The Games: Target Practice
“Why are you letting yourself become like them?” Gale asks, shouting.
“I’m doing what I have to. To keep the people I love alive.” I shake despite the warm weather.
“What about your kids?”
“Don’t.” My voice reaches a dangerous low.
“What happens when they get reaped?” He asks. I shudder. “Will you fight then? Will you fight when it’s your family?”
“I can’t fight! Every time I try to help or I think I can help, it just gets worse. You remember when the Peacekeepers came here.”
He flinches. He still bears the scars of that day.
I continue. “I’m not going to let that happen again. And I will not let that happen to my children.”
“So what? You’ll just keep doing what you’re doing? Forget and hope everyone else does too? They’re starting to hate you. They’re waiting for you and you’re failing them.”
“They shouldn’t have looked to me in the first place.” I walk away, a bitter taste in my mouth. I hate what I’m becoming. I hate that I’m turning into a mouthpiece for President Snow. But what choice do I have? I have to keep everyone alive. I have to keep them safe.
I’ve seen what happens when Victors don’t play by the rules.
My daughter is five, my son is three. I can’t put them through a war. I can’t be the Mockingjay. I can only smile and wave to the cameras, despite the toll it takes. It would be so easy to look into one and tell the truth. A relief even to call out the Games and the Capitol for all its wrongdoing. An even greater relief for President Snow to just kill me.
But I know he wouldn’t just target me. He would take everyone I love with me. But it would be so worth my life to make everyone see the truth. To convince them to fight. If only there was a way to ensure Peeta and my children’s safety. To make sure Prim, my mother, Gale and his family got away too. Then I would do it. Then I would give in.
“There’s a difference between being alive and living,” Gale calls after me. “Fight back.”
And I want to.
The next morning a mine shaft collapsed, killing Gale and five others. And I resigned myself to being the symbol of the Capitol’s generosity and not the symbol of rebellion.
Gale’s death has never sat right with me. I grieved with everyone else, maybe more than the others. But it was so convenient that he was trying to convince me to fight and without that push I gave up. When I went back into the woods without him, I found myself thinking of his last words to me.
Those words have haunted me ever since that day. Even more than his question over what I would do when my children were reaped. Gale’s words mix with Finnick’s from yesterday and my head feels like it’s going to split open.
Anyone who has ever won did so with an ally. And I am no exception, despite my desire to believe so.
I’ve tried to bury my memories of the Games. I’ve tried to move on. To forget as much as I possibly could. I can’t forget the faces and names of the ones I’ve killed, like Marvel. Or the ones who died, like Rue, but the details blur over time. Details that are now sharpening and screaming with every unwanted memory.
You can only bury something for so long before it finds its way to the surface. It was my plan that got Rue killed. Peeta kept the Careers away from me for as long as he could. The fire is what brought us all together and even when I was stuck in the tree he tried to keep them away. He was my ally long before I went to find him.
I wouldn’t have survived without Peeta.
I watch the ceiling. I don’t sleep much when we’re in the Capitol. It took me years to finally be able to make it through the night back in Twelve. And all of that was thanks to Peeta.
He’s saved me more times than I can count. In the arena and now.
I turn to look at him beside me, still asleep, hair sticking up at odd angles. His hand rests near my pillow, his wedding ring shining in the early morning light. It’s hard to remember a time when we weren’t what we are now. When I didn’t need him as much as I do, but that time existed.
In the first year of our marriage it was a back and forth between us. There were days where it didn’t feel like pretending at all and I could feel myself capable of loving him. But then there were bad days where I couldn’t look at him because I felt the lie weighing on us. I felt like he deserved to be happy and that wasn’t with me.
By the second year I needed him. I needed to be as close to him as I could, I needed to believe we could be happy and a part of me was. That small piece of happiness grew and turned into the love I have for him now. There were days where I was afraid to get out of bed without him.
When I couldn’t bear the looks the people of Twelve would give me, the sympathetic and hopeful looks for the Mockingjay. Peeta was there. When President Snow sent us roses to remind me of my duties, Peeta was there. When I felt so close to breaking, Peeta was there, ready to pick up the pieces.
I wouldn’t have survived without Peeta.
All these years and that’s a fact that remains unchanged. Even as I built walls to keep my children out and to steel myself against whatever the Capitol threw at me.
Although those walls are cracking, have been since the announcement. And as the Games go on and the arena comes closer, they’re crumbling. I’m afraid once there’s nothing left for me to protect myself with, I’ll crumble too.
Peeta opens his eyes to look at me, his blonde hair almost golden with the sunrise.
“What’s wrong?” He asks. He can always tell.
“Do you ever regret winning?” I ask.
“I’m alive. So no.” He smiles making the wrinkles around his eyes stand out. He must know I’m on the verge of a breakdown just as he was last night. We’re both falling apart as the days go on. And it’s getting worse with each hour and each step closer to the arena.
“Maybe not winning, but everything after. With me?”
He tucks my hair behind my ear and keeps his hand on my cheek.
“At first I wasn’t happy that we had made up this lie. Even the wedding, it wasn’t what you really wanted. But you needed me to go through with it. It’s what kept you safe. So I was okay with it, I didn’t regret it.” He kisses me and the warmth of it travels through me.
“And now? Now that I forced you to have our kids so we could go through this?”
“Katniss, you didn’t force me, let’s keep that clear. I would have wanted them even if we didn’t have to. And I don’t think I could ever regret them or you. I love you,” he says, sincerely.
