The Caged Bird Sings

Raven


Raven


The people I love are gone with the dawn, escaping on the wind, but, in truth, I am leaving them behind. For where I am heading, no one can come with me. The darkness is seeping around the world and I had to send them to the light.

I had watched them until they were nothing in the horizon, the sun engulfing them in bright rays. Prim had given me endless hugs when I had told her what needed to be done and I hugged my mother before she could even step toward me. I had failed so often in making amends with her, and who knows when I'll see her. I wanted to tell her I loved her too, that I had been a fool for a long time, that I should've been kinder but all she did was smile and place her palm against my face.

Perhaps she always understood.

Madge and I exchanged goodbyes with little to no interaction until the actual departure, when she embraced me tightly and murmured, "Come back to us."

Gale said the same to me but with his eyes. They smoldered, becoming coals within darkened skin and hair. His fingers had trailed into my hair, and I fought back the flinches that were threatening to cause me to shudder. My skin crawled and I couldn't tell from dread or want. He was so quiet, just staring into me, and Peeta was weeping within me, my heart breaking. And in the distance, where my mind was losing itself, my captor howled with all the rage of a wounded creature, objecting and fighting me to fight the desire floating in me. I never imagined being completely in love with Gale but I do love him, I love him too.

But I fear all mankind, for they are people I do not understand.

That's why when he kisses me I don't move. Anxiety is building along my need to be wanted and the shakes in my body worsen until I collapse in his arms and he strokes my hair, whispering apologies and sweet words that drip into my soul.

I look up at him, all beautiful and kind. "Love my children. And love Madge. Love her for me."

The stones don't shatter; they harden with determination and he kisses my forehead, sincerity in his voice, in the rumble of his chest. I know he'll keep his promises. "I promise." He said and I wept in too much emotions.

Saying goodbye to my son was the hardest thing to do. I am not sure how much he understands but when I held him to my breast, my head bent into his frail shoulder, the scent of innocence and skin filling my nostrils, I heard him whimpering and he tugged upon my braid. I attempted to loosen his hold but they tightened, not like usual, where his fingers can be pried. The hold was strong and I desperately wanted his fingers to remain where they were—weaving into my hair, my heart, my being. How could I give up the most precious light in the world?

But I had to so I did, placing him in the arms of his protectors.

I've been lying on this bed for hours, weeping inconsolable tears. The people allowed me, for they know that while I may be losing it, I love my son and they do not rush me. This act of courtesy softens me a little towards them but I know that they are merely following the orders of others, not really caring what becomes of me. The fact is I'm still just a piece in a game that's set for larger more valuable players. I am a pawn that has, somehow, been given the power of a queen and the power in that position is unfathomable to me, even frightening.

I yearn for the darkness of sleep but it eludes me, settling me into a physical and mental darkness that feeds into my emotions.

The days blur by into a mixture of time and lack of it. The people here urge me further to eat, for I am going to need all the strength I can get. It proves to be quite a challenge, stomaching down anything for long periods of time, because it always seems to want to come back up; the medication doses increase and decrease according to the day, the amount of the other drugs I am taking interfering with other ones, my physical activity, my mental functioning, my emotional ruts and hills—every little pill is given in a certain amount and they are adamant about me taking them. Cinna does his best to cheer me up and he usually manages a smile out of me but that is as far as it gets and he does not push it because he understands me; he may be from the Capitol but he is nothing like the rest of them.

I am sent back to the psychologist for one more session and I leave there as I went in: silent and uncooperative but I believe that the psychologist finally grasped that I would never be able to share with them the hurt that I had been in, the depths of molten tar that had burned away my flesh and seared through my body. However, the psychologist did wish me well and even patted my shoulder, sending me off on something I cannot even imagine.

I decide that I don't know how to like or dislike that person; so I'll do the next best thing—forget them.

