The 100th Games

The Arena: Homesick

Ivy –

It feels like hours by the time we get out of the tall grass and find our way into the open field. The sun is setting as we push ourselves into the woods. We’re exhausted and I can feel the cold starting to set into me. I rub my hands along my arms, trying to warm them up. And I remember my jacket, gone with Grover, and I should have taken it back. The arena is no place for mourning and no place to be sentimental.

But I am mourning and I am sentimental. I turn the pin inside the pocket of my pants to remind myself that it’s there. The chill runs up my spine and my breath clouds in the air. We come to a stop, we can’t go on anymore.

It’s safe to light a fire, or safer than it was before. Cain and Victoria are probably still recovering from the jabberjays and reuniting with Emery. At least, that’s what I hope. We set the brush silently and I get to work lighting it. It sparks and burns easily, the warmth seeping into my skin as wood is added, but it’s not enough. And we need something to eat.

Beck keeps watch as I leave the camp in search of game. We haven’t spoken since the jabberjays. I don’t know what to say and neither does he. I heard some of his fears, he heard mine, there’s not much we can offer the other, not without talking about things we can’t tell the people of Panem.

I see a rabbit and load my bow. I fire, the arrow misses and I curse under my breath as the rabbit hops away. The sun continues to fade and darkness sweeps over the woods. I feel lightheaded and exhausted, but we need something to eat and we need it fast. I won’t be able to find anything in the dark and it isn’t safe for me to do so either. I retrieve the arrow and keep going, careful to make sure I can still see the light of our fire. I don’t want to be out here on my own if something attacks, or leave Beck behind if something comes for him. Or someone, it could be a someone too, I remind myself.

I find the rabbit and fire once more, the cut on my forearm starts bleeding again as the arrow finds its mark. I breathe a sigh of relief and pick up my kill. It’s not enough to keep both of us full, but it’s better than nothing.

It’s dark as I find my way back to camp, my arm stinging from the cut and the cold. I shiver, my breath misting in the air, my exposed skin growing numb. I step on a stick when I walk into camp. Beck turns quickly, trident raised. He lowers it when he sees me in the light.

“You should have called out, I could have…” He looks away, turning back to glance around for any other signs of intruders.

“Sorry.” I carry the rabbit towards the fire and get to work cleaning it. I’m not the best when it comes to cleaning food, especially food that I’ve caught. Bas was always better with a knife than me. Usually I just handed anything I caught over to him and he would take care of the rest, I always end up leaving some fur or skin behind and then it burns. I take my time with the rabbit, making sure I get everything, I don’t want to look like a failure in the arena.

“You should wrap that,” Beck says, indicating my arm.

“I will. We need to eat first.”

“I don’t really want your blood all over my food,” he says quietly. It’s a joke but its flat, broken. And when I meet his eyes the light is gone. There’s a concern he’s attempting to mask underneath the practiced even tone, but for all his practice and perfection, it’s gone now. Gone just like Grover.

He wants to help me. I have to let him help me. He needs it. And my arm does hurt and it would be difficult for me to wrap it myself. I nod, forgetting the rabbit for a moment as he produces some cloth from his pocket.

“Where’d you get that?” I ask, it’s the color of our shirts but there’s no pieces missing from either one of ours.

“When I took out the arrows, I cut some…I didn’t take any of the blood,” he scrunches his nose, that didn’t come out right. And I can tell what he means. He took the cloth from Stone. I recall the words he said when he showed me Trina and Augusts’ canteens. ‘They weren’t using them.’ And at the time it was cold, it was survival at any cost, and I understand it more now. We take what we need from those that don’t, because it’s how we get through this. And there’s no more room for regret, for remorse, not when we won’t be shown any.

And I know the time is soon coming when we’ll have to split up, when it’ll be me against him, and I’ll have to take what I need from him to survive. Will I be able to put away the remorse then? Will I be able to live without regret of it?

I move closer to the fire, the numbness leaving me as a piece of wood cracks and sparks. Beck is slow as he sits beside me, taking my arm into his hands.

I can’t watch him as he pours some water on my wound, cleaning it. It stings and I flinch. He wraps my arm, careful not to touch the cut or cause me any more pain. He’s gentle, his breathing quiet, calm, even as his fingers work to keep the cloth in place.

“It’s not too deep. That’s good,” he mumbles.

