A/N: There really is no excuse as to why it has taken me this long to finish the story, but I will tell you the reason. Someone very close to me died, and for a long time I didn't know how to deal with that. I didn't know how to be myself anymore and for a long time the things I loved to do (like reading and writing) just fell apart. I'm getting better though, I'm moving on and healing, and accepting what happened, and I knew that one of the first things I wanted to do was finish this story. So here you have it, a long lovely chapter that concludes this story. I'm just sorry that it took so long, especially considering that most of you will probably have forgotten this story by now. But this is for all of you, for each and every one of you. You will never know how much I love each and every one of you, and I hope you enjoy it.
Everything is falling into place, much faster than I would have originally anticipated. When we reached out our fingers, really digging as far into our resources as we could, it was astonishing what we were able to come up with. For a few moments I was furious, wondering if perhaps people hadn't been searching as hard as they could have been, but I remind myself quickly that there is no point in getting angry. Results are results, no matter how late. With the list in my hand I pace the living room, coordinates mapped out on a small piece of paper that resembles the Capitol. There are literally a million different places they could be hiding the Victors, between the vastness of the city itself and its labyrinth of sewers they could literally be anywhere.
Everyone is in motion, grabbing everything they can think we might possibly need. Up until this moment our every plan has been thwarted because of one simple reason, our plans were too complicated. There were too many steps, to many things that could go wrong, so instead we've decided to stick to the most rudimentary plan of all. We're going to sneak into the most likely locations until we find the one we're looking for. Portia has yet to be implicated in our 'treason' so all her security badges and clearance cards should still work, it's the one piece of luck we've had in this entire endeavor.
I sit down at the kitchen table with the paper spread out in front of me, my eyes baring into it, trying to figure out the most likely place they would hide her. It would have to be something accessible but not too obvious, somewhere that could house a large number of people without giving anything away. I scratch off Snow's mansion and the City Hall, there's no way they could facilitate the amount of people they'd be housing in those places, especially if they're jacking all of them. I rest my head in the palm of my hand as Haymitch drops himself into the seat adjacent to mine, his fingers drumming out a rhythm on the mahogany table.
"Hmm…" Haymitch hums as he looks over the papers in front of me, his fingers still tapping against the table, I try my best not to let him drive me crazy.
"What?" I ask, my eyebrows arched as I look up at him.
"Oh nothing." He says, putting his chin on his fist. "It's just… well I find it a little strange that suddenly all our contacts are just pouring with information." I sit back in my chair, taking a deep breath.
"I noticed that too." I say, running my hands over my short cropped hair. "But I don't know what to make of it." Haymitch leaned back, his arm draped over the back of his chair.
"C'mon, Cinna. Do you really think it's a coincidence that right after Katniss comes out on TV all this information just pours in? You're smarter than that." He looked around the room before leaning forward once more. "As far as I can tell there are two possibilities; either someone's been hiding something from us or this is exactly what Snow wants. Snow wants us to find them, wants us to try to break into the facilities. He knows we're here, that much was obvious from what Katniss said in her interview, he's setting a trap and he's hoping we'll spring it."
I rub my hands over my face, I know he's right. I know that we're backing ourselves into a corner, but I can't just sit here and do nothing any more. I can't sit around waiting for things to get better. Katniss needs me; she needs to get out of there. She didn't even remember who she was anymore. Snow stole the only thing Katniss had left, he stole her very soul. When he realized he couldn't break her with actions he turned to drugs, and the thought of Katniss being tied to a table while Tracker-Jacker venom coursed through her is more than I can stand. "So what? Do we just sit here and wait for something to happen?"
"We'll be running headlong into Snow's hands, Cinna." He says in a stern voice, as if he's my Mentor as well as Katniss's. "Do you think you'll be able to do Katniss any good if you're dead?" I chew on my lip, trying to think of something to say, something that can make Snow's trap seem less plausible.
