My arrow is lodging itself into his heart—my heart—and there is terror painting my face, staining it, tearing it into a horrible grimace of fear and pain and realization.
But he's fast and the sigh of relief that escapes my lips when my arrow pierces his shoulder is an explosion in the quiet room.
He's upon me, arms outstretched, hands gnarled into deadly hooks, screaming and snarling.
I block an uppercut that he's about to smack into my jaw, thankful for the little training I was able to receive. I sidestep to the left, looking at him; and Snow is watching in amusement at what's going on. I've lost my patience with the whole damned world and my arrow is being notched into the string, to imbed through Snow's head, and Cato immediately comes forth, his body blocking Snow's from my weapon.
This time, when I fire, it's intentional: the rage of being manipulated, the world falling around at my feet and no one bothering to help me pick it up in my own way, the way he's been used to use me, how everyone is so fucking cruel and horrible and I don't want anyone to live in a world without compassion.
The arrow whistles harshly, my own Mockingjay screech.
It lodges into his side and he doesn't seem fazed.
His sword is unsheathed, slicing through air to slice into me.
Rolling to my left, closer to the door, I bolt and run down the hallway, the sounds of gunfire and explosions charming the air with a wicked sting and nauseas fumes. I hear him behind me and I haven't left the Games at all—it's like before, he's still my pursuer, my tormentor, my killer, ruthless and howling bloodthirsty cries to the skies. Nothing has changed at all—he'll go to the ends of the earth to destroy me. Not just kill me. He wants to destroy me.
The calls of the rebels intermingle with sounds of Capitol guards, humans fighting humans. The sun will not be setting for a little while longer—the light will help us see but it will not help shield us from the enemy. There's this terrible sound of laughter ringing behind me and I believe it to be him, when I catch the pitch, how his voice isn't high enough—the way it sounds when he would laugh hysterically.
It's Snow, even though he is not chasing me. It's only my captor behind me.
I break out into the sunshine, blinded, my eyes adjusting to the scene of red and grey and billowing smoke. They must've used grenades and some bombs for detonation. I jump over body limbs, trying to ignore the reek of blood and grief in the air.
All I hear is screaming and his laughter.
I run in the direction of where we resided but it occurs to me that it would be deserted by now, with the military of the Capitol on full scale alert due to our attack.
Or everyone is there, they'll just be dead.
I make myself run faster, lungs burning from exhaust of fumes and fatigue, my body still weak despite the training. Debris suddenly hits the side of my face and I cringe from the rain of gravel and littered bodies. There are sirens shrilly calling in the vibrating air.
A scream wrenches itself from my throat, pain shooting up my left side. Warmth spills and my hand instinctively go to cover the wound I know is there. I quickly glance back, seeing his hand go down and there's the gleam of sunlight upon steely death in his hand. I round a corner just as I hear the whoosh of another knife zip past, watching the handle rotate about with its tip.
I head down the alley I have gone into, trying to be evasive. The sirens cry harsher, fitting the screams of people running all around the Capitol. Kneeling behind another wall, I examine the cut made into my side. It's not too deep—all it's doing is seeping blood a little too much for my liking. Reaching into one of my pockets, I pull out a large wad of bandages and cover it as fast as possible. Then I move on again.
"Mockingjay!" comes a voice and I try very hard not to freeze from the hatred and longing in that one word. I ignore all the things he is shouting to me, hoping to find someone from my group who will be able to help me.
Then there's the near whispery whir of hovercrafts. My head turns back, neck craned, the aircraft looking heavier and more massive than before. My legs go on their own without my telling them to—they know that, right now, we must survive and nothing good will come from my dwelling on too much.
I run and run, air stinging my throat and chest, my windpipe occasionally choking in on itself.
The world is screaming and it all seems to be coming from my voice.
In a haze, there is gray upon black and white, red staining everything in sight.
Nothing is making sense! Everything is a flitter of memory and present: smoke and ashes, Snow's twisted and nonsensical ploy, my captor's thirst for blood, the fact my son lives in such a chaotic and frightening place, my missing my father's consoling voice.
I want to run and hide. But hiding will lead him to me and that is a very dangerous thing to want.
So I have to keep running.
But my mind hits a mental barrier and my legs suddenly stop, thinking of all the times he's been here with me, horrible and monstrous in the darkness of night, telling me it'll all be over soon.
It will be over now.
I turn and watch as he comes on to me, all venom and flesh and insanity.
He has no projectile weapon.
I notch an arrow, heat pouring down my cheeks and my throat constricting from emotions it can't completely swallow.
I release it and it smacks sickeningly into his chest.