And then we’re quiet, the only sound the fire and the slight breeze rustling the trees and the leaves on the ground. I do my best to avoid looking at Beck as he works but I can feel him watching me, checking for a sign of pain and I can’t help but look at him.

He finishes by tying a small knot and brushes his thumb over the bandage. “Done.”

“Thanks.”

He holds my gaze and we’re quiet again. It was easy to talk to each other before, to fill this silence, but now, after Grover, after we’ve been brought right back into the horror of these games there’s nothing more to say. But I can’t take the silence, I have to break it. “You’re good at that.”

He shrugs, moving to sit beside me near the fire, the moment over. “I’ve had my fair share of cuts and bruises over the years. And my mother is really good at taking care of them. So I learned from the best.”

“My mom’s pretty good at it too. She doesn’t think she is, mostly because my aunt is, but she is. At least with me.” I smile, remembering times when I was learning to shoot and had cut hands from the bow string and bruised knees from playing at school. And she never said much but she took care of them and I was on my way.

My father liked to distract me whenever I was hurt, but his worried eyes usually made me feel like it was worse than it was. My mother just fixed me up in the best way she could and that was it. No talking, no distraction, just stopping the hurt and letting me go.

And I think of the nights I heard her scream in terror, of when my father wouldn’t sleep and I could hear him downstairs hard at work painting something he would never show me. And I’ve seen death and destruction and I’ve killed just like they have. And I know the nightmares that haunt them, know what it’s like to see the things that they’ve seen. And now I’m just like them.

“I never wanted to know what it was like,” I mutter, my voice small, like the thought is escaping me and Beck’s eyes find mine.

“What?”

I indicate everything around us. The fake sky, the trees, the arena. “This. I never wanted to understand them.”

He nods, turning back to look at the ground before half whispering, half mumbling, “Me neither.”

I stare at the fire, watching the flames lick at dark wood, destroying brush and dead leaves, ash left in its wake. Shadows dance across Beck’s face, his mind far away, lost in his own thoughts.

“What was it like?” Beck asks, dredging himself from whatever memory he’s in. “You know, with the cameras, and your family.” And I wonder if some small part of him is imagining life if Finnick were named his father. Wondering what it would be like if he had grown up being the progeny of a famous victor, famous just for his name, the nation knowing it just as much as they know mine. And in a way the country does know his name, knows his mothers, but it’s not the same as what it could have been. He could have had the interviews every year, the fans that watch him, the whispers, a nickname like mine.

I wonder if he’s glad Panem thinks of him as just a fatherless child with a crazed victor mother.

I shrug. “It just…was.” And I know it’s not much of an answer but I don’t really have one to give. Beck watches me, awaiting a more specific response.

I sigh, “You get used to the cameras. You don’t get used to people recognizing you. I mean, I haven’t. I guess you could get used to it. I don’t think I could. But, I never left twelve before now, and they all know my name. I’m not used to it.” I shake my head, I’m rambling.

“But the cameras, they’re not always there. And then it’s just us. My brother and I, you know we go to school. My dad has the bakery, sometimes we help. My mother, she does what she does.” I smile, I can’t exactly say she hunts, but it’s not a big secret. “Typical family stuff. They try to keep us grounded, don’t want our heads to get too big.”

I smile; playing it off, the glory of the Capitol has given me and my family this life. I have to be grateful for it, love the cameras, love the fame, love the Capitol, that’s who I have to be. The Princess of Panem.

I hate that nickname but it’s one I have to live with.

I can’t tell the truth. I can’t say all the other stuff, the things I hate, the truth. My parents are still in the Capitol and President Snow is watching, always watching. I can’t make them pay for what I say and I’m sure it’ll happen. I know it will. I’ve seen the attack in Twelve when even the symbol for the mockingjay reappeared. I can’t tell the truth now. I can’t say how much the games cost, what the Capitol takes, not when they can harm the family I love.

They could even take it out on Bas while we are in here, and we both said we didn’t care long ago in training, we both said what’s the worst they could do. But they’re doing it, they’re keeping us apart and I can feel it just as surely as I can feel the cold.

And I need to find my brother.

“I used to watch them you know,” he adds after a long silence.

“What?”

“Your interviews. I watched them every time they aired, even when they re-aired them.”

“Why?” I ask and my voice is barely above a whisper.