"We have to do something." I murmur, and Haymitch sighs. I can see it in his eyes, he's just as desperate to save her as I am, but unlike me I doubt he's willing to sacrifice all of our lives for hers. Perhaps that makes me a selfish person, a bad person, but there is not a single person in this house that I would choose to survive over Katniss. Not even all of them together.
"We do." He rubs his eyes with the heels of his hands. "But we can't just rush in, guns blazing, and think this whole thing won't just blow up in our faces. If we're not careful all we're going to accomplish is getting ourselves trapped alongside the Victors." He removes his hands from his face and looks at me once more. "You know there's nothing Snow would like more than to get his hands on the lot of us." I push my chair back and stand, when I turn I find Johanna leaning against the doorway, her arms crossed over her chest.
"Well, the answer is obvious, isn't it?" She asked with a small smirk on her lips. I tilt my head to the side, not understanding what she means. "If we can't sneak in, can't break in, we'll just have to be taken in." I gape at her in shock, and I hear Haymitch make a sort of choking noise.
"Are you insane, Mason?" Haymitch barks, standing from his seat quickly. "You think they'd let any of us get anywhere near Katniss? They'd probably just kill us on sight." She lets out a low soft laugh.
"You really don't know Snow at all if you think he's just let us die without punishment." She saunters into the room, putting her hands on the table to lean on them. "He isn't just going to execute us and be done with it, he's going to make a public spectacle of it, he's going to make sure everyone sees what happens when they cross the Capitol. Besides, if we die our knowledge of District Thirteen dies with us." There is a dark sparkle in her eyes, a mischievousness that has me on edge.
"What are you planning, Johanna?" I ask, my heart pounding as the hope of Katniss's rescue begins to bloom inside of me. Johanna unclicks the latch on her thigh holster and pulls out her small handgun. With an expert, fluent motion she unloads the gun, dropping the bullets back into the holster before holding the barrel of the unloaded gun just under her chin.
"I say we take ourselves hostage and make a few demands of our own." She grins, and I can't help but grin as well.
Other than Gloss and a few other's don't get to see the other Victors any more. President Snow says it's because we've been healed while the other's still need a little more time, and that makes me feel bad for them. I don't miss the sterile white walls or the spaghetti on Thursday. I don't miss the shared sleeping quarters or smell of bleach and cleaning products. Most of all I don't miss the daily treatments. Now that I've come to stay in the training facility with the other healed Victors I only have to have a treatment once a week, unless I have a problem or hear the voice again, then I have on immediately.
I've been healed for about a week now, and the feeling is so amazing. I feel free, cared for, and most importantly the hallucinations that District Thirteen had planted in my mind no longer haunt me. I no longer dream about the monster Cinna crawling towards me backwards, or of them burning Prim at the stake like a witch. To have a peaceful night's sleep again is a blessing I thought I'd never afford.
All day I meet with Capitol citizens of importance and tell them of my ordeal within District Thirteen, and no matter how many times I tell the story on television there is always someone who hasn't heard it and wants to, always someone President Snow arranged to come here to hear the story first had from my own lips. They come for all of us, for myself and Gloss and Mags and Gallo and Darleen, they come to hear our stories and wish us well and tell us how happy they are to have us back. Sometimes I don't feel like talking, sometimes I don't want to tell them the hell I'd lived through, but Snow always gently reminds me that everyone deserves to know about the monsters living beneath the earth in District Thirteen. Everyone has the right to know about the danger that is out there.
With my stylist, a young woman with short neon yellow hair, I walk towards another one of these such interviews, but as we come into the main rom there's the sound of gunshots, and both myself and the girl hit the ground. I cover my head with my hands while shards of glass rain down around me. I feel a few pieces slice my arms as they fall onto my tender pink flesh. After a moment I lift my head to see the Peacekeepers surrounding a girl, but they make no move to grab her. "Anyone makes so much as a step towards me and I'm blowing my brains everywhere." She growls threateningly, and I realize with a start that I know that voice, I know that voice very well. "Johanna!" I call out as I hurry to a standing position. How did she escape District Thirteen? How did she make it all the way here? Why was she holding a gun to her chin?
