The Arena: Flight of the Mockingjay
It starts as planned.
The Peacekeepers are being dispatched to the training center as part of President Snow’s reaction to his Victors going missing. We blend in to the incoming units, sticking together, following orders, and no one questions us.
Haymitch and Beetee disappear to deal with the power and the hovercraft. At least, I think it’s them. We all look the same, it’s hard to tell. The rest of us stay with the Peacekeepers. It starts out almost too easy. And I think this is working. I think we have a chance. I have hope.
We stay in line. We don’t say a word. It’s going well. It’s going to be okay. We’re going to rescue her. I’m going to see my daughter again.
And then we’re stopped by a large Peacekeeper with his helmet off. He has a hooked nose and a beard. He surveys the units. He’s in charge, he’s making the orders, and he’s dividing up the reinforcements. He points and sends each person to their post and to their new assignment. I step forward in line, praying I’m with the others, praying we aren’t split apart. He reaches me and shoves me to the left. Peeta was next to me, he’s not anymore. No one is. I’m the last to join this group.
“Head up to the trading floor and keep the mentors in line. It’ll be over soon.”
I freeze. What does he mean? It can’t be almost over. What’s happening in that arena? I need to know. I have to stop myself from running as a hand pushes me forward, keeping me with the unit.
Under the synchronized marching of boots a voice whispers, “Don’t draw attention to yourself.”
“Johanna?” I question.
She shushes me, sticking beside me as we march on. I want to ask about Peeta. I want to know if she saw him or if she can even tell which one he is, but I can’t. I have to be quiet. I have to stick with the plan as best I can. There’s no turning back even if one of us gets lost or left behind.
We have to get to Ivy. Whatever it takes, I have to save her. I have to undo what I’ve done. I trained her for these Games and it’s my fault she’s in them. It’s my fault I played the part. It’s my fault she’s losing herself in the arena. And I know what it’s like to lose yourself both to the ghosts of the Games and to the image of a Victor. I have to salvage whatever’s left of her and bring her back. I can’t lose her too. I can’t let it happen.
She has to know I love her. She has to know for sure. I can’t let it go unsaid anymore and I hate that I let it happen. I hate all the things I never said to Bas, all the memories I never shared with him and yet he never questioned it of me. And I regret that I couldn’t show Ivy that same absolution. And she said she’s seen it, she said she knows, but she can’t until I tell her.
I owe her a better life, whatever life she can have after this. I owe her so much more than I’ve given.
I used to think I would be better than my mother, that I wouldn’t do what she did to me, that I wouldn’t disappear on my children. And maybe I didn’t disappear but I wasn’t myself. I wasn’t who they needed. Maybe that’s worse. Maybe it’s the same.
I never let them starve. Even at my absolute worst, even when I couldn’t get out of bed, I never let them starve. And maybe that’s better than my mother. Maybe I am better, but not by much. And I can’t live with that.
We keep traveling down the hallway and I know we’ll be at the elevator soon. And I know it’s only a glimpse, I know it’s temporary, but I need to see her. I need to know she’s still alive.
“Keep up,” Someone shouts behind me and then it’s followed by, “Move!”
I can see the elevator. I can keep going. I can see her before the power shuts off, before I take the chance to escape.
“What are y--”
I hear a commotion, more shouting mixed in with the sound of someone being beaten, and I turn. It’s Wiress. Her hands are twisted around themselves, her face bleeding where she was hit as the Peacekeeper who beat her stands with his baton raised, ready to deliver another blow.
“They’re here! They’re wearing uniforms!”
Wiress looks at me and she looks through the helmet as if she can see right to my eyes. And I can see that she knows it’s me. I try to get to her, to stop what I know is about to happen, but Johanna pushes me back as she raises her gun.
“Shut it dow--”
The final blow is delivered and Wiress’ face is frozen in her last words. A gunshot rings out and the Peacekeeper falls beside Wiress. Johanna removes her helmet, throwing it to the side as she grabs me and we start running.
“Helmets off!” The Captain orders but no order to shoot follows and no gun shots threaten me.
“Snow wants her alive!” Is the final order I hear as I throw my helmet off and we turn down another hallway. We slide as I hear more boots and we turn. I can see another elevator but we don’t take it. We can’t go up. We can only keep running.
