As you can probably imagine, providing closure for every character I've created in this massive trilogy within the confines of a single chapter proved to be impossible... So think of this as a snapshot from a short time after Cashmere's death seen through a very different pair of eyes. Keep reading to the end and everything will become clear, or at least clearer, I promise...
I don't know what to think when I catch my first glimpse of District Thirteen. It doesn't look like it does on the films played by the Capitol, because on there it's a hazardous, smoking ruin devastated by the attack that ended the first rebellion, but it doesn't exactly look like the thriving stronghold of the new revolution either. It doesn't look like anything really, and it's only when the hovercraft lands that I understand why. Virtually the entire city has been built underground.
A mass of grey uniformed soldiers emerge from a heavily fortified metal door, weapons in their hands as if they think they're under attack. However I find it hard to believe they could feel threatened by me and the few others with me, the small group of people transported here from District Two for questioning after the destruction of the mountain fortress I've heard them call The Nut. And that's yet another thing I don't understand about all this.
"I don't like it here," says Velia, clinging to my arm as we're escorted through the door and immediately plunged into near darkness.
I look down at her, trying to smile encouragingly because I know it makes no difference if we like it here or not and if she's honest then so does she. I know I should say something to her as well, offer words of reassurance to drown out some of her grief, but I don't know what to say. Especially when we seem to be heading further and further underground.
"Name?" snaps a middle-aged man in yet another grey District Thirteen uniform when we reach the foot of the stairs we'd started to descend as soon as we'd cleared the entranceway.
"Isn't it on one of your many lists?" I snap back. I can still smell the smoke and dust on what's left of my black uniform and I can still see and hear the walls of the mountain crashing down on everyone trapped inside. I'm in no mood to be polite or make small talk. Not that I ever am, but that isn't the point.
"Name?" he repeats, meeting my fierce gaze steadily and without visible fear.
"Astraea Rossetti," I answer flatly, determined not to even blink.
Eventually he looks away, scanning the clipboard he carries for a minute before nodding once.
"They want to see you. Wait there."
Instead of moving over to stand by the wall as I'm directed, I remain where I am so I don't have to break Velia's suddenly painfully strong grip on my arm.
"And you are?" the man asks, turning to look at her.
For the first time since we stumbled onto the train seconds before it departed the crumbling mountain fortress, she throws her head back and scowls at our interrogator with something that resembles her usual fire and defiance.
"Velia Barbieri," she says, steadily meeting his gaze like I did, like he is just another opponent she's facing across the Arena sand.
The man looks at his list, shaking his head, and it's then that I abruptly understand. The piece of paper he's looking at is a list of the names of the people who spied for the rebels in District Two. That's why I'm on it and Velia isn't. Because Ursala did everything in her power to protect her daughter, including shielding her from the decision both she and I made.
He clicks his fingers and two more uniformed soldiers step forwards towards the young woman who is a mixture of friend and little sister to me. Velia lets my arm go and drops into the fighting stance I've seen her adopt countless times in the Training Centre over the years. It's only when I notice the District Thirteen soldier's weapons trained on me as well that I realise I've subconsciously reacted in exactly the same way. Even after nearly a decade has passed since I last saw the Arena. It seems old habits die hard.
"I've spied for Plutarch Heavensbee for nearly ten years," I shout, stepping in front of Velia before she does something stupid. "I've risked my life every day because I believe in the cause. This is the daughter of another one of the spies you suddenly considered expendable, and she's just watched her mother die at the hands of those she thought she was fighting with. If you want me to talk then you'll let her go free. If you don't do that then you can do whatever you like to us but I'll never say another word."
The soldiers exchange glances, and for a second they remind me of trainees at our Training Centre as they try to decide whether or not to risk committing to a fight they might not win. I've been spying for a long time and I'm intelligent enough to have worked my way very high up the ranks of the Fortress Command for a district girl. I'd bet my name isn't too far from the top of that list and these minions now realise they don't want to be the ones held responsible for losing any information I might provide.