He watches the ground, avoiding my gaze as he opens and closes his mouth trying to form an answer. It’s the first time I’ve seen him genuinely nervous, or at least the first time I’m sure he’s nervous. And there’s a flutter in my heart and stomach and I’m nervous too.

And I wonder if the people watching are enjoying this.

He clears his throat and his voice evens out, steady, purposeful, “Was it difficult, having your parents away every year?”

The moment’s over, I shrug, putting on the princess mask all over again, “You get used to it, like everything else. I mean I don’t think it’s fair to expect my parents not to enjoy their fame. And it’s not like we were alone, there’s my aunt, my grandmother, my uncles, Haymitch and Effie. Although they usually go with my parents but Haymitch is around during the year too. He’s family. I imagine when you’re a victor you’re close with the others from your district.”

A part of me hates how easy it is to pretend, how calmly I can say they enjoy their fame when I know the truth.

He nods. “One of my mother’s mentors, Mags, she was kind of like a grandmother to me. She used to teach me how to make fish hooks and then we would go to the beach. Sometimes my mom would come but whenever she wasn’t feeling well, it was me and Mags. Until she died.”

“I’m sorry.”

He sucks in a breath staving off whatever emotion is creeping up on him and his voice wavers when he speaks, “But you must have gotten lonely.”

“I had Bas. And sometimes I like being alone.”

He throws a stick into the fire and it sparks up. And there’s another question I want to ask, but I know I can’t. I want to know more about his life with his family, about what it was like for him to grow up with Finnick. But I have to be tactful about it. And it’s a dangerous game this conversation, and I can’t sow seeds I shouldn’t sow, but there’s a part of me that has to know, that has to ask.

“Finnick was your mother’s mentor too, right?” I ask and the wording comes effortlessly to me. Beck straightens involuntarily at the mention of Finnick but he pulls himself together, controlling his movements like he controls everything else. His eyes find mine and he plays the game with me.

“He was. The great Finnick Odair. He got my mother through the games. I guess I kind of owe him my life, which I expect to pay back with a victory.” He smirks and it’s a smirk fit for a victor, it’s the smirk that’s going to earn him the love of the Capitol if he wins.

Hell, it’s probably earned him that love now. And I remember a stranger’s hands on my arm, a Capitol accent and the uneasy feeling that came with it. They’ll take and take from Beck if he wins, they’ll take until there’s nothing left. Just like his father. And I know the stories, I’ve heard the whispers from my mother and father, from Haymitch when he was drunk and didn’t realize the stories he was telling. And it’ll happen to Beck, it’ll happen to me if I win.

Maybe it’s better if we both die in here.

“You’re not gonna win, though you’ll put in a good effort,” I remark, trying to tease him but inside I’m twisted up at the memories of screaming Capitol citizens staring and leering, their faces hungry and vicious. I clear my throat, “What was that like though, seeing him, growing up around him?”

He shrugs and his voice remains that steady aloofness he’s perfected, “He used to take me sailing, showed me how to tie the best knots, throw a trident, which I don’t think he was supposed to do but who cares,” he continues and his voice falls, the tone changes, and he’s lost in memory. And in being lost he’s not the Career, he’s the boy from Four who had a loving family he can’t talk about, “he took me to the beach a few times too.”

And then he pulls it back again, swallowing hard as he says, “But sometimes I think he just liked to hang around the son of the Mad Girl from Four to make himself look better to his…companions.”

There’s a hardness in Beck’s eyes that sells the words and he can’t mean them, I know he can’t mean them, but he’s so convincing. And I know he has to be. Just as I have to be and he’s asking me to continue the game, to sell the moment too. So I swallow down my own rising emotions and shrug.

“I wouldn’t put it past him.”

“Me neither.” He lets out a breathy, forced laugh and I wish I could fix all of this, everything, make it as it should be.

“What was your mother like?” I ask. “I mean I know she was good at patching up wounds and she told you to count the stars but what else?”

“Why do you care?” His words are biting and harsher than I feel they need to be.

“I’m just curious.”

“Don’t be.” He stands then and he’s angry, annoyed and the fire makes his shadow loom over the ground.

“You were curious about my family.”

“My mother is not for you or for anyone to ridicule.” And he’s losing it and he needs to pull himself back together, he can’t lose it in here, not when we need to survive, not when our families are still in the Capitol and in harms way.

