The Arena: Team
I’ve never been very good at friends. I’ve been even worse at being an ally or getting allies. Whether it was for my tributes or for me when I was in the arena, I haven’t been good at it. Rue was because I saw my sister in her. She was someone I genuinely wanted to protect. I didn’t expect for her to save me. And Peeta. I wasn’t prepared to ally with Peeta. I thought he was going to die. But he saved my life. We saved each other. But all of that was because of them, not me. It was he who wanted to keep me out of harm’s way first. It was my love for Prim that made me ally with Rue, and it wasn’t even allies, not really friends either. And since those Games, no one wants to ally with Twelve. No one who wants to win. And it’s been that way for twenty five years.
Now there’s a chance. Now there are others, or rather one, who’s persistent at wanting to be close to them. Whether it’s by some imagined idea that they’re stronger than the rest, that they’re better liked and more likely to have sponsors, or because he thinks he has a chance to kill them if he’s closer, I’m not sure. But for now, I’m living with the situation because it’s their best chance.
My children have always been good at making friends. Though I’m sure that’s because of Peeta. I certainly haven’t given them anything to help socialize. The only reason Peeta and I work so well is because he knows me. Because we need each other to survive. Gale and I worked as friends because we understood each other and we both knew it was easier to feed our families as a team.
I had another friend back in Twelve. For a while, at least. Madge Undersee. That wasn’t a friendship based on survival, but I guess, more of the fact that I didn’t really have many people to talk to. Madge was easy to talk to. And she always listened and she could talk back when she needed to. And I would listen.
She was the only person I called when I moved to the Victor’s Village. And she understood a lot more than she would say. She knew just how dangerous my life was. Just how controlled I was. And she said nothing.
Before the wedding I told her outright that my relationship with Peeta was a lie. That I didn’t love him.
And all she said was, “No one is that good of an actor. Especially not you.”
“When you walk down that aisle, when you see him, whatever you feel or don’t feel, well, you’ll know whether I’m wrong or not.”
And she wasn’t wrong. And when I was pregnant and I was so terrified I could barely hold myself together, Madge was there. And as it progressed and I couldn’t go into the woods anymore, Madge would keep me company at home.
She wouldn’t say anything. She wouldn’t ask about my fears. She didn’t have to. She just kept asking other questions, normal questions for normal expectant mothers. Did I want the baby to be a boy or a girl? What names had I picked out? Would I take the baby out into the woods? Did I want them to learn to hunt or to bake? How was Peeta doing?
And for a while I forgot that I wasn’t a normal mother. I didn’t have normal fears. I could just be. It wasn’t like being in the woods with Gale. It wasn’t like lying in Peeta’s arms. It was just being.
She would babysit Ivy when I went hunting alone and Peeta was at the bakery. I didn’t know why she offered, why she was so happy to help, that was just the way she was. Gale used to tell me he would see her walking around Twelve bouncing Ivy in her arms and smiling. She was always smiling.
And Gale would smile when he talked about her. I noticed it as time went on. How much he started smiling when he talked about Madge. How he always talked about Madge. And she would do the same.
When the mine collapsed Madge stopped smiling.
And even though she never asked before, she started asking about revolution, about the Mockingjay, about my fears. Something broke inside of her. Or maybe it was always there and she finally let it loose. But she changed. She got darker. She didn’t laugh. She still came around. She still came to babysit. But she wasn’t who she used to be.
Until one day, she stopped visiting. And she stopped walking around Twelve. And then she didn’t leave her house anymore.
I went by one day, after weeks of her absence. Her father had come to the door. When I asked to see her there was a grave silence on her father’s face. A mask of pain and confusion. Grief. It was grief.
“Where is she?” I had asked. And he shook his head.
“I don’t know. She hasn’t been home since last night. We informed the Peacekeepers, but they haven’t seen her.”
I left and I looked. I walked around the Seam. I asked everyone I could. No one had seen her. And when I went to the woods thinking maybe I’d find her there, that maybe she needed to get away, I had found a sign. She didn’t enjoy the woods as much as Gale and I. She had only come out there once or twice and I didn’t think she’d go back, especially with Gale gone. But she had.
