Part Two: The Games: Train Ride
The train glides smoothly towards the Capitol as carts of food are wheeled in.
“Lunch,” Effie trills but only Haymitch follows her to the table. Effie still has bright hair, with an outfit to match, but she doesn’t prattle on about the Capitol like she normally does during this portion of the trip.
Last year our tributes were both fifteen and the girl, Iris, spent the night throwing up. Effie tried and failed to make her feel better by talking about the things she would see. Iris wasn’t very receptive to the welcome speeches and hid in her room whenever she could. The boy, Oliver, was better at taking in everything and he ate until he could barely walk. Neither one of them made it past the bloodbath.
I look at Bas, loosening the tie he wore, hands shaking. He can be angry. He can be headstrong, but he’s gentle. I can’t imagine him killing anyone. My son is too young to be here and he’s not ready for the arena. It will destroy him.
Ivy stares at the ground, focused, like she’s coming to terms with something. She might be the same age I was when I entered the Games, but like Bas, she’s too young. I was too young. They shouldn’t be here.
I try to imagine one of them walking out but I can’t. I can’t bring myself to choose. To decide which one I think will live. I can’t lose them. Not to death. Not to the arena’s horrors. Not to nightmares that threaten to claim me.
The Mockingjay pin on Ivy’s dress catches the light. Is that the answer? After all these years of trying to escape it, is it time to accept the role? To do what I should have done on the victory tour. Make them see it once again. Hope. Something that has evaded me for so long.
“Are you going to eat?” Ivy asks Bas, breaking the silence.
“You probably should. We both should.” She sighs and stands. Bas follows her to the table and they fill plates. At first, they pick, but the rich food gets the better of them and they dive in, going for seconds shortly after.
We keep them well fed, but they don’t get this type of food, the rich delicacies of the Capitol.
I stand and Peeta is at my side.
“Are you okay?” he asks quietly, placing a hand on my shoulder.
I nod, leaning into him. “We have to keep them alive.”
I try to ask him how, how we can make sure they both live when it’s against the rules. When even a handful of berries won’t change them again. He cuts me off with a kiss. I return it, feeling warmth and comfort spread from my chest all the way to the tips of my fingers. When I kiss him, I remember the dandelion, the first feeling of hope I ever had. He’s a light I can always find amongst the endless trips to the Capitol and the years of being forced to play these roles. He breaks it all too quickly. The warmth fades and I’m brought back to the reality of the train continuing on its trek towards the extravagant and bustling city anxiously awaiting the arrival of this years tributes.
“We’ll figure it out.”
He walks to the table and I can hear his mind turning, planning. I look around the train, expecting a Peacekeeper to barge in and question him. I can’t ask, not aloud. He’ll tell me when he’s ready, but I can’t imagine that even Peeta, with his words and plans, can change our children’s fate.
After we finish eating, Haymitch turns on the screen to watch the recap of the reapings.
Bas looks anywhere but at the screen. Ivy pays close attention, though. Peeta’s real leg bounces as we watch whose children are joining ours in these Games. Children we will help plan to kill, whose parents we have seen for years and helped when our tributes have died.
“For starters, this is a Quell, everything’s bigger, more extravagant. And its legacies, which means the Capitol citizens’ll be extra excited. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re waiting by the training facility,” Haymitch says, scratching at his beard.
“Aren’t they usually waiting?” Ivy asks. I can hear a methodical nature to her voice. Like Peeta, when she’s planning, I know. And she’s taking mental notes of everything said.
“There’s usually more when a tribute with family history is in the Games,” Effie answers, sadly. She looks away from Ivy to the screen, trying to repress tears. I wonder if she ever waited by the training facility, if she dreamed of being an escort, if it’s everything she wanted. I can’t imagine it is.
“So we should expect to be overloaded by fans?” Bas asks, tersely. Haymitch shrugs. “Perfect, just what I’ve always wanted.”
“I’m sorry,” I tell him. He looks at me, shaking his head before taking my hand and giving it a light squeeze.
“It’s not your fault, mom.” My throat tightens and I forget to breathe. Why doesn’t he blame me? He’s so angry, why isn’t it directed at me? He lets go then turns to Haymitch. “So who’s going to be trying to kill us?”
He smiles, trying to lighten the mood. I see so much of Peeta in that smile. I can’t imagine never seeing it again.
We watch intently as the screen changes to District One. The recap is quick, showing the names, the reactions from Tribute, their Victor parent, and their District before moving on.
As usual, the careers of One and Two are strong, prepared, and all too happy to go into the arena. When it cuts to Four, the attitude is different than that of years past. I already knew Beck Cresta would be the male tribute, but I hadn’t been prepared for Annie’s reaction.
She holds it together until they call her son’s name. She covers her ears and I remember seeing the footage of her in the arena. The seventeen-year-old girl swimming for her life, screaming when her district partner was beheaded. The girl tribute’s name is called next, but before the screen can cut out, Beck is next to his mother, holding her together, telling her it’ll be okay.
Finnick Odair, the Capitol idol, still adored and desired after all these years, watches them, trying to lead them inside the justice building. There are no roars of applause in Four.