“I’m not. I wouldn’t. Do you really think I would do that?” I ask and I’m genuinely hurt. “Is that what you were doing when you asked about my mother?”

“No. I just wanted to know about…I just…you didn’t know if she cared.”

“And I know your mother cares, that’s not why I’m asking, I just want to know…”

“About the mad victor from Four and her bastard son?”

I shake my head and I’m standing too, I put my hand on his arm and he stops pacing. “I’m sorry I asked. I didn’t intend to make it seem like…I’m sorry.”

He softens and I drop my hand. “I’m sorry,” he responds. “Sometimes I can’t tell.”

I nod, “Well you should get better at it.”

The smirk returns but fades, “I heard her voice in the jabberjays.”

“I heard my mother too. It’s been a hard day.”

And then I remember Johanna and how she’s still in the Capitol and how she had to watch Grover drown.

Beck seems to figure out what I’m thinking because he stares at his hands and they twist around each other, “For Johanna most of all.”

“There was nothing you could have done.” My hand finds his shoulder, the bandage almost staring at me as Beck refuses to look up. I catch sight of the shell necklace, half hidden beneath his shirt. “Did your mother make that?”

He follows what I’m indicating and fights a smile. He sucks in a breath, “She said it was how we always stay together. No matter how far we are.” Then he adds, almost too quiet for me to hear, “I want to go home.”

I stare at the fire for a long time before I nod. His hand finds mine still resting on his shoulder and he leans into the touch. And I should pull away, I should end this, but I need it just as much as he does right now.

I turn the mockingjay pin in my other hand and I want to go home. I want to be back in my room, back in my woods, back in Twelve.

We hear the sound of the parachute and look up. It drifts before landing in front of our feet. Beck picks it up and opens it. And my hand feels colder without his holding it but I try my best to ignore the fleeting feeling.

He stares at the contents, his eyes watering, on the verge of tears, and in the light of the fire they look like glass about to break.

“What is it?” I ask.

“A compass,” he says, his voice cracking on the last syllable. He removes the piece from inside the parachute. It’s gold, just like my pin, but it’s weathered, the chain eroded and bronzed. He points it around, finding north and he smiles. “Mags,” he forces out, and I know he means Finnick, before he continues, “She said it was the only way to find home, that no matter where I was, it would lead me where I needed to go.” He clutches the compass to his chest. He looks up to the night sky, grateful to whoever sent it. I wonder if it means more, especially after the words he said about his father. I wonder if it means Finnick knows Beck didn’t mean them.

I notice a small vial fall out of the parachute. “There’s something else.” I grab the vial, holding it to the light of the fire. “Water?”

I open it and smell it, it’s not medicine, but why so small an amount. I take a taste, just one drop and the salt hits me. I spit it out. “Salt water. Why would they send us salt water?”

Beck shrugs, then takes a second look at the compass. “Find my way home.”

“What?”

“Maybe the compass wasn’t just for me.”

I think. Why salt water? Why that little piece of a larger puzzle and surely Haymitch sent that. But then it has to be a message. There has to be a reason. “Salt water. What’s made of salt water in the arena?”

“The lake.”

“And the river.” I perk up, my mind turning, the message getting clearer the more I think about it. “And where would Bas hide out? Not by the lake. But where he could know which direction he was going and still be safe.”

“It runs through the center of the arena, you’d have to pass it eventually regardless of where you were.”

“He’s by the river.”

“That’s miles though.”

“But it’s better than what we were doing which is searching blindly.”

Beck nods. “Then tomorrow we head for the river, we’ll go up stream then downstream until we find him.”

I breathe a sigh of relief and my stomach growls. “But first we eat.” I turn back towards the forgotten rabbit.

“Yes, that would be great,” Beck says, his voice lighter. He picks up his trident and patrols the area as I finish cooking the rabbit.

“Bas hates rabbit,” I add quietly, remembering his scowling face whenever we had rabbit for dinner. I have to stop myself from laughing.

“Then good thing this one’s for us.”

And I can’t help but smile even though we’ve both just been through Hell. I have hope. I have a plan. I have a place where I’m likely to find my brother.