Haymitch and Effie keep up the cordiality of their little relay messages to Snow, being formal and clean, subtle and quiet. Snow does not appear to suspect a single thing but he has been underestimated before, considering the amount of damage that the Capitol had done by revolting back. Of course the rebellion had done its own significant amount of damage, but there was no lack of casualties on our side either. And since our technology when it came to medicine was nowhere near the league of the Capitol's, it took a lot longer to regroup and heal the injured and sick who managed not to die far from their homes.

I sit with folded hands in my lap, continuing to stare at the floor of the room that's blocked all life from me.

The door slides open and I am called to the meeting that Haymitch set up for the four of us.

The plan is simple. I will enter into the heart of Panem, for the Capitol has its defenses but they are becoming fewer and weaker, and since this is a preemptive strike, no one will see us coming from the sky, a bird of prey falling into fire; this is what concerns me. The world has turned against the Capitol; not even 2 will side with them, seeing's how they have been put into a very dangerous situation by their beloved leaders but neither will they completely join us—for we have their Victor—however the Capitol and its leaders are not idiots and this is an aspect of their character that I wonder has been left out or forgotten. These are men and women who had willingly taken time out of their lives to take the lives of others. It only makes sense that these people are more cunning, devious, tactful and tenacious then we give them credit for; how else have they been in power for so long?

This does not seem to concern Haymitch any, and it doesn't bother Effie and Cinna either. Since the latter two are from the Capitol, they should know better and considering their social circles, very well know who exactly is intelligent and who should just be ignored.

"You will be safe, sweetheart," insists Haymitch, more for his benefit than mine, it seems; though he does not have that same sarcastic bite into that endearment like before. Perhaps because the full weight and magnitude of our predicament is finally coming to a head on all of us, crushing us with its inevitability.

"I do have a request that I want to make,"

The three are silent; looking at me with earnest eyes though the emotions behind the earnestness varies.

"On the upcoming mission, I want Cato with me."

Effie is on her feet, huffing about my ludicrous suggestion; Haymitch lets out a few choice swear words and says I've finally gone off the deep end; Cinna is the only one to hold my gaze and though the tinges of distress is certainly there, he has more confidence in me than anyone else, including myself.

"Why would you insist on that man going with you?" continues Effie, her clothes slightly disheveled; she seems to take notice and begins to preen her skirt, smoothing it out, more to calm herself than to straighten her clothes. This is a natural response—I would have reacted the same way if I had heard this, though with more rage than anything else. Effie just radiates with disapproval and she looks at me, her face grim and there seems to be a glistening in her eyes that surprises me a little.

"Don't take him with you," pleads Effie.

"Who else can I take besides him?" I assert, locking eyes with each individual. "There may be people who know the location of each building in the Capitol, but the Capitol still believes that the truce is intact, correct? No one will be expecting us to break it; hence, no one will be helping us get through."

"Not every Capitol citizen is on their side,"

"But the majority is,"

"Katniss, while this is definitely an aspect we took into factor, we do not see any good reason to allow such a proposition," Cinna tells me, and his hands are the table, folded, similar to mine, and I long to hold them close. "How will taking him with you bring about any solution?"

"Because… Snow had wanted me to kill him."

The quiet hangs there, a brief birth, before Cinna breaks it, voice low, drawing me back to my reality. "He had told you this."

"A while after I got here. He had told me that he wanted me to kill him."

Haymitch breathes out hugely through his nostrils and the anger in his face says much yet little. "That bastard… I should've known that there was always a catch. He was always too complacent. And it would explain why you were so determined to kill him as well—because we did not know about it."

"What if you had?"

"If we had known about it, we wouldn't have continued with the truce, since Snow was lying to two parties of the same side and manipulating both. Although we may have allowed you to kill him, to justify his actions against you,"

If I had told them… but I never did. A flicker of anger burns before it dies out, as fast as it came. It gets too tiring to hold any kind of feeling nowadays. It's easier to just be numb and allow things to happen to me without getting too riled up. My body cannot exactly take it, and with the anxiety causing me to have daily shakes and nausea, I'm told to take it as easy as I can.