It was in the hollowed tree where Gale and I stashed our weapons. A note so small, so worn, I didn’t know how long ago it had been written. How long she had been thinking about leaving it. And for a second I thought it wasn’t hers. But there was no mistaking the handwriting. Neat. Legible. Tidy. It wasn’t a goodbye. It wasn’t even an explanation. It was just an answer.
She went in search of District Thirteen. A place the Capitol wouldn’t and couldn’t touch. A myth. A long dead District full of ash and bone. But it was the place Gale thought we could run to. He had been talking about it, considering it. And with him gone, she went to find it.
She never came back.
I don’t know if she ever found District Thirteen or if she even survived long enough to get close to it. I don’t know what happened to Madge. All I know is I don’t have friends now. I try to close myself off from forming attachments. I’ve done it with my tributes the past twenty five years. I’ve done it with my children, even if I wasn’t successful at it. And I’ve done it to Peeta to an extent. I don’t let him in all the time. Even when he’s seen the worst of me, when all my guilt has pulled me under and I can’t get out of bed, I don’t talk about it. I don’t let him talk about it. I don’t want to talk about it.
I don’t want to attach myself to him anymore than I’ve had to. Because if I lose him, if he’s ripped away from me like so many others, I’ll have nothing left. Our children are in the arena. My friends are dead. Even Prim, my sister, the only person I can say for sure I truly love, she has her own life now, her own family. She doesn’t need me. Not nearly as much as I need her. And she can be gone in an instant. It’s safer for her if I try to keep my distance, and it’s been that way for a while now.
Normally I don’t speak to the other mentors, or I speak about as much as they speak to me. But this year it’s different. This year I have allies. And I have to be friendly. As friendly as I can be with people I don’t trust. People whose friendship will wear thin once one of our kids kills the other.
I watch my screen. Ivy and Beck continue walking through the woods. I can tell she’s frustrated by the way she steps through thickets and crunches the branches. She doesn’t care about being quiet.
“Found any food yet?” Beck asks.
“Does it look like I have?” she returns. She spots something before he responds. She hurries towards it with him following.
It’s a small pond with plants growing around it. Plants that I recognize. And I know she recognizes them too.
“You found water at least.” Beck fills a canteen and she fills hers. “But what about food?”
“You can eat this.” She pulls out one of the plants.
“What is it?” He stares at it, taking it tentatively from her.
He laughs. “Seriously? That’s its name?”
She nods. “When my mom was teaching me about the plants you could eat she told me if you can find me, you won’t starve.”
“That’s good advice. Alright then, let’s eat.” He pulls some from the pond, holding it out to her. She waves her hand.
“No. I’m hungry but I’m not that hungry.”
Haymitch laughs loudly at that and I turn to him, trying to glare to get him to stop, but it only makes him laugh louder. Finnick and Annie do their best to hide their smiles, but I can tell they’re laughing too by the way their tired eyes crinkle at the corners.
Beck chews some of the katniss and stashes some more inside an empty canteen.
Peeta and I watch our screens from our seats, but Haymitch stays beside Finnick and Annie. He’s been there since the alliance began and I suspect he won’t be moving until there’s only one Victor.
I can feel my exhaustion weighing on me. While Peeta and I alternate between who sleeps, I haven’t fully rested since before we came to the Capitol. I’m used to barely sleeping while we’re here, but this is different. I couldn’t sleep even if I tried. And I have tried. But every time I close my eyes I hear a cannon and I see one of my children’s bodies being carried out by a hovercraft.
It’s been three days since the Games began and almost a full day since the last tribute died. I know something is coming. The entire room can feel it. The Gamemakers will not let this go on. The Capitol needs its entertainment.
My only hope is my children can get out of the way in time.
Bas has been on his own since the Games began and has done a good job of avoiding the other tributes. He keeps himself to a schedule, sleeping in confined safe spaces for short periods and moving frequently. If he keeps it up I hope he’ll run into Ivy. But he’s been staying close to the river, keeping the water at his back where no one can cross over and kill him. Even as the ground rises and the river gets further down, he keeps his back to the cliff face. At one point I thought he was going to roll over in his sleep and fall off, but he woke up before that happened.
He still keeps his back to the edge, but he’s moved slightly further inland. Not enough for anyone to sneak up on him, but enough for him not to roll off the side.
Ivy has been searching in the woods. The two of them are far enough apart that they won’t find each other unless one’s path diverges. And with each step that becomes less likely to happen.