It soothes me temporarily but then I think of Ivy and Bas. The two of them alone in the arena with the Career pack on their trail. A Career pack with sponsors who will send them whatever they need.
“What are you thinking?” Peeta asks.
I know what I have to do. “We need to convince her to get an ally.”
Peeta mutters a noise of agreement.
Ivy and Bas are already sitting at the table with Effie when we walk in. Ivy picks at her food while Bas devours his. Effie rambled on suggestions for how to find allies and how to select the right ones. To my children’s credit they listen without interruption. They’re much more patient than I.
“Now you’ll want to make sure they see you as capable, but not too capable. You don’t want the wrong attention.” Effie takes a bite of some fruit.
“She’s already getting that,” Bas says through a mouthful of food.
Ivy glares at him before looking down at the table.
Effie continues, straightening in her seat, “Yes, well, you’ll want to avoid that kind of attention today. Maybe focus on the people who will be interested in helping you with that.”
“What does it matter if they can help me?” Ivy asks, finally snapping. “I’m just going to have to kill them anyway. Or watch them die.”
Effie breathes, frustrated. “Young lady.”
I recall a time when she referred to me with the same words and tone. Ivy slams her fork down.
“It’s stupid. I’m not doing it.” She moves the food around on her plate. Effie watches, speechless. She looks to me, expecting me to jump in.
I watch Ivy, head in her hand, stabbing her scrambled eggs with her fork. I wonder what she’s thinking. Does she really think she’s prepared to die? To kill? Is there anything I could tell her that would change her mind?
Effie looks like she’s about to continue the conversation but I interject.
“What’s on the schedule today?” I ask as Haymitch emerges from his room.
“Haymitch, how nice of you to be on time,” Effie trills.
“I heard shouting, figured it must be the alarm clock. First few months I could hear you wailing across the street. Kid, you had lungs on you.” Haymitch points to Ivy as he pours himself some coffee.
Ivy did cry a lot when she was a baby. Peeta was always there to comfort her. I couldn’t. I would hide away in the woods or in my room, afraid to be the one to calm her down. Afraid for her to need mem when any second Snow could send Peacekeepers to take her away, or have me killed.
I shake off the memory of her small fingers, her chubby legs, and look at her now. In a lot of ways she’s still that small child. Still scared and crying for me, though she doesn’t show it anymore. Bas was a quiet baby, calm and collected, who trusted us so implicitly. He’s still the same too, short on words when he wants to be. While his anger has shifted over time, his attitude growing towards action and rebellion, he’s still so trustful. He has so much faith in me and Peeta.
How can I decide which one to focus on? How can I choose which one lives?
So the real question becomes, how do I change their fates? How do I fight back when all I’ve done for twenty five years is tell everyone to live like me? Live in fear, passive and trapped.
Effie goes over the schedule, which I’m largely ignoring. Peeta listens. He’ll tell me where I need to go.
Soon Ivy and Bas are heading for the elevator and I realize the time is passing too quickly for these moments together. I shake my head, they can’t go. I can’t send them back.
“Wait,” I say. They stop and look at me. Bas steps forward as I walk to them. I pull him close, crushing him into a hug. He returns it, before pulling away, embarrassed.
“Don’t worry, I’ll look out for her. We’ll be smarter today,” he whispers to me. There’s no relief to his words.
Ivy waits by the elevator.
“Have a good day,” she says before pressing the button. “Good luck with whatever it is you have to do.”
She’s colder and I know what she’s doing. It’s the same thing I’ve done. Shut people out to keep myself safe. To keep myself together and ready to face what I have to. She’s preparing for the Games, readying herself to say goodbye to all of us, and to kill whoever she has to.
She’s turning herself into me.
When they’re gone, I stand watching the empty space. It’s only when Haymitch speaks that I’m broken from my thoughts. I force myself to put the mentor face back on. I have to be like Ivy. I have to face this and prepare.
“Are you in there, sweetheart?”
I go back to the table, nodding slowly.
“Good,” he says. “Peeta and I will take care of the trading floor and you can visit Cinna.”
“What? No, only one of needs to go to the trading floor.” We’ve never done this. It’s always been me and Peeta going to the stylists. We stick together and keep each other from drowning inside the Capitol. We’ve never split up.
Haymitch is always the one to stay on his own. He doesn’t care for the interview outfits. He usually just drinks on the trading floor.
“Johanna wants to talk to me about allying Grover. And if there’s any interested sponsors Haymitch will have to handle them,” Peeta says calmly, there’s an underlying tension in his jaw that I can see. He’s lying to me.
“Johanna?” I ask, disbelieving. “You didn’t think I would want to be there?”
“She thinks you’ll say no.”
“I would say no, and so will Ivy.” I take a bite of some bacon.
“Well, I have to meet with her. And someone has to meet with Cinna and that’s you. I’m sorry.” He shakes his head subtly and I stop myself from pressing further. Haymitch watches us, glancing around the room. I know they’re not telling me everything.
Haymitch toasts his coffee. “Mentors work is never done.”
“So it seems,” I say, an edge to my voice.
Twenty five years later and I’m still not used to walking through the Capitol. I keep expecting to be pulled into a hovercraft or grabbed by a Peacekeeper and locked in a room. But the only thing that occurs is a Capitol citizen stopping to greet me with a smile.
The fashion district is an odd place. It swims with color and a largeness that threatens to swallow me in fabrics and extravagance.
