The Arena: Fall of the Princess
Freezing to death was slow. It was quiet too and almost calm. Slow, calm and quiet while everything around me blurred and darkened and I went numb.
Burning to death is none of those things. There’s no numbness. There’s no quiet. It’s choking, scalding, and bright. Everything is way too bright.
I try to climb towards the window by positioning anything to give me enough height to reach it. I stand on a table, pull a bench on top, but I still can’t reach the window. And even as I see it I don’t think I could get through and I don’t think Beck could make the climb with his injury. I don’t have a lot of time left to decide if I want to keep trying. The smoke gets too thick to see and I can’t find the window anymore.
The only thing I can see is bright oranges and reds dancing around me through thick smoke as the fire burns.
I drop back off the table and find Beck waiting for me. He’s close enough to see the worry in my eyes. I knew when we came in here there was no way out and now he knows too. He can see it in me. We’ll die if we stay. We’ll die if we leave. It’s just a matter of which death we prefer.
His hand clutches his side and there’s fresh blood staining his fingers. His stitches must have ripped open. He looks pale and faint as sweat drips down his neck, but somehow he still manages a smile.
“If you weren’t in these Games I think I would have won,” he says in a light tone.
“So this is my fault? Because I was, what? Born?” And I’m taken aback by the shift in blame, a frustration and anger that only he seems to bring out in me, even now when we’re faced with death once again. And how many times have we faced death now? I lost count. This is the one that sticks though, that I’m sure of.
“Not entirely. I did team up with you.” He shrugs and I want to push him until I realize what he’s doing. He’s playing it off. He’s playing the valiant tribute from Four. He’s saying goodbye.
So I play too.
“Yeah, well, you are a lot dumber than you look.” I wipe sweat from my forehead as the fire travels up the walls and its starting to surround us now. We don’t have much longer before this whole place collapses.
Still, his smile grows, “Oh I’m the biggest idiot in Panem. But you wouldn’t have made it this far without me.”
“And you really think you would have made it without me? What would you have done if I wasn’t here?”
He grabs my arm while his other encircles my back pulling me to him. My breath hitches, my pulse pounds and everything blurs around me as his lips crash onto mine. All I can feel is him. All I can taste is him. And he tastes like salt and sun and hope. I imagine him sitting on the beach while the ocean crashes behind him, the sun on his face and a smile in his eyes. And it’s the real him. And it’s the real me. There’s no fire. No Games. No Arena. There’s just us, in this moment, with no role to play and no masks to wear.
And I kiss him back with a shared desperation. One hand winds around his neck pulling him closer as the other falls on his chest feeling his heart beat with mine. And I remember when we first met at the chariots and I wonder if it was all going to end up here. His eyes had reminded me of home. He feels like home. A part of me wishes I could see that beach and feel that sun. I wish we could go home.
But we can’t. We aren’t home. We aren’t safe. He’s dying and this is goodbye.
He winces and all my senses flood back. We break apart and I can feel my pulse beating a little faster and it has nothing to do with the fire making its way towards us.
He finds his voice through shallow breaths, “If you weren’t here, I’d probably have done that earlier.”
“You wouldn’t have known me.” I feel more awake, alive, and it’s almost cruel to feel like this right before it’s all going to be over.
“I would have tried to know you. The cameras, your interviews, I saw past it. I would have seen past it. I would have tried.”
I have to stop myself from kissing him again as a beam crashes down and he pulls me to the door. The bench we put in front of it is gone. He must have moved it while I was trying to get to the window. The only thing keeping us in here is the trident but no one outside is trying to get in anymore. They’re waiting for us to come out.
“So what do we do now?” I ask and I can still taste salt but I ignore it. I have to ignore it. Everything is sweltering now, stifling, and I can no longer breathe as I once did. And this has everything to do with the fire, everything to do with the fact that we are dying in here.
His eyes find mine and there’s a challenge in them. He smirks, “Run.”
And with that he pulls the trident from the handles and rips open the door. And there’s no room for arguing, there’s no way for me to stop him. So I just start moving.
I grab the knife from the door and pick up my bow. I’m out into the open air, the breath coming easily and the wind drying the sweat on my skin. I don’t look for Beck. I can’t look to see if he’s gone. I can’t know. So I just run. And I keep running while Cain waits, sword in hand with victory in his eyes like a wolf ready to devour its prey.
I pull my last arrow, loading it with a prayer fresh on my mind. I’m about to fire when there’s a large explosion that throws us all to the ground. Everything flashes then goes dark as the false weather disappears. All I can hear is the ringing in my ears while I struggle to get my bearings, but it’s too dark to see.