"Fine," says the first man reluctantly as he nods to his colleague. "Escort them both to Command and let the president deal with them."
The soldier ushers us forwards in total silence, and once again Velia clings to me as if she fears they'll separate us if she lets go for a second. For the first time in a long time I remember just how young she is when I realise she's holding on to the only familiar thing she has left, the only link she has to a home that no longer exists.
"Wait there," says the soldier, finally stopping outside yet another metal door after leading us further underground than I thought possible.
He disappears inside, leaving us alone in the cold grey corridor.
"What if she wasn't dead?" whispers Velia eventually, lifting her head from my shoulder and looking up at me with eyes so wide they seem to take up her whole face. "She might have survived, mightn't she? You don't know she didn't. Maybe they got her out when everyone surrendered."
"I'm sorry, Ve," I reply, pushing long dark hair that's as unruly as her mother's was back from her face. "But nobody could have survived that. You know it deep inside, don't you?"
"But she should have ran," she says, reaching up to brush a single tear from her cheek and then examining her hand as if she doesn't understand why it's wet. "If she hadn't gone back for me when I fell then she'd have got out."
And you wouldn't.
I close my eyes for a second, reliving our frantic race down the enclosed passageway that started to collapse behind us even as we ran for our lives. Velia had stumbled, falling to her knees a couple of short metres from the platform where the train waited, and Ursala had gone back to lift her up. Even now I can hear the sickening crack as the ceiling of the passageway split and see the pain on my former-mentor's face as she lunged forwards to throw her daughter to safety less than a second before she was buried under literally a mountain of rubble that knocked me off my feet as it spilled out onto the platform.
"It's my fault. If I hadn't gone looking for you then she never would have followed me…"
"She died saving your life," I reply eventually, not entirely able to forget how I would most likely be dead if she hadn't made the decision she did. "Everything she ever did from the day you were born was for you, because she loved you more than anything else in the world. She wouldn't have wanted to go any other way."
"This way," snaps the soldier suddenly, interrupting our whispered conversation. We both step forwards but he raises his arm to stop us. "Just you," he continues, his cold grey eyes never leaving mine.
"I'll wait here," says Velia, promptly sliding down the wall until she's sitting leaning against it.
The soldier stares at her with an expression that I can only describe as shock on his face but he says nothing. There are a lot more grey-uniformed people in the corridor now, but Velia doesn't look in the slightest bit intimidated and I abruptly don't fear for her. Whatever she feels inside, however much she's grieving, she's showing no emotion now. She's got her Arena face back, and the aggression she radiates is enough to make everyone give her a wide berth. In other circumstances I'd laugh at the thought that she's unarmed and they're the ones with the machine guns.
The room that seems to be known here as 'Command' looks remarkably like where I used to work in the Fortress. There's a huge table in the centre that looks like it's made of glass, with control panels around the edges and countless flashing lights. On the walls I can see more than one map of Panem, which, if it's anything like the ones I'm used to working with, changes colour in accordance with shifts of power and control across the country.
On this one, the Capitol and its forces appear to be blood red, and I can't help thinking how appropriate that is. Virtually all of the death, destruction and suffering in Panem can be attributed back to President Snow, his predecessor and their respective governments, from the Dark Days to my husband's death to Ursala's. It's all down to them, and despite the demolition of my own district and the patriotism I can't quite suppress, my overriding instinct is still to make our dictators pay.
"Astraea Rossetti," announces the soldier before he turns and quickly leaves the room.
I look around and see about a dozen other people gathered around the glass table, most of them in the military uniform of District Thirteen. Then I focus on the large figure seated a short distance away and immediately recognise Plutarch Heavensbee. He nods to me and smiles, an expression that completely contradicts the mood in the room and yet still seems to fit his face perfectly.
"I'm very pleased to see you alive and well, Astraea."