Annie isn’t usually on the mentor team but I wonder if this year she will be. Now that her son is being forced into the same circumstances she once faced. Finnick is always on the mentor team and over the years I’ve gotten used to his prancing around the Capitol and trading floor, his remarks, and his constant attention by Capitol citizens. He usually manages to get the better sponsors, but he hasn’t seen a Victor in a few years. Sometimes I wonder if he ever considered living quietly in Four, maybe settling down, or if he prefers his life in the Capitol.
I’ve heard rumors of Victors being sold for the pleasure of Capitol citizens and Finnick’s name often comes up. Never experiencing it first-hand I can’t be sure if they are true, but knowing Snow, I don’t doubt that they are. Given those circumstances I don’t think Finnick had much of a chance to settle down, I don’t think he ever had the option to find someone, but we all do what we have to, to survive. And he plays the role of aging playboy just as I play the role of happy wife and mother, forever grateful to the Capitol for allowing Peeta and I to be together.
The other Districts pass by without incident, with most of them only having one option for either the boy or girl tribute. The oldest Tribute, Trina from Nine, still only twenty-three, keeps her head held high as her name is called. The youngest is a nine-year-old boy from Ten whose name I miss. He cries as he stands on the stage.
“He’s too young. His name shouldn’t even be in there,” Peeta says, his hand gripping the edge of his chair.
“He was the only boy, and they need their Tributes,” Haymitch says, sadly, taking a drink.
“The Quell said Victor’s children, they didn’t specify how old,” Ivy adds, monotonously. I look at her. She watches the screen, her expression empty, eyes focused but her mind somewhere else. She looks like she’s about to be sick.
When Ivy and Bas show up on the screen, it cuts right before the salute. I’m grateful that they look brave. They look capable of caring for themselves in the arena. They don’t look like easy targets. It’s a small relief considering how much of it’s an act.
The recap ends. The room falls silent. I look at Haymitch, needing his guidance, his experience, even after years of being a mentor myself. He nods and stands in front of the screen. All eyes are on him.
“So, what do we think?” he asks. “What allies are we looking at?”
Ivy shakes her head. “No, no allies.”
“Ivy, it’s--” I try, but she cuts me off.
“I don’t want an ally. And no one is going to want to ally with Twelve anyway.” She crosses her arms, sitting back in her seat like the argument is settled. I’m reminded of when she was five and wouldn’t eat the Katniss roots I dug up, something Haymitch still laughs about to this day.
“This year is different and if you have the skill set, which you do, they will want you as an ally,” Haymitch tries.
Ivy continues to shake her head. “I’m not going to run through the arena with someone I don’t trust. Not when I’ll just have to kill them anyway.” She’s collected and calm. I’m taken aback by her attitude.
“If this is a vote, I’d rather just stick with her,” Bas adds. Ivy nods.
Haymitch stares at Ivy, hard, trying to get her to understand. “If you want to survive, make some friends. Get an ally. It’s your best chance.”
She swallows and looks away. I watch the exchange. There’s something they aren’t saying. A hidden message he’s giving her.
“Not One or Two. I’ll consider the others.”
“At least someone in this family is reasonable.” Haymitch sits.
“So that’s it?” Bas asks.
“What else do you want? Can’t strategize until we’re in the Capitol, and we won’t be there until tomorrow.” Haymitch shrugs.
“I’m gonna go to my room then.” Bas leaves with Ivy following not far behind.
“I’ll be right back,” I say before heading towards their rooms. I can hear them down the hallway. I keep my distance, trying to listen but not intrude.
“Whatever they say just agree,” Ivy says quietly, trying to convince him.
“Why?” Bas asks. “Shouldn’t we actually do what they’re saying?”
“I have a plan.”
“Yeah your great plan. I’m not going to follow you around in the arena just to watch you die. You’re not dying for me, okay?”
“And neither are you. Just listen to me. I’ll keep you safe. We don’t need anyone else.”
“I think we should listen to Haymitch. They’ll want you as an ally especially when they know you can shoot.”
I can’t listen anymore and interrupt. “You don’t want to show them all your skills the first day.” They jump when I speak. Ivy looks away. “Makes you a target.”
“Good thing I don’t have anything to show,” Bas jokes. I ruffle his hair before pulling him in for a hug.
I stare at Ivy and wait until she makes eye contact. “Can I talk to you?” I’m colder than I mean to be but she agrees all the same.
We leave Bas in his room and walk back to the hallway. I cross my arms. “What’s your plan?”
She shrugs. “I don’t have one.”
“Don’t lie to me.”
“Do you really want me to answer honestly?” she asks, voice breaking.
I don’t need her to tell me the truth. Self-sacrifice runs in the family and I can see the plan as clear as day. She has no intention of surviving these Games. When I volunteered for Prim, I didn’t think I had a chance, but I wasn’t planning on dying. I just knew I didn’t want my sister to die when I could take her place. I understand Ivy’s way of thinking, but it doesn’t stop me from being angry about it.
“I told you not to give up.”
“I’m not. If I was giving up, I wouldn’t be trying to save him. I have to.”