My body is going to have to get prepared as soon as possible. It is clear that I don't die easily; but death never cares who dies easily and, because it's fickle, can prolong it as long as it wants.

"I do not think it is a good idea to allow him access to any kind of weaponry, especially technologically advanced ones. We do not need a psychoanalyst to determine his sanity—he is completely gone off the brink of his mind."

"I know. I was his prisoner for over a year," I remind him, more gently than intended, "But the thing is, I just need him there. It is difficult to explain but he can help me—in some ways we understand each other because, despite what he has done to me, he wants Snow dead as much as the rest of us and I think that can play into our advantage—that he hates Snow more than he hates me."

Effie looks disgruntled but satiated since she received a straightforward, polite answer; Cinna appears thoughtful and Haymitch's expression is expressionless.

As they ponder, I think about what has spewed from my mouth in all the eloquence of a liar and an optimist. I am not lying when I say that he hates Snow more than he hates me—that is, sadly, the optimistic side that has been dead for so long. It wants to believe that because, then, some pieces can fall into place. The liar in me is the frightening part—because the rest of what I said sounds like lies only to me; it is truth to them because it is true: he and I do understand one another; but it sounds like a lie because I refuse to believe that he and I share some abhorring, twisted connection. It is something I have to accept as a truth instead of a lie. He can help me, he will cooperate; if, in the end, not to kill Snow, then for Haycinth. I can no longer deny that he does not feel an inkling of emotion towards Hyacinth.

Maybe my baby is a light to both of us.

The world could certainly use a splash of sunlight.

"What you are asking is definitely questionable…" Cinna states, eyeing me carefully, with all the tenderness of a father and the caution of one, "But you have to promise that he will be under the reins of others."

I ask him to explain though I am sure I know where this is going.

Haymitch intercedes as Effie seats herself, "Being unstable, as previously mentioned, it's going to take more than you to subdue him, especially since this little rendezvous is a dangerous mission and we can't afford losing you. None of us care what happens to him."

"However," chimes Effie, "it is interesting that Snow wanted him dead all this time and he only told Katniss. I believe that is enough reason to keep Cato alive; for the time being," she adds, if not for my sake, then, for their own; they all hate him because of his actions.

"It's imperative that this works, Katniss," murmurs Cinna and he approaches me, holding my hands in his and I relish the welcoming warmth. My fingernails are becoming a light shade of purple and my fingers are always cold, aching so this feels nice and I drink it in; a parasite of life and heat.

"We will make sure that we're all ready to move out in two days. To gather all we need and to finish up any last minute details," Haymitch says and glances at Effie, who seems to beam under the idea of fixing up the remaining loose ends and he actually smiles a little at her enthusiasm. Huh.

Then he turns to me, serious, grim, and hopeful, "Be ready, Mockingjay. Time is fast when the value of it rises,"

He's right. It is nightfall already when I look through the thin window of where my captor is being held. I take a deep breath, even though I am not entirely sure why I take it. My heartbeat is aching too much to even hold in more air.

A shudder passes out my lips. I am not allowed to enter, for I have told myself not to. But there is more at stake here now than my own personal discomforts so I ignore the wary, worried glances of the guards and the other people around me and step through the door.

He's so quiet that I wonder if he died while I was away.

This thought makes me hurry over to make sure—from dread or elation is debatable.

It's faint but there is the sound of his breathing. I shake him, gently, than I remember my hatred and I shake him harder.

He looks up at me and his face is tired that I cannot help but feel guilty for waking him. But this is his fault too, because he dragged both of us into this mess. It would've just been easier if he had killed me instead of keeping the promise that Peeta held him to. Peeta…

I halt the train of thought before it elaborates, dragging me into that dark part of my mind.

"Katniss…"

"Shut up. We're going,"

He looks alarmed, "Going where?"