Light breaks through as the dome fractures across the sky. I hold my breath as a loud creak resounds through the whole arena before the fractures fall apart. I push myself to my feet as metal beams and broken pieces drop to the ground, bursting into flames on impact.
Emery drops her spear and watches the sky as real sunlight pours in, wiping away the darkness. And it’s warm. It’s so warm and real, but how can this be real? How can the sky be that bright? The blues and clouds above are so much more colorful than I remember. Through the broken dome I can make out a hovercraft, a black mass against the blue, and it’s getting closer.
This can’t be real. This can’t be happening. This is just part of the Game. It’s always part of the Game.
Another beam falls and Emery dives out of the way to duck behind a tree, her eyes still on the hovercraft. And I look around but I don’t know where Beck fell or if he fell at all. I can still hear ringing and the collapse of the arena around me as metal shards hurtle to the ground. I’m in a daze and somehow I’m still moving forward, though I’m not sure why.
The hovercraft has to be from the Capitol. Something must have happened, something bad. My mind doesn’t allow me to think of the possibilities. I’m hyper aware of my feet moving and the breath heaving in and out of my lungs. I grip the knife and bow in my hands with the last of my strength, though I’m not sure how much longer it will last.
My eyes fall onto my hands. They’re rough and calloused and have felt too much blood and taken too many lives. The string around my neck holding the rings seems to pull me further towards the ground like a weight, but I keep pushing forward. I have only one goal, one focus, and it’s to keep going. And in my haze I see my brother again. I see his blonde hair and his eyes watching the sky like Emery. I see him smile. And then I see him bloody and dead.
He disappears and then my eyes fall on Cain, on his retreating back, as he runs towards the river bank. And there’s a stinging and throbbing in my throat, a reminder of what he did. I can feel the fire he tried to burn me in. I can feel Bas’ breath leave his lungs. And Cain is responsible for that. He can’t get away. He has to pay.
The haze disappears the ringing in my ears stops. The sound of the world comes to me in a flood of broken metal pieces and burning trees. I hear the whirring of engines and what sounds like someone screaming but all I can see is Cain. He’s getting away. He can’t get away.
So I run. I run as fast as I can while my blood boils and my lungs ache with all my hatred towards him. I pass his sword and he dropped it. He’s afraid. He’s afraid of what’s happening in this arena.
Good. This makes it easier.
I tear my way through brush and broken branches but I barely feel them as they cut into my cheek. Cain keeps running, the arena keeps falling, and I have my target.
I sheath the knife as I load my arrow. I wait to fire once he reaches the river bank. The arrow lands in his ankle and he screams in agony. And then I’m on top of him, throwing him into the ground, knife back in hand ready to finish this. But he’s stronger than me and I’m tossed into the edge of the river.
The water soaks into my clothes, my bow ripped from my hand by the force of his. Somehow I hold onto my knife but his knee pushes into my shoulder to keep me from using it. His hands are around me as he shoves me further into the water, trying to drown me.
I’ve felt what it is to drown. I’ve felt what it is to burn. And I’m sick of it. I’m sick of all of this. He’s too far in, too close to harm. I can see his ankle, the arrow still sticking out it. I kick as hard as I can and he doubles back, the blood pooling in the water. His hand pulls my necklace with him, breaking it as I stand.
I kick him hard in the neck as my knife lands in his knee cap. He punches me hard in my cheek and I taste blood. I claw and punch as he tries to choke me again and when I grab the arrow in his ankle, I twist it hard. He backs off and I remove the knife from his knee to point it straight at his throat. He stops. I have the advantage. There’s no escaping this for him.
I catch my breath, spitting up blood and water as Cain kneels before me, dirt and mud from the river caked onto his clothing, bruises forming around his face.
“You win,” he says to me, closing his eyes, welcoming it. And I killed Victoria like this, with vengeance and hatred in my heart, and I want to kill Cain the same way. I want him to pay for everything he did. He deserves this.
But still, I can’t bring myself to finish it. I can’t make the final cut. I look over his shoulder and I see Bas again. I see him watching me with disapproval in his eyes and I can’t bring the knife down into Cain’s throat.
And it doesn’t make sense. What’s one more life taken in here? What’s one more kill? He deserves to die. I hold the knife closer, my hand steady even though everything inside of me is shaking and screaming. And he deserves this. He deserves to feel the pain he caused. He deserves to die.
But I can’t be the one to do it. My eyes lock onto Bas’ and he shakes his head. He looks back up to the sky, the real sky, and everything around us is crumbling but the sky is real. The sun is real. The wind is real. The light from the sun catches on the rings spread across the ground and they shine in it. And it’s another reminder of home, another piece of me that I need to hold onto.