And then the anthem starts and the sky shows us the faces of the dead. Stone’s face is the first and I stare hard at it. Minnow’s face follows and Beck clutches the compass tighter, his knuckles turning white. Grover’s face appears and I can’t look. I have to close my eyes. And I don’t care if it makes me look weak, not in this moment. Not when I remember his glasses on the ground, his pale face, and the last smile I ever saw on him.

When it’s over I open my eyes and turn to Beck. He looks shaken, the color gone from his cheeks but he holds it together, turning the compass in his hand.

“I’m sorry about Minnow,” I say.

He pulls the mask on in what feels like an eternity of silence before finally saying in a hard voice, “She made her choice.” Then, he resumes his patrol and I resume cooking the rabbit.

We eat and it’s not much but it’s enough to keep us going. I take the first watch. I don’t plan on sleeping tonight. Not after what I heard from the jabberjays, not when I know what nightmares will come from that and I’m not sure Beck does either, but he tries.

I sit against a tree, my eyes glancing around as the stars shine above us and the fire dies down. It’s easier to see in the dark, even though it’s cold. It’s a down side I’ll have to deal with, a down side I’m worried is going to get worse without my jacket.

I wonder what the Capitol must be thinking now that we’ve killed Stone, we’ve taken out a Career. I wonder if they’re clamoring to sponsor us now. Although, if they were I’m sure we’d have been sent a meal instead of having to find our own rabbit.

But maybe our families are working on it, maybe food isn’t the priority. I can hunt after all.

There’s nothing for me to do but stare at the sky and I’m growing tired, but my watch hasn’t ended yet. I shift in my seat, my legs falling asleep. I keep playing with the pin in my hand, my bow beside me, ready to be picked up at a moment’s notice. I braid and rebraid my hair, but even that gets boring. And then I just sit and stare again, fighting off sleep.

I remember the few times I’ve ever heard my mother sing. And they’re rare occasions, one’s in which we’re all alone in the woods and there’s no one but the mockingjays to hear. And me, but I don’t think she cares that I’m there at that point.

She’s never sung directly to me, at least, not that I can remember. But I do remember the mockingjays getting quiet when she sang. Some of them copying, some just listening. And I remember wishing she would sing more often, even if it was never to me.

Sometimes I imagine her singing to me whenever I can’t sleep. In the times when she wakes and checks on me in my room, I imagine she sings me to sleep. And it works almost every time. And I drift off feeling at peace.

I only wish it were real.

The songs are real though. And it’s too quiet right now and I’m about to fall asleep, I have to stay awake.

So I do the only thing that’ll keep me awake. I start to sing.

“Are you, are you, coming to the tree? They strung up a man they say who murdered three. Strange things did happen here, no stranger would it be, if we met at midnight in the hanging tree.”

The night goes on and I watch the stars as I keep singing all the way through to the end of the song.

And then I fall silent.

“That’s a sad song,” Beck says from where he lies on the ground. I jump at his voice then settle back down.

“I’m sorry I didn’t mean to wake you,” I tell him.

“You didn’t. What’s the song called?”

“The hanging tree.” I can’t bring myself to look at him, and to be honest, I’m kind of embarrassed. I’m not the best singer.

“So the man dies? And his love, does she escape?” He asks.

“I don’t know.”

“Why?”

“I never asked my mom when she sang it.”

“It’s sad,” Beck repeats.

“It depends on how you look at it.” And now I risk a glance at him. He’s staring at me and there’s something in the way he looks, something that’s struck a chord in him and I can’t explain what I’m seeing, just that it’s something new. And I don’t look away from him.

I’m briefly taken aback before I continue, “I like to think of it as a love song. He loves this person so much that they have this tree devoted to them. And maybe he’s dead, maybe he isn’t, but she can visit him. They have a place.”

“I don’t know how you can look at it like that.”

“How do you look at it?” I ask.

“Maybe death isn’t the worst thing to happen to two people,” his voice is dark and solemn before he perks up, “But I wouldn’t know I’ve only heard it once.”

He smirks and his eyes find mine, and he’s half sitting now, his shoulder half shrugging.

“Do you want me to sing it again?” I ask and I’m almost amused by it.

He lies back down, “If you feel like you have to.”

“I think maybe I should sleep, or try to. It’s your turn for watch,” I lie down, a smile crawling its way across my face. I hear Beck sigh as he sits up.

“Fine, Twelve, but you owe me a song.”