"Because you know how much information I can bring you," I reply cagily, remaining by the door even as he gestures for me to sit down next to him. I might know there's absolutely no chance of leaving this place unless they want me to go, but being between them and the exit still makes me feel slightly better. "And you think I'll give it to you even after what just happened."
"War is a cruel thing," says the woman who sits at the head of the table. "Sometimes there is…unavoidable collateral damage."
"Astraea," interrupts Heavensbee before I can respond. "This is Alma Coin, the president of District Thirteen."
I stare at Coin, seeing a stern-looking woman who looks to be in her fifties. She has poker-straight steel grey hair that falls to her shoulders and hard eyes that wouldn't look out of place on one of our tributes in the arena. Everything about her body language and appearance screams confrontation, and in the end I let the instincts that have been drummed into me since the day I was born take over. It's easier than trying to control myself, and I've seen so much death and destruction today that I don't especially feel like showing restraint anyway.
"And how are you better than the one you seek to replace?" I snarl, reaching for the knife at my belt and only remembering it isn't there when I can't find it. "Have you any idea of the suffering and pain you inflicted on all of those people today? You didn't even give them a chance to surrender. You killed more innocent people than I can count. You killed people who had worked for you, spied for you, risked their lives for you. Ursala Barbieri's dead. Her daughter's sitting outside this room right now, grieving for a woman who didn't deserve to die."
"Difficult decisions have to be made during these difficult times," replies Coin, her expression and voice emotionless despite my outburst. "It always falls to a few to make sacrifices for the greater good."
"I don't see you sacrificing a lot," I snap back, leaning against the wall in an attempt to anchor myself to something so I don't fly at someone as powerful as Thirteen's president in a fit of rage.
"Ladies, please," interjects Heavensbee, sounding for all the world like he's ending an argument over a place at a dinner table back in the Capitol.
It's only when I finally unclench my fists and find my nails red with blood where they've broken the skin on the palms of my hands that I realise how close I was to losing it. I close my eyes and try to breathe deeply, attempting to clear my mind like Corvinus taught me to all those years ago. I'd always had a temper even then, and it had amused and infuriated him in equal measure right up until the day he left me to go to the arena.
"Astraea, come and have a look at this," says Heavensbee softly, his Capitolian accent somehow sounding strange in this dark and confined underground room. "You've seen the other side's version so you might be able to tell us if we've got anything wrong."
I take another deep breath and slowly cross the room towards the illuminated map of Panem, glaring at Coin as I pass. It crosses my mind that Heavensbee is just as likely to have ordered the attack on my district, but I push the thought away. I've secretly fought for the revolution since only a short time after Corvinus' death. I'm not about to give up now. Not when I know this is what he'd have wanted if he'd lived long enough to find out.
For the next couple of hours, I tell those gathered in Command everything I can remember ever learning about the Capitol, the government and its military. I show them unmapped areas where they store weapons, I describe the chain of command and I tell them what little I know about the men and women who lead their regiments.
I know from the expressions on their faces that it's more than they knew before, and for once I'm grateful for Capitolian arrogance. They let me see all of this and hear all these details because they were so egotistical and overconfident that they couldn't imagine a world where I wouldn't be loyal to a government I was meant to worship like a god. I almost smile at the thought of how that arrogance is probably going to be part of what will give the rebels the edge in the end.
Then for the next interminable amount of time they talk and talk about both what they've just heard and other details which mean nothing to me. They talk of military hospitals, propos, hijacking and mockingjays, and in the end I sit down in the corner of the room and switch off, grateful for the ability I've always had to blend into the background when I choose to.
I only concentrate on what they're saying when discussion turns to the possibility of a direct assault on the Capitol, because while I don't know much about the rebel's perspective on the war, I know enough to know that if they are successful in that then it could prove decisive. This could win them the victory we've been fighting for, but it soon becomes clear that it's fraught with risk and that none of them can come to an agreement over which plan of action is best.
