A/N: Thanks everyone for your continuous support! It seemed like a lot of you want a sequel, so I decided to continue this story. I'm sorry it took me so long to write this chapter. Work/life has been crazy, and I've been working on some original stuff. When I came back to this fic, I had to spend a lot of time thinking through the plot, as it will deviate much more from the second book. That being said, please let me know what you think - do you hate the direction I'm taking? Is anyone OOC? The more feedback, the better my writing will be. Or, if this chapter is really horrible, I can take it down and revert the story back to the original epilogue. I will say that this chapter is more dialogue-heavy. I wanted to focus on character / relationship development. All the other chapters have had so much action and plot that this is a nice breather.
Now, without further ado...
"You may not realize what your actions in the Games have caused – in particular your alliance with Rue. But know this: A rebellion is rising," Haymitch says in a low voice. "Right now you're teetering on a dangerous ledge. You can either be the face of that rebellion or you can show your loyalty to the Capitol. So what will it be, sweetheart?"
Haymitch's words stun me into silence. A rebellion? My loyalty to the Capitol? I don't know where these words are stemming from. All I ever did was try to survive. Now, I'm somehow caught between two sides, which up until now I didn't even know existed. How long was I in the arena? I feel as if suddenly everything has changed.
What's more is that I'm appalled by either prospect. Of course, I loathe the Capitol. I wouldn't be in this position if it weren't for the Capitol. I can't imagine faking loyalty, and I certainly can't stand the thought of living in District 2. But I'm not going to risk the lives of Prim, Gale, and my mother for a rising rebellion either. Historically, rebellions have not gone well for the rebels. Having barely survived the Hunger Games, I would know.
Cinna spots the look of horror on my face.
"You don't have to answer Haymitch's question right now," he says. He's gentle with me, even though I should have thicker skin after what I went through. "Snow won't expect you to move until after the Victory Tour. You'll have months at home to give this some thought."
Haymitch snorts and shoots Cinna a disdainful look. Clearly, he doesn't agree.
"That's what you believe," Haymitch says. "Katniss may very well be reunited with that boy before then. Snow will want their relationship to progress quickly."
I don't like the way he uses the word "progress," as if everything between Cato and I has been carefully planned. Snow may be plotting something sinister, but what happened in the Games was real.
"The point is, we don't know what's going to happen or when," Cinna says calmly. Not even Haymitch can test his nerves. "We just want you to be prepared to make a decision when the time comes."
"And that time may come sooner than you'd like," Haymitch adds.
Effie shifts in her seat, visibly uncomfortable with the subject of rebellion. I don't blame her. She doesn't want to get in trouble. Neither do I.
"Enough of this talk. Obviously, Katniss will do what's best for her and her family and move to District 2," Effie says nervously. Then, turning to me: "In the meantime, however, you'll be living in the Victor's Village. Have you thought about what color home you'd like? Well, there aren't as many choices in District 12, but the eggshell blue is lovely and quite in style…"
For once, I'm grateful for Effie's chatter. I even listen and respond, trying to distract myself from my thoughts. What on earth is eggshell blue?
Unfortunately, the distraction doesn't last long enough. With full bellies, everyone retires for the evening, and I'm left to toss and turn in my bed.
I wonder what my mother and Prim will want to do. They'd be eager to move to District 2, I'm sure. Life would be more luxurious – plentiful food, safer jobs, and nicer homes. Prim might be homesick at first, but she would easily make friends. Though most of the kids are probably aggressive like Cato and Clove, there's bound to be a couple of normal ones. My mother, on the other hand, hasn't cared about company for years. The only person she misses is my father.
My mind then turns to Gale. The Gale I know wouldn't want me to move to District 2, even if my family would live more comfortably. But I'm not sure that he feels the same way about me anymore. After what Gale witnessed in the Games, I'm afraid of seeing him again. I can picture his disappointment, his anger at my alliance with Cato. I cringe at the thought of him watching our "tender" moments. Yes, Gale wanted me to win, but in his eyes, did I change too much?