"Johanna!" I call again as I make my way towards her, a million memories running through my head as I search her face. She looks healthy, not starved and sick as I had been when I finally made my way towards the Capitol. There's a warm flush in her cheeks and a wicked sort of smile on her face.
"Hello, Katniss." She says, her eyes finding mine and locking in the space between us. "You might want to tell your guard dogs to back off, my head is full of juicy District Thirteen secrets, and if Snow ever wants them he'll have to make sure I'm alive, won't he?" I stare at her for a moment, unsure of what to do. I had thought she was dead, Snow had told me so himself. I remember crying when he came to my room and told me the unfortunate news, told me that District Thirteen had executed her. I felt anger flare within me, that could only mean one thing. I clench my hands at my sides, my body shaking.
"Grab her! She's a mutt from Thirteen!" I hiss, and the Peace Keepers rush forward. Johanna, the thing wearing Johanna's face, looks at me in shock, and I glare back. Did they really think I'd fall for the same trick twice? They already made me convince Peeta was alive when he wasn't, they weren't going to hurt me again by dangling Johanna in front of me. Once the Peace Keeper's have wrestled the gun from her hands and subdued her I take a few steps closer. She's such a perfect replica, she looks exactly like Johanna, all the way down to the anger flaring in her eyes.
"Katniss is in the Training Center." Johanna says out loud, as if we didn't know where we were already. Suddenly her jaw clenches and I hear something snap. Her eyes widen for a moment, and there's a second of silence before a white foam begins leaking from the corners of her mouth and her body begins to convulse. The Peace Keepers try to set her down, try to pry her lips open, but by the time they do her eyes are staring into nothing and her body has stopped moving.
"Cyanide." One of the Peace Keepers whispers to another in a voice he thinks I won't hear. As they begin to pick up Johanna's body I feel a chill move through me. That was Johanna. The real one. The voice whispers in the back of my head, and I try to hide my cringe. No, that wasn't the real Johanna, the real Johanna was already dead. District Thirteen killed her, Cinna killed her. Snow told me so, he told me. Lies. The voice hisses. All lies. I try to ignore the voice, try to pretend I don't hear it, but now that it's back inside my head it will not be silenced. It's all lies, Katniss. Run. Get out. Find Cinna. Find Alice. Get out! I know what will happen next, someone will notice my state and take me to get a treatment, and my body goes cold at the realization. I don't want a treatment, I don't want the pain, I don't want things to go back to the way they were when I was in the white room. So instead I stand still, a pleasant look on my face, and wait for a Peace Keeper to tell me what to do.
It's as if they remember I'm still there suddenly, as if they'd completely forgotten about me. "Come on Mrs. Havensbee." One guard says as he takes my arm. "You've got an appointment to keep." He says and I nod my head obediently.
"I'd hate to keep them waiting." I say with a smile as the Peace Keeper takes me by my arm and starts pulling me towards the stairs the descend to the meeting rooms. In my heart, in my head, the voice grows louder and louder. Fight. Run. Get out. Kill them. Kill them all. Run.
The line goes dead, our only link to Johanna. I retreat from the building I had been about to enter, holstering my gun. She had gone before the mark, she had rushed in first, she had been so sure Katniss was in the Training Center and apparently she'd been correct. Still, my heart goes still. She's dead, I know it. I heard the sound of her body hit the floor, I even heard the sound of her teeth sinking into the cyanide capsule we all carry with us. Death was better than capture, Johanna believed that even more strongly than the rest of us.
Carefully I shimmy my way back into the sewers, rushing towards our meeting spot. The longer I'm out in the open the more time I have to be discovered, and while the sewers seem like they'd be the perfect place for us it is surprising how many times I've had to duck into crevices and nooks to hide from approaching footsteps. Sure, more of them were Avox's, but just because they couldn't speak didn't mean they couldn't write what they had seen. One word could have all the Peace Keepers in the Capitol baring down on us, have them trapping us by blocking our every exit. There are too many things that could go wrong to be foolish enough to think that staying out in the open for too long could be a sensible idea.
