Disclaimer: I do not own The Hunger Games

Geth342: If this comes out weird, it's because there was a problem with the documents and i'm getting this up in a strange way. Anyway, thanks for all the reviews everyone. Wow, there were a lot of them. I'm glad you're all enjoying this and, again, thanks for pointing out where i'm going wrong (by, the by, HIT, i changed the summary, just for you!).

Also, if anyone's interested in doing fanfic challenges, i started up a forum. Feel free to check it out!

The next update will hopefully be 11th September, unless i'm away, in which case, it'll probably be 13th September. Hope you enjoy.

Chapter 17: Keep Your Promises

The hovercraft collects Hulde's body once I'm far enough away. It's strange to think I killed her. After all the death threats, it should have been the other way around. And isn't it funny how she always wanted me to shut up and now, because I've killed her, I have?

So funny I forgot to laugh.

I should start looking for Kayn but it's dark now. Even though I have the glasses and a flashlight, I don't want to keep going. I just don't feel like hunting him down – after all, I'm sure the Gamemakers will find a lovely way to bring us closer together eventually. Like setting tracker-jackers on us or sending people with guns to poke us together. Why should I deprive them of the chance? Instead, I go to a tree and curl up to sleep. If Kayn kills me then I guess he wins. I think I'm beyond caring at the moment.

My dream starts off nicely: I'm looking at the Cornucopia. Skira's there, sitting near the beach and twirling a flower. Korosh is nearby, watching her. The tributes from District 9 sit near the entrance to the swamp, talking to each other – even the girl, who couldn't speak in the interview. Finally, Rashnid is sitting, looking into the trees. They're all dressed in normal clothes, not the outfits we were given.

Hulde walks into the clearing and sees Rashnid, who stands up and walks over to her. They hug. I don't move or say anything. As far as I'm aware, none of them know I'm there.

But then more of the tributes walk into the clearing – Jak, the boys from District 3, and District 5 and District 8; the girls from Seven, Eight and Twelve. People whose deaths I've caused. And they see me. They walk towards me, pointing and jeering. The others notice and they come too. All of them want to know who gave me the right to live while they die. As I try to answer, more tributes pour in. The girls from Six and Ten … even tributes I had little to do with like the girl from Three or the boy from Eleven. And they come closer and closer, shouting and crying.

I tell them to leave me alone. They come closer.

I ask them to be quiet. They shout louder.

I say I'm sorry. They jeer at me.

I hit out at them to make them go away. They fall to the floor.

My dad appears in front of me and asks me if that's any way to solve a problem but I'm already swinging out and I knock him to the floor too.

And then I wake up, gasping.

It's early morning. A beautiful morning by the look of it. I shake my head, trying to forget the dream. It wasn't the fact that all of the other tributes wouldn't listen to me that terrifies me. It's the fact that I wouldn't listen to my dad. That once I'd started hitting out, I wouldn't stop.

I eat some food from my bag. I don't like the silence. It's too weird. I'm used to hearing other people breathing or talking. This is too much.

"Where shall I go today then?" I say out loud, just to shatter the silence. I look around. "I think I'll go to the top of the mountain. That seems like a good goal."

Anyone watching me must think I'm a lunatic. But then, maybe they've always thought that. After all, I'm the girl whose favourite thing in the Capitol was the showers. But, if I'm a lunatic, I'm a lunatic who's nearly won the Games. And no one can fault me on that.

Once I'm packed up, I begin to walk. I only went to sleep about one hundred metres from the place where Hulde and I fought and I end up going back there. Hulde's body isn't there, of course. I saw it being picked up. Did Kayn see it?

I look around the area briefly. The only sign that we were here is the pile of burnt logs from the fire. That puts me on edge. I don't know why but I find it unsettling how someone as formidable as Hulde can be erased from the arena so efficiently. I take one last, edgy look around before heading up the mountain.

I'm surprised by how much I hurt. I look at myself, taking stock of my injuries, as I walk/limp. My leg hurts from Hulde slicing it yesterday, as does my stomach. I have a long scar on my left arm. Several cuts and bruises decorate my face, arms and legs. I feel like a walking disaster. I probably am one, in the minds of most people.

As I walk, I find myself thinking of Hulde and Rashnid again. In a way, I hope that what I saw in my dream came true for them – that they're together again. If that's the case, maybe it's a good thing they both died. After all, these Games are a stupid place to fall in love. What were they going to do if they were both the last pair here? Kill themselves? I try to imagine it. No, I don't think either of them would want the other to do that. I think they'd fight each other. But I can't imagine how that would end.