Another District Thirteen woman, one who is slightly younger than her president and has black hair instead of grey but otherwise seems much the same to me, proves to be especially vocal and it doesn't take a genius to see Coin is losing her patience. The woman seems oblivious, but she lets the president silence her with just a look in response to a sudden crash coming from outside in the corridor. Everyone stops talking, moving and even breathing when the noise continues.
"What's going on out there?" asks a very anxious and frantic looking Heavensbee.
Even as he speaks, the door flies open and slams hard into the wall to reveal two people, who are immediately surrounded by about half of the District Thirteen soldiers who were out in the corridor when I came in. The rest are still out there if the noise I continue to hear is anything to go by, struggling with someone else I can't yet see. I crane my neck but I can't see Velia.
"Don't even think about it," snarls one of the intruders, a woman with a distinctly Capitol accent.
The soldier who'd been about to grab her backs away in response to her commanding voice, and I look at her closely then. She's petite, dark-haired and very beautiful, and her face is covered in soot and dust in a way that makes her green eyes the main feature I immediately focus on. Her clothes are filthy and torn and only one of her shoes still has its heel attached, but when she walks forwards further into the room, she moves like she has power, like she's used to being the one who does the telling rather than being the one who's told.
As she moves, the man who accompanies her mirrors her so he remains by her side. I eventually turn my attention away from her to look at him, and as I take in the golden circles that are tattooed in a line from both his hazel eyes, I realise I've seen him before. He was a stylist for the Games. He was Cashmere de Montfort's stylist before she died in the Victor's Quell.
"Fancy seeing you here, Plutarch," says the woman to Heavensbee, abruptly dragging all eyes back to her as if insulted they ever left.
"How did you get here, Narissa?" he asks, neither hostile nor welcoming. "What are you playing at?"
"She got here in the hovercraft my soldiers nearly shot down," interrupts Coin, glaring at the Capitolian woman called Narissa with no attempt to hide her hatred.
"Your soldiers should be more careful," retorts Narissa immediately, speaking with a level of derision that clearly manages to shock even District Thirteen's seemingly chronically unfeeling president. "And they should use what few brain cells they possess. If the Capitol's going to attack Thirteen then it won't do it in a single hovercraft that's barely airworthy, will it?"
Coin glares again, especially when a few of her people laugh in response to the other woman's words, but she doesn't speak.
"Hovercraft?" asks Heavensbee sceptically.
"A Capitolian one," confirms Narissa amusedly, brushing some of the dirt from her dress in a way that makes me long to tell her not to bother because it's a lost cause.
"How is that possible?" splutters the leader of the rebellion, telling me that security in the big city is every bit as tight as it was in the Fortress.
"With a little help from a friend," she replies, her lips curling up into a slight smile before she abruptly becomes deadly serious. "She risked her life for this. Her cover's blown now. And she's still there, Heavensbee. If you don't get her out alive then I swear right now that this country won't be big enough to hide you from me."
I expect Heavensbee to laugh, because after all, he's not only the leader of a whole army but is also at least three times the size of the diminutive-looking woman opposite him, but to my surprise his eyes widen and he shuffles nervously in his chair. The person she was before the war started was obviously powerful enough to make even the likes of him think twice.
"You'll have to tell me where she is," he replies, briefly struggling to meet her eyes until he regains his composure. "And you'll have to hope she's clever enough to stay out of trouble because there's no way we can get anywhere near the Capitol yet."
"There's no one smarter than my girl," answers Narissa immediately. "And I wouldn't worry about the other either."
"But I don't understand this," says Heavensbee, and I can tell he doesn't from the confusion on his face. "How did you get out without being shot down? Who flew the hovercraft?"
"Me, of course," she replies, speaking as if she's addressing an incredibly simple-minded child. "The woman who put you where you are today taught me many things."
"Why are you here?"