"You're going to help me on a mission…"

"What kind of mission?" his voice is hesitant, very small and I wonder if this is an act. He's pretended many things for quite a long time—I have a difficult time trying to comprehend all his motivations. It's best to just ignore his feelings and focus on the tasks at hand, on what I need to do to accomplish the things I need to see through. In the end, I have to tell myself that it's about me and not him, it shall never be about him nor should it be.

"It's an important one. We're going after Snow,"

"…After him? Is this a wise move?"

"Do you have a better idea?" I snap, "Isn't this what you wanted to?"

"Of course, but he has to be infiltrated from the inside, doesn't he? It would be difficult to get in, don't you think?"

"We've already worked through scenarios and compiled a list of ways to get in, especially if one backfires,"

"He's not a man to mess with, Girl on Fire. You must know that." he responds, rolling his eyes and looking away to the wall on his left, eyes narrowing, brooding, but calm.

It's amazing in a way, really, the way his mind can just snap into complete concentration. One moment he's whimpering and vulnerable in front of me then the next he becomes callous, thinking of stratagems and finding an inner ferocity that I try to forget but I know will always remain—the mind of a killer.

"I do know that. That's why you're wanted, to take him down,"

He glances at me. Holds my gaze. It's causing my insides to churn uncomfortably but I hold it too, the desire to flee and rush into his arms causing me to hold myself in place.

"I need an answer," I mean for it to come out harsh, to come out demanding, but my voice is barely a whisper, strained, tightening from emotions that human voice can never truly convey.

He does not say anything.

My hand reaches out and touches his cheek; it's cold.

His lips part from surprise but he doesn't blink, doesn't do anything. "I'll help you,"

I can hardly believe that he is acquiescing to this but I do not question his complacency and I rise, getting ready to leave when he calls me back. I kneel, waiting for him to move. He does and it's towards me, mouth brushing gently upon mine, almost sweet, and I have to give pause to think why he does what he does, how he can do these things without any remorse, how human he must be and isn't.

He makes me want to pity him; but he pisses me off.

Then he smirks, "It shouldn't be too hard,"

I smirk back; he really pisses me off…

The night goes by en masse, a blur of dark things and hot dense light rays, keeping me from fully capturing the blanket of sleep. Our weaponry and arsenal are almost ready for deployment and I continue with my training, increasing it by the moment it feels like. My body is not used to the conditioning anymore, and while the rate of it is getting better with each session, getting myself used to this kind of rigorous activity, I am still far behind from where the old Katniss used to be. She's far ahead of me and I cannot keep up with her at all…

I collapse onto a chair when the whole ordeal is over, listening to nothing, thinking about everything, when Haymitch and Cinna enter the room, two guards behind them with my captor in between all four. I find it shocking, seeing him moving about like a… normal person. He's dressed simply, wearing a shirt and pants made out of sturdy breathable material.

He notices me and there's a light that flickers in those eyes, brighter than the skies. He takes a step in my general direction; the guard nearest me smacks him back and a coiling begins to form in me. Haymitch waves the guard off ans shakes his head. He looks at me, gives me an odd look that I do not understand the reason for before saying that I will be fine and it's not a problem if my captor joins me at the table. I find this to be incredibly daunting—he is the one who had objected completely to the idea of having anything to do with my captor, but here he is, whisking me off into the arms of a man redder than the sun, aflame with sin and anger and passion.

In that moment, I want to hurt Haymitch badly, along with my captor, but I remain quiet as the man is seated directly across from me, Cinna and Haymitch stay silent, watching the two of us and I wonder about their own motivations behind such permission. And it can only be one thing—they want to know what I will do. What Cato does is of no secret to anyone, even if the vary in possibilities—running off once he's in the clear, killing me, or killing himself.

But the real difficulty is me—I am the one with much stake in her name and if they find him in danger with me, then the plan may not be put into motion. This is also a test of my sanity, to show my comprehensive sills in other words. I have to prove to them that I can still handle strenuous situations. I must.