It only slows him down, not enough to kill him, possibly wound him, but not kill him. I only just recall the thick layer of protective wear beneath his clothing and continue to run towards wherever I won't be killed quickly. The sound of gunshots above my head cause my hands to automatically cover over it, the heavy layer of debris settling over my body, filling my nostrils with a chalky scent.
Leaping over a mound of rubble and civilians that couldn't make it, I notch an arrow into my bow when I see a Capitol guard upon a roof, aiming at people that were in my group. It lodges itself into the back of the guard's neck but I don't stop running to check on the ones who risked their lives for me. They'll be safer if I'm farther from them and that is what I intend to do—to get as far as possible.
And to bring my captor with me.
The sound of hovercrafts grow louder and I look up at the sky, where a ladder has been unleashed to the poor folk below, but it's closer to me. From up above, I see Cinna, his face marred with red trickling down from his crown.
"Katniss!" he motions for me to come, "Climb up!"
Haymitch and Effie are there, both of their hands reaching out to me.
Pain stings in my side but another stab bolts up my leg and I turn.
He's gaining upon me, snarling horrifically. My insides turn cold and hot, causing me to be lukewarm—in a state caught between two desires, to fight him and to flee. Effie is shouting at me, telling me I must hurry. Her voice sounds strained and, for some reason, I imagine her crying.
Heat spreads through me as my mind cools, wanting to think and to remember.
This is his entire fault.
And it's also not his fault.
I remember the strength of his hands when they strangled me and when they embraced me. When he laughed cruelly and when he laughed joyfully. I remember how he would smile that smile that meant he would destroy me, and the smile that meant he would do anything to protect Hyacinth, and, maybe, even me.
Something in me has changed as well. I don't know what it is—maybe it's from finally learning the truth about him.
So I wait for him to come closer.
He does but he halts, come to a complete stop before me, the wind being blown by the hovercraft thrashing my braid into my face. He stares at me, into me, the same as he always does.
"Why did you stop, Girl on Fire?"
"This has to end now."
He looks a little surprised. "But you and I are meant to kill each other."
Despite what's happened, he and I know this is true. In the end, it was meant to come to this—a standstill where he and I must decide who will eat the nightlock given to us by fate. The Games were nothing compared to the ones in our head. He and I were meant to be together all along.
It's just not a fairytale.
My arms open of their own accord and I find myself with him coming fully into them, breathing hard, burying his head into my hair.
"I have to kill you…"
"I know." I murmur.
He grunts in pain before letting out a howl. He stares at the blade in my hand that I've kept hidden, and before he lunges toward me, I deftly sidestep and kick upward, the heel of my foot directly impacting into his head. He groans, clutching his head but I grab a hold of him, dragging him with me toward the ladder. No one approves, the silence from above them is thick. I don't let him go.
Something has to be done.
I'll kill him but in my own way. He'll die without dying.
Blood is spilling all over when I heave him up, looking at them to help me. Cinna and Haymitch do, the latter being more reluctant as they haul him up. Effie is on me, holding me close as the door shuts tight, blocking us from the death of the earth.
"What is the matter with you?" she asks me, touching my face and glaring at it, a contrast of her rage and worry.
"I had to bring him along."
"You should've left him to die." utters Haymitch, disapproval in his gaze.
"I never said I wasn't going to kill him."
They say nothing as we fly away from the smoking ruin of the Capitol. I don't know what happened to most of its citizens and I don't care. All I know is that the war has happened and we have still yet to kill Snow. But would that have even mattered? Leaders have been killed before and nations would still fight to conquer. Yet I know that he will need to die.
"Where is my group?"
Cinna is instructing a pair of medics to heal my captor before he looks at me, "They managed to escape, with only two casualties. Snow has disappeared of course, however there really is no place for him to run to. Panem is burning all around us. He won't be going far."
And it's true.
When we reach the underground city of District 13, we are informed of Snow being located, heading towards District 1, where the life is a little grander, even if they are being held against their will or completely on our side.
He's in our possession within a few hours.
It's a welcoming relief to be with my loved ones again. I kiss Hyacinth repeatedly, leaving smudges of red on his face to which my mother objects to. I'm hurried away by her into a medical room where she bandages me up, quietly taking care of me. Prim is close by, aiding her in whatever way possible.
I still haven't told them about what Snow told me.
I want to talk to my captor as soon as he is capable of communicating with me.
During that span of time, I'm showed around the facilities of the underground world within the world. They're quite a productive and efficient people, if a little rough around the edges and uptight. I'm grateful for the care that my children and the others have received.
Gale is still ecstatic to see me.
I wonder how Madge is taking this but she has given no indication of jealousy or possessiveness. This is good. I would hate to be on bad terms with her.
Gale and she are still taking care of Hyacinth for me.
