The people around the table were chatty until I entered the room. The sobriety that filled the space was fast, spilling over onto me and making me uneasy, cut with airy knives. I sit next to Prim, who eyes me with love but there's a tint of caution in those blue depths. It wounds me a little. I pretend it doesn't bother me.
I've no real appetite for anything, despite not having a decent full meal in months. My stomach just sinks with every bite, wanting to expel whatever's coming into it, despite the feeling of starvation and the rumbles that vibrate in me. I manage to eat one bowl of soup but ignore the rest of the food that's laid out for us. This causes Gale and my sister to look at me thoughtfully, silently inquiring what's wrong but, of course, I don't say anything.
I just want this over with.
"What's going on?"
This finally ceases all chatter. Every head turns, every pair of eyes digging into my skin, trying to understand me as I try to understand it all. I want to just know so I can go back to my room and sink into the mattress, where the only boy who will share it with me is my son, and only my son.
Haymitch, who has been a part of this little coup, speaks first, never missing a beat. "What do you want to know?"
"Now, Katniss," beings my mother, but I quiet her with a look. She doesn't say anything but I can tell that she's displeased with my reproach, as well as the fact she doesn't think I can handle it. No one does. Ever since I passed out from just the mention of the Capitol, where we now are, every treats me so delicately it's infuriating.
The indifferent mask that's been my friend since my father's death slips easily back on. It's been with me through it all, and I welcome it.
"Why are we here?"
"Hold on, sweetheart," he begins, and this causes others besides me to glare. He's the only one who doesn't treat me too differently due to my circumstances. I don't know how to feel about it yet. "Now, it's a very complicated little thing." He sips his spirits, rank with a bitter cloying scent. I wait. It feels like forever just to get a damned answer from anyone nowadays.
"We'll start from the beginning…"
And he does. Haymitch carefully lays it out. After I had been taken prisoner by my captor, tension had increased throughout our country of Panem. Riots had broken out, mainly in 8, 4, and surprisingly 11, due to the death of Rue. This is shocking since 11 has the highest and most brutal security in any of the districts. There are people who are loyal to me. During the time of my imprisonment, I'd become something of an idol, a face of power and sacrifice to those who are rebelling. They call me the Mockingjay, since I had sung to Rue during her death and because of my pin. I didn't have to do anything—I easily fell into the spot of a martyr and it's riveting for a country who has felt the oppression of a strong fist for generations upon generations.
"It couldn't have been more perfect," he says.
I quirk a brow, knowing there's more.
"Really eager, are we? Well, here's another thing. Your friend there," he says, pointing to Gale, "is our fearless leader."
This does cause my eyebrows to rise and I look at Gale. His face is serious with the burden of leadership, thinking about all that's occurring. It makes perfect sense, really. He's a brilliant whiz with snares, knowing just where to set up them up, a natural strategist. Haymitch says that it took a while to completely bring together the districts that were noble to the cause, including 12; finally, the bravest, smartest, and strongest of our men, with some valuable women, joined arms with the rebels to fight the Capitol and its never-ending tyranny. Haymitch says it works and I agree, to an extent. They've shown me videos of Gale in action, calling people to side against our nation's most domineering president. He's proved himself in the videos that he's a capable tactician and politician, his looks adding to his favor and the intensity of his adamant hatred for the Capitol, for me, and I'm sure a lot of others, he's no Peeta. It's not that Gale doesn't have the ability to sway individuals, he does—with that sharp wit and tongue; but for those of us who knew Peeta well and his ingenious way to woo the people with conviction, no one had been sure if Gale would be up for the job.
Thankfully, he's doing well.
Haymitch takes a brief pause in order for me to ask anything.
"District 12 and the other districts," I say, "How many are still standing?"
"All of the ones who joined us and the ones who didn't have fallen. That's namely 1 and 2. Believe me, many of them wanted the Capitol brought down."
It had taken weeks upon weeks to get through the defenses of the Districts loyal to the Capitol and finally reach the end, or somewhat close to it. District 2, at the time, was being carefully monitored because everyone knew I was there. When the time came to fight against District 2, Gale was adamant about going straight in, yet there weren't many who wanted to follow his plan, even if he was the leader. He managed to persuade them however and they plotted out a plan to do battle, to conquer, to win.
"How many casualties happened because of that?" I ask. The Capitol's defenses are impenetrable. The Dark Days are a reminder of that.
"We had some," he explains, "But none in the Capitol."
My eyes widen, "What do you mean none? They just let you in?"