The alarms start to sound through the building, mixing with the shouts of Peacekeepers as they march towards us. We’re trapped, or about to be, there are only so many hallways for us to run down.
And I thought I had hope, I thought I could have hope. Hope is wasted here.
We hear more boots and Johanna pulls me through a steel door. And I know this door. It haunts my dreams with its silence. It’s the door I was never allowed to go through, the invitation I never received, the goodbye’s I could never give. The dead door.
I can see my breath in the air as Johanna shuts the door behind us. And then the power goes out.
Even in the darkness, I slam my eyes shut. I’m afraid to look. I’m afraid to see what I know I’ll see. It’s too cold here. It’s freezing. I can feel my skin start to numb the longer I stand still.
I keep my eyes closed as the emergency lights turn on and there’s a dim red glow against my eyelids. But I can’t open them. I can’t see what I don’t want to. I can’t face it.
I can hear the Peacekeepers outside the door and there’s no way out. I don’t know what President Snow will do to us. I don’t know what horrors he could possibly come up with but I know they’ll be nothing good.
And my thoughts are on Ivy, on her still in the arena, and I can only hope Peeta will get to her. I can only hope one day she’ll forgive me for all I’ve done, even if I’m not there to apologize and tell her myself.
I finally open my eyes to stare at the steel door. Johanna’s Peacekeeper baton is jammed in the handle, stopping the door from opening. It shakes and rattles as our pursuers try to pry their way in. It won’t be long before they succeed.
“He looks so small,” Johanna says in a low, wavering voice. And I don’t want to look. I don’t want to see them. I don’t want to see him. But this is the only time I’ll ever get to see him, the last time I’ll get to say goodbye. I won’t get to bury him in Twelve, I realize that now. He’ll be stuck here. He deserves a goodbye. He deserved so much more than what he got. He deserved a mother who would have fought for him, who wouldn’t have let him go into that arena. I have to make up for some of that. If the Capitol takes me, if President Snow gets me, I’ll never have the chance.
Another chill runs through my bones as I take a breath and turn, trying to stay strong, trying to keep my face stoic. The tributes are placed in order by District, just like everything is done in the Games. I pass Stone, his wounds have been fixed and all the imperfections from survival erased. He’s dressed in a white suit, prepared like a doll. That’s how they like it when they bury the dead from the Games. Clean, honorable, and made up just like the chariots. It’s all a lie, a façade, all of it. And there’s no escape, even in death.
I stop beside Victoria and I can’t help but look at her. Ivy killed her. That’s what Beetee had said and he had looked solemn, he didn’t want to tell me, but I can see it. Whoever cleans the bodies hasn’t gotten to her yet. Her wounds are still clear and on display. It was violent, it was angry, and a part of me doesn’t want to believe Ivy did this, but I know she did. I know she’s capable of it. The same rage flows through her veins as it does mine. It’s my rage, my fire that she got. And Bas had it too, but it wasn’t enough to save him. And judging by the tears in Victoria’s flesh and the amount of blood on her clothing that fire won’t be enough to save Ivy either, if anything it’ll destroy her.
Ivy and Beck killed Stone to survive and they did it together. Ivy killed Victoria alone. And as I stand between the two bodies I can see the difference. I can see the marks of survival and the marks of vengeance. And I don’t know if I would have acted the same. I don’t know if I could. Even worse I don’t know if bringing Ivy back from this is possible.
My eyes fall on Johanna as she stands over Grover. She’s right, he does look small. And for all her hardened edges, for all the bitterness and loud anger, she’s quiet, her eyes staring at the boy lying in front of her. He’s pale, his glasses foggy from the cold and he’s been fixed up too. He’s been turned into a lie. Johanna’s eyes soften the longer she looks at him, like she’s lost in a memory. And she sees past the lie, she sees the boy that was, not the boy they created.
“I was his mother’s mentor, she was in…it was bad when she came back. She had to go to the Capitol a lot, they liked her.” Johanna watches Grover, as if hoping that by mentioning his mother it’ll bring him back, but he doesn’t move. “And then one month she didn’t have to go and a couple months later he was born and she was…I thought she was getting better, I tried to…I watched out for him. And her. I tried.”