“And you owe me a meal, Four,” I grumble as I turn my back to him, rubbing my arms to keep the cold away.

“Do you like fish? I can fish.”

“If you can find fish, I’ll eat it.”

“Then I’ll check the river when we get there.” I can hear him pacing around, twirling the trident in one hand, playing with the compass in the other.

“Sounds like a plan,” I say, closing my eyes, and I feel very tired even when I thought I wasn’t. I can feel the exhaustion, the weight of sleep pressing on me. And it comes easily even as Beck moves around me.

Then something with weight but not heavy enough to be threatening is placed onto me. I can feel the lining and the warmth spreading through me. I don’t open my eyes, too tired to even try but I know it’s his jacket. And I worry he’s going to get cold but I feel the heaviness of sleep stopping me from arguing.

“Goodnight, Ivy,” Beck says quietly, barely above a whisper and I drift off to a dreamless and warm sleep.

Bas –

The anthem finishes as I huddle into my jacket. I didn’t want to risk lighting a fire so far away from cover and in the dark it burns all the brighter. We can’t be sure who’s around, who might try to kill us, though Callie might be about to kill me in a few seconds.

She stares at me, she’s pissed, and has been since the mutt fell off the side of the cliff.

“I’m sor—“

“I don’t want to hear it,” she says in a huff. “You could’ve gotten me killed.”

“But I didn’t,” I try and I shake my head, that was rude, “I really am sorry. It was the only way to make it keep charging. I should have told you but everything was happening so fast and I didn’t want to risk you running for it. It could have chased after you. I’m sorry.”

She nods, mulling over my words and even in the dark I can see the creases on her forehead as she thinks. Eventually she relaxes, “It’s okay, we’re still alive, that’s what matters I guess.”

I let out a breath. “You’ve been on your own this whole time?”

She shakes her head, “Teddy went to find food before I saw you. We have a plan if we get separated, so…we’ll go find him in the morning.”

“You and Teddy are friends?”

She shrugs, “We’re kind of the only two kids of Victors in our district, well who are still alive, so we stick together, you have to.”

“You don’t have any other friends?”

“No. It’s just…they don’t…they look at you differently, because you are different.”

I stare at the ground, she isn’t wrong. It’s not that I don’t talk to other kids in school, not that I don’t hang out with them on occasion, I have friends. But they don’t understand what it means to be a child of a Victor. They look at you and they see your parents’ accomplishments, the wealth they’ve earned, they don’t understand the cost. They say you’re lucky to be who you are, and I don’t know how true that is, but I know I wouldn’t trade my family for the world. I wouldn’t trade them to win these Games.

“Yeah, I guess growing up in front of cameras does tend to alienate you.”

“Well I wouldn’t know anything about that,” Callie says, “but I can see how it might make things a little more…difficult.”

“They like to make comparisons, don’t they?” I ask. “At least that what it’s always seemed like.”

Callie nods, “They love to decide who you’re more like, everyone does.”

“Did you know Ivy can draw? No one ever asks about that, and she doesn’t think she’s very good, but she can draw. I can paint, I’ve spent more time on it, but she’s not bad. And I can shoot an arrow, I can hit a target, I’m just not as good as her.” I don’t know why I’m saying all these things, why it matters that I say them, but it’s all spilling out, all the things no one ever sees or knows.

“So why didn’t you want a bow in here?” She asks. “Or were you not fast enough to grab one.”

“You really think I’d go for it, it was in the middle of the cornucopia, bad plan.” I’m joking but I know one person who would go for it, my sister, she would have taken the risk. I know she’s still alive. I’m constantly thanking my lucky stars that she’s still alive. But I don’t know for how much longer, Hell, I don’t know how much longer I’ll be alive.

I don’t even know if I’ll see her again, though I keep searching, and I keep sticking to the river. The very river that I need to get back to once the sun rises.

“Then what’s your point, you can shoot an arrow, she can draw. Good for you both, doesn’t change the fact that you’re in here.”

I shrug, “I’m just saying, we aren’t the sum of one of our parents, we’re different things, different skills, we’re our own people.”

“I never really knew my dad, he was the victor, and my mom, she died shortly after I was born. Dad kind of just left. So I was on my own, I never really wanted to be like either one of them. But Teddy, his mother, she won, and she’s…kind, so kind, and gentle despite everything. And his father, he does everything he can to take care of her when she needs it. Teddy, he’s a good person, his family is good. They’re kind of my family too I guess. He’s strong, but I don’t think he’s going to get to go home.” She takes a deep breath and it makes her shudder, “I never wanted to be like my dad and here I am in an arena just like him. Only I don’t think I’m going home either.”