Gale interrupts and Haymitch obviously doesn't mind. Gale looks at me for a moment before he shakes his head, "No, they didn't. We walked right through with no intervening of any kind." I can't imagine it, Gale walking upon marbled steps, pristine sidewalks and through throngs of silly, frilly, colored people, heading right into the heart of our nation with nothing to attack.
Gale is quiet. The whole table is sullen.
"The Capitol and I are in a treaty. We've called a truce."
A truce? That's impossible! The Capitol is a ruthless killer among killers that are forced to destroy. "I don't understand. Why is that?"
"Katniss, calm down—"
"Gale, this is the enemy! Why in the bloody hell are we siding with them?" I'm breathing too hard, my vision becoming blurry. My mother and my sister are beside me, Prim soothing me by rubbing my back, and my mother immediately straight-faced, holding a fancy lapel napkin one hand that she dunked in the ice water. Effie would have stroke. She probably is having one—I can see her in peripheral vision, watching my mother's hands wring the exquisitely embroidered thing.
After they coax me to take some water and a tiny liquid gel tablet, I calm down slightly. Gale is kneeling before me, brushing some strands from my face. Or attempting to. I pull away whenever his fingers get too close. It's not just that I'm shocked with his decision to side with the very thing that he's been trying to destroy since he learned to think. It's not just that men make me uncomfortable. It's the fact I don't know how to respond to these kinds of touches, intimate ones. It would make an implication that I've only been too well-aware of since living in 12. That Gale and I would one day fall in love and be married and happy then die. It's just dumb little fantasy and I brush it away like the pest it is.
I glance to my left, where Haymitch is sitting. He's the only one who's calm, even though he does look a little perturbed by my reaction. I can't allow that to happen. No one will take me seriously if it looks as though I'm constantly having a mental breakdown.
"Tell me the rest," I sigh, setting down the glass so no one will be able to tell my hands are shaking.
Gale stares at me. He then continues, going on about saying that the invitation to the Capitol was very personal, how Snow himself sent and wrote the message to Gale. He had explained that all the charges against the rebels will be dropped on the condition that the two sides join in order to avoid any more bloodshed. Secretly, I bet everyone was slightly relieved—the Dark Days are a time in our history that no one likes to talk about. It's a painful, broken shard that sticks out in the belly of our being, bleeding us out—because people wanted to fight and be moronic and us lesser descendants have to pay for their insolence.
Gale tells me how he had a hard time believing it at first; I don't blame him. This is the psycho who has been in a long line of other bastards who've sent children to murder children for the sake of entertainment. The thought of it brings back up so many memories that I have to hold myself back from putting my head in my hands. The headaches increase, along with painful throbs in my eyes, whenever I think of it.
"The treaty is going to stay, Katniss," he says, looking at me square in the face. I can tell he's not lying. Snow may be a liar, I'm sure he is—no one who is cruel cannot not know how to tell a lie—but Gale is sincere with me.
"What is the purpose of this?" I whisper, not daring to break the quiet too much. There's more he's not telling me.
Gale finally looks up and checks with the people in the room if he should continue, the faces of people I trust and yet aren't sure to trust.
"Katniss, I know it's hard to take in but the truce is here—it's the only way to protect our people."
"And what's the cost?"
"…the one who began the rebellion."
In other words, me; me, the Girl on Fire, who lit the spark… I'm suddenly on my feet and I'm about to bolt through the door when Gale catches me by the waist, and I'm screaming and kicking my way through. Terror stricken me and I struggle harder to flee.
"Katniss, it's not you! It's not you!" Gale shouts, assent and agreement coming from the people here.
They lower me onto a chair and Gale grips me, holding me in place. Gale grips my hand as Haymitch comes forward, informing me that, while I may be the cause, I'm not the source.
"Who else is it then?" I hiss.
"The Victor from 2,"
It stuns me. The Victor from 2…
He nods. The world is spinning, "I… how is it him?"
When he took me for his own, I was fashioned by the rebels and the Capitol later, into the girl who lost everything because she loved so much. For the rebels it was truth, but, I bet for the Capitol, it was just a way to save their skins.
Cato: the enemy of the Capitol.
Cato: the weapon that the Capitol now wants gone.
Cato: dear, confusing, brutish, Cato…
There's laughter ringing in my ears, and I'm trying to find the source. I realize it's me, laughing and crying hysterically into my hands, and the faces of these people that I love but don't trust are looking at me in horror, because the laughter coming out of me is frightening, chilling my own body, sliding into my marrow, an injection of euphoria that I haven't felt in eons. It's the laughter of someone who wants to see her oppressor die, the laughter of someone who wants revenge.
It's the laughter of someone who's lost her mind.