I barely sleep that night, too anxious about returning to District 12. I worry about how my mother and Prim will act towards me, if they'll fear me. I worry about what Gale will say to me. I worry if people in District 12 will call me a traitor. I worry that they'll think I'm a murderer instead of a hunter. I even worry about the Victory Tour, though it's several months away. In fact, I'm almost as nervous as I was the night before the Games.
Indeed, when I wake up in a sweat, for a moment I forget where I am or when it is. I feel as if I'm back in the arena. I then notice the pillows underneath my head and realize that I'm done – it's over; I'm taking a train home today.
Strangely enough, I'm not comforted by that thought.
I'm sure Victors are generally ecstatic the next morning, as well as for the rest of their lives. At the very least, they're relieved. Breakfast is a somber affair for me, however. I have to say my goodbyes to Cinna, and I don't want to part ways with him again so soon. I never imagined that I would bond so closely to someone from the Capitol. And yet Cinna is a better person than most I know back home.
"We'll keep in touch," Cinna smiles, trying to cheer me up. "Effie and Haymitch have my number."
I completely forgot that I'll have a phone. It's weird enough owning a house.
"They'll have to teach me how to use the phone," I say with a grimace.
"What, they didn't cover that during training?" Cinna jokes. Then, more seriously: "After what you've been through, using a phone will be a piece of cake."
Cinna underestimates my inability to learn technology. I'm much better at destroying it, as he and everyone else in Panem recently witnessed.
"Maybe, but I'd rather have the cake," I grumble.
Cinna laughs at that. He promises that we'll see each other soon, at least for the Victory Tour. I nod silently. His words are meant to comfort. However, after we embrace, I'm left with a feeling of emptiness.
As I board the train, Haymitch and Effie are nowhere to be seen. I'm sure Haymitch is drinking himself to a stupor in his room. Effie is most likely touching up her make-up or fixing her hair. I sigh to myself. I already miss Cinna.
I sit by myself in the dining cart, brooding over what's to come. Suddenly, an unexpected voice interrupts my reverie.
I look to my right and am surprised when Cato sidles up next to me. What? I blurt the first thought in my mind.
"What are you doing here?" I ask incredulously.
We took different trains here, so I assumed we'd take separate trains home. After all, our districts are nowhere near each other. But I suppose there have never been two Victors, much less ones from different districts. Maybe they only had a single train prepared. I doubt that, though. The Capitol always runs everything smoothly, especially when it comes to the Hunger Games. Could this be part of Snow's plan to make our relationship "progress"?
"Still upset from yesterday?" Cato says. I detect a note of irritation.
To be honest, I haven't thought about our fight since Haymitch and Cinna informed me of Snow's plans at dinner last night. It's the least of my concerns.
"No, I just didn't think we'd be taking the same train," I say honestly.
"Yeah, me either. Enobaria was saying that we're only together for a little bit and then we switch trains," he says. He clears his throat. "So…you aren't mad?"
I barely listen to Cato as my eyes scan the cart for Enobaria. Thankfully, she's nowhere to be seen. I have reason to be wary of her and, more importantly, her gold teeth. Enobaria must be furious that I won the Games with Cato and not Clove. She could try to rip my throat out with those fangs of hers when I'm sleeping.
I shake my head, reminding myself that we're not in the Games, and Enobaria isn't out to kill me. Also, doesn't Snow want me to move to District 2? Or would it be easier for him if I were killed…
"What? Oh. I said I wasn't mad," I reply. The words tumble out of my mouth more curtly than I intend them to. I can tell Cato doesn't buy it. "I…have a lot on my mind."
"Like what?" Cato asks.
There's apparently a rebellion rising, and I have to move to your district so Snow doesn't have my mother and sister slaughtered, I think to myself.
"Well, we are going home today," I say instead. I resist the urge to roll my eyes at Cato. He's acting as if there couldn't possibly be anything on our minds.
Naturally, Cato doesn't understand my concern.
"You have plenty of celebrations to look forward to. You've brought honor to your district," Cato shrugs.