Her hands are tentative, slow and caring as she removes the glasses, folding them and placing them at Grover’s side. Her other hand finds his hair and stays there, her palm pressed to his forehead, fingers brushing his locks.
“I tried. I should have tried harder,” her voice cracks and I don’t know whether I should say something, I don’t know what to say. My loss is as fresh as hers. There is nothing to say.
If Grover looks small it’s nothing compared to the boy from Ten. His feet don’t even reach the bottom of the metal table he’s laid on. I can’t look at him. I keep walking and as I do I finally bring myself to look down the end of the line towards the two from Eleven and I’m getting closer. The girl, Callie has been put back together with Teddy beside her, and they’d look like they were sleeping if not for the lack of color in their skin and breath in their lungs. And I could pretend they were sleeping if I wanted, if I tried hard enough, but I know it’s a lie. Like the way they’re prepared, like the way the Games are presented, like the way my life has been since I became a Victor, it’s just another lie.
And I can’t lie anymore.
When I stop in front of Bas I can’t feel the cold of the room anymore. I can’t hear the Peacekeepers outside. I can’t even hear Johanna. I’m alone standing before my son and everything is quiet. The red lights bask him in a glow that reminds me all too much of the moment he faded from the world as blood seeped into the ground and tears fell from his eyes for the last time. He was scared and I should have protected him. I should have done better.
I couldn’t help him. And I can barely look at him now without feeling like a piece of my soul is being torn out. And I didn’t realize how much I ached, how much I hurt, until I looked at him, until I faced him. And it’s so much worse than I imagined. It feels like I’m a statue, like I’m frozen and cold and I can’t feel any of it. But somehow I move closer to him, somehow I stand near enough to see the Mockingjay pin returned to the lapel on the suit they dressed him in. They let him keep it.
I stare at the pin and my fingers fumble over themselves to touch the golden bird with the arrow in its mouth. Madge gave it to me. She told me it was a gift and it was. It was a token, it was hope. That’s what the country saw and felt once before and it’s what they need to see again.
I draw my gaze from the pin to Bas’ face. His eyes are closed, his hair combed back and his face still. He looks older now that I see him. He looks worn and weary. I close my eyes and the tears come but I don’t fall apart. I don’t break down like I thought I would. The cold burns against my skin from this room and the silence I felt before disappears.
I can hear what’s happening outside. I can hear the Peacekeepers barking orders, ready to break down the door.
“I love you,” I tell Bas in a voice that barely produces any sound. And he always knew but saying it aloud makes it real, even if he can’t hear it now. I take the pin from him and I pocket it. I need to carry it for him. I need it so I can remember how I held this country’s hope in my hand and I let it die. I buried it. I can’t do it again. I have to keep it alive for him, for my son, for everyone. And he painted the symbol before, he tried to remind everyone that I was still here, and I let him down. I won’t let him down again.
“They’re going to be in here soon,” Johanna says, her voice back to a steady and controlled tone. She doesn’t say anything to me about Bas and I don’t say anything to her about Grover. We let it be. Two mothers mourning their sons in silence while trying to survive.
The door shakes and rattles and there’s the distinct sound of drilling. Johanna pulls her gun and waits.
“I’ll fire, you run.”
“I can’t let you…”
“You’re not. No matter what, keep running. Get to the hovercraft and go.” Johanna gives me a smirk, “Be the big savior, Mockingjay.”
The door slides open but before Johanna can fire a Peacekeeper drops to the ground, unconscious. There are two gun shots and Gloss steps into the room.
“What the Hell?” Johanna asks.
“I should be asking you that,” Gloss replies.
“I thought you’d be on their side,” Johanna says, kicking the unconscious Peacekeeper, blocking me from Gloss, “Or are you looking to take Katniss to Snow yourself?”
He shakes his head, “I wouldn’t do that.”
“Is that so? Funny. How exactly did you walk out of that arena, was it by being honest?” Johanna remarks.
“I thought that was you,” he retorts but there’s a tiredness to his words, a worried edge in them. “We need to go.”
“We don’t need to do anything.” Johanna points the gun at him but he doesn’t flinch. Instead, he drops his and waits.