Cinna’s studio is a quiet peace amongst the noise of the city and I’m grateful once I walk inside. Sketches line the walls, some for Ivy and Bas, others for orders he’s taking. There are scraps of fabric on tables and two finished outfits, covered up, in the corner.
I open an old sketch book on a table. It’s worn with creases in the paper. When I flip open the first page I find a drawing of me and my dress from my Games. Fire plumes around me and I look dangerous, terrifying, and unreal. It’s hard to believe I once was that girl.
The next few pages have my outfits from my Victory Tour with each District being designated to each design. On the next to last page I see my wedding dress in all its beauty. I genuinely loved that dress. When I turn the page again I see a Mockingjay and freeze. It burns against the paper, threatening. Its wings are pointed up, it’s beak high, like it’s calling for war.
I can feel the hope of it burning inside me.
I shut the book quickly as Cinna walks in. He gives me a hug and a kiss on each cheek, before I take a seat across from him. I glance to the sketchbook every so often, trying to force the image out of my mind.
“Where’s Peeta?” He asks, handing me a cup of coffee.
“Couldn’t come. He had a meeting with Johanna.” I play with the wedding ring on my left hand. Twisting it, the metal cool against my thumb. It grounds me and keeps me calm.
“And you didn’t want to go to that?”
“I’m not very good at making alliances for my tributes.” I shudder, the mentor attitude comes to me so easily now.
Cinna places a hand on my shoulder. “I heard what happened when you got off the train.”
The memory of the man and his leering look at Ivy comes back to me. A darkness passes through me and reflects itself in my eyes. I wish I could have killed him.
“Are you going to tell me it wasn’t smart?” I ask, the life falling from my voice.
“It wasn’t, but it was also brave to tell them to stop.”
“Well that’s me, brave,” I say, mocking the last word. I don’t think I have any bravery left. A brave person would have let the people rise up. A brave person wouldn’t have let herself become this. She wouldn’t let her children go into the arena. A brave person would fight.
“I was just angry.”
“Sometimes they can be the same.” Cinna smiles and it makes me feel better. He’s the only person in the Capitol who I can honestly say I trust. He understands what these Games mean and what they’ve always meant.
“Would you like to see the dress?” Cinna asks. I nod.
He pulls the cover off of the dress. It’s knee length and fans out at the bottom. There are red feathers laid over it in select places with a black fabric behind them. The feathers give the illusion of flames.
“Is it going to…” Light on fire is what I’m asking. He knows. It’s a beautiful dress and it’ll suit her just fine. It has all the elements of one of mine with something entirely hers. It’s simple and perfect.
“Yes. And so will Basil’s suit.” He pulls off the cover of the suit. The feather theme runs through his as well, along the lapel of the jacket and the sleeves in various places. Both of their outfits have the feathers strategically placed in almost the exact same locations. Their colors match and complement each other. The unity of both family and district evident in the design.
I smile. “They’re perfect.” I touch one of the feathers on the suit. It’s softer than I thought it would be.
“I’m glad you like them. I think it’ll make a statement.”
I nod. “Good.”
When I return to the room, I’m the only one there. Peeta and Haymitch should have returned. I hope something didn’t happen. Maybe they actually managed to find sponsors. I consider taking a trip up to the trading floor but decide against it. I would rather wait alone than deal with the other mentors right now.
When I sit on the couch I find a white rose with a letter addressed to me on the coffee table. My heart sinks, my pulse pounding as I rip it open.
All it says is a time. Noon.
The world spins and falls from me. I clutch the letter, feeling like I’m going to be sick. I hear the ding of the elevator as Peeta and Haymitch walk in. They cut their conversation short when they see me.
“What happened?” Peeta asks, noticing my shell shocked expression. He hurries over to me.
I shake my head and hand him the letter.
“I have to meet with him.” I try to breathe. Spots form around the edge of my vision, I feel like I might pass out.
“Why?” Peeta asks.
“I don’t know.”
“He probably wants to…check up,” Haymitch offers, grinding his teeth.
“I can’t. I can’t meet with him.” My throat is dry.
“You have to,” Haymitch says. “Otherwise, he’ll force you and then he’ll take it out on them.”
I nod. Barely registering the motion.
President Snow hasn’t spoken to me in years. Something must be happening. Something big enough that he needs to make sure I’m still doing what I’m supposed to. Something must be changing. Or maybe nothing is and he just wants to make sure I’m not.
But I can feel it in my heart, like I could years ago, when the districts were fighting back.
And I feel it now.
Fire is catching.
The morning goes by too slow for my liking. When we walk onto the training floor, Callie and Teddy practice climbing. Bas indicates them, silently asking to join them. I don’t want to talk to any more Tributes. I shake my head and walk to the knot tying station.
Instead of joining me, he walks over to camouflage. I don’t want him to ignore the other skills, but no one forces Bas to do something he doesn’t want to. And he just wants to paint and have some remembrance of being home. I let him go. He probably shouldn’t be showing off how good he is at it, but I don’t think the Careers are going to target him for being good at painting. If anything they’ll target him to get at me.
The rope I work with frays as I fail to tie the knot. I shake my head, I should be better at this. I can set snares and traps perfectly. I can climb trees, track better than my mother, and I always hunt down my prey. Hell, I can make arrows if I need to. Why can’t I do this?