If not for them, then for myself; because I doubt my own ability now—I just do.

I have been handed a bow and arrow, and the feelings that come through me cause me to quake, washing me in a wave of memories and pain and relief. It hugs into my hand, a friend that I've forgotten has always been there when I needed it. Humans could only do so much but, in the end, I always had this weapon to help me protect and serve those who mattered to me. Most of them anyway…

The night covers us and many ghosts come to murmur sweet harsh words, blows that leave my soul breathless. I desire to think of Peeta and how he would guard me from the nightmares when they proved to be too much.

But I cannot think about Peeta. Thinking of him breaks me into two every time I think of him. Kind and gentle and self-sacrificing; he did not deserve the end he got…

Yet he comes to me, a spiritual protector of my soul, telling the darkness to recede and he smells of fresh bread and a warm hearth. I'm lost in the heart that had beat to keep me alive but then he stops whispering. He is now quietly weeping, and then openly sobbing before he starts shrieking in pain. The wails cause me to pull back, still trapped in his embrace, his death grip. I try to bolt away because his face is in such pain that I cannot bear to watch him tear himself apart when he grips me and I can't find the light anymore. He's become a dark and twisted being, gnarled by rage and consumed by grief.

I know what this means—I know because it makes sense: he didn't deserve that horrible fate but mine—the rape, the infliction of wounds, the torment of my body and my mind on my heart, the desire to run from people and to people—is all deserved.

As I think these things he confirms it, breathing hot stale air upon my neck as he nips the skin, drawing blood from my corpse.

"You don't deserve to be forgiven!"

I don't feel like I woke up but I did and I'm sobbing uncontrollably in this bed, encased in the coffin of my mind. Each recollection of him is a stone, sinking me further into an abyss of my own creation.

I fall out of the bed and I make way for the bathroom, vomiting and retching, my skin cold as sweat pours down every inch of me, causing my clothes to cling to me. I'm gasping heavily, trying to suck in air but I can't. I don't even know if I want to breathe.

There are people rushing to me and I hurl myself at them, all tears and mucus and vomit and blood and pain, yelling at them to leave me alone. Why can't I ever just be alone?

I lay on the cool tiled floor, slipping in and out of consciousness but sleep doesn't come and I'm grateful for it. But I need the sleep—I need to be ready to protect the people I love. The dawn approaches too quickly—it crawls along the sky, brimming over the horizon, spilling beauty, and I hate that it still comes up fast.

The people here know of my episode and they do not ask how I am feeling. My responses are always the same—sharp and crisp, telling them that I am fine. It's a lie that we all know but it's a lie that we've all gotten used to.

I'm pulled about, vaguely aware of my surroundings but it's all right. Even though this attack on the Capitol is only recently planned, it seems to be falling into place. Cinna has already given me my outfit, Haymitch my weaponry and Effie my list of what to do and when. I am to take down this monstrous society from the inside out, tearing out the heart. I've entered the Games once more but I've never felt more ready. I am ready to die for real because I'll finally be of use to the people who could never fend for themselves against our destroyers. It doesn't hurt either that I already feel dead, with every step of my feet.

The anxiety in me is minimal because I don't pay it any attention. I am waiting for the end to come—there's nothing else I can do at this point. I think of the people I love, hiding beneath earth, and I choke up from wondering of them and the fact they are below the earth, where the sky is hidden and birdsongs are a thing of dreams.

I almost wish I hadn't sent them underground but I have no choice. People cannot fly away from their problems—all I could do was hide them in the ground, for the earth can offer them more protection than I can. But at what cost? Prim and Gale know of the dangers below, how the earth can collapse upon anything because it is its own maker—offering food and protection but it can turn treacherous in the blink of an eye and engulf people, killing them all—

I don't realize I am breathing heavily until I'm startled by a touch on my shoulder. Effie is gazing down at me. I have sunk down to my knees and holding my head in my hands does nothing to help the situation. There is sincerity in her eyes as she comes down to my level, her face covered in an assortment of blues and greens, lakes and forests. I will never adore the Capitol looks but the colors are slightly comforting—the colors are stark in the contrast of pure ink.