I think Kimre was right when he warned Kayn and me to stop being friends. Not because the Capitol might cause our deaths but because it meant we could never be in a similar situation. I'm going to fight him and kill him. And it would have been so much harder if we liked each other.

I bet the people of District 1 are excited. After all, the first ever Hunger Games and they're guaranteed food and money for a year. And one of their tributes will come home. They can't lose.

Our prep teams too! They put in so much work before and it's about to pay off. Thinking about it, Athena said she thought I'll win the Games and I have to think of new jokes. I'm probably all joked-out now, though. Still, if I'm replacing Liss next year, I can just be the 'brooding' mentor. If Kayn wins … poor tributes. Two silent and scary mentors.

It's mid-morning when I stop for a rest. As I look around, I vaguely recall the daydreams I had when I was in the Capitol. Of coming home to see cheering crowds, of my dad saying how proud he is of me, of a cute boy asking me on a date. I try to imagine my homecoming now. It's different. The crowds aren't cheering because I can't see any reason for people to cheer. Twenty-three people will be dead. My dad doesn't say how proud he is of me because he doesn't know what to say to me. A cute boy looks at me but I don't return his gaze. I've seen what love can do. I don't think I'm ready.

My mom always says I imagine things too much. I just hope she will still be able to say that to me later.

The weather seems to be remaining curiously constant. It's a nice temperature and there's no wind. There's no sound of animals. This gives me the feeling that today is the last day. By tonight, I'll be in the Capitol. It's just a question of whether I'm dead or alive.

If I get a choice, I think I'll go for alive.

It's strange to think I might be going back to civilization soon. I'll never have to do anything like this again and I can forget all about it. As I get up and walk, I wonder, vaguely, what I'll do with all my free time if I win. Apart from being a mentor, I wouldn't have to work. I could forget all about the last month.

At the back of my mind, I hear the girl from Seven shrieking in pain as I hit her.

Maybe I'll never forget these Games. I don't think they could ever leave me. How do you forget killing someone?

I'm alerted to the fact that I can't keep heading in this direction when I walk into a prickly bush. I wince as the thorns open one of my wounds from the fight yesterday and look around, slightly confused.

"That's a big thorn bush," I mutter to myself as I look up. "One day, I'm going to walk around and not nearly kill myself through nature."

I half-cower, waiting for a reprimand. But, of course, no one tells me to shut up. No one's there to do it.

I look around again. There's no way up this path. In fact, as far as I can see, the whole area is blocked off.

Wow. I wonder where the Gamemakers could possibly not want me to go…

I head back the way I came. But, soon enough, there's another thorn bush, forcing me to go in a different direction. I'm heading back down the mountain, I realise. Despite myself, I feel a thrill of excitement. The Games will be over soon. The last fight is going to happen.

I wonder where Kayn is then. He's obviously further down otherwise I wouldn't be going this way. Unless I was meant to climb through the thorn bushes ... now that I think about it, that might have been it. If they can make us have earthquakes and things like that, I'm sure I can be forced to climb through thorns.

No, I decide. I'm not doing it. I don't care if Kayn is at the top of the mountain with a sign saying 'I give up, Jewel, kill me' I refuse to walk through a thorn bush. After all, they can't hold me to sword point and make me go up there. At least, I don't think they can.

I keep heading downhill. Every so often, I'll see thorn bushes in the distance and have to change direction. They've really gone all out with this gardening.

I'm trying hard not to think about Kayn but I can't help it. I can't believe that I have to kill a boy I've known for about eleven years. Suddenly I remember lots of things about him. Things I haven't thought about for ages, things I shouldn't be thinking about now.

Like the way we met – that race where we drew, at the age of six.

Or the day my dad gave me a lecture on boyfriends when I was nine and my mom patiently explaining to him that I was a bit young to be going out with Kayn.

The winter where we made a snowman and I accidently crushed it. So I made another one to make up for it, only to find he'd done the same.

Him standing up for me when Ruby Livan bullied me, when I was eleven.

Hearing his mom had died. Feeling hurt that he'd blocked me out of his life.

Introducing him to Gleam, Ayla and Calem.

Going to him when Geld dumped me because I wouldn't sleep with him. He wanted to know why I went to him and not Gleam or any of the others. I didn't know why. I still don't.

I shake my head furiously. I can't remember that. He's not like that now. I'm not like that now. We're different people. We have to be. Even if we're Jewel and Kayn we're not. We're just not.