When I reach the small room we had chosen for our meeting place, a small valve room that had obviously been forgotten for years, I find that I'm the last to arrive. When I reach the room the others look up at me, their eyes full of the same mourning. They all know that Johanna is dead, I don't have to explain to them what happened. I don't know if that should make me feel relieved but it does. I don't know why I thought I'd be the only one who would know what those small disjointed sounds had meant. Haymitch is staring at his feet, and Portia is looking at her hands. The other faces in the room don't matter to me, their people I hardly know, people of similar interests we found within the Capitol. They weren't enough, they had never seen war or strife. God knew why they wanted to help us at all, and while Portia vouched for them I still found myself slow to trust them. After all, who was to say they were spys sent my Snow to capture us all?
"So, the kid's in the Training Center… seems fit." Haymitch says as he runs a hand over his hair, which is beginning to fade back to its natural color. "That's just peachy." He says, and I wonder if anyone is going to say anything about Johanna's death at all. I know now is not the time, but it still feels wrong to ignore what just happened. Part of me wonders if that was her plan from the beginning, to sacrifice herself to save Katniss and the other victors. While that didn't seem like something Johanna would do there was an honest truth we all acknowledged, none of us knew Johanna as well as we should have. She never let us.
"The guards will be doubled now that Johanna has gotten through." Portia says with a short nod of her head. "It won't be as easy for us to get in as it was for her."
"You and I know every inch of the Training Center." I say with confidence. "We know the secret entrances and exits better than Johanna did, we'll find a way in. I doubt they'll expect us to attempt a break in tonight-"
"No, but they'll be ready for it none-the-less. Snow is a paranoid man, and for good reason." Haymitch interrupts, and I find I cannot argue with him. "There's a reason he's stayed in power for as long as he has, and it's not because of popular vote." I had heard rumors of Snow's vicious manners of control, and I didn't have a problem believing each and every one. A loud noise makes us all jump, and for a moment we stand around silently, waiting for the ceiling to fall down on us.
"We need to get out of here now." Haymitch says. "The sooner we get to the Training Center the less likely we are to run into trouble. The more time we give them to regroup the harder it will be on us." The sound comes again, this time from closer. I feel my blood run cold, what in the world were they doing?
"Let's get moving then." I whisper, though I probably don't have to be quite that cautious. We're still surrounded by thick cement walls, I doubt they'd be able to hear us unless they were standing right outside the door. Then again, that was assuming that they didn't have every inch of the sewers bugged, which seems like something Snow would do.
"We can enter the Training Center from the lowest point." A man whose name I haven't bothered learning whispers. "In the cellar there is an opening in the floor just big enough for us to crawl through, so long as they haven't put anything on top of the door." I remember slowly that Portia said he was an architect for the Capitol, and I couldn't help but find that suspiciously convenient.
"What's that door even for?" Haymitch asks with his eyebrows narrowed, and the architect blushes from his purple hair to his toes.
"Avox's who don't behave spend the night in the sewer with the rats." He says quietly. "They're all chipped, it's not as if they can run very far, and if they do run… well…" He doesn't need to say the rest, we all know what he means when he cannot find the words. People who run from the Capitol are killed, plain and simple. The bang echoes around us, and this time I can actually feel the ground shaking.
"Do you have any idea what that is?" I ask the architect, but he shakes his head.
"I specialized in buildings, not subterranean architecture." I nod my head, watching as Haymitch crosses the small room to the door, opening it slowly. He looks to the right, and then to the left. I watch as the color drains from his face.
"We've got to hurry." He says desperately. "They're closing off the sewers." I push my way towards the door.