"We're almost ready, dear," The question is beneath: Will I be fine enough to lead?

I nod and I rise with her, her hand in mine and I hold onto her back when she firmly gives me a reassuring squeeze. There's a smile on her face—sad and forlorn and I wonder if there is more to Effie than I first thought, behind all the smiles and rainbows. I'm saddened now at the fact I may never truly know Effie for who she is, how blinded I was by it all.

But she makes no fuss and I remember I appreciate her for that—she takes things in stride in her own way too.

I enter into the room where we've had everything done: where we've broken bread, where we've talked of fragility, where we've talked of rebellion, where we've talked of life and death and prosperity in its purest form. I never thought a dining room of the Capitol could hold so much significance to me but it does.

Cinna and Haymitch are already there, looking me over for any last minute details and informing me of the plan again. I process it all, drinking it in. I need to do this and I have to do it now, before I cave into myself.

I turn and I see him there, free of bondage, all bronze and gold and destruction and glory and lifelessness. I'm not sure entirely of how to think of him, without the chains, without the means to keep himself from holding onto me and annihilating me with his kisses and lies.

The others eye us warily, wondering how things will happen between him and me, no doubt.

My captor breaks the silence first, "I'm ready."

I nod in reply and I notice the two guards behind him now. So he is not totally trusted by the others and that is understandable. He seems to be completely in his element, walking confidently, not looking like the young man that looked broken and defeated and manic all that time ago.

When we reach the place for deployment, the back door of this building, for the Capitol denizens who serve us, supposedly, continue to remain clueless. Only a few of the trusted rebels who stayed with us are readying themselves to guard us. We will go out into the public square, completely normal, and make way to where Snow resides. It's a quiet plan; it's a plan that should be deadly.

If needed, there are still plenty of rebels that will attack from the air, courtesy of some machines given to us by District 13. They may harbor the ones I love but I curse the lot of them for living in presumably better conditions. They may be beneath the earth but they are undisturbed.

As we are getting into are clothing and making sure that are arsenals are concealed, my captor turns to me.

"You nervous?"

"What do I have to be nervous about?"

"We may die today,"

"Then so be it. I think I'm ready."

"To die?"

"To do something that must be done."

He gives me a soft chuckle, "That's so like you to say."

I turn to him and my anger amuses him. He's no different from before. He's just allowed more leniencies so he's more docile. "You don't know me."

"We've spent more than a year together. I say I know you a little bit."

I can't deny the amount of time that I dealt with under his brutality; however that does not make him capable of knowing me. Of knowing the real me as others do. I've only let in a few people see me, from the depths of my being to the surface of my exterior and he'll never know.

And if he, for some reason, desires to, I'll make sure he doesn't.

It's time to leave and we exit quietly. I listen to the footfalls of our shoes hitting the pavement. The world is quiet to me, even though the din of the people talking is all around me. They seem to talk louder and louder and I should be grateful for this—no one will notice. There will be no skirmish. They will not notice the knife will cut them from the inside because it's already been swallowed.

I look ahead. I just look ahead, for the target that isn't in view yet. I'm reminded of how an arrow flies to hit its mark—it is not deterred, it only goes forward. The target is the only thing that matters.

There's a brush against my hand I jerk back violently. Cato is looking down at me and he harshly whispers, "Don't overreact to everything. We're supposed to look normal, remember?"

I look behind us and I notice that the rebels with us are walking slightly a few feet behind and it's similar to the ones ahead. He and I are the only ones walking close to each other. To any outsider watching he and I are a couple. Physical intimacy is not only expected but encouraged here.

I am tempted to call the rest of our group to us—I am wondering if this is deliberate or by accident; either way it is shocking to me that they would leave us alone together. I am overcome with wanting to snap at them for leaving us unattended but I don't get the chance. His hand is resting on the small of my back and is pushing me forward.