And I can’t kill Cain no matter how much the darkest part of me wants to. It won’t bring Bas back. It won’t make me feel better. Killing Victoria proved that much. Beck was right. My family wouldn’t want me to do this. And I didn’t care then, but I do now.
I have to find Beck. I have to get out of here.
The ground whips up as the whir of engines sounds overhead and Bas disappears. Cain opens his eyes as I pull the knife away from his throat and there’s a confusion and anger in them. He reaches for my hand to take the knife but I kick him in the throat, knocking him to the ground.
I look up to see the cold metal of the hovercraft descending towards us, ropes dropping from the side of it. It blocks out the sun as it approaches.
And I know the Games are over but something else is starting, something more.
I raise my arms and drop the knife as boots land behind me. Cain sprawled out on the ground, still breathing, still alive.
I come to amidst the sounds of beeping monitors, hurried footsteps, and muffled voices. I’m not in the hovercraft anymore. I don’t know where I am.
I’m lying in a bed with scratchy sheets and thin blankets. It’s not a Capitol bed. I’m not in the Capitol. Or at least, I hope I’m not but I can’t be sure. I’m no longer wearing the Peacekeeper uniform. Wherever I am, they changed me into a hospital gown. The lights are dim in here with no windows to look out of. This can’t be the Capitol. They always have windows.
Unless Snow doesn’t want me to see what’s out there. Unless he wants me to think I escaped only to realize he still has me right where he wants me for as long as he wants me there.
There’s a curtain blocking my bed. And the voices all seem to come into focus.
“I need morphling,” someone says.
“He’s going to need surgery,” another voice replies.
Everything spins around me as I try to stand up and I feel the pinch of a needle in my arm. My eyes follow the tube to the bag providing me fluids. I pull the needle as my feet land on the cold floor. How did I get here?
I hit my head. I remember that. My hand finds the cut where I can feel the stitches. I was in the hovercraft. I fired the arrow. The blast knocked me back and the Capitol was coming. I see no Peackeepers around me. This can’t be the Capitol, which means it must be Thirteen. We made it. My heart springs to my throat at my next thought.
Ivy. I have to find her.
I take one step forward and the world spins once again, this time faster. The curtain opens and strong hands stop me in my place.
“Whoa there, Catnip.”
My whole body freezes. He’s dead. He’s gone. The mine collapsed. He can’t be here.
And I look at him and he is. Gale. He’s alive. A little gray, with wrinkles around his eyes, wearing what looks like a black military uniform, but alive. He’s alive. Or am I dead too? Is this all a lie my dying brain constructed? Did I die when I tried to save Ivy?
But his hands are warm and the pain is real. He’s alive. I’m alive. We’re in Thirteen.
“You…you can’t…” I feel the acid in my throat and the raw taste of copper as a wave of nausea hits me. I think I might throw up but I don’t. There’s nothing in my stomach for me to manage it. Gale tries to help me back into the bed but I push away his arm, not as strong as I want to but it gets the point across.
“You’re dead,” I finally breathe out and he has the decency to look down. He left his brother, his family, Madge. He left me. He left everyone. All that talk about fighting and about protecting Twelve and the people he loved. And he left. He ran away.
And I remember Rory, working in the mines and putting on a brave face, taking charge when his brother was gone. I remember Madge who became a ghost. I remember Gale’s mother, crying and sobbing at the news of the collapse. And Twelve mourned for Gale. I mourned for him. My children mourned for him too.
“Twelve was never gonna survive with me. Not with the Capitol watching. I had to die so I could live to fight.”
My hand connects with his face in the hardest slap I’ve ever managed, “You’re a coward.”
He sucks in a breath and there’s a deep hurt and anger in his face that matches my own, “Look who’s talking.” He pulls it back, standing straight, a soldier of Thirteen.
“I want to see Ivy,” I order. He looks down again and even now I can read him. Even now, I know that look. It’s the same look of mercy he gave a wounded animal before he finished the job.
I shake my head, pushing him aside and tearing open the curtain. He doesn’t stop me but I can hear his footsteps following. The adrenaline helps to stave off my nausea but I still have trouble seeing straight.
I round a corner and press my hand to the wall to keep myself upright as I enter the chaos of running doctors and nurses trying to treat incoming mentors and tributes.
It’s a long, slow walk as I pass by bed after bed. Most are empty but there’s the few with people I don’t recognize receiving treatment. They all wear grey. The doctors and nurses wear white. Some spare me a glance and then look to Gale with a question in their eyes, but none stop me. I wouldn’t let them stop me even if they tried. I need to find my family.
Johanna sits on a metal bench as a nurse cleans a cut above her eye. She stares at me and Gale as we walk by her, a hard edge in her stare.