“You’re pulling too tight,” Beck says, before picking up a piece of rope for himself. “You loop it and then gently, pull it through.” He shows me the movements as he describes them. For once he doesn’t sound like the arrogant Career, eager to show the world what he’s made of. There’s a sincerity to him that keeps me silently watching until he holds up his knot. “See?”
I imagine him blood-soaked, an arrow torn into his chest, me standing over his body. Then I see Annie, crying and covering her ears like she did at the reaping. I drop the rope and walk away.
I can’t look at the Tributes. I can’t see proud faces, hear voices giving me helpful tips, or feel grateful to any one of them. Not when I have to kill them all. I remember yesterday and the conversation I had with Grover. Am I going to be able to put an arrow in him when I remember teaching him how to light a fire?
But if he’s trying to kill me or Bas do I really have a choice?
August sits with Bas at the camouflage station, smiling as he mixes colors. Would Bas let me kill August if I had to? Would he do it to save me?
I watch Trina practice throwing knives. She holds them easily before throwing swiftly. She only gets one bull’s-eye. The rest of her knives stick in the target at various spots. When she finishes she makes her way to August. She’s frustrated from the knives and keeping an eye on him isn’t helping her mood. I wonder why she doesn’t just leave him to his own devices and practice what she wants to.
As I walk to them I think it’s because he’s the only piece of home that she has here. I don’t know her history or if her mentor parent is here with her. August is the only person she’ll have in the arena. The only person she can truly trust. I wouldn’t leave Bas, even if he wasn’t my brother.
“Try it like this,” Bas says as he shows August how to layer the greens to create different shades. It gives the illusion of leaves. August tries to imitate Bas on his own arm but it becomes a giant green mess.
“August, come on, let’s see if we can practice climbing,” Trina tries. He ignores her and continues painting up his arm.
“It’s okay, I can watch out for him,” Bas says with a smile. I give him a warning look, which he returns with a questioning one.
“Fine. If he starts, being weirder, come get me.” Trina walks off to climbing.
“She wants to protect me,” August says quietly. His focus fades out and he continues in a sing song voice, “But she can’t. No more safety, not for anyone. Back home we listen to the wind in the grass. That’s safe. I miss safe.”
He continues muttering about the tall grass and the wind back home before I have to leave. Hearing any one of them talk about home forces me to think about the people watching. District Nine knows him. They’ve watched him grow up. They know he isn’t out to harm anyone. I know it too.
If I kill him will they see me as some kind of vicious monster Hell bent on winning? Will they understand why I’m doing what I’m doing? I won’t have to live with my choices for very long. I won’t even have to see the people of Nine.
But Bas will. He’ll have to face them on his Victory Tour. I wonder what they will think of him, standing on that stage alive because of their dead. How did my parents manage it?
I hesitate to join Trina at the climbing station, but I’m bored with stationary skills. I’m used to climbing trees at home. I like climbing. I don’t need to relearn the skill, but I can’t spend another minute trying to tie a knot. I need movement and combat isn’t an option.
The trainer puts a harness on me and I approach the wall. I use my hands and feet to grip each hold to pull myself higher. I rise quickly, meeting Trina halfway up.
“I have to admit, this looked easier from down there,” she says out of breath. “How are you so good at this?”
I want to avoid being as personable with the others as possible. I don’t want to see their faces if I’m forced to kill them. But it’s difficult to build a wall and shut people out when they’re right in front of you.
Although I seemed to have no problem doing it to Beck. But that may just be because he’s with the Career group. It’s easier to think of them as willing participants rather than forced ones.
That feels like a lie I’m trying to tell myself. Like I’m pretending it won’t be just as difficult to kill them.
“I did a lot of tree climbing back home,” I finally share.
She nods, finding her balance as her hand grips another hold. “Traps, fires, climbing, and you’re the daughter of Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark. You’re going to be a problem, aren’t you?” She asks and I can’t tell if she’s joking. Her tone tries to be light, but there’s a flatness to her expression that confuses me.
“Was she really so important?” I ask. Trina looks at me, trying to determine my meaning. “My mother. Why does everyone get this look when they talk about her?”
“What look?” Trina asks. She’s twenty three now, too young to have been alive for my parent’s victory but old enough to have been around for some of the aftermath. I wonder if she heard stories of rebellion. If, like so many others, she hoped it would happen. I wonder if she believed my parents’ love story and if my birth convinced her.
She would have been about six when I was born. I bet she heard all about me from the constant coverage by the Capitol once I was given a name. Did my existence kill that little girl’s hope for a better world?
“It’s like this, hope or desperation. I don’t know.” I shrug. I remember seeing an older woman approach my mother in Twelve. She had grabbed her hand and kissed it, before repeating please over and over again. She acted like my mother was in control of everyone’s future. I can’t help but think she is.
All it would take is one word, one action, and the districts would follow her. She’s still their Mockingjay. She’s their hope, burning like the sun against a long dark night. I can see it in some of the faces of the tributes around me. They hear her name and they want to fight. They look at Bas or me and they see her.
I remember she locked herself in her room that day and didn’t come out until the next afternoon. She tried to pretend nothing happened. My father kept trying to talk to her about it. He even asked me what happened. I was five, too young to really know what was happening.
When he realized I couldn’t explain it he wanted to know if I had questions. But I saw the way it affected my mother and I couldn’t ask. If I was one of the people in the districts, I don’t know if I would go to war for the woman who rejected it all. Who I put my faith in and who failed me.