Bas comes to a stop at the bridge, weighing whether or not he wants to cross it. There are train tracks over it with a few spots where they are missing. And he could climb down it to stay beside the river. But he’s unsure of where he wants to go.
The little boy from Ten approaches from the other side heading straight towards Bas, but there’s no fear in my son’s eyes. He steps closer to the tracks even as the little boy freezes. Bas holds up his hands.
“I won’t hurt you,” he says. The little boy takes a small, hesitant, step forward. Bas nods, reassuring him while waving him closer.
I glance over to Ten’s sitting area. The little boy’s father, all red eyed and twitching movements grips his seat. Peeta gives the man a smile, the same reassuring one Bas just gave the man’s son. And it works for a short while, but soon a light bulb clicks on at the town square and the Careers start drinking from the running water inside the half ruined building.
There has never been electricity in this arena before now, and I don’t understand why it would appear all of a sudden. Not unless there was a reason for it. Beetee leans forward in his chair and I can see the gears turning in his mind. Wiress twitches and points to the screen.
“Sparks. Tracks,” Wiress repeats and a coldness creeps into my stomach as a chill runs up my spine.
The mentors from Six step closer to the screens. They've lost one tribute already, the girl, and have tried their best to get sponsors for the boy, but have largely failed. They've been defeated and talking with the mentors from Eight, who have lost both their tributes. No mentor is allowed to leave before the Games end. They can walk around the Capitol for a short period if they so choose but they always have to come back here. The pair from Eight have mostly been eating and drinking trying to wait it out while Six has been sitting on the sidelines and hoping their remaining tribute can survive on their own. They haven't done much until now. They're interested in the tracks though. They watch both Ten and my screens, straightening as they analyze the tracks. I’m sure they’ve seen them before, given that their industry is transportation. And whatever they recognize, it isn’t good.
The man from Ten notices their reaction too and soon he’s shouting at his screen, “Run!” It’s desperate, a plea, begging that his son makes it.
But he never does. He’s almost to Bas when a buzzing sound starts and the tracks are live with electricity. The boy’s body convulses without control. Bas shouts incoherently, trying to reach over and grab the boy without stepping on the tracks himself.
It lasts for a few minutes but it’s agonizing and long and feels like hours. The man from Ten watches wide eyed, horror stricken, his mouth hanging open in a silent scream.
And when the electricity stops, the boy’s body drops onto the tracks. Bas runs to him, pulling him off. The cannon sounds before Bas even has a chance to check his pulse. The hovercraft follows shortly after.
The man from Ten drops to his knees the scream finally escaping him. It’s broken and hollow. A wretched sound. Everyone else is silent in the room. The boy was too young; we all knew he wouldn’t make it, that he didn’t have a chance. And still I blame myself for him being in this arena.
The Peacekeepers turn to each other, clearly trying to decide on something. Haymitch goes to the man and hands him a drink, which the man takes instantly, drowning himself in it. Peeta helps lift him back into a chair while Haymitch refills the glass.
“I’m sorry,” Peeta tells him and even the Career mentors nod along in agreement. The silence that follows is long and so quiet only the sounds of the arena fill the room. It’s like I’m back inside, lying in a tree, wondering who the cannon just sounded for. Only now I know, now I’ve seen and I see them all. Every single death, when they happen live, when they play over and over on repeat during the highlights of the day as Caesar and Claudius run down their comments. I see them when I close my eyes. And there’s no stopping it.
But I should stop it. I should try. I hear the wracking sobs as the man from Ten drinks himself into a stupor. And no one tells him to be quiet or to stop. We all understand. And the ones who have already lost their tributes and their children are quick to help him over to the side where they can offer words of comfort and more drinks. I wonder if I’ll be joining that group, if they hate me for having children who put them in that group.
The woman from Nine, the mentor who watched as my daughter sent August out of the arena, is too strung out on morphling to pay much attention to me. But Peeta apologized to her. And she had smiled. She had put her hand on his face and smiled. And I wish I could be like Peeta sometimes. So good. So thoughtful. But I’m not. And even if I had told her sorry, it wouldn’t have mattered. I don’t think she knows what’s going on here.