Despite he and I being together after an excruciating separation, I refuse to allow my child such close proximity to a woman with an imbalanced mind. It's difficult, especially when he gets so close to me, tugging my hair. He babbles often, smiling at me, and Madge has said that he may be about to start speaking soon, despite being only nine months old. He's grown so big within this timeframe that I can barely believe it. He's larger now, crawling about and moving through the vicinity, excited to taste and see and touch new things and making sure that he does everything he can.
It is painful letting him go. Gale and Madge insist that I forget about the whole thing—my distancing myself; but I am determined to make myself a better mother and person for the sake of my son.
He's the world to me.
Prim is showing me how the schedules and such work around here. The timing of everything could be considered rigorous, maybe even ridiculous, but I accommodate as best I can. I've had enough instances of defying authority to last me for a while.
Not a lifetime, as I want it. But a while…
No one is allowed to see the vicious monster from District 2 for a long time. It's only a couple of weeks, yet it stretches into forever for me.
I'm not allowed to see him, I'm told.
There is nothing that can be done for him. And I'm the last person, in my frail condition, that needs to be near him.
This infuriates me, flashes of rage flickering in my soul. Being denied the one person in the world that can help me cope with myself—because he caused it, albeit indirectly—and I'm not allowed to even glimpse him. Whether or not people accept this, whether or not people want to protect me, the truth is that he and I are linked in many ways.
We were born into this dark world of violence and blood that covers our children's laughter. He and I are not so completely different. I've done nothing but think about him during this time of waiting. We're both from districts involved with the earth; we're both headstrong and unwilling to die; we're both tributes of a cruel game; we're both humans that have lost their minds to war and bondage; we're both parents.
That last truth haunts me most.
He's kept behind iron doors, I suspect. He is trapped deep within the earth, and this realization perturbs me. I don't know how he feels about disconnection from the world above but I can't stand being stuck beneath the ground, the sky obscured by layers and layers of dirt and corpses, both centuries old.
"You are not allowed to see him," Haymitch tells me for the umpteenth time. His voice is firm, eyes distant within his shrunken face. He takes a sip from the bottle containing spirits. I don't know how he managed to smuggle this and I don't question it.
"I need to see him."
"No, you don't. Why is it so important to you? You've already informed us of the whole Tracker Jacker situation. This isn't going to fix the problem. This is not the time for you to charge stupidly into everything, you need to keep your distance from your problems."
"But I can't! This is a problem that I have to face!"
"For what, Katniss? For what? What will become of this in the end? We have Snow in our custody but the war is far from over. The thing is, even though Snow himself confessed to infusing Tracker venom into Cato, the whole world is not aware of this completely. We've announced it on every accessible television to the public and there are people, mainly from the Capitol, that cannot wrap their heads around this.
They want answers to their questions. Why would Snow allow this war to happen? Why did he choose two children as the weapons of war? Is he still lying about this, fighting to bring us down from the inside? Did you ever stop to think that you're still a threat to way of the past as we know it, sweetheart? You're still the Mockingjay, the symbol of rebellion and freedom. Cato has venom in him; you're here and willing to find the truth, from what I can tell. If the venom is triggered while you're in the cell with him, Snow will still win, even at the expense of our Mockingjay. He was also caught way too easily, in my opinion. Snakes don't allow you so close without biting. There is something wrong about this."
I absorb this as best as my mind can. It's true. I do wonder if there was any truth to this whole ordeal. After I had told them about the Tracker Jacker venom infused within my captor, they decided to take some tests. It came out positive. He had been injected with the venom for a long time but the extensiveness of that period is unknown.
"That is precisely why I need to talk to…him. We have to know what is going on. Please, Haymitch."
"But you still plan to kill him. He is under the influence of manmade venom; you're under the influence of vengeance. Sweetheart, you're a violent and hurt girl." He says this without the acrid sarcasm. He even brushes back a lock of my hair but there's no pity there. We've never pitied each other. We know each other well enough that we don't like that.
"How can I be so sure that I can trust you in the hands of this boy and your own? You've been in a cage for a long time."
"You'll just have to try and see if the caged bird sings."
No one approves when he allows me to fly to my prison—Cato's heart and mind.
It's like entering home, a home of abuse and violence and kisses that seared into me, but it's home. Horrible as it may be, it's one of the few places I know so well anymore.
It does seem as though anyone can understand. I'm not doing this for me, and if I am, I'll admit to being selfish; I want the truth out, I want the world free of enslavement, I want a place where my son can thrive in the sun and listen to birds, I want peace for everything around me…
It will then grant me my own peace.
Huh… I am being selfish.
And, oddly, I don't care.
He is locked to the floor with a chain about his ankles, wrapped in a white jacket with many belts and buttons.
In this instance, looking at him, I don't know what to feel. Every bit of me is weeping from sorrow and hatred, from relief and longing. I don't understand how I can have so many emotions in regard to one human being, to one monster.