But I’m not just anyone in the other districts. If my mother called for war, I would help. Even with my doubts about her, even with my knowledge that I exist to stop rebellion. I believe in her. I would follow her. I’m not sure where this new faith is coming from. Maybe from the knowledge that I will soon die or from the possibility that I can fight against my predetermined purpose.
Or maybe it’s not a new faith at all. I’ve always held the belief that she could come back, that she could fight. And I want the world to believe it too. Or I wanted them to. That was before the attack in Twelve. Before I saw what can happen to innocent people caught up in my actions.
Trina takes a long time to answer. I can’t tell if she’s afraid she’ll say the wrong thing or if she’s trying to find the most accurate thing to say.
“Some people at home talk about her like she’s their last hope. Like she’ll miraculously save them and they can all fight. They used to talk about her a lot. Everyone would go, any day now, any day. She’s coming, the wars coming. Then they didn’t talk about it as much. Now it’s just whispers from a few people. Everyone else gave up. Stopped believing.” She shrugs and I count her amongst the non-believers. “You know, after a while, everybody realized she bought into the whole Capitol lifestyle. Figured out that the whole Mockingjay thing was just an act for sponsors.”
My hand slips and I lose my balance. I’m grateful I have the harness on to stop me from falling. I find my footing and pull myself up to Trina.
“She didn’t buy into anything.”
“Every year the cameras come to show off your family. To remind us how generous the Capitol has been to your parents. All of you smile. You’re so happy, you’re so grateful. And we have to see it every year. We hear the same speeches and questions over and over. And not once have I ever seen a flicker of doubt or pain on her face. She bought into it. And maybe you don’t want to see it, but I have.” Trina tries to climb higher. I catch up to her.
“It’s a lie.” I know I shouldn’t be trying to convince anyone of the truth. I know I shouldn’t be trying to tell the story, especially in the Capitol. But seeing the anger and bitter defeat on Trina’s face makes me want to try.
She’s not interested in the truth. “It’s been twenty five years of her lie. Maybe she finally started believing it. Or maybe it never was. Sorry.”
There’s no sympathy in her words.
I climb down, sorry I asked about my mother. Sorry I even wanted to know. Everything was so simple weeks ago. I was going to die. I was going to kill. I was going to die knowing I was a plan. I wanted to help my mother realize she could change things. I wanted her to believe again.
Now I don’t know how I’m standing. I feel like the weight of my family’s sins is threatening to bury me. I feel like the country is watching, snarling like a wounded animal waiting to die. It’s like they’re waiting to see if I’m enjoying this. If I want to join the family legacy and become an even bigger name in the Capitol than I already was. They probably look at me like I do the Careers. Nothing more than a willing participant eager to please the Capitol.
Bas has to win. He has to tell the truth. He has to make them see. Because if anyone else does, they’ll spout the same lie, they’ll pretend to be grateful, and the wounded animal will receive the death blow.
I’m quiet throughout lunch. I take small bites of my food and look around at the others. I feel like my parents failed every single person in the room. Not just them. I helped too. With my smile, my ability to be charming in interviews, I did the very thing I was born to do. I convinced people that my family had moved on. That the two teenagers didn’t defy anyone but the odds of fate and I was their happily ever after.
I knew going into the Games that I would be faced with the legacy aspect a lot more. Everyone’s always so eager to compare me to my mother. I was ready to accept the comparisons. But then I saw what happens when you challenge the Capitol. I saw what it means to restart a war. I saw the victims and why a symbol can be dangerous.
I started understanding my mother without realizing it. I knew why she followed the rules. And when she gave me the pin, when she asked me to wear it, I understood this as permission. A rebellion in its own right. Her fighting against the mask.
There are parts of me that imagine what it would be like to finally give in. To say screw it and start a war. How easy it would be with the right words, the right symbol, and we have them all at our ready.
I have the pin. Bas has the anger. My father has the words. And as my mother is the symbol, so long as she lives. It wouldn’t be difficult to make a speech, to show the Capitol that we’re done playing. Combine that with the legend of the Mockingjay and it would be so simple. To tell the truth, to be brave, and let the country be brave too.
But I know where we are, how easy it would be for the Capitol to silence us. And I can’t imagine my mother can think of anything right now other than keeping us alive. But if a rebellion meant keeping us alive, would she do it then?
If neither one of my parents has done anything by now, it’s because they don’t see a victory. And if they don’t see it, how can they convince others to see one?
“Are you okay?” Bas asks and I force a nod. I bury the thoughts of war and rebellion. Swallowing all my anger over a lie I didn’t create. I can’t think about this now. I have to focus on keeping us both alive long enough for Bas to win. Whatever happens after, whatever truth he tells, is up to him.
After lunch, Bas and I practice snares and traps. His deft hands are good at tying them down but I’m much faster at setting them. There’s an almost instinctual way we put them together. We don’t really think about what we’re doing, we just do it.
Trina and August join us a minute later. I don’t know if they think we would be allies, or if they just want to watch us and see if they can learn something. After my conversation with Trina, I’m growing wary of spending any more time with her. What I once thought was anger at the Capitol is focusing itself onto me like the Careers.
I try to ignore them as they both do their best to set one trap. They help each other put it together, eventually catching their hands in wires and breaking it. They’re forced to start all over, going slower this time. Bas and I work on our third.