“You should lie down,” Gale tries as I stumble but remain upright. He holds out his arm, ready to push me back into my room but I don’t need his help. I don’t want his help. I want to find my daughter and Peeta.
“Katniss,” he says and I snap again.
“I don’t need…” I take a breath, the dizziness creeping back in. He grabs my arm this time but I smack him back. “I don’t need you.”
It’s then that Johanna shrugs off her nurse and puts herself between me and Gale. It’s good that she does because I’m about ready to hit him again.
“Maybe you should take a walk yourself,” Johanna directs to Gale and I’m grateful for her words when I can’t find mine.
He glances from me to her and she never moves from her spot. She keeps staring him down, almost asking for a fight.
“I’ll…” He doesn’t say goodbye, he barely looks at me as he leaves. I hope he never looks at me again.
My anger fluctuates between cold shock and burning rage and it’s all the lies that I’ve been told and all the cowards that abandoned me to rot in my cage. Panem stopped caring about the Mockingjay. They stopped fighting. They shouldn’t have put that responsibility on me to guide them. They should have fought for themselves. Cowards, every single one, Gale included. He ran away to Thirteen and left all that he once said he cared about. And for what?
Haymitch is a liar too. He had a plan and he never told me about it. He omitted the truth which is just as bad as telling a lie, especially when it comes to the Games and especially when my children were in them. He let me try to save my children and he let me watch one of them die and all along he knew there was a plan. He could have said something, he could have told me, and I would have fought. He could have tried harder. They all could have. I’m tired of lies. I’m tired of fear. I’m just tired.
“Where are you going, Mockingjay?” Johanna asks and her voice has dropped to a quiet tone, reserved but not unkind.
“Don’t call me that,” I say, the tiredness aching in every syllable. I keep walking. She doesn’t stop me. She doesn’t even try to. All she gives me is a small nod.
I pass Annie and Finnick standing over an unconscious Beck. He lies in his bed, machines working to keep him alive, bandages wrapped around his midsection. Annie holds onto her son’s hand and doesn’t look anywhere but at him. A doctor checks his vitals, distributing morphling as Beck groans.
“It’s okay. It’ll be okay,” Annie says, pressing a kiss to his forehead. “You’re safe.”
Finnick twists and ties knots in a fraying rope as he stands against the wall. His eyes move back and forth from the rope to the heart monitor with every beat, like he’s reminding himself with every beep of the machine that his son is alive. His son survived.
I can make out Emery sitting up in her bed, staring at the floor, a bandage being applied to her ankle. Gloss sits with an arm around her, talking to her in a quiet voice while she struggles not to cry. He looks up to see me and his eyes fall back to focusing on his daughter. If it’s possible he holds her tighter.
“Katniss,” I turn and find Peeta walking towards me. He looks different. He looks colder, broken. His eyes are red, his jaw is set in a thin line and he keeps his hands curled at his sides, like he’s struggling not to hit something.
“What’s she doing out of her room?” Haymitch asks while a nurse follows behind him carrying gauze, doing everything she can to try to treat him. He pinches his nose, blood fresh on his shirt, while a dark purple bruise blooms across his face. He waves the nurse off as he keeps walking. She sighs and turns away. I can see Peeta’s hands shaking with fresh bruises on his knuckles and I know who he’s struggling not to hit again.
“You need to rest, sweetheart,” Haymitch says as he stands in front of me. I don’t look at him. I can barely hear him. All I can see is Peeta as he takes quick breaths and his hands curl and uncurl into fists. And I know. I know without him telling me, but I can’t bring myself to think it.
“Where is she?” I ask. Haymitch grabs my arm but I pull it back, “Where is she?” I repeat and I can see the pain in Haymitch’s eyes and it has nothing to do with his broken nose.
“Where is she?” I ask one final time as my voice cracks and fractures.
I watch Peeta. His hand tears into his hair as he looks to the floor. And he looks like he’s ready to scream. He looks like he’s ready to fall apart and I’m not far behind. The chaos of the medical staff quiets and all I can hear is my own breathing, my own frantic heartbeat, as I struggle to hold on.
“She deserves to know,” Finnick says from beside me. It makes my heart drop into my stomach.
I turn to Haymitch and he owes me the truth. He owes it more than he’s ever owed me anything. She has to be alive. I have to believe that she is. I have to believe that I would know if she wasn’t, that something would tell me that she wasn’t. I would know. She has to be alive.
Haymitch swallows hard before saying, “She still has her tracker in.”
“Where?!” My voice echoes off the walls, sounding frayed and broken.
There’s a long silence before Haymitch delivers the news, my eyes meeting Peeta’s as the words fall around us, burying me and breaking me with them.
“She’s in the Capitol.”
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