"What?" But as soon as I say it I see what he means. About five hundred yards away, where only moments before there had been an endless expanse of tunnels, they was nothing but a large cement block standing in our way. I duck my head back into the room, scanning the face of each of my small rag-tag group. "Which way?" The architect stutters for a moment, looking at his shoes as if he's deep in thought. "I said, which way!" I yell, my face turning red with anger. We don't have time for him to be unsure.
"Left! Left about a mile then a right, I think." He says, and even though the end of his instructions proved he wasn't certain I nodded anyway.
"Alright, you all heard him, now run!" I call before tearing out of the room, taking off down the sewer as quickly as my feel could carry me. "I'm coming Katniss." I whisper, convincing myself that Katniss can hear me.
When I arrive at the room the man I see sitting there looks vaguely familiar, with his green skin and florescent suit. I know I've seen him before, but I can't remember where or when. Still, the Peace Keepers usher me in and close the door behind me, and once I am alone with the man he stands from his seat, his lips pulled back into a too-wide smile. "Welcome back, Miss Everdeen. Or is it Mrs. Havensbee?" The man asks, and I can't help but wonder who he is, his name is on the tip of my tongue.
"You can just call me Katniss, of course." I say with a smile, trying not to cringe. The man takes a small device out of his pocket and sticks it to the door, and I watch as a dial whirls and the lights turn from red to green. "What is that?" I ask curiously, my head tilted to the side. I've seen such a device before, I'm sure of it. Carefully he sets me down on my feet and turns towards the door. He locks in swiftly before pulling something out of his pocket. He places the small square device on the door and presses a few buttons. Within the second the object whirls and clicks, the light on it turns from red to green. I look at it in confusion as my husband turns to look at me, a devious smile on his face.
I stumble back as the memory washes over me, a memory of Plutarch I hadn't had only moments before. I look at the green man with fear in my eyes; did that device do that to me? "What is that thing?" I ask, alarm apparent in my voice.
The man squares his shoulders off to me, his eyes bright. "You're remembering things, aren't you?" He asks in a voice like silk. "Splendid, simply splendid!" He exclaims as he claps his hands together. "I knew you'd be too strong for their jacking, spirits like yours aren't so easily broken." I narrow my eyes in confusion.
Finally, we're alone. "Finally we're alone…" I repeat, remembering the device Plutarch had put on the door, the device that jammed- I feel as if an ice pick is being jammed into my brain and I double over as a bombardment of memories hit me all at once. I cannot tell which are real and which are not. Some of them are bright and clear, and some of them shimmer when they come to mind. I let out a high whine as the man grabs my arms as moves me to the seat.
"I knew this would happen." He says proudly. "I knew once they stopped giving you the daily injections you'd break through. You're not like the others." He grins like a man who's just accomplished something great, something that has been a long time coming.
"Why?" I whisper against the pain, against the faces dancing in front of my eyes. Dead. Not dead. Dead. Not really dead. Evil. Good. Real. Not real. "Why me? Why not someone else, why me?" It's a question I've been asking for many years, a question I've always had in the back of my head. Why was I the one who had to save everyone, why was I the one who had to be strong all the time? The man runs his fingers through my hair and lets out a low laugh.
"Because it's always been about you." He says. Oh dear, haven't you learned? It's always about you. I look up at the man as tears stream down my face, I knew this green skinned man, I'd known him all along.
"Maximus?" He lets out another low laugh.
"it's been quite a while since the ball, Miss Everdeen, but I didn't think you'd forget me in such a short time. I had rather thought our time together was memorable." He winks at me, and I feel a shiver move through my body.
"You're one of them?" I ask as fear grips my heart, but the fear feels hollow, unreal. "You're from District Thirteen?" He shakes his head and laughs once more.
"District Thirteen? Heavens no! I'm Capitol through and through." He says with a flourish, crouching so he's at eyelevel with me in my chair. "That does not, however, mean that I agree with our Government or those who run it." My mind reels, Max had always seemed so perfectly Capitol, attending balls and fund raisers and dinners just like all the other high class socialites he associated with. It only adds to my confusion. Is this another trick, another test?