"To help you send Coriolanus Snow to meet his maker," she replies flatly. "But first you can call your guard dogs off," she continues, speaking to Coin this time at the exact same moment as the door flies open and another man comes in.
He emerges from a pack of District Thirteen guards with a little help from Velia, who crosses the room to stand beside me before glaring back at them with contemptuous eyes. I link my arm through hers without looking away from the Capitolians, wondering if this is how they feel when they watch the Hunger Games.
The familiar looking man I can't quite place glances around the room, seeming totally unruffled and unperturbed by the situation. He looks quite beaten up and his suit is as covered in dust and dirt as his companion's dress, but he still walks like he too had power and influence. Everything about him screams Capitol, and that is confirmed by the expression of shocked recognition on Heavensbee's face. For once in his life, the former Head Gamemaker is rendered speechless.
The recent arrival strides purposefully across the room and slams a tiny square of silver metal onto the table in front of Heavensbee. He leans down to look straight into the other man's eyes, and that makes the thin silver necklace he wears swing forwards. It holds a pendant of a single vivid sapphire and looks far too delicate to be worn by the man who now bears it. Seeing it makes me recall his identity immediately, because I now remember seeing it sparkle at the throat of the woman who wore it first.
"If you don't use this to bring him down then I'm going back there to do it myself," he growls, his voice low and infused with more anger and bitterness than I've ever heard.
Heavensbee says nothing for at least a minute as he raises the square of metal, cradling it in his hand like it's the most precious object in the world.
"How…? How did you get this? How did you get out? You died when we fled the Capitol. I saw you fall."
"Ways and means, Heavensbee," is the only response he gets as he passes the object to his assistant and she fits it into a panel on the side of the table.
She presses a button and a holographic map of the Capitol springs up, covered in hundreds of flashing lights. There is total silence in the room as everyone stares at it in awe.
"Does Snow know you took this?" asks Coin, looking at the man from the big city with massive distrust.
"No. This is a copy. He knows nothing of its existence."
"Why should we trust you, Minister Hazelwell?"
Surprisingly it isn't to District Thirteen's president that he turns but to Heavensbee instead.
"Because I would kill Snow with my bare hands if I had even the vaguest hint of a chance. You know what he did, and I don't just mean the Quell. I had to watch him break the woman I love over and over again. I had to be strong and put her back together because for some reason I still can't comprehend, she always ran to me. Before she went into the arena for the second time, she made me promise to bring the bastard down. So I'm here keeping the promise I made to she who was everything to me."
Heavensbee nods almost sadly at Falco before turning back to the holographic map and staring up at it in awe, but Coin scowls and shakes her head.
"Well not one of you has the proper clearance," she says officiously. "You're going to have to go downstairs with the rest of the refugees until you can be processed and assigned somewhere to stay."
Falco says nothing, staring into the distance as though he's mentally not present in the room at all, and when I look at Felix the stylist, I find he's staring at his friend, a mixture of sadness and concern clouding his face. However Narissa scowls back at Coin and laughs. It's obvious from the expression on the grey-haired woman's face that she's not used to being mocked, and she suddenly appears so affronted that it's difficult not to laugh as well.
"Refugees?" says the Capitolian woman incredulously. "We've been fighting for this revolution since long before you decided it might be worth your while to start interfering."
"Interfering? In reality I don't seem to recall you getting very far without us."
"You know nothing," snaps Narissa. "Heavensbee, we're going somewhere a little closer to the surface. I certainly won't be wearing the truly hideous uniform of this place, but when you decide you're going homewards then I'll fly one of your hovercrafts. Into battle if I have to. I won't let you leave Vesper to die."
"He won't," says Falco bitterly. "I think even he's had enough of abandoning innocent people to death."
I know instantly that he means Cashmere and her brother, that it's unlikely she's left his thoughts since the minute she died, but he says nothing more. His eyes meet mine for a split second and then he's gone, storming from the room and leaving a trail of District Thirteen guards gawping after him.