Bas glances behind me. I hear the smack of a target being hit, knowing full well who’s responsible for the noise. Beck has been throwing tridents since the knot tying station. I wonder if he’s even going to bother with survival skills or if he’s relying on his district partner for that.
“He’s watching you again,” Bas says. I roll my eyes, though I’m grateful to Bas for giving me something else to focus on. And maybe to Beck for annoying us enough that it provides a distraction.
“He’s just trying to rile us up. You know, intimidate,” I tell him.
“I said he’s watching you, not us.”
He places a hand over his heart like he’s been offended. I laugh despite myself.
“Is that an actual laugh?” Bas asks in surprise.
“I know they’re so rare that I’m actually worried about my interview.”
“Oh they love you, they always do. With me, I think if I smile they won’t recognize me.” He shrugs.
I hear the smack of another trident. Bas looks behind me. His eyes narrow.
“I’m going to kick his ass in the arena,” he says.
“Is this you trying to be the protective brother? Because I’m pretty sure you’ll get maybe one punch before he destroys you.”
“One punch is all you need if it’s a good one. And if I surprise him.”
I shake my head. “Ignore him. Finnick probably told him to do it. Like mentor like tribute.”
“Yeah, mentor.” Bas emphasizes the word. We both know what he really means.
I feel Beck’s eyes on me, begging me to turn around. I finally give in.
He throws another trident. It hits the target, right in the center. I imagine it hitting little Zero as Beck looks at me, proudly. I try to wipe the image from my mind.
The pride on his face drops as he notices my expression. He takes a tentative step towards me, a look of concern on his face. He stops when he remembers Stone is right next to him. The concerned look disappears as his bravado returns in full force.
“Pretty good, huh?” He asks to the amusement of Stone. It grates on me, this back and forth between being genuine and acting like the others. I can’t tell if this tactic is being used to kill me or the Careers. Either way, I can’t buy into it.
“I’ve seen better,” I retort before turning back to Bas.
Bas’ voice lowers as he watches the proceedings behind me. “It must be hard growing up like that though. Being the unwanted bastard back in Four while your father is running around with women in the Capitol.”
“I don’t think it’s like that,” I admit. I remember the way Finnick looked at Beck, concerned, caring, distressed but doing all he could to hide it. Trying to play the part of Finnick, the Victor, Finnick, the Capitol darling, but failing. Unlike his son, who has mastered the act and uses it every chance he gets.
Except for his fleeting moments of sincerity, but it’s all a Game. I have to remind myself of that. Everything each one of us does is an act. A strategy. I can’t trust him. He may smile now, pretend he cares but that will change when the gun goes off.
He will try to kill me as soon as he has the chance.
That feels like the only thing I can trust for sure about Beck. Killing means he gets to go home, be with his family, and never worry about this ever again. But he wouldn’t be worrying about it if it weren’t for the Quell.
At nineteen, he was ineligible, much like the Careers from One and Two. This makes them even more dangerous. Not because they’re older than me or stronger, but because they’ve had the illusion of safety and had it ripped from them.
I wonder how much hatred brews in Beck. How much he buries it, and how much of it will be used to kill the others, including me. I wonder if, like Trina, he’s focusing on me because of my family. But I think, out of all the other tributes here, he probably understands a lie and the toll it takes better than the rest.
“You don’t?” Bas asks, tripping his snare with a stick to make sure it works.
I shake off my thoughts. “Finnick didn’t look at him like he was a burden, or like he was happy that he was in the Games. It was like…how mom and dad look at you.” I struggle with the last words, choking it out in a rush. I’ve never been the wanted child, the one they love unconditionally. Bas was always the happy accident. I was always intended to end up here.
I’m the Capitol creation, the mutt designed to keep the Mockingjay in a cage.
“You think they don’t…”
“Dad, maybe, but not mom.”
Bas laughs, sharp and quick, like he’s confused at my thinking. “You can’t honestly believe that?”
“I can. I do. Why am I here, Bas? Tell me. Tell me the story that doesn’t include convincing people.” We speak in hushed tones now, but we don’t really care who hears. What can they do? Kill us. That would be a relief.
“There are times, when she thinks no one’s looking or she just doesn’t bother hiding it. And when you see it, and I know you have, you wonder how you ever doubted it.” Bas shrugs before he goes back to tying his next snare. “It’s like she’s looking at the most important thing in the entire world and you can’t fake that.”
I swallow. I wish I knew for sure. That I could see it. But maybe I have and I just didn’t recognize it when I did. If I’m lucky I might remember it before I die, that would be nice.
I turn to watch the Careers again. Do they ever question their parents’ love?
I make eye contact with Beck, my blues meeting his green. That reminder of home hits me and it’s almost overwhelming after the thoughts running through my head today. I can’t look away. For some reason, I feel grounded, like the weight about to crush me has lifted, if only temporarily.
It returns when I hear the clatter of a trident. He fumbles to pick it up. Emery and Cain laugh at him from the archery station. Victoria watches, her expression blank, glancing from him to me.
He plays it off. Giving the others a shrug before saying, “Slipped.”
He whirls the trident around with precision before throwing it into the target once again. It lands, centered, like all his other shots.
Emery nods approvingly before her attention turns to me. She gives me a cold stare as she flips her hair back. She saunters over to the archery station, taking a moment to make sure I’m watching.
I clench my fist as she picks up the bow.
“What are you doing?” Stone asks, “Cashmere told us--”
“I think my aunt will understand. Besides, how hard can it be?”