"I don't believe you." I say as I cover my ears with my hands. "I'm going to scream, I'm going to-"
"If that were to make you feel better, Katniss, by all means do." He said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "These rooms are built to stop sound from escaping." His smirk disturbs me. "You might want to ask your dear friend Finnick Odair what these rooms are used for." I shake my head, eyes jammed shut.
"Finnick is dead." I say solidly. "District Thirteen killed him. Him and Annie and Johanna." But I know that isn't true. I just watched Johanna die. I saw her bite down on the tablet. I saw her end her own life rather than be caught. A shiver moves through my body; no, not Johanna, her mutt. A cheap imitation of the Victor from District Seven.
"Hardly." Max shrugs. "He and Annie Cresta are safe and sound playing house just outside the Capitol, surely you remember that." I do remember that, I remember having my hair cut off and dyed blonde to hide me from the eyes of the Capitol. I remember Cinna's own hair turning black and his beard coming in to cover his chin. I shake violently, I remember fighting with Cinna and storming out of the safe house, I remember the prick of the needle and the way everything went black.
"Oh my god." I hiss, and Max laughs.
"There it is!" He says as he stands, straightening his suit. He pulls up his sleeves to look at his watch, nodding his head to himself. "And just in time too, your rescuers should be here in just a few moments. I dispatched the final information they needed to find you only hours ago." I look at him in confusion, if he knew where I was, knew how to save me, why did he wait so long? Why didn't he have them save me before they injected me with their poison?
"Why did you wait so long?" I ask when I finally find my voice, my eyes narrowed as I look up at him. "Why did you allow them to torture me when you could have helped them save me weeks ago?" I feel the anger returning to my voice, the passion that makes me feel more like myself.
"Well, my dear, because you weren't ready yet." He says in a gentle voice. "But you're ready now." Without warning there Is a loud bang beneath us that causes the entire building to shudder. "Sadly, it would seem as if Snow is ready as well." I stand from my seat, my eyes alight with anger and hatred.
"He better be." I growl, and the smile that covers Max's face is more than a little unsettling.
"We're here!" The Architect yells, looking up at a ladder that rises into nothingness.
"Are you sure?" Haymitch calls back, huffing and puffing. He hasn't had to move quite so far or fast in a very long time. I doubt his body was ready for the physical strain he's putting it on. In my mind I make a mental note to keep an eye on him, if he dropped and died of a heart attack Katniss would never forgive me. I'd never forgive myself.
"Definitely." He says with a nod, but as his eyes find us again he looks around quickly, panic coming to rest in his eyes. "Where's Marina?" He asks, and I scan our small group as well. Sure enough the girl who had been with him, I think she had magenta hair, is nowhere to be seen.
"She must have gotten stuck behind one of the doors!" I explain, and this makes the architect's face turn as pale as a person's skin can turn.
"If they catch her-"
"She's got her tablet." I respond. "She won't let them take her alive." Without warning the man rushed forward and grabs my by the front of my shirt, shaking me slightly.
"We have to go back for her!" There's desperation in his voice, and I'm surprised that I feel no empathy towards the man. My mind is so consumed by the task at had I cannot even muster up enough pity for the lost girl.
"We wouldn't be able to get through the doors anyway." I snap back, pushing the man off of my with calculated strength. He stumbles back a few steps, teetering as he tries to keep his footing. "We can't go back for her, there's no way-"
"You're not the only one with a woman you care about!" The man spits as he turns and dashes in the direction from which we'd just come. We all watch him go but make no move to stop him, there's nothing we can say to convince him that Katniss's life is worth more than that of the woman he obviously loves. If I were in his spot I'd do the same thing. With a small chuckle I realize I am basically in the same position.
"Are we all going to stand here with our hands down our pants or are we going to go up there and get our girl?" Haymitch asks as he lumbers towards the ladder, still huffing and puffing.