“Don’t say that, you don’t know…”

“I do. Because if your sister is anything like your mother or your father, even so much as a fraction, and we both know she is, she’s going to make sure you get to go home.”

“I don’t want her to,” I admit.

“We don’t always get what we want. Case in point,” Callie says indicating the arena around us.

And we’re talking too openly about this but I want the world to hear it, I want the Capitol to hear it, I want my parents to hear it. I want them to fight, I want them to make everyone stand up and listen. I don’t want to live under the threat of cameras, under the weight of the Capitol, holding up their ideals with words that I don’t believe.

I want to be free from all of this.

I’ve always hated the cameras, the way that I had to force a smile or try to pretend and I was terrible at faking it. There’s a reason everyone flocks to Ivy, she’s a better speaker, a great actress, and they all buy whatever she says. There’s a reason they call her the Princess of Panem and I am just my mother’s son. I don’t get a nickname for the Capitol to fawn over. I don’t get adoration and Caesar’s attention whenever the cameras come to town.

And I’m glad that I don’t, but sometimes I wish I could have that attention. That I could take it away from my sister, who doesn’t let it show how much she hates the prying eyes, the adoration, the fawning.

And even more so I wish I could change it, say something to relight that fire my parents tried to put out. And I did it once, I painted it once, and it ended badly. It ended in death and Twelve being held under even more weight.

But I don’t regret it. I’d be lying if I said I did. I regret what the response was, I regret that my sister almost joined the dead. But I showed them something, I had to make them believe it, that the mockingjay never went away, and that she can come back. I hope she can come back.

I still believe in my mother. I still believe that things can get better. I have to.

I have to make them see it.

And it starts in here. It starts where they have to listen, where they have to see me.

“Do you ever wonder what would have happened if your dad hadn’t won his Games?” I ask.

“I wouldn’t be in the arena right now. Or maybe I’d be dead already from another one, I don’t really know. Do you?”

I nod. “Sometimes. But it’s more I wonder what it would be like to not have people know my name. And then I imagine that this quell doesn’t exist and that I don’t exist, and…”

“What?”

I shake my head, “Nothing.” I can’t say the last part, I can’t go that far, I can’t talk about no games, or even being so bold as to talk about President Snow. I know even if there’s nothing worse that can happen to me, other than dying in an arena, I don’t want Ivy to suffer, I don’t want my parents to suffer.

I clear my throat, “We need to find my sister.”

“We need to find Teddy.”

“And then?”

“I’ll talk to him, but he might not want to risk it. The arena, it’s easy to get lost in.”

“I know that, better than most.” And I remember running at the cornucopia and for a moment I thought I saw Ivy, I thought I could make it to her, but one of the Careers spotted me, the large brute, Cain I think, and I had to run.

Thankfully, he didn’t follow.

But I don’t know for how long that’s going to keep up, because eventually I’m sure our paths will cross. And I can’t be sure of the outcome.

“But, I don’t see why we can’t try.” Callie smiles in sympathy and I feel a little hopeful even though I know I shouldn’t. It’s a long shot, finding Ivy again, or maybe it isn’t, there has to be some point where we will be near each other, there are only so many places we can go.

At least that’s what I tell myself to keep my spirits up, but it’s getting more difficult to do as the days wear on and more tributes die.

“So allies then?” I ask, holding out my hand.

She rolls her eyes but takes my hand and shakes it, “Allies.”

For how long? I wonder but I don’t say it aloud.

I don’t sleep. And every time I close my eyes I picture the house back in the Victor’s Village. I hear Haymitch stumbling around outside, coming over to eat when my father forces him. I hear Effie annoyed and trying to get our family together for the chaos of interview day.

I miss Ivy. I miss her watching out for me even when I didn’t want her to. I miss her smile. I miss her laughter. I even miss our fights and arguments. I miss my sister. I miss my family.

I miss home.

And as I look at Callie, her hands ripping up grass, her jacket pulled tight around her, I suppose she must miss home too. I guess we all do, which is why everyone is fighting so hard to get back to it.

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