I should have known that's how Cato would view matters. District 2 will undoubtedly have many celebrations, since it's the richest in all of Panem. There won't be any in mine, however. People are either working in the mines or starving. No one has time to celebrate, and even if they did, they wouldn't find anything honorable about me winning the Games. We don't forget that the Games are a punishment, a sick form of control.
"Maybe that's what happens in your district. I'm not sure what'll happen in mine, though," I sigh.
"What do you mean?" Cato asks, confused.
For once, I'm not in the mood to argue with him.
"People aren't really into the Games in my district," I say.
"You can say that again," Cato mumbles under his breath.
I glare at him. He doesn't make it easy to play nice.
"What? It's true," Cato says defensively. "You're different."
"That's the point," I say, annoyed. "I'm afraid my mother and sister will think I'm a monster."
Cato stares at me curiously like he's trying to comprehend how anyone could see me as a monster. District 2 must really be as they say – the Capitol's loyal dog. They actually believe that participating in the Hunger Games is an honor and that winning brings glory. Normal people consider the Games torture and murderers monsters.
"I watched your Reaping. Trust me, they wanted you to win," Cato says with confidence. "And they knew what it would take."
That may be, but my mother and Prim definitely weren't prepared to see me on the big screen, killing other tributes. That's, of course, an impossible concept to explain to Cato.
Still, I'm surprised that he's making an effort to understand and comfort me. It reminds me of our conversation in the Cornucopia when he made me hot chocolate. I told him why I didn't enjoy killing, and he told me why he did. We tried to understand each other and actually had a civil conversation. Yet, during our fight yesterday, Cato was being his usual hot-tempered self. I like this Cato more.
"I'm also not sure what people will think of…us," I say truthfully. I don't know what I think of us. "Most folks hate your district."
"Most districts are jealous of us," Cato agrees, misunderstanding me. "Katniss, my people mourn Clove. They're angry that I chose you over her. But I don't care about their opinion. I'm the Victor. They are nothing. It doesn't matter what your people think."
I bristle at Cato's air of superiority. The fact that his entire district wants me dead also makes me feel slightly sick. I can add that to my long list of reasons why I don't want to move to District 2.
"Just because you're a Victor doesn't mean you're better than others," I reply. "And it matters to me what my friends think."
Or friend, I should say.
"If they're truly your friends, they will understand," Cato says, ignoring my first comment. "Like your mother and sister, they should be glad that you are returning to them alive."
I hadn't thought of that. Before I left for the Capitol, everyone, including myself, acted as if I'd been handed a death sentence. They just wanted me to live – to survive. And it didn't stop there. Even after the Games, Haymitch, Cinna, and Effie were happy for me. They were able to forgive me for failing Peeta. Surely my family and Gale can do the same?
"I guess that makes sense," I say slowly.
"If anything, your district doesn't make sense," Cato scoffs. "They should be worshipping you for what you've done for them. District 12 will be showered with prizes and gifts. And, because of you, future tributes could be invited to join the Careers."
"Because of you," I correct him. The alliance wasn't my idea.
"I simply made the proposal. You were the one who almost didn't accept," Cato smirks.
If it weren't for Haymitch, I definitely would not have accepted. I don't say that, though.
"And rightly so. You told me not to worry about Glimmer and Clove," I remind him.
"I also told you I'd keep them in line, which I did," Cato retorts.
He didn't keep them in line; he killed them.
Cato reaches for my hand.
"Together, we were undefeatable," Cato says. "I knew you would be perfect by my side."
At those words, I recoil, retracting my hand as if his touch burns me. I can't believe it. He revels in our victory, while I wallow in guilt.
"You were undefeatable. I wasn't," I say bitterly. "I failed Rue and Peeta. They died because I was at your side."
Cato narrows his eyes and clenches his hand into a fist. I've hit a nerve.
"I told you I had nothing to do with their deaths. You can't save everyone, Katniss, not in the Games. If you hadn't allied with me, do you really think either one of them would have made it? You and I were the only ones capable of winning," Cato says harshly.