"I'll go first." I say as I grab the slippery rungs of the ladder. All we need is for Haymitch to go first and lose his grip, sending him crashing into those of us beneath him. "Keep up." I call to them as I begin pulling myself up the ladder, gripping it tight enough to cause my knuckles to turn white as I climb up into the darkness. The higher I climb the harder it is to hold onto the ladder, as if they get more and more coated with filth towards the top. Part of me wonders if they do this so you're more likely to fall from a fatal distance than a distance easily survivable. "We're almost there!" I yell back, and it's true. I can see the top now, see the tiny beams of light coming from a crack in the edge of the door above. Every inch causes my heart to hammer in my chest, pounding so loud I swear everyone in the Capitol must be able to hear it.
When I finally get to the top I hook one arm around the ladder and blindly search the door, looking for a latch or a wheel or anything that could be used to open it. The door, however, is smooth and without flaw. While everything else in the sewers is caked with a thin layer of grime it would seem as if the door itself has been wiped clean. "I can't find a way to open it!" I turn to look at the people below me, though I can see their outlines they're little more than shadows.
"Really wish that architect would have said a thing or two about the door before he bolted to his death." Haymitch grumbles. "Try just pushing it." I step up another rung in the latter and put my shoulder into the door. I push with all the strength I have but it doesn't budge.
"Would the door open from the outside if it was used to punish Avox's?" Portia asks, and I lean back against the ladder. That's the only thing that makes sense; of course it wouldn't open from the inside. With a growl I hit my hand against the door as hard as I can.
"Damnit!" I yell out, and hear my voice a dozen more times as it reverberates off the stone walls.
"There's got to be a way in." I open my mouth to answer Haymitch when the door above begins to click, and I can hear the sounds of the internal locks sliding from their homes.
"Shit!" I mutter as I fumble for my gun. "We've got company!" I bark just as I free my fun from its holster, but it doesn't do me any good. The light that floods from the open door blindes me, I wouldn't know where to point my gun. A feeling of failure washes over me. I was close, so very close, and I failed her. We were all doomed.
I stand from my chair as another softer bang echoed right below me, turning my eyes to Max in confusion. "It would seem the cavalry has arrived." He says as he motioned me to step aside. I obey silently, to confused and frankly too frightened to do anything else. I back myself up against the far wall as Max pulls the chair to the side of the room and removes the carpet, revealing a square door in the floor about two and a half feet wide. I press myself back, my heart hammering in my chest like the heart of a humming bird. "You might want to turn around, love. This is going to be a little unpleasant for you." I turn towards the wall, resting my forehead against the cold metal.
I listen as the door in the floor opens, and Max lets out a bright chuckle. "It took you long enough to get here." He says, and I hear him moving around, helping people from the hole in the floor. "You!" He calls out. "Don't say a word, don't touch her, even a glance at you could trigger what the Capitol has already put in her mind." There's an uncomfortable shuffle of feet, and I wish I could turn around, but for some reason I find myself blindly trusting Max. He's Capitol, after all. I can trust the Capitol, he'd never do anything to hurt me, not like District Thirteen. I bite the inside of my cheek. No, that's wrong. The Capitol did this to me, not Thirteen. Snow did this to me, not Coin. Coin had sins of her own, but these were not them. "As far as I can tell you two are safe, they didn't program her against you." As soon as the words have left Max's mouth I hear feet rushing towards me, and I take a deep breath.
Rough hands grab me and turn me around, but I keep my eyes jammed shut. Arms wrap around me, and as my face is pressed into a clean linen shirt I can't help but catch the faintest sent of liquor. "Damnit, kid." Haymitch says, his arms in a tight embrace around me. "I thought I'd lost you for a minute there." A wall breaks within me and I throw my arms around my mentor, my face buried in his shirt. He was alive, Thirteen hadn't killed him and neither had the Capitol. Haymitch Abernathy; my drunken, belligerent mentor, was alive. Tears sting my eyes as his hands rub my back, and for a moment I swear I can feel him shuddering.