“I want what you want,” he says, staring at me pointedly, “Before it’s too late.”
And I remember how he’s been these Games. Sleepless, red eyed, always watching the screens, never leaving the room unless Cashmere forced him to. The other Careers, namely the ones from Two always sleep just fine and this year is no exception, but Gloss has been different. He’s worried about his daughter. He wants to save her just like I want to save mine.
“You want to save Emery,” I state and he nods.
“She helped kill my son,” I tell him and my voice is cold, “Why would we help you get her out?” And she didn’t deliver the killing blow but she was there, she helped. She’s as much to blame as Cain and Victoria.
And I realize a part of me is relieved that Ivy got to Victoria, that she made them pay. And I wonder if my rage will consume me just as it’s doing to Ivy. And even worse, I wonder if I’ll let it.
“Because I just saved your lives, and because…we’re different in the arena. She’s different in the arena. She just wants to go home, like we all do. You both know what that’s like.”
We can hear more boots marching their way down the hallway.
“More will be here soon,” Gloss says and his hands are curled at his sides and he’s pleading. His eyes, everything about him is screaming to let him come with us. And I have to. I have to get to Ivy. There’s no time for this. We need to get to the hovercraft. We need to go. I have to save her.
“We need to go,” I say, “This doesn’t mean I trust you. And if you do anything, if you’re trying to get me to Snow or to stop this, I’ll put an arrow in you myself.”
I head out first with Gloss and Johanna following. “We need to get to the hangar,” I say and Gloss nods.
“I know a way,” he says and starts down the hall. Johanna stops him.
“No, we’re not following you.”
“I’m not your enemy.”
I push forward, there’s no more room for arguing. He’s right. He’s not my enemy. He’s not who I’m worried about. President Snow is our enemy, all of ours. He’s the one we should focus on fighting. For now, there’s just this mission, just the rescue.
Johanna keeps her gun on him as we move. The alarms continue as emergency lights blaze in the hallways down to the hangar and I’m relieved when we make it there. But there’s no one else around and I think we’re too late, I think they left without us.
There are no enemies to fight and from what I can gather, no missing hovercrafts, no empty space for us to realize we’ve been abandoned. Maybe we’re the only ones who made it.
I’m about to ask if Gloss knows how to fly a hovercraft when Haymitch storms in holding the bag of weapons in one arm and helping Finnick carry an injured Beetee with the other.
Blood covers the back of Beetee’s uniform and his head lolls against Finnick’s shoulder. There’s blood on Finnick’s face but he’s unharmed, or looks it. Johanna glances behind them for anyone else and I can feel the absence where Peeta should be. My heart falls into my stomach.
“Where’s Peeta?” I ask and my voice turns frantic as I push past them. Haymitch grabs my arm, stopping me from leaving.
He shakes his head. “We need to get to the hovercraft.”
“Not without Peeta.”
Finnick and Johanna share a look, “Annie’s not with you?” He asks and his voice is frail, like glass being scraped against the ground. And I know what he’s feeling. Peeta’s not here. I can’t keep moving. I have to wait for him.
“We never saw her,” Johanna answers, “Wiress is gone.”
Finnick nods and takes the full weight of Beetee onto him as Haymitch shoves the bag of weapons into my hands.
“We need to move,” Haymitch repeats with force, “We’ll be surrounded soon.”
Finnick’s hands grip Beetee so hard I’m sure they’ll leave bruises. I swing the bag over my shoulder and Johanna pushes me towards the hovercraft, but I can’t move. I don’t want to move. Finnick struggles to keep his feet moving forward and I know it’s not the weight of Beetee on his shoulders.
I can’t breathe even as we board the hovercraft. It’s a medical one, the same ones they use to take tributes out of the arena after they win. There are no weapons on board, save the one’s we have on us. If the Capitol follows, and they will, it’s going to get a lot harder to escape them.
Haymitch knew this was a possibility, he knew we were going to face this and he warned us, or tried to. Still, it’s hard to face the truth.
Finnick lays Beetee onto the ground, putting an IV into his arm. His every motion is mechanical, his eyes trained on what he’s doing, afraid to look anywhere Annie isn’t.