"Don't get distracted. We have a mission to do."

"You're awfully familiar with how to move and kill things,"

"I'm no different from you. We were in the Games."

I glance at him, his gaze not going to mine, his head straight as he walks along. The anxiety in me is suddenly flittering into me and I breathe in deeply. I don't want him near me but it doesn't seem I have much of a choice. I'm being pushed by him and by some invisible force—this needs to be done, I need to learn to go and to let go.

The building is coming into view, a large iron gate blocking entrance. There are guards placed on either side where they never would've been before—for who would have dared to attack the Capitol before?

We're only a hundred yards away.

"Almost there," he murmurs to me, breath in my ear.

"I know."

"Are you ready?"

"I am. I've told you."

"You've told me lies before,"

"I assure you that this isn't."

"Good. Because this is it,"

But it isn't.

The guards begin to inquire the rebels in front of us and this is where we expected the plan to take a detour. Their president is under protection and our rebels quickly extricate the guards from their positions and gunfire is shot into the sky, causing other passersby to duck down and scream.

We manage to breach through the gate and we're rushing in. I take out my weapon and my arrow cuts into the skin of earth instead of the man coming at me. I quickly pull out another and hit him before he reloads. My hands are shaking. I used to think I could never kill before but I'm taken over by someone new, someone who puts the lives of others in the darkest corner possible. There are people who need me to do this. I fight back the shaking and plod on.

There's a quarry of men coming towards us. A bullet sounds, slicing through air, and there's a grunt. Light explodes about me and rebels from above are tossing grenades into the vicinity, blasting Capitol guards about us. Many more of us are joining us in the fight below and it didn't occur to me that Haymitch would assemble everyone possible. For some reason I assumed we would be a small group, but I've been gone from fighting for too long it seems—I've never been in battle before.

The hallways are being filled with guards, their steps echoing with ours. My only priority is to find the place where the president resides. That is my only objective. Cato continues to run beside me, telling me of the location of where to find him. It's odd, listening to him help me. He was told to memorize the map, even though we have a communicator that allows a blue print of the inside of the building to come to view when we vocally command it to. It had surprised me but, apparently, not all Capitol citizens are in support of their ruler.

Three men come out from behind a wall and one tackle me to the ground. Cato comes up and slams the butt of his gun into the head of the one atop me. He's suddenly a flurry of golden skin, and he pulls out a sword—short but it will do its work from the way he's wielding it. Blood is spilling over onto the tiled floor, and he pulls me up. It didn't take long and I'm left looking at him.

He suddenly grins at me and he bucks his fist gently beneath my chin. "Don't gawk,"

I almost smile at him because it's so out of place in this world—I'm relying on my enemy to lead me to victory and it may just work. Because he is at home here, where there's violence and death.

If I think on it long enough, it's enough to make me want to cry.

But I don't. I can't and I won't.

Shooting arrows is getting easier and he leads me to the main room where Snow usually is. The alarms may have sounded and there are cries ringing from inside and outside the building. Cato barges through the door and hurries me inside.

"Finish the job."

The door then closes and we're separated, left to fend for ourselves.

I turn, looking about the immaculate expanse space. There, sitting in a chair, is Snow.

Slowly, my feet move on their own toward him and I all I can hear is my own breathing, the scent of roses and blood in the air.

"Hello, Katniss Everdeen."

I say nothing.

"I thought you might want to do an attack eventually. You strike me as a fighter,"

His small talk bothers me and I find myself glaring at the murderer of many children. "Stop it! This has to end now."

He laughs quietly and looks at me, his eyes blue and bloodshot. Not unlike Cato's from time to time.

"Listen to you, noble as ever. If I understand correctly, you caused all of this."

"I did not!"

"But you did. You don't pay attention to the string of circumstances that happen because of you."

"…What do you mean by that?"