“Why?” I ask, heart in my throat.
Her eyes are glassy. Her voice cracks when she says, “He’s more important.” She walks away and I’m left standing alone, heart shattered.
Does she really believe she isn’t as important as Bas? I think back on the two of them growing up. I was frightened when she was born, always expecting Snow to show up at my door and take her away. The Capitol was all over her name, a picture of her, and all I wanted was to shield her from it, but I knew I couldn’t.
I taught her to hunt. That was all we had, our time in the woods. Peeta was the one who took care of her. Who comforted every nightmare, took care of every illness, read to her. What did I do? I built a wall. I was too frightened of her being reaped, of a future I couldn’t guarantee, that I kept her out. I let cameras invade her life, I made her dress up and parade for interviews.
With Bas, my fear was there, but I never made him do the things she did. I let him stay inside instead of forcing him out into the woods. I let him stay silent during interviews. I would bring him things back from the woods. How must that look from her perspective?
Too afraid to love one child, too careless to treat the second the same.
I wish I could go back. I would never stop the war. Maybe I could love them then as they deserve to be loved. Maybe they could be children in a world where there is no fear of Games to take their lives.
I slide down the wall and hold my knees to my chest. I can’t breathe. I’ve failed my children. I made sure my daughter was capable of fighting in the arena but I couldn’t be her mother. I was her mentor. And with my son, I was just someone who lived with him. I was no better, just less demanding.
I rock back and forth until Peeta finds me. He gently lifts me up and brings me to our room. I lie on the bed and cry while he holds me tight.
When I’m calm, I stay in his arms, my head on his chest. I can hear his heartbeat, steady and warm. I finally talk about what I heard and what Ivy said. Peeta listens, his hold tightening on me when I mention Ivy’s plan.
“We can’t let her go in thinking she’s going to die,” Peeta says, scared.
“What can we do? Tell her not to? She won’t listen. She wants to save him.” I sit up. He shrugs, disappearing into his thoughts. I cup his face and draw his attention back to me. “What is it?”
He shakes his head and tries to comfort me with a smile. It doesn’t work. He takes my hand in his. “I don’t know. I wish there was an easy answer. Some way…”
“Maybe they’ll allow two Victors. Who knows?” My voice is bitter but Peeta laughs, short and breathy.
“We can send them some berries to threaten the Game makers with,” he says, pulling me close once again. I smile.
“And then they’ll just call the whole thing off.”
“If only,” he says sadly. I sigh, I wish there was a way for them to call it off. That it was simple. That I could march up to Snow and make him stop this, but I can’t. Unless of course, I want to start a war, which is becoming more and more desirable as opposed to watching my children turn into killers or dying.
I wonder what they think of me. Of the Tributes I killed. Do they think it’s something I had to do or do they wish, like Peeta, I had become a Victor by chance? I wonder what Beck thinks of his mother who couldn’t kill anyone in the arena. She’s the only Victor not to have any blood on her hands, even accidentally. She went crazy after it, but no Victor leaves the arena unaffected. At least, none that I’ve met.
I wonder if he walks through the streets of Four with a smile because even though he’s a legacy, even though he doesn’t have a father, he’s got a mother who didn’t kill anyone and survived just the same. The Capitol doesn’t focus on many families, namely mine and a few in One and Two. They largely ignore the Victors without interesting stories. I wonder if Beck is glad that he’s not interesting enough to have their attention, if that makes him smile even more.
Will Ivy ever smile like him? Will Bas? Are they proud of the family they come from? Or do they wish they could go unnoticed, that they had been born to some other name?
Prim is expecting her baby any day now. I hope her child grows up happy, that it knows how loved it is because it will be loved by her and Rory. Their child will never regret the family it comes from and will never fear or pay for its parents past deeds.
“I should have done better,” I whisper as I shut my eyes, trying to fall asleep. “I let them down.”
“No, you didn’t.” Peeta brushes my hair back. “Katniss.”
I open my eyes to look at him.
“There is no better. They love you. And you love them, they know that. They will get through this. We will get through this. Trust me.”
“How can you be sure?” I ask, defeated.
“Because I have to be.” He kisses me and I return it, sinking into the comfort and the safety it provides. The first time I truly felt safe was with Peeta on our Victory Tour. He has the ability to bring me back when I’m about to crumble. No one else does. It started as an act but no act can go on for this long without being true. I don’t think I realized how much I loved him until we were married. I hated the cameras, the Capitol extravagance, and I forced a smile for them, my heart pounding as I walked to the altar. It wasn’t until I got to him, when he took my hand, that I could breathe. And I didn’t have to force a smile or pretend that I wanted to kiss him. I did.
I love him. I need him.
And I need our children to live. I need to burn Snow and the Capitol. I need to make up for the damage I’ve done. I need to fight back.
But the train keeps moving and as much as I want to fight, I have no way of doing so. When we stop, when we reach the Capitol, we’re on display. There is no hiding, no safety, no pretending that we aren’t about to lose a child and no planning for anything other than the Games.
For now, I lie in Peeta’s arms, praying that the sun won’t rise, that the train won’t stop and that we won’t have to watch our children die.