Even after several weeks have passed and the war seems little closer to being won, I still curl my lip in disgust at the rash of purple ink I see when I look down at my arm. It intermingles with the ever-present scars and almost as consistent bruises, but though it caused me the least amount of pain, it's definitely what I despise the most.
Those who aren't from home and don't understand call District Two militaristic, but as a person who's seen a lot of one and a little of the other, I can say without doubt that this place has the edge. First thing every morning, each person is given a temporary tattoo to tell them where they have to spend every minute of every hour of the day that follows. Right up until half past ten, which seems to be District Thirteen's universal bedtime.
I imagine what Corvinus would say to all this, and I can almost hear his voice in my mind as if he were standing next to me. 'I'll fight for them if I have to but I'll take my wife to bed whenever I like,' he'd say, and the thought of him makes me smile for what feels like the first time in years as I walk down the narrow, dark and windowless corridor. In the opposite direction to the appropriate destination as noted on my arm.
There are only a few rooms in District Thirteen that are above ground, and it is to the largest one of those I head to, longing for a rare glimpse of daylight. A lot of grey uniformed people look curiously at me as we walk past each other and some look disapproving, but they all leave me alone. They don't seem to have time for a stranger who doesn't even have the decency to follow the instructions on her arm like a good prisoner, sorry, citizen.
I'm relieved. I only want to be left alone, and I sink gratefully into a very practical but excruciatingly uncomfortable chair in the thankfully empty room only seconds later.
I don't know how long I sit there for, but I jump instantly to my feet and instinctively reach for the knife at my belt that I no longer have as soon as I hear someone approaching. Before I see who it is, I'm expecting a so-called soldier of District Thirteen who is demanding that I go to wherever I should be, and I prepare to fight back accordingly. Then I see a totally different face looking back at me and I sit down again.
"Are you escaping the regime as well?" he asks, walking slowly to the window and sitting down on another of the chairs.
"How do you know I wasn't born here?" I reply, taking in his dark eyes, honey-coloured skin and the dazzling sapphire at his throat. "Minister Hazelwell."
"Not anymore," he says bitterly, leaving me unsure if the contempt I hear in his voice is for himself or for the people who gave him that title in the first place. "The president and I had a few issues we couldn't agree upon. As for the other, your eyes are too haunted to be those of a daughter of Thirteen. You've seen too much. Lost too much?" he continues, phrasing his last sentence like a question. I nod slightly in response. "And that aside, your arm says you should be at the hospital, but you're here instead. It gives it away more than anything."
"16.00: Ignoring the District Thirteen government," I reply, examining my arm closely. "That's how I read it, don't you?"
He laughs just slightly, as if doing so is alien to him. When I think about what he's been through, it probably is.
"So…District Twelve?" he asks, definitely laughing at the indignant fury that must show on my face. "I thought so," he continues. "District Two then."
I nod in confirmation, remembering Cashmere telling me how smart he is. From that alone I can tell she spoke the truth. If he'd asked me where I was from then I could have lied, but by suggesting he thought I was from the coal district, he ensured my instinctive reaction told him the truth before I could think to lie. There are those in District Two who support the Capitol and there are those like myself who support the revolution, but regardless of side, I'm convinced I could count the number of people who love the Mockingjay on one hand.
"You know my name but I don't know yours. Fellow fugitives should at least know each other's names."
"Astraea," I reply, and I am surprised to see recognition in his eyes that goes beyond what would be there because he saw me in Command on the day he arrived here.
"Rossetti?" he asks, carrying on when I incline my head slightly. "Cashmere spoke of you. She never forgot your husband."
"I know. I'm truly sorry for what happened."
"Why?" he retorts, the fierce man who gave the map to Heavensbee abruptly returning. "You didn't kill her. Snow did that. With a bit of help from Johanna Mason."
"She's on our side. That's what everyone says," I say, thinking of the ruined young woman I once saw in the hospital.
"I don't care," he replies, his hand reaching for the pendant at his throat. "I'll never forget."