"I'm okay, Haymitch. I'm okay." I cry, my hands gripping his shirt in tight fists. "I'm okay."
"We need to get out of here." A voice calls, and it takes me a moment to realize who it is. Portia. Her voice brings back no false memories for me, they Capitol must not have known of her involvement. "Before the Peace Keepers come to check on Katniss." Haymitch releases me from his bone crushing hug, and I open my eyes and smile up at him. His hair is still blonde from when we dyed it, but otherwise he's still himself, still the man who saved me from the Arena.
Over Haymitch's shoulder I see him, his green eyes looking at me with all the hope and all the pain in the world. Before I even know what I'm doing I lunge at him, my hands reaching for his throat. Rage fills my every cell, my every fiber, and as soon as my hands come in contact with his neck I squeeze as hard as I can. He's a monster, he's not my Cinna. Thirteen stole Cinna away from him and put a mutt in his place, they created him to kill me, to bring me down, they didn't want me to tell of the horrible things I'd seen in District Thirteen, the horrible things they did to me. When hands grab me around my waist and pull me away from Cinna's mutt I simply cling tighter, pressing my fingers into his windpipe as his hands claw at my arms. With the help of everyone in the room they finally pry my hands away from him and lift me kicking and screaming into the air. "I told you to stay out of sight!" Max says as he pulls off a sash he'd had tied around his waist.
I continue to struggle to get towards Cinna up until the silk slides over my eyes, obscuring my view of him. As soon as I cannot see him the rage ebbs and I fall back against Haymitch, tired and weak. With the rage receding I realize what I'd just done, who I'd just attacked. I'd had no power, no control, as soon as I saw him my body acted on its own accord. I'd forgotten everything I'd just learned, forgotten that none of those memories were real. The only thing that mattered to me in that moment was destroying the creature that wore my lover's face, but he wasn't a creature. He really was Cinna. How had I forgotten that so easily? How had I forgotten that so quickly?
On the other side of the room I can hear Cinna gasping for air, struggling to breathe. He'll probably have nasty bruises on his neck from where my hands wrapped around him, and I feel my heart sink low in my chest. "I'm sorry." I say quietly. "I'm so, so sorry Ci-" I find I cannot make myself say his name. My tongue feels fat and lazy in my mouth, and I simply cannot form the words. "I'm sorry." I repeat again.
"Don't say anything." Max says, but I can't tell if he's talking to me or Cinna. "It will take a while, most likely a long while, but we'll eventually be able to reprogram her, we'll be able to fix her." Haymitch loosens his arms slightly and I feel my feet touch the floor. "But we're out of time right now, we have to get out of here, we have to leave now." Wordlessly I listen as everyone begins their decent down the ladder, and when it's my turn I find that climbing with your eyes covered is no easy feat.
"Just go slow, kid." Haymitch says from his place below me. "Don't get ahead of yourself." As I plunge into the sewers below I feel the cold fingers of dread moving through me. We're nowhere near safe, and this is nowhere near over, but it's a start.
Beneath the dread, beneath the fear, beneath all the things the Capitol has programmed me to feel in the current company and situation I feel something else, something bright and warm and so very very strong. It's a strange thing, a foreign thing, and it takes me a few moments to even realize what it is. I feel hope. For the first time in a long time I feel hope. As I hit the bottom of the ladder a hand slips into mine, a hand that is large and calloused but so very familiar. The Capitol couldn't replicate this, they couldn't steal the feeling of Cinna's skin against mine, of his hand holding mine in the darkness like he has so many times before.
They couldn't take this from me, they couldn't corrupt this. They could replicate his voice and his face but they could not take his touch. I grip his hand back with all the strength I have, holding on to him for dear life, as if he were a life jacket and I was drowning in a storming sea. He grips me back with just as much desperation, and the hope within my heart grows and strengthens, and even though I know we have so very far to go I know we will get there. We will make it, together we will face whatever is to come.
All this time Cinna has been holding on to me, but now I know there is no chance in hell I will ever be letting him go.