He only looks at me: I think you know.

I stand, looking at him. It's true. I probably do know. In the end, it all comes back to me, somehow. How Peeta loved me, how Cato promised Peeta not to kill me, the promise of victory Snow bequeathed onto Cato and it led to the promise of death for me. This whole war occurred because of love.

I let out a shuddery gasp. "Why not just let me die?"

"You weren't the only cause," he states, ignoring my question.

I nod. "Yes, I know. Cato caused it too, when he stole me and made me his own."

"While he's part of it, I wasn't referring to him. I was referring to myself."

"You?"

He smiles and rises. I pull out an arrow and notch it into the string, the familiarity swimming through me. He glances at me. "I am going to die, I can see. So I may as well tell you."

I wait, breathing calmly, even as my heart thunders.

"There had been talk of rebellion for a long time against the Capitol, mainly in the districts further in the outskirts of Panem. I did nothing about it until the possibility increased. I waited for an opportunity where I could do something to prevent any such occurrence. Nothing appeared to be happening. Until you and the boy from 12 came. That was when I knew that everything would change—the Capitol adored the two of you, and his death swept my people. The true outcome did not happen until Cato requested he have you.

He was perfect for it. His decision caused a vocal outburst in the Capitol and throughout Panem. In the Capitol, it was entertainment; for the rest of our country, it was the last straw. This caused the war to finally happen but my people were prepared for it, even if the casualties were happening. Eventually, we all saw that he was the cause—he stole a young girl and made her a toy. You two became the faces of war even though it was unintentional."

"But you allowed him to take me. Why is no one blaming you?"

He smiles and I'm revolted. "Why indeed."

"So you knew all along that this will happen."

"Of course,"

"You wanted a war to start?"

"No, my dear; I wanted to see a war start and prevent it by putting the blame on another. It's been working, don't you think?"

I can't deny that. That's why Cato's been concealed this entire time from the world, why he had to hide his face as we walked around.

This man before me is more evil and deliberate than we could have ever anticipated.

"Why Cato?"

"He was who the audience loved most besides you and your lover. He was almost worshipped."

"That's all? You protect this nation by disillusionment."

"I do what I must. Another war is the last thing this country needs. But you backfired, my dear. You decided to attack me directly, even after all this time. It was not, if I may say, a very brilliant move. You have much at stake, do you not?"

I tense as my blood freezes.

Something nettles me about this entire situation.

"There's something else, isn't there?"

He looks at me, peering into me and I can't stand it.

"Tell me the truth!"

He looks grim but there's a glint in his eyes that I don't trust. "I'm not sure you can handle it."

"I've had it with lies, tell me."

He clasps his hands mildly behind his back, the scent of blood and roses mingling, staling the air and I can barely breathe.

"Cato did not do this on his own. You're right, dear girl. For, you see, when you have a very compliant and ignorant individual, it's not hard to persuade them. Then, at other times, it is. I knew it would come down to you and he—you're the strongest of the tributes and the only ones left who could stir hearts in ways we never thought possible. That's why I had him infused with Tracker Jacker venom."

I almost release my arrow.

What?

Tracker Jacker…

"It's easier to control someone from the inside, from the mind."

"You… he's been laced with it, this entire time?"

This time he beams, and the look in his eyes increase and I'm frightened by it.

"You're lying!" For some reason I can't believe this. How could the effects of the venom last this long?

"You told me not to tell you lies,"

He wasn't infected. Snow lies all the time. He's deceived us all. Cato isn't injected with venom…

Was he?

My mind is spinning as my heart screams for me to do something, anything—

"You're not good at taking orders. You should've killed him when I told you and ended this."

The world around me is hushed and all I'm aware of is Cato barging through the doors, grinning madly and his eyes speak a language I do and don't comprehend—because he is and isn't Cato all at once, and my world is falling apart; because the last person I thought I could understand is something I never truly understood.

My hands slip and my arrow cries with me, wanting to find home.

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