“Finnick,” I try and my voice has the same edge, the same broken sound as his.
“I hope they’re dead,” he responds quietly, “If Snow...I hope they’re dead.”
And I understand. Peeta being dead would be better than what the Capitol will do him. And I don’t know what kind of world there is without him in it. He’s been a part of my life for so long. I love him. I believe I do, I know I do, even if I can’t find the words to say it. He knows. He’s always known. And living without him. It doesn’t seem possible. I don’t know if it is. He should have heard it too. I should have told him.
There’s Ivy. I have to focus on her. I can mourn later. I can worry after. I have to save her. He would do the same.
Haymitch goes to the front and starts the hovercraft. Gloss looks around frantically, his worry taking over and someone’s missing for him too. The cold metal of the hovercraft seems to surround me and the glass in my voice travels into my veins.
We should wait. We have to wait, but we can’t. I know we can’t. I know we have to go. Beck and Ivy need us to leave and Annie and Peeta would want us to go. I would want to be left behind if it meant saving Ivy. I would let the Capitol tear me apart if it meant saving her.
The engines come to life and everything begins to lock down for flight. The door starts to move downwards, ready to seal off the hovercraft so we can take off. Finnick sits back after he finishes working on Beetee and his hands twist into themselves, his fingers turning white as he grips his knuckles.
My fingers press the empty space where my wedding band was until they reach into my pocket for the pin I took from Bas. I press it into my palm and I try to remember the days after I won, the days when Peeta and I wouldn’t talk because it was just an act, an act we had to keep up. And then I remember the days when it stopped being an act, when we laid in bed beside each other and there was peace and warmth and I forgot to pretend. I remember him throwing me bread when I was starving. I remember the dandelion that meant hope. And I try to picture that feeling when I look at the Mockingjay pin. Is this what they see?
I don’t know how to live without the dandelion in the spring, without the warmth that only Peeta can give me.
The door keeps closing and I look out into the hangar. How can I give them hope when I have none for myself?
And then I can see them. Two people running towards us as fast as they can, desperately trying to escape. Peacekeepers follow with some breaking off to get into hovercrafts of their own. They fire and the two keep running.
“Haymitch!” Johanna screams over the engines but the door keeps closing. Finnick runs towards the door, his eyes alight with the same hope that burns in my heart. And as they get closer I can see Peeta pushing Annie forward, keeping her in front, making sure she gets there first.
Finnick holds out his hand, Gloss keeping him in place so he doesn’t fall. Annie picks up speed, sprinting as the Peacekeepers get closer. She reaches when she’s close enough and Finnick pulls her up, falling back, barely able to catch his breath. His arms encircle her into a hug and there are tears in his eyes, but the moment is short lived. Peeta is still running. He still needs to get here. He’s not safe yet.
I tear open the bag of weapons and remove the bow and arrow, careful to use only the standard arrows, not the electrified ones. It’s easy enough to notice the difference. The regular ones are silver tipped and it reminds me of my Games, of the bow I took from the hands of the girl from One after I helped kill her. Glimmer. That was her name.
I load the arrow and I fire at the Peacekeepers behind Peeta. He’s slowing down but he can’t stop, he has to keep going, he has to make it.
I’m yelling as I fire, Peacekeepers falling with each arrow, and I’m calling Peeta’s name. Finnick is back beside me, ready to grab Peeta when he can. Gloss extends further, holding onto the door and about to fall out. We are approaching the edge and Peeta’s running out of room to run. The door is going to close. He’s not going to make it.
“Jump!” Gloss reaches and Peeta jumps. I can’t breathe. I only hear the door shut and I don’t know if he made it. I’m afraid to look and see no one there.
And then I hear Peeta say, “Thank you,” and he’s breathless and I can feel my heart beating again. And before he has a chance to say anything else I pull him into a hug and his strong arms circle me. I bury my face into his neck and breathe him in. He doesn’t smell the same here as he does back home, but he still somehow smells like him.
“I thought you were gone,” I tell him and I can feel him nod against me.
“It’s okay, I’m here now,” he says with his breath against my ear, “Always.”
“Well that was entertaining,” Plutarch Heavensbee interrupts, emerging from the front of the hovercraft, a drink in his hand. “I wish we had a camera.”