I break into a run and soon, I'm concentrating only on that. I hate running though (it doesn't help that my leg is aching from last night), and I stop after about half an hour. I'm the world's least motivated tribute. Although, as there's only two of us left now, I guess that's not hard to be. At least I can't have third place.

I wish I could control my thoughts but I can't: that triggers off something else in me; I remember Hulde talking about how coming second was a bit like coming last. I guess it is, sort of. But then she said she wouldn't mind coming last. That's crazy. I'm not losing now. I'm too close to keeping my promises. I finger Gleam's ring. I refuse to come second now. I won't be last. I'm always first. That's how it'll be today.

That 'talk' was so motivational, I feel like doing a cheer to go with it. What am I, I wonder. A sports coach?

Well, I might be next year, sort of.

To take my mind off my new career (how many of them have I gone through in the past few weeks anyway?) I decide to refill my water bottle in the nearby stream. I notice that it's become a trickle. Maybe that's a sign of something though I don't know what. I probably have two options – I could sit here and ruminate on all sorts of reasons why the water is drying up or I could just have a drink and keep walking. I go for the second option.

A few hours after midday, I start to recognise the area I'm in. I've definitely been here before. In fact, over there is the bush which Rashnid used to demonstrate how the lake monster jumps out and eats people.

I feel a sudden pang as I remember Rashnid. In my head, I see him laughing at me and teasing me.

Best to keep going.

There are more and more thorn bushes around here. I'm being forced in a particular direction now. And I think I know where I'm going. Which is a new one for me.

Sure enough, I walk into an area I recognise. There are thorn bushes on two sides. If I look through the clear side, I can see more in the distance. And I can see a figure walking towards me. I stop. This is where I'm meant to be.

It's the place where we saw the girl from District 6. Looking around, I realise that she must have been here for most of the Games. Behind a particularly monstrous bush, I can see the opening to a cave. There's a pond to my right. There are all sorts of berries and signs of wildlife. She probably only walked around occasionally and we must have caught her out in the open. Then she had to flee. I realise she probably doubled around us and fled downhill. How else did Kayn catch her? Unless he didn't and she died through something else…

"Jewel," a familiar voice says in surprise. "I'm fighting you."

I turn around. His face is terrible. The side I hurt is scarred horribly and his eye looks bloodshot. He makes no move towards me.

"No need to sound so surprised," I mutter.

He smirks and a feeling of unease sets in over me. "Sorry, Jewel. I thought Hulde would have won the fight between you. Unless she died in another-"

"No, I won," I tell him.

He nods. "And who killed Rashnid and Jak? Or did the boy from Ten get Rashnid?"

"Why are you so curious?"

He shrugs. "Why not?"

This is wrong. Something's wrong. But what?

"Rashnid got killed by Korosh," I confirm. "Jak tried to murder me. Hulde killed him."

Kayn shakes his head. "Jak was a strange person. Wasn't himself."

Kayn doesn't seem normal either, I think.

"You killed District 6?" I ask for the sake of asking.

"Yes. She was a bloody strong fighter though." He points to a cut in his shirt. "She gave me this. But," and now his voice is more menacing, "you gave me these." He indicates his scars. "And I swore to kill you."

"Yeah, I've made a lot of promises too," I reply casually.

He shrugs. "Promises were made to be broken."

"So you're not going to kill me?" I ask mockingly, because the truth is, he's freaking me out and I don't want him or the audience to know. "Very kind of you."

"Your promises," he hisses.

"Why mine?"

"You know how I've lived for the last few days? Trying not to die. I'm lucky I have good sponsors. I barely survived. And it's your fault."

"You would have preferred to die?" I'm sure that if I keep talking, something good will happen. But the truth is: I don't want to talk so much. I just want this to finish.

He glares at me. "Shut up."

"When did I ever listen to what you told me to do?" I enquire before I can stop myself. For a moment, amusement flits across his face but then he scowls again. I feel better, somehow.

"It's just us now, Jewel. One more competition between us. Winner takes all. The money, the glory, going home. Everything."

And all the pain and misery and deaths I can't help adding to myself. I guess Hulde got to me more than I thought.

"True," I say instead. "But you know how it is. First tribute of Panem, first winner."

"You wish."

"Yeah."

He smirks again and looks me in the eye. I don't like this anymore.

"Guess this is it, Jewel," he says and draws his sword. I hold my mace up.

"One more competition?"

"May the best one win."