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to not be able to feel it all. To be so far gone and unaware that I don’t have to face this room or these people ever again. To give myself over to self-medication or drink like Haymitch and bury whatever feelings I have left under a haze. But I couldn’t do that to Peeta. Leave him to take care of all of this and me. I can’t become my mother.
Bas holds the little boy’s body, preventing the hovercraft from taking it. All he does is stare at the burnt hair and frozen eyes, trapped in the moment that caused it. He closes the boy’s eyes and brushes his hair back, trying to comfort the dead boy. He lays the boy down and finally takes a step back.
He watches the hovercraft take the little boy away. I can see the pain in his stiff jaw as he throws a stick onto the tracks with more force than is necessary. The stick bounces off the track and falls towards the river below, but the electricity is gone. He hurries across, his anger booming in each loud step. And then he turns, faces the tracks and spits at them.
It’s not the first time he’s reminded me of myself, though he’s bolder and a lot braver than I could hope to be. But I feel pride in that boldness. That somehow, despite my lack of it, he’s got enough for the both of us.
And then the rain starts to fall.
It starts slowly. A few drops here and there, sizzling once they hit the ground. One drops near Bas’ foot causing him to stop. Then he looks up at the sky as another drop lands on his jacket, burning a hole through it. He rips the jacket off before the water touches his skin and throws it to the side. He leaves it behind as he starts to climb down the bridge, trying to get underneath it for cover.
He moves quickly and efficiently. He was always good at climbing and as he descends the rain drops splash onto his face and arms. Red welts begin to appear but he forces himself to climb faster despite the pain.
When the raindrops start to fall in the forest, Ivy and Beck are quicker to notice. A drop lands on Ivy’s hand and starts to burn. She’s shouting and trying to wipe it away as a large welt appears. Beck looks around as more raindrops fall around them, landing on his shoulder and neck. The welts spring up and the two are in pain as they start to run.
They’re moving downhill trying to escape, but it’s difficult to move fast with the bushes and thickets in the way. Still, they try, almost falling several times.
I don’t know where they can go but the rain falls faster, smoke rising up from where the water lands. The rain falls all over the arena. The Careers shelter themselves in their ruined building, safe from the storm as a crack of thunder hits and the rain picks up.
Ivy and Beck run faster, jumping over rocks and trees to escape as the storm approaches them. My heart is pounding as I try to watch two screens at once, glancing from Ivy’s to Bas’. He drops into the river when he’s close enough to the ground, swimming underneath the bridge, safe from the storm.
Or so I think at first.
“Acid rain,” the boy from Three says. He’s Beetee’s nephew, the only one who doesn’t actually have a Victor as a parent, or so I’ve been told. Apparently there was an exception made in Three when there weren’t enough Victors with children. They had to move onto other relatives. From what I’ve gathered Beetee is as much a father to him as his own, maybe even more so. I think his name is Springer. There’s a scar on his neck, a burn that seems long healed, from what I don’t want to know. And from the way he watches Bas, with cold calculation, I know to be worried. Bas reaches for his knife, waiting for an attack that I don’t think will come. Springer doesn’t seem like the type to get into an altercation if he can get around it.
“Don’t come near me,” Bas threatens, but Springer keeps stepping closer.
“You’re standing on a trap. And if you don’t want to die, I’ll have to step closer.”
Bas looks down at his feet. There’s something metal beneath him, a pressure plate that Springer set up. He comes to a decision, putting the knife away. Springer leans down and quickly undoes the trap, pulling Bas to the side as the trap resets itself.
“You can stay here until the rain stops.” Springer walks back to his spot, settling next to a small fire he’s built.
“You’re not gonna kill me?”
“I don’t much see the point in killing you. Not at this moment, at least. It wouldn’t benefit me.”
Bas watches the rain outside, inching closer towards the fire. But he’s unsure and I don’t blame him. I don’t trust Springer. I wouldn’t trust anyone in that arena.
“You can sit if you want,” Springer adds and Bas does, holding his hands up to the fire to get warm.
A cannon sounds and I jump to Ivy’s screen. I’ve been focused on Bas, I wasn’t watching her. And I can’t see her running. I can’t breathe. Is she gone?
“Peeta? Where is she?” My voice shakes.
Peeta watches the screen intently. Glancing at Four’s as well. “I don’t know.”