"I know you do," he answers softly.
He doesn't speak again and we sit in silence for several minutes, maybe even hours, both of us too lost in grief to make idle conversation. I'm relieved, because that's never been something I'm all that good at anyway.
However eventually Falco takes a deep breath and turns to me again, staring at me with dark eyes that somehow seem able to look inside my soul.
"They sent her back to One with her brother. I didn't even get chance to see her."
"Why not? You were part of the District One support team, weren't you?"
"A warrant for my arrest was issued before she was even taken from the arena. I wanted to stay but Felix convinced me that she wouldn't have wanted that. We left, caused…a diversion so Heavensbee could implement the final stage of his plan and then went into hiding together. Eventually Narissa found us a way out."
"So how did you get the map?" I ask, speaking before I can stop myself.
"I had it anyway," he replies, his expression hardening slightly. "From before Butterfly even went into the arena. I think everyone knew the Quell wouldn't go to plan virtually as soon as it was announced."
He closes his eyes as he briefly turns away, and when he looks back at me it's with a face as expressionless as Ursala's used to be when she returned home from her trips to the Capitol. The only person able to break through the wall my friend and mentor constructed around herself was Velia, in those first few hours at least, and I suspect that in a very different way, Cashmere was Falco's Velia, the one person he would always fight for. And now she's left him. Just like Corvinus left me.
"Cashmere loved you very much. Ursala told me so."
"You didn't know her," he snaps, suddenly leaning forwards in his chair, raising his arms and linking his hands at the base of his skull in such an obvious display of grief and rage that I can't bear to look at him. "How can you know how much I loved her? How can you know how it felt to sit there and watch her die?"
"I didn't ask you to stay here and talk to me," I bristle, responding instinctively to the anger in his words. "And I don't care who you are or who you were, don't you dare tell me I don't know how it feels to watch the person you love die and be able to do nothing about it."
He lets his hands disconnect and looks up at me, and if he doesn't quite manage apologetic then he seems to regret his outburst. It's enough, just about, and I lean back in my chair again as a way of telling him so without having to speak again.
"When your husband died, what happened to him?"
"The Capitol flew him back to Two in an open coffin made of the palest wood I've ever seen," I reply, feeling a lump form in my throat at the painful memory of standing on the sand in the Arena and watching Corvinus burn. "They'd cleaned him up and changed his clothes so I couldn't even see where Vilani stabbed him. He looked like he was just sleeping."
"Have you ever felt so angry that you can't think? Have you ever wanted revenge for something so badly that you can think of nothing else?"
I look at him then, really look at him rather than looking slightly to the side because his grief intimidates me, and I recognise the expression on his face instantly. It was the expression I wore after that fateful day in the arena nine years ago.
"When Dahlia Vilani killed Corvinus, I thought my need for revenge against those who put them both in the Games would suffocate me. But Corvinus always used to tell me that acting on impulse out of anger gets you nowhere and it usually hurts you more than it hurts your enemy. And he would have hated to see me hurt. So I thought of a better plan instead. I pretended to be loyal to those I hate the most for nearly ten years because I knew in the end I'd be in a better position to help bring them down."
"Then maybe you're a better person than me, because all I want to do is go back to the Capitol and put a bullet through Snow's head. Eventually. After he's begged me for mercy and I've signed Cashmere's name on the wall in his blood so he remembers who he's dying for."
"I know you're Capitol but you'd fit right in back home," I reply dryly, despite how I get the impression that he wouldn't have expressed a thought like that aloud before Cashmere's death in the Quell even though I know him so little. "But you've already helped the rebellion by getting that map here. This time we've got a real chance."
"I can't sit here doing nothing, waiting for the Powers-That-Be in Thirteen to label me as mentally disorientated like they do with everyone else they consider too broken to perform what they define as a useful function."