He grins and swings his sword towards me. I hop backwards. Again, it occurs to me just how much I ache. I've gotten used to moving in pain but my legs sting from these sudden movements. This will be a hard battle. But I knew that anyway.

His sword flashes forwards again, slicing my arm. I reciprocate by dragging my mace along his. It doesn't matter how much I get injured now. As long as he dies first, I'll be fine.

I swing my mace towards his face. He blocks me, shouting, "Not again, Jewel. You won't get me again."

I break free of the hold. "Bet you that's one of the last things you say," I call back, unsure as to why we've decided to have a mid-battle conversation but I can't show weakness now.

"Bet you your life it isn't," he hisses and swings his sword towards the top of my head. I drop and roll to the side before leaping up, trying to surprise him with an attack to his stomach. I don't say anything now – better to focus my mind, right?

He smiles viciously and slashes at my right shoulder, tearing a large chunk of flesh out. I yell in pain. He uses this advantage to crash into me. Blearily, trying to focus through the ache, I hold my mace out and rip downwards on his chest. He yells too and moves back from me.

The pain in my shoulder is all-consuming. It fills my thoughts, my feelings, my body. I can't concentrate. How can I? Even glancing at my shoulder, I'm sickened by the red stain.

"Horrible, isn't it, Jewel?" Kayn cackles. "Now you know how we all felt. Is that how Hulde looked?"

I breathe deeply, trying not to vomit. I don't want to answer him. How can he be so happy? He's barely noticed the wound I gave him.

I try to smile at him. If there's one thing I've learnt here, it's not to show when you hurt. Not to predators like me and Kayn.

He lunges at me again. I block him, trying to ignore the pain in my shoulder. The tip of his blade still manages to dash across my stomach, giving me another cut. He laughs as I back away. It's scary how much he's enjoying this.

Is this what I looked like?

Desperately, I leap forward, trying my usual 'quick-blows' tactic but he blocks all of them with apparent ease. Then he does the same thing back and I'm much slower in responding. I barely manage the last blow and I close my eyes as the sword gives me a deep cut on my side. But it's not life-threatening. Yet.

"Can't you do any better?" he taunts. "This is too easy."

I give up and headbutt him in the stomach. It's not a strong blow but it surprises him and he staggers backwards.

"This … any better?" I gasp, trying to ignore the feeling of bloodloss.

In response, he punches me. I'm taken by surprise but I'm much weaker than he is and I fall over. Swiftly, he ducks down and plucks my mace from my grasp then straddles me, stopping my arms from moving.

"Just like old times, isn't it, Jewel?" he taunts me softly. "I win."

His smile is scary. Through a haze of pain, I look in his eyes. This isn't Kayn. Kayn would have let me keep my mace. Kayn would never have enjoyed himself so much.

"Answer me," he orders.

He's snapped. He's lost himself completely. Not so much that a casual observer would notice, but I can. This is the person I'm so close to becoming.

Do I want that?

I remember Hulde talking about being last. About how it gave you more peace than being the winner. I want that peace, so much. I want to look at myself and like who I am. But I don't want to lose. I don't want to die and never see my friends and family again.

What do I want?

"Answer!" he roars. I immediately stiffen up, refusing to show weakness even now.

If it's like old times, thenhe's won in a place of strength and I must have won in a place of skill. And it's true. After all, I haven't lost my mind. Yet.

"Exactly like old times," I reply.

He laughs delightedly. "And now you've lost, Jewel. Second place."

Which is just like coming last in Hulde's books.

I shift slightly, trying to get some advantage over him. But the movement makes me dizzy and he notices and clamps my arms to me, forcing my fingers into the wound in my side. Panic sets in. How can I win? How can I keep my promises?

"Still fighting, Jewel?" he asks mockingly. "I could just stay here and watch you bleed to death, you know."

I say nothing. If I speak, I think I'll let everyone know how frightened I am. I can't do that.

"Looks like I'll go back to all the money and honour and glory. After all, what else is there to fight for?"

He's mocking my interview now. Hatred pulses through me and then vanishes. I don't hate Kayn. I hate who he's become. The old Kayn would have said the same thing but not in the same way.

I try to kick him, thinking that if I can just get him off-guard, I'll be up and fighting (despite my wounds). It doesn't work.

"I don't know," I answer, just to get him to shut up.

"And what will you have left?"

I stare at him. He thumps me.

"Answer!"

"Just kill me if you're going to," I say quietly.

He regards me curiously. I don't say anything else. If this was Kayn, I would speak. But it isn't. I don't know who this is.