Finnick’s hand twitches and his thumbs circle each other quickly. Annie is frozen in her seat, staring at the screen. Her hand inches towards Finnick’s but she stops herself. Haymitch shifts in his seat, leaning forward almost afraid to look at anyone. I make eye contact with him and we share the same worried expression. I feel like the world is about to collapse and I’m going to crumble with it.
But then Ivy emerges from the steam filling up the woods, Beck right behind her. My breath returns and I find myself standing. Finnick covers his mouth with his hand while the other rubs his neck. He’s relieved but he tries to play it off as if he wasn’t worried. It’s not working.
Haymitch still doesn’t look away from me. I don’t know how I’m watching the screen right now, but I am. And I want to close my eyes, have Peeta tell me when they’re safe, if they’re safe.
But I can’t.
I have to watch. I have to see. I have to know. I don’t know how long they can keep outrunning the storm and I need to see my daughter until she’s gone. I need to see her alive and running. Breathing, before she never breathes again.
Ivy notices it before I do. When she pushes Beck he isn’t prepared, the wind knocks out of him as he’s thrown off balance by her. He tumbles through the opening into the small cave as she dives inside behind him.
The rain catches up to them and downpours while they lie on the ground trying to breathe. They’re slow to get up, the welts painful. And I hear her whimper as she slides to sit up. Beck remains lying down, too injured to move.
And that’s when Annie looks away from the screen. Her hands are shaking and inching towards her ears. Finnick touches her shoulder and says something to her. She shakes her head but finally listens to whatever he’s saying. Her hands stop shaking for a second before she nods, leaving the room shortly after. Whether or not she’s about to have an episode is unclear but something’s changed about Finnick when he stands from his seat. There’s a harsh determination in his eyes, so bloodshot from his lack of sleep that it’s almost frightening. I think I see the Finnick that won his Games years ago. The one whose purpose was survival and coming home to Four.
“They need medicine.”
“What sponsors should we talk to then?” Peeta asks and I nod.
“I’ll get it. I’m better at this than you.” He tries to smirk but with his red, tired eyes, it comes off almost maniacal. Haymitch comes with him to help and between the two of them I feel almost confident. I’m glad that I have allies this time around. I’ve never been able to get medicine to my tributes before. But I know Haymitch has accomplished it from first-hand experience and I know he will get them what they need. And so will Finnick. If not for Ivy, he will for Beck.
The silver parachute travels through the rain unaffected, landing inside the cave. Ivy forces herself to stand, detaching the parachute from the canister. She struggles to open it, her hands in too much pain. She winces as her fingers try and fail to pry it open.
She drops it with a clatter. Groaning as she goes to pick it up.
“Do you want some help?” A voice asks from the shadows of the cave. Ivy jumps, ready to dive for her bow, when Grover steps into the dim light. It’s the second time in two days she’s been ready to kill him, but somehow that doesn’t seem to faze him one bit. She relaxes as he picks up the canister with a smile. “Or do you still think you don’t need it?”
“I would really appreciate it, Grover.”
He opens the container, removing the medicine from inside. He untwists the cap on the salve, handing it over to her. She applies it to Beck’s welts before she does her own.
“Thank you.” She sits as the rain continues to pour.
“I got the really good stuff,” Haymitch says to me after he and Finnick return. “Well, he got it, but I helped.”
“What can I say, the Capitol loves me.” Finnick shrugs but his eyes lack any warmth or any hint of a joke. Haymitch shakes his head subtly and I see Finnick cover what looks like bruised knuckles with a cloth.
The salve works quickly. And when Beck sits up his welts have almost completely disappeared. Ivy’s have healed as well and she appears relieved when Beck finally speaks.
“Grover,” Beck greets. “Glad to see you alive.”
“You too,” Grover returns.
Beck turns to Ivy. “And you.”
“That’s it?” she asks.
“What more do you want?”
“A thank you would be nice.”
“It’s the Games, there’s no thank you’s here,” Beck quips, standing and looking around the cave. Ivy grimaces, annoyed by his response.
“There’s a tunnel.” He points towards a dark shadow that stretches further away, his voice echoing off the walls.
“Oh good, maybe the tunnel can save your life,” Ivy mutters, standing as well. Beck looks to her a smirk lining his face.
“Are you angry that I’m not acting all grateful for you doing what allies are supposed to do?”