Stone sighs, almost bored. “My father says it looks better when you have the up close kill.”
“My father says variety is something sponsors enjoy more.” Emery cocks an eyebrow. Stone knows there’s no way to win this argument.
Still, he tries. “You don’t want to rely on it in the arena. It’s hard to maintain perfect accuracy.”
Emery shrugs. “Her mother can do it.” She looks over at me as she nocks an arrow. “And we all know how weak that bitch is. Have you seen her lately?” Her voice increases in its volume. “It’s sad really. She looks like she’s going to fall apart. Some people just aren’t meant to be Victors.” She indicates Bas and me with her head. “And the two of them. I don’t even know how they can stand to have a mother like that. I’d have run away long ago. Or killed myself.”
I slam my hands down and stand. That’s the last straw. I’m tired of Emery’s remarks. Of the looks from others and the lies they believe. I’m tired of pretending to be weak. Of letting the country think my mother is weak. Letting her think she’s weak. I’m tired of everything.
I march over to the archery station, passing Beck on my way. He stops throwing his trident, watching me as I reach Emery. He’s not interfering like he did yesterday. There’s no stopping what I’m about to do.
“She’s so easy,” Emery says, more to herself than the others. “Looks like all I’ll have to do is fire off a few insults in the arena and she’ll come running right to us.”
“Give me that,” I order, my voice dark, dangerous.
Emery starts to laugh. I rip the bow from her hand before she even has a chance to react.
I step up to the archery station, my blood boiling. I press the buttons and the targets begin to move. I nock an arrow and fire, hitting the first target right where the heart would be.
New targets shift in front of me in pairs and then threes. I hit all of them, but make a point not to go for the kill shot every time. I want to scare them as much as possible. I aim for legs on a few, which would incapacitate a normal person. Others I go for the eye, to prove that I know how to kill in more than one way. I shoot two in quick succession, hitting the shoulder of one and the stomach of another, before delivering the kill shot on each. Every arrow goes exactly where I want it to.
When I’m done, I shove the bow into Emery’s hands. She’s so stunned she drops it.
There’s not a sound in the training room. Everyone has stopped to watch. I take a second to look up at the Gamemakers. Most of them smile, an excitement creeping onto their faces that they can’t contain. The only one who doesn’t is Plutarch. He watches me, his brows furrowed, almost like he’s concerned.
I turn my back to them as I walk towards Bas. He looks down, shaking his head. When did he become the level-headed one?
The other tributes force themselves to go back to their stations. Little Zero and his district partner work harder to get a fire lit, like their lives depend on it. I guess it could. Callie forces herself to focus on a fish hook she’s making. Teddy chews his lip and whispers something to her which makes her nod in agreement. Grover is the only one with an actual smile on his face. He sneaks a thumbs up to me before turning back to identifying plants.
“Nice shooting, Twelve,” Beck says, lacking enthusiasm, as I pass him. “But I don’t think that was very smart.”
“Focus on your tridents, Four,” I retort. “And less on me.”
There’s a lack of color on Trina’s face when I return to the station. I’m almost glad to be the cause of it.
August laughs, muttering, “Told you,” over and over again.
I sit quietly, not bothering to occupy myself with practicing traps. There’s no point in pretending that I don’t possess the skills to kill anymore. I just have to pretend that I’m capable of it. That I don’t care what happens to the others and taking their lives is nothing to me.
This was much easier when I didn’t know their faces or their names.
About an hour after a silent dinner, I crawl into bed, my eyes glued to the ceiling. I imagine what it will feel like to take a life. If I’ll care when my arrows tear through skin and bone to the sound of a cannon.
Soon my thoughts turn to my life and what it will feel like to die. There’s a panic that overpowers me. I thought I had accepted it, that I had moved past it. But now that the day is drawing closer, I realize I haven’t. I feel the fear of it, the pain of knowing I haven’t done anything in my seventeen years to make this matter.
I’m not ready to die.
I shouldn’t have to.
But I do have to, because the alternative is not an option.
I can’t walk out and have my brother be the one to die. There’s no victory in that, only selfish self-preservation. That would be a failure to me and to him. And it would destroy me more than any sword or ax could.
Or even a trident.
I think of home. My heart aches for Twelve. I miss the smell of the woods, the fresh air, the bakery. I miss my bed and my room. I miss the quiet. Everything here is loud, colorful, fake and too bright to be real. The air is stifling and choking. I fear the arena and my death but the truth is I’m dying just by being here.
I feel the first threat of tears come to me but I swallow them down. I told myself no more crying. Not even for home. Not even for the life I won’t live. Not for anything. No more tears.
I breathe before throwing off the blankets and sitting up. I’m not going to be sleeping tonight. I wonder if this is how my mother felt before her Games. Or even my father. Had one of them come to accept that they were probably going to die? Did both of them? Did they know then what would happen? What they should do?
The door opens and shuts, breaking me from my thoughts, as my mother storms in. Her breathing is short and panicked. She’s terrified.
“What did you do?” She asks, her voice shaking just as badly as she is.
I’m afraid to answer. I’ve never seen her this bad before. I don’t usually see her at all when she’s like this. Not when she screams from her nightmares, not when she needs someone to tell her it’s okay. I don’t want to see her. But I can’t escape her now.
“What did you do?” She repeats, her voice louder, almost yelling. “Why are One and Two asking for you as an ally?!”
I look for my father, for anyone, but they don’t come.
I finally find my voice, “I…they saw me shoot.”