A feeling of irony hits me. I'm the person who complains so much about always being first. And now, I'm not. At the one time when it's so important to be first, I'm not. I'm second. I'm last.

I promise if I get picked I'll come home. Even if I have to hijack one of those hovercrafts, I'll turn up at the door and ask you for dinner.

I struggle wildly again, thinking of Dad, Pearl and Mom. I promised to come home. I promised I'd ask them for dinner. And I'm not giving up.

He grabs my head and holds it to the ground. There's no compassion in his eyes. He's not human.

"Don't go crazy though," adds Calem.

More memories.

"We need our District Idiot back in one piece."

I haven't gone crazy. I don't think I have. At least I've still got compassion. At least I'm still an idiot.

"Nothing to say?" Kayn mocks. "That's a new one."

"It's a promise. You promise to get this ring back to me, OK?"

We all know what she means.

"I promise."

"Good." She hands me the ring and I hold it.

"Actually," I say quietly, and now I feel like crying, "do me a favour, OK, Kayn?" I look at him directly, trying to appeal to the better nature he once had. "You see the ring on my left finger? Take … take it back. Give it to Gleam. I promised her I'd give it back."

Because I promised to go home. And I will. As a dead body. Even if I don't like the idea, even if it terrifies me, I know that's how this is ending.

I promised to fight Kayn fairly. I did. He didn't. But he never promised back, did he?

I promised not to go crazy. And maybe it's better it ends this way, before I can.

And I promised to get that ring back.

Kayn studies me and for a moment, I see a flicker of who he was in his eyes. A smile from the boy he used to be appears on his face. A sad one.

"Of course I will, Jewel," he whispers to me. "I swear it."

He moves backwards slightly, takes my hand and gently pulls the ring off. I wait until he has and then I struggle again, just to try. Instantly, the snarl of the new boy comes back and he thumps me. Hard.

"Any last words?" he sneers.

And then it hits me. I'm going to die. Now. But at the same time that I'm dying, I'm also free. I'm not the puppet of the Gamemakers. I'm not someone I don't have to be. I'm just me again. I can feel sad that I've killed so many people. I can be scared. I can change back. This is the end of the line.

I never have to pretend I don't care about anyone anymore. No one is going to be treating me like a monster or a saviour for something I hated. I'll be at peace.

I grin out of relief and regard him carefully. "Last words?" I ask and my voice is trembling from fear but there's still amusement in it because it's such a clichéd line. "Wow, thanks, Kayn. I mean, anyone in the world could pick the last words ever and you've given the choice to me. I'm amazed. Thank you."

He stares at me. "Always the joker," he says slowly. "You're still the same, aren't you, Jewel?"

I grin at him. "Yep. I never change."

He shrugs. "If you say so. Goodbye, Jewel. Just remember: I win!"

He draws a knife and plunges it into my chest. It's like nothing I've ever felt before. It's fire and … ice and pain all mixed into one. I'm dying. I can feel it.

Is this what it is, then?

I see Hulde and Rashnid walking toward me … hand in hand. Behind them, Skira comes … smiling slightly. Jak lounges casually by … a tree. All the tributes from the arena …

Korosh, the brother and sister, the girl from 12. They're all smiling … and waving. And I can see them as people now …

and not … the objects Liss said they were. I don't have to … be someone … I'm not.. I don't have to … change. I'm not the winner … I don't have to be …

inhuman. I can be …sorry for what … I've done and …

I can be sad about it … or happy for … no reason.

I can be … myself.

Kayn is whooping and … cheering in the glory … of being first.

But Rashnid and … Hulde have reached me and … are tugging me … Hulde is smiling, at peace …

Skira …hands me a … flower. A flower like velvet. Like a … consolation prize.

I allow … them to pull me … up …

and as I … follow them, I also … smile. For, like Hulde, I too …

know the peace … of mind …

that comes …

with … being …

last.

Fin


A/n: I would like to apologise for misleading you about when this story would end (by putting up a false update day). I did this because I wanted to keep this ending secret for as long as possible and this meant I had to make it seem as though there would be another chapter.

I would also like to thank everyone who took the time to read this story and who put it on favourites, alerts and reviewed it. This all meant a lot to me. I hope you enjoyed this story as much as I enjoyed writing it and I hope you aren't mad about how it ended. I know a lot of people wanted Jewel to win (and you have no idea how many times I've nearly deleted this entire chapter and re-written it to make it so) but there were several reasons why that couldn't be the ending.

So, anyway, thank you all very much. This has been one of my favourite stories to write and you've all made it worthwhile. Geth.