She’s taken aback. “No, I would just appreciate--”
“What? I’m trying to survive, not maintain social etiquette. Besides, you didn’t thank me when I saved your life.”
“That was different.”
“How?” he asks, taking a step towards her.
“I didn’t want your help.” She matches his step.
“But you needed it.” They’re inches from each other, the argument escalating.
“You didn’t really want my help either,” Grover interjects, “But you definitely needed help.”
“Stay out of this.” Ivy points at him and Grover backs away from the two of them.
“What are you really angry about?” Beck asks, his voice dropping.
“Because you’re being an ass.” Her voice cracks and it’s clear that’s not what she’s mad about.
“No. That’s not why.”
“He’s really not,” Grover says, instantly regretting it when the two of them turn to glare at him. “Sorry. Continue.”
She shakes her head. “I don’t know.”
Beck’s smirk turns into a smile and the two of them are silent.
“What’s going on?” Annie asks as she returns, her voice low and croaking. She was crying.
Finnick tries to answer but can’t manage it. I don’t even know what’s going on. Johanna’s laugh rings through the room. It’s sardonic, short, and almost cold. And when she turns towards us, she’s rolling her eyes.
“Your tributes are about a second away from having their tongues down each other’s throats.”
I stiffen and Peeta does the same. I turn to Haymitch shaking my head.
“Thought that was apparent, sweetheart,” Haymitch shrugs.
“No,” I mutter to myself as I turn back to the screen.
Beck eyes Ivy like he’s waiting for something and my fist clenches. He swallows and his voice is low, the confidence gone, “Well.”
He leans in towards her and I can feel my anger rising. This can’t be happening again. I will not let this happen again. I will not let her become me. She’s unsure as he leans closer. But something takes over and she leans in to meet his lips. But at the last moment he pulls away and pecks her forehead.
The smirk returns, “Now we’re even.” And he steps back from her. She’s flustered. And I see nothing but red as I head towards Finnick. He’s standing and he looks afraid. His hands are up trying to surrender but I don’t want an apology. There is no apology for this. And soon my hand connects with his face in a loud slap followed by a punch to his nose. The next thing I know Peeta is pulling me back.
“Did you tell him to do this?!”
“Do what?” His nose is bleeding and I try to push myself out of Peeta’s grip to hit him again. It’s not enough.
“You know what! Did you tell him to do it?!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You don’t?! I doubt that. Play it up right? They’ll love it all over again!” I escape Peeta and hit Finnick again. Haymitch is the one who grabs my arms this time, but I’m done.
“Calm down.” He signals to the Peacekeepers who have started towards us and they back off.
“It’s not real. She doesn’t know that. She can’t…” My anger turns to worry and I remember Peeta in the days after he understood the game we were playing. The game I had been playing. He was so hurt. And I knew his feelings were real, but mine, they took longer to develop. And when they did he still questioned it, until he realized that it was real. And I know only one of them will survive, that Ivy plans to die or to kill Beck when she has to, but I don’t want that to become more complicated. For her to question it, for him to just turn on her. I couldn’t bear seeing that pain, that betrayal, not on her face.
Finnick finally understands my meaning, “No. Katniss, I swear.”
“Come with me. Both of you.” Haymitch leads me towards our room, Finnick following. Peeta starts but Haymitch shakes his head. “Someone has to watch.”
Peeta is reluctant but listens as the three of us walk off. We pass Annie who hasn’t moved from her spot. She looks at Finnick and he nods, an entire conversation passing between them without a word. I feel bad for hitting him, but not enough to apologize. Though I think I feel worse for the two of them. I don’t think there’s a doubt between them of their love for each other. And yet I doubt myself every day. But I’m the one married with children, not them. I can walk hand in hand with Peeta if I so choose while they have to be careful that no one sees.
I’m still not apologizing for hitting him.
When we’re safely behind the door Haymitch lets go of me. “Don’t hit ‘em again.”
I back away and Finnick applies a towel to his nose. Between that and his bruised knuckles he looks just as battered as the tributes.
“What happened to your hand?” I ask.
He sighs, “The sponsors were reluctant.”
“You can’t just--”
“You were about to when Ivy didn’t have any water. Be grateful I did.”
“But if they--”
“They won’t,” he sighs, the sound muffled by the towel at his nose. “I know what you think, but I didn’t tell him to do that, I wouldn’t.”
