box of matches from it, lighting the fire. The Career mentors shake Roman’s hand on that one.
They may not have all the skills, but they have the sponsors. And as a group those sponsors are just as deadly as the Careers themselves. But Ivy and Beck are Careers too. Or at least just as capable as them. Between Haymitch, Finnick, Peeta, Annie, and myself, we should be able to gather enough support. Now Bas just needs to be found and brought into the alliance of Twelve and Four.
Beck smirks, “Top three?” He asks again.
Ivy nods, giving in. “When you turn on me, I’ll kill you.”
“You’ll try.” He twirls the trident.
“I’ll succeed,” she adds, moving forward, Beck following. He keeps an arm out, in case she needs it for support, but she ignores it, trying to keep up the appearance that she’s stronger than she is.
“Are you so sure?” He asks, his voice feigning amusement, or at least, I think it’s fake. I can’t tell with him, just like I can’t tell with Finnick. “You’re not expecting me just to lie down and die, are you?”
She shakes her head. Taking large breaths between her sentences. “You’ll put up a good fight. But I’ll still win because I’m a better shot than you.” Her voice is louder and much less hoarse than it was before.
He laughs, handing her the canteen again. “You think so?”
“I know so.”
“I guess we’ll find out.”
“I’ll make it quick,” she says after she takes a large drink then hands the canteen back to him.
“I hope so,” Beck adds quietly before his business-like demeanor returns. He’s all trained Career now, a tribute vying for victory and safety. “We should find somewhere to sleep.”
Ivy nods in agreement.
I turn to look at Finnick and Annie. Haymitch has wandered over to their side, pulling up a chair beside them.
“Looks like they’re allies,” Finnick says as Haymitch raises a glass to me and takes a drink.
“For now,” Peeta responds, his voice so quiet only I can hear it.
I watch Ivy and I remember how small she used to be. How fragile she was, how fragile she can still be. I wish I was there with her. I wish I was there to save her. I wish I was better. I should have been better. I should have been stronger.
I should have told her I love her.