"Then go," I reply, wondering not for the first time why he's saying all this to me. Then I realise that it's probably because he doesn't have anybody else, not with Narissa on her way to the Capitol on some ridiculous rescue mission and Felix doing some kind of work for Heavensbee and the ridiculous propos he's so fond of. "Don't stay here. Nobody's forcing you."
"My own cowardice is forcing me," he says quietly. "Because the only place I'd go is back to One. And I don't want to see her grave because then I'll have to accept that she's gone."
His words make me think of the latest rebel broadcast, which showed a heavily pregnant Satin de Montfort publicly leading the rebel forces into the main square of the district she now controls. It's how they'll attack the Capitol, apparently, if the rumours are true. District One is the closest place to the big city which has adequate infrastructure to support an army and Cashmere and Gloss' sister has welcomed them with open arms. In the name of her siblings not the Mockingjay. But nobody here seems to be in a rush to talk about that.
"Do you want to fight?"
"Yes," he answers, speaking instantly and without hesitation.
"Then go. I didn't know Cashmere well but I do know that she wanted to see Snow's government fall almost as much as she loved you and her brother. Forgive me if I'm speaking out of turn but I think it's what she'd want."
After the end of the war, Falco Hazelwell returned to the Capitol with Satin de Montfort, finally leaving District One behind. By then both Snow and Coin were dead, the Mockingjay had vanished back to what's left of Twelve, and the rest of the rebel leaders who remained were left to pick up the pieces. They say they chose the Capitol as a meeting point because it's facilities and communication networks are still the best despite the destruction caused by the war, but I think I know better and I'm not the only one. It's so ingrained in people's minds that the Capitol is the centre of Panem's power that it's going to take more than a few short weeks before a change is seen.
We have a new president already, and she's an unlikely choice to some because of her humble origins. But Flax Paylor, the former textile factory worker from District Eight, is making the best of a bad situation and she has more supporters than she does critics. The scars she refuses to conceal that she bears as a result of fighting in the war certainly help win the hearts and minds of the district people, and if she frightens some of the Capitolians then I don't think that's a bad thing either. The place I come from is somewhere a person quickly learns the advantages of having a fearsome reputation, and President Paylor is the only person I've ever seen end up the victor after standing up to that Narissa. Not that she got here in time to repeat her performance in that now famous battle of wills today.
In the early hours of this morning, Falco and Narissa arrived at the barracks I've been stationed at and stole one of the hovercrafts, and by the time anyone gave chase they were miles away. When she finally arrived, President Paylor was about to make the decision to go after them, however Vesper's arrival eventually put an end to that. The woman Narissa Redsparrow flew one of the rebel hovercrafts into the Capitol in the middle of the war to rescue had a private conversation with the new president and the pursuit was called off.
It only became clear why when the two Capitolians returned some hours later amidst a flurry of reports that the warehouse which formed the basic structure of the Sixty-sixth Hunger Games had been levelled to the ground.
"She always pretended to be annoyed by what she called overblown symbolic gestures, but I think she'd like to have seen that one," said Falco as he walked past me on his return.
"Maybe she did."
"Maybe," he had replied, smiling sadly. "And she wouldn't want me to leave Panem in a mess."
Something about the way he said that made me think that thought was the only thing that stopped him from leaving Narissa behind and flying that hovercraft straight into the warehouse in the hope that doing so might mean he can join Cashmere wherever she is. But that wasn't what I remember most about our short conversation. What I remember most, what I will remember forever, is what he said when he saw the understanding in my eyes.
"I can't do that," he said. "She dreamed of freedom all her life. Now we have it. She'd hate me if I threw it away now."
That's really it then. It's over. Thank you to everyone who has 'talked' to me throughout the writing of 'Freedom' - your support means a lot ;)
I'd also like to thank be-nice-to-nerds, who has read every single chapter first. I've appreciated your help more than I can say, but there was no need to pay me back by giving me an idea for yet another story when I swore I'd stop writing... That really wasn't fair of you :P