Peeta and I break apart as the air around us darkens and Haymitch pushes Plutarch back to the front.
“What’s he doing here?” Annie asks, her hand finding Finnick’s.
“Helping,” Haymitch answers sparing a glance at me, “You should get ready to fire that arrow.”
He turns back inside to fly the hovercraft. Gloss presses his head against metal side and I can’t tell whether he’s going to be sick or worse. He turns to Peeta, his voice lowering.
“Cashmere?” He asks.
Peeta swallows and shakes his head. “We were cornered and she…I think they grabbed her. We kept running.”
Gloss nods, taking a seat, his eyes glazed over. And I can tell Peeta wants to say more, he wants to apologize, do something for Gloss and I can’t understand why. Gloss has never helped us. He has never allowed his tributes to ally or done anything that could be construed as kindness. If anything, he’s kept to himself and looked down on us. He’s only allying now because it’s convenient. And I wonder what he’ll do when it no longer becomes convenient. Or maybe he’ll try to save his sister, maybe he’ll still help. But I can’t be sure. He’s spent years perfecting his persona just as much as we all have, only his was never far from the truth, or so it seemed.
But he’s not the enemy. Not right now. And I have greater things to worry about.
I find the electrified arrow and I look around. The others all watch me and it’s what I didn’t want, it’s everything I tried not to become. I didn’t want to be the symbol, I didn’t want to have people looking for me or to me but here I am, right where I was always going to end up. I squeeze the pin in my pocket and I think of Bas. I have to do this for him. I have to save Ivy.
Haymitch walks back out from the front of the hovercraft, tending to Beetee’s wounds.
“Where are we going?” Annie asks, “After we…”
“Thirteen,” Haymitch responds, tightening the bandage on Beetee’s back, “They’ll be able to…they have a medical team.”
“They? They’re alive? It’s real?” Peeta asks. Haymitch nods and the words fade in my mind. It’s real. Thirteen. Madge went looking for it. Gale wanted to find it. Maybe Madge made it. Maybe that’s why she never returned. But if they’ve been there all along why haven’t they helped before? Why haven’t they fought back? What have they been waiting for?
I watch Haymitch work, wondering about all the lies he’s told and how many times he’s had a plan in place. I want to punch him. I want to scream. He knew it was there. Plutarch is helping, he was helping this whole time and Bas is dead. We could have acted sooner but they didn’t. And I don’t know what to say, I don’t know if my anger will ever fade. I’m tired of being a pawn, of never knowing if I’m safe or if they’re telling me the truth.
But right now I don’t care about any of it. Right now, I just want to save Ivy. Right now I need to focus. I need to fire an arrow and bring down the arena.
Peeta’s hand finds my shoulder and gently squeezes it. I give him a nod to tell him I’m okay even though every nerve is buzzing and shaking. I’m not okay. I don’t know if I’ll be okay. Maybe when I see Ivy again, maybe when we’re safe, if we can ever be safe, maybe I can start to be okay, but I don’t think I will be. Bas is still gone, we’re starting a war, and there’s going to be more dead before this is all over.
“Ten seconds,” Plutarch calls over a speaker in the hovercraft. The door opens and the wind whips through as the others strap themselves into seats or hold on to whatever they can inside. I take a breath and approach the edge, my steps unsteady as I find my balance. I just need one good hit on the shield to bring it down, as long as Springer does what he’s supposed to, as long as he got his message.
I look down and I can see the metal barrier of the arena. The shield blocking it from the rest of the world, keeping everyone inside isolated and everyone outside entertained. There’s a large flicker of light, a surge of power running through it and there are sparks coming from the side.
And I take that as the sign. I have to do this now.
More hovercrafts are following, war hovercrafts. I can make them out in the distance. We’re running out of time. I load the arrow and take a breath. And I only have one shot, it needs to be perfect. I exhale and I let the arrow fly.
It lands right on target.
There’s a large blast as the metal and Capitol created boundary breaks apart, shattering and fracturing below me. The force sets the hovercraft off balance and my foot slips out as I’m thrown back inside.
My head collides with a metal beam and everything disappears into instant blackness.