“You wouldn’t? Not if it meant getting more sponsors and the entire country on his side? That your son could win?” I ask and my voice cracks.
“Don’t say that here.” And his eyes are burning with fear.
“I don’t understand why you didn’t just say something.”
“Yes, you do.”
And I do. It’s been obvious from the beginning. If I was him I wouldn’t have said anything. How much more dangerous is the world for Ivy and Bas because of me. Because of their connection to me. If I could hide them, wouldn’t I? And from what I know of the Capitol and what I’ve heard about Finnick, I would have hidden them as far away as possible.
I’m still not apologizing for hitting him.
“And I swear, whatever Beck is doing is on him. I haven’t told him anything but to stay away from Ivy. But, he wanted her as his ally.”
“Yeah and now I’m starting to see why.”
“Can you blame him?” Haymitch asks. “It’s a good story, a twist on the star-crossed lovers from the same district. It plays well. They’ll think of you, make the comparison. They’ll buy it instantly. It’s smart.”
“I don’t care how smart it is. It’s not continuing.”
“Even if it benefits Ivy too? Think about it, sweetheart, that medicine isn’t the best we can get.”
I freeze. He’s not wrong. But I don’t want her to be condemned to that story. I don’t want the obvious jokes that Caesar and Claudius will make and I know they’re going to, if it hasn’t started already.
I don’t want to return to the main room. I don’t want to hear their commentary. But if it means getting Ivy through the arena easier, should I suck it up and hear it? If it can benefit Bas once they’re back together, will it matter what the Capitol thinks or says? President Snow won’t stand for it. He won’t let this go on again. The sponsors won’t matter when it comes to his response to this.
“This ends.” And it’s final. But I can see Haymitch isn’t convinced and Finnick glances to him for an answer. “Did you two hear me? No more. Send him a message with the next parachute that he backs off. It’s done.”
“So is the damage. Why not play it out?” Haymitch asks.
“Snow won’t let it.” That seems to scare Finnick enough to get him on my side.
“I agree with Katniss. We’ll get them some food and tell him to stop. Now if we’re done?” Finnick heads to the door, tossing the towel into the sink on his way out.
I sigh. Haymitch stands beside me. “You ready to go back out there?” He asks.
I nod reluctantly.
“Okay then, let’s go.” We walk side by side back down the hallway, towards the screens and the other mentors we’ve made a scene in front of. To their credit they largely ignore us, but I catch the last line of a comment by Claudius and the glances that follow bring about a fresh wave of anger.
“Like mother like daughter, right?” And he laughs along with Caesar.
“I for one am not surprised. But I have to say, I’m intrigued by these two. Established killers in the arena, allies, and lovers? It’s unfortunate that only one of them is going to survive,” Caesar responds and my heart drops into my stomach. That last line is aimed at me and I know it. There will be no berries, not again. And Snow will not fall for this charade if it continues.
Peeta finds me as I return.
“How long have they been talking?” I ask.
“Long enough,” he responds. “Are you okay?”
I nod. “It’s fine.”
“And Haymitch? He’s not thinking of--”
I smile. And it’s not the first time I’m glad that Peeta is here with me. That he’s been with me since this all started. I lean forward and kiss him. He’s surprised at how forceful it is but returns it just the same.
“What was that for?” He asks, face flushed, glancing around. I’ve never been one for public displays of affection without being forced to for a camera or audience. But right in this moment, I don’t care. I need Peeta to know. The Careers are watching us. Johanna makes a noise as if she’s about to be sick.
“I’ve had enough of the lovey dovey eyes today. Can we all just get back to doing what we’re here for and get these Games over with? I’d like to go home eventually.”
The sound of a pack of heels clicks and clacks down the hallway. The sound grows in volume until its right outside the door. When it opens, the Peacekeepers allow a group of colorful individuals to pass through. Their hair ranges in shades of pink to bright blues, with their skin occasionally matching. Their outfits are all adorned with icons from their respective districts as if to honor their team. The escorts have returned. Some go to comfort the mentors who have lost their tributes. Others are caught up on the events of the Games and confide who the Capitol has shown the most interest in.
I never hear any of the conversations but it always seems that at one point eyes fall on myself or Finnick. The damage is done.