Her face falls, her fear breaking over her in a devastating blow. She drops her head in her hands and repeats no over and over again. Her shaking finally stops and she’s angry.
“Why would you do that? It wasn’t enough to threaten them. You had to show them that they should kill you first?” She asks, shouting at me.
“Why would they want me as an ally only to kill me?” I ask, quietly.
“Do you want to be their ally?”
“Then why would they let you live? If you can’t help them, you aren’t useful. They’ll target you because you’re their biggest threat.” She paces. Her hands on her mouth like she’s fighting back a scream.
“If they target me, they won’t target Bas. And if I kill them, it doesn’t matter.” The words are cold and foreign to me, like something I once thought was good but isn’t. Yesterday morning I woke up believing those words. It feels so long ago. Now I’m no longer sure how easy it’s going to be, or how much better their attention on me is.
“If. If you make it out of the bloodbath. If they don’t use him to get to you. If they don’t ki--” She can’t continue. She sits against the wall, twisting her wedding ring, trying to calm herself down. She sounds broken and far away when she asks, “Why couldn’t you just listen?”
I stand. I’m angry now. I tried to listen. I tried to go unnoticed. If they had just gone after me I wouldn’t have cared, but they didn’t go after me. They didn’t try to threaten me. They went after my family. They tried to tell me a lie. They tried to make me believe that my family was weak. Throwing the words I’ve been acting out right back at me. And I couldn’t take it anymore. They forgot and I wanted them to remember.
“They called you weak. They insulted you. And I couldn’t let them believe they were right.” She looks at me. I swallow, trying to think of how I want to approach my next words. If there’s a time for truth, it’s now. “For a while I thought it was true. That you were. And I didn’t understand why anyone would look to you as some kind of symbol.”
“Ivy,” she warns but I shake my head.
“I get it now. You stood up before you knew what could happen. And you reminded everyone that they’re people, not tributes. And for a while I thought they broke you. They haven’t yet. Don’t let them.” Her eyes meet mine and they say all I need to hear. The woman who told me to keep fighting, the angry Victor, the rebellious Mockingjay, she’s proud. Agreeing with me wordlessly. The other woman, the one riddled with fear and trauma, she knows I’m right too. It’s the one time I’ve seen both halves of her agree.
“And,” I continue, “Emery said how hard could it be to shoot and that made me mad.” I sit beside her.
“Well, if she said that, I guess I can understand.”
I smile sadly.
My mother takes a shaky breath. “Have you thought about any allies at all?”
I shake my head. “I can’t.”
Grover’s cold, pale face flashes before my eyes, an arrow through his glasses.
“I don’t know what to do anymore,” I admit. “I don’t think I can kill anyone.”
She pulls me close to her. My head resting on her shoulder as she runs her fingers through my hair. I should pull away, I should keep my distance. But I can’t.
I remember seeing the highlights from her Games. An arrow through Marvel’s heart. One in Cato’s eye after he was torn apart by mutts. Her cutting down the tracker jacker nest that killed Glimmer.
“How did you do it?” I ask and she freezes. I think she’s going to run out of the room, hide away and try to forget, but she doesn’t. She fights her instinct to flee and faces my question.
“It’s not easy,” she starts, her voice barely above a whisper. “It’s something you live with. But it was me or them. And later your father or them. And I had to choose.” Her hands start to shake again and I take them in mine. It’s the first time I’ve done this, trying to comfort her. I regret not doing it sooner. I regret a lot of things now that I’m heading to my death.
“I don’t want to have to make that choice.”
“I don’t want you to have to make that choice either,” she says quietly.
I pick at my cuticles as I avoid looking at her when I ask, “How do you live with it?”
She lets out a breath. I can’t tell if this is a question she’s been expecting for a while or if she’s just finally stopped running from the truth. There’s no long silence, there’s just a simple answer.
“I have you, your brother and your father.”
She says it so calmly, like it’s the most natural response. My heart drops. I’ve spent years rejecting her. Feeling like I was never loved by her. It’s this moment that I think I see what Bas meant. I can’t doubt her love for me when I’m what helps get her through the day.
“Some days it’s harder to forget or to live with the memories. So I just repeat to myself, my name was Katniss Everdeen, it’s now Katniss Mellark. I’m forty two. I’m one of the Victors of the 74th Hunger Games. I have two children and a husband. I have a sister. I live in District Twelve. I’m a mentor. I’ve killed people and I’ve gotten them killed.” She swallows. “And now I add, my children are Tributes in the 100th Hunger Games.”
It seems like there’s more that she’s not saying or she can’t say. But I don’t question it.
“And that really helps?” I ask, wondering if that will help me when I’ve killed. When I’m dying in whatever way comes to me. Will I be able to think of my name as the life leaves me?
She nods. “It’s calming.”
“Thank you,” I say and I mean it. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. I would have done the same thing.” She smiles then, nudging me with her shoulder. “Did they look scared?”
“Good.” She shifts in her seat and looks to me, the old light in her eyes, the same light I saw when she saved me in Twelve. “Ivy. Promise me, you keep fighting. Even if there’s no way to win, even if it’s just you and Bas, you two keep fighting.”
“But if it’s just me and--”
“Keep. Fighting. Don’t let them win. Promise me?”
I nod. “I promise. I won’t let them win.”
She breathes a sigh of relief and I wonder if she’s fighting back. If she finally believes she can change things. If she’s willing to try.