Despite the venom coursing through his mind, it's difficult to look at him without being reminded of all that he's done to me. He has hurt me deeply, made me look into my core where he'd dug me out and violated every inch of me.
Something touches the top of my head and I look up, my face half-hidden by my hands, to see him near me. I wasn't aware of how close I had come to him, how he'd responded to me.
"I knew you'd find a way to see me,"
I cry harder because I hate him, I love him; I want to murder him over and over then revive him over and over. How can I hate someone that did not know what they were doing?
"I have questions,"
He smiles, "Of course you do,"
I only stare, unsure of where to go. He is my last resort. No one but me has learned that the darkness is where I will find the light. The source of pain is also the answer. It's my turn to lovingly rape him as he did me—it'll be painful for him, yet it'll hurt me too. Because I don't want anyone to be hurt anymore. I just want the world to be quiet and sleep, find dreams worth holding onto, since the planet is so corrupted by nightmares.
He is the key to all of this: a young child in a man's scarred and deadly body, with a mind that doesn't work.
This makes sense and it doesn't. I have to violate him too, it feels like. He and I are so linked that invasion to one another's core being is the only logical explanation to understanding one another. It'll make me like him… a pawn in Snow's little game of slave and master.
"Talk," he tells me tiredly, but he remains attentive.
"I don't know where to begin…"
"Tell me something then. We'll start small. Conversationally,"
"…the baby is well."
"Is he?" he says, scooting as much as the chain will allow.
"Yes. He babbles and coos. He'll talk soon."
"That is good. My family adored him. They loved the way his eyes looked. He also laughed a lot for a newborn, they said."
I blink. "Did they?"
"Yes. They couldn't stop giving him things."
"Knew about you and me? Yes, they did. Not every detail but you were also in another part of the district, so they never saw or heard anything. Our home is on the other side of our personal Victor's Village," he adds when he sees the confusion on my face. Well, that explains why they were never in view. He had placed me in a different location.
"He was never abused, then?"
He lets out a snort. "I'd kill whatever asshole dared to touch him." He then catches on, "You wondered if I ever hurt him?"
"I'm not a total monster."
"You could've fooled me."
"I fooled myself as well. Venom influence and all."
"Wait, they told you about the venom?"
"All of the detail that you told them. How I was infused with it for a long period of time."
"How do you think Snow managed to get it into you?"
"Someone from the inside, I suppose. I did find the sudden appearance of Antonia odd, but I never questioned it. She was useful."
My body tenses and he glances at me.
"Jealous?" he asks, yet there's no bite in it. He's lightly teasing.
"No, she was just a spiteful bitch whenever she bathed me."
He laughs quietly, shaking his head. "I figured. She definitely was… yeah, she was a bitch."
The silence hangs over us, clouding us over with things neither of us want to understand or voice.
My voice is defiant, "So the…"
He looks into me with soft eyes, blue gems that are melting in my gaze. All I can do is nod.
"To be honest… I don't know if that was totally the venom's fault."
My heart freezes. "What?"
"We're not sure when the venom was activated right? From what I see in my head, where it's not tinted with odd colors, I took you for my own in the arena and there is no color. I could've intended to hurt you all along. There's no way to know for sure if the venom is the cause of all of this."
"You mean the war?" I mean the war taking place about us, but I mean the war occurring within he and I even now, both trying to find ourselves in people that we've long forgotten. At some point in time, we were children—innocent and pure. We just couldn't afford to be children in a land dominated by adults.
"Yes. What do you know about it?"
I tell him what I can remember from Snow's little declaration, watching him as he watches me.
He sighs when I finish. "It's simple. He just wanted a scapegoat for the war he meant to happen."
"But why would he want it?"
He shrugs, "Madmen do awful things when they're bored, you know."
I do know.
There's a knock and I'm told to come back to my room.
I stand, not wanting to leave him.
"Go," he says, "I'm clearly not going anywhere."
I walk out without a backwards glance, not letting my indecisiveness about this get to me. I've assured myself that Haymitch will allow me access to him tomorrow as well.
I'm tired and collapse into bed, my aching heart pouring out such sadness it's unbearable. Poor Peeta must be horrified at the damage one promise can do.
I dream of darkness, and, there, I cry in the broken and torn mind I have, joined in by a choir of soft weeping noises.
It changes into light.
There, upon a barren floor, Cato lies dead to existence, my frame towering over him, telling him to get up and live as I bury my arrow further into his chest.
This dream frightens me but I allow it to happen.
I've wanted everything that had life to live but death is much too strong.
So I let the dream continue, and I remember every gruesome detail, sometimes reveling in it.
There's something fulfilling about death now.
It means the end is near. And this is good for a tired soul.