“What happened?” Effie asks and I hear Haymitch groan. She points to Finnick, “He looks like he’s been in a fight.” She points to me, “And I’m fairly certain she had something to do with it. Peeta? What happened?”
He’s flustered. Usually able to respond, or at least, come up with some story, but unable to at the moment. Effie glares at him then me, her eyes unblinking, accusing. I feel like a child again.
“It was me,” I admit.
“Yes, I know that. Why?” And she continues to look at Peeta.
“Effie,” he answers and that’s all the response she needs.
“Never mind. I’ll just have to try to make the best of this situation like I always do. And whatever the Capitol gossip is, well I’ll just have to deal with that as well.” She stalks off, muttering, “Always something.”
“She’s back. I’m gonna need a big drink,” Haymitch grunts but I can hear the faint sound of relief in his words. I’m relieved too. I wasn’t sure what happened to her after the Peacekeepers came, but I’m glad it wasn’t anything like what happened to Cinna. Though I’m not sure nothing happened.
She’s dressed in a gold dress, her hair matching, and her usual painted makeup on her face, but compared to the others she looks subdued, almost normal.
I catch the slight quiver of her hands as Haymitch hands her a drink and I know he catches it too. But she covers. Giving a curt nod of thanks and heading to sit beside Annie. She talks about the Capitol and the reaction our children have gotten. And in her lilt it sounds positive, like it’s only good news. But she hides behind the voice like Haymitch hides behind his liquor. I know to see through it, though I’ll never say anything to her.
I go over to them and I still don’t want to apologize but I know I have to. Effie makes that clear.
“Katniss, do you have something you want to say to your ally?” She asks but she makes it sound like a command, not a question.
“I’m sorry, Finnick,” I mumble.
“What’s that? I couldn’t hear you,” Finnick says and I glare at him.
“Finnick,” Annie warns.
“I missed it.” He smiles, but she doesn’t play along. “Fine, I accept your apology and honestly, I probably would have done the same.”
“Good,” Effie trills, tossing her hands in the air. “We’re a team. We can’t be fighting or holding grudges. Now let’s discuss strategy. What shall we ask the sponsors for?”
Finnick and Haymitch discuss what will be needed and I settle into my chair to watch. The rain continues in the arena and I don’t foresee anyone going anywhere for a while.
Annie leans over to me and says two words so quietly I almost miss them. But they carry more weight than any two words I’ve ever heard in my life. And my worry and fear increases the more I think of them and what they mean.
All she says is, “It’s real.”
My heart plummets into my stomach. She’s going to have to kill him. Or he will kill her. Or Bas could kill him. There’s no way around it. There’s only one Victor. There will only be one Victor.
This alliance needs to end, but I can’t end it. We all need each other right now. And when we don’t, I’ll have to end it. I’ll have to send something to Ivy, something to warn her. And she can get away. That’s the only thing I can do. That’s what I’ll have to do. I have no other choice.
I only hope Peeta understands when I tell him. Because he’s the only one I can tell. And I hope Ivy understands when I send the message. That she isn’t afraid to do what she has to do and I know she will do what she has to. She will survive. She will make sure Bas survives. And then her plan hits me all at once.
She will survive until she makes sure Bas does. Then she won’t survive any longer. There can only be one Victor. And she’s decided who that Victor will be. And maybe it’s the right choice for her but it isn’t for me. There is no choice to make. Because I can’t choose. And no matter which one walks out a hole will shatter within me and it will never go away.
There can only be one Victor. And I will have to face whoever that lone survivor is. And I will have to comfort them. And when my guilt becomes theirs I will have to take that guilt away. They can’t blame themselves. They can’t. I won’t allow it. They can’t become me. They have to be better than me. Stronger than me. And they will be. I’ll make sure. Peeta will make sure.
But until that happens I have to prepare myself for the loss I know is coming. Even if there is no way to prepare for it. I watch the man from Ten. He stares vacantly at the wall in front of him. There’s no screen for him to watch anymore, no hope for him to carry. His escort tries to talk to him but he largely ignores the woman with green skin. He finally meets my eyes and the pain is indescribable. There’s nothing left inside but a broken shell of a person. And I’m terrified I’ll end up like him. And I won’t need morphling or liquor to disappear. And I will become my mother, but this time I’ll understand her.