Perhaps he's right, and I'm suffering from survivor's guilt.
"It doesn't make me feel any less guilty," I say.
Cato slams his fist onto the table. I flinch, not expecting his outburst. So much for civility.
"You gave them more than they deserved!" Cato snarls. "Without you, they wouldn't have lasted as long as they did. Why do you care about them? They were weak. They had no place in the Games. You're so attached to them, but the only one you even knew from before the Reaping was Peeta, and you didn't love him."
His words sting because they're true. I immediately hate myself for thinking that. And yet… I didn't love Peeta. And I know that the girl from District 4, Rue, and Peeta would not have made it far without my advice, supplies, or medicine.
But I still cared about them.
"So why do you care about me? Because I'm a winner?" I snap, my temper flaring.
Cato looks abashed.
"No, of course not," he says.
I cut him off before he can continue.
"Do you remember what you told me in the arena? You said that before you met me you only knew how to kill and win. But I made you want something more," I say, my voice trembling with emotion. "What did you mean by that exactly? Because as far as I can tell, you still only care about killing and winning."
Something flashes in Cato's eyes. Hurt? No, it can't be. After what he said, Cato is every bit the monster I thought he was. Maybe there was mutual respect in the Games, but we're out of the arena.
"I care about you," he says.
"Because I can kill and win," I say. "But those aren't real reasons. You want to know why I cared about Rue? She reminded me of my sister Prim. She was so young and small. She was innocent. And while the rest of you viewed her as a target to kill, I could only think of protecting her."
"I didn't want her dead," Cato protests.
"Why? Because she wasn't a challenge?" I say, thinking back to Cato's comments about the girl from District 4.
"You don't understand what it's like where I'm from," Cato says defensively. "All we're taught is to win the Games, to fight for our district."
"I do understand. All your life you've trained for the Games," I say. "But do you know what it's like for people in my district? Most don't know how they're going to find their next meal. We don't have the time or energy to prepare for the Games. Why do you think we have so few victors?"
"But you won," he states.
"I told you already. I'm a hunter," I say. "I was taught to survive, not to win. In the Games, it happens to be that surviving is winning."
Cato lets out a bark of laughter, but there's no humor in his eyes. He grabs my wrist and leans in until our foreheads are almost touching.
"Oh, you're just a hunter who was trying to survive," he mocks me.
"Let go of me," I spit, pulling my arm back.
It's no use. Cato jerks me roughly towards him.
"I'm tired of your bullshit, Katniss," he hisses. "You convinced yourself I was out to get you in the Games and made all those excuses to leave. But what really happened? I saved your life – twice. Now, you're pretending that you're different from me, that you're a victim."
"I'm not like you. I don't enjoy killing," I interrupt.
Cato's grip tightens. I have to grit my teeth to withstand the pain.
"Liar," he breathes. "I watched you during the bloodbath. You liked taking down those four tributes. You didn't have to kill all of them. The rest of us could have handled it."
I fall silent at Cato's accusations. He's right; I killed more tributes than I needed to. I fell into my hunter mindset when I let that first arrow loose. All of a sudden, the tributes around me turned into prey like the deer back home. But did I enjoy killing them? No, of course not. The sight of them suffering made me sick.
"I had to prove myself to the rest of the group," I argue, though even I can hear the weakness in my voice.
"Another excuse," Cato says. He yanks my arm again. "What were you trying to prove when you shot the redhead from District 5? You didn't have an audience. You could have let her go and then shot the landmines. You killed her because you wanted to."
I don't have a response to that – or as Cato would say, an excuse.
"What do you want me to say? That you've proven that I'm a monster like you?" I say in a hollow, defeated voice.
Cato's expression darkens.
"Killing doesn't make you a monster. It makes you human. I want you to accept that you're a killer, and stop living a lie," he says.
Cato tilts my head upwards with his free hand, and his lips descend on mine. I don't reciprocate the kiss, but I don't fight him either. Cato brushes his lips across my shoulder, murmuring into my ear.
"I want you to stop resisting me, Katniss," he says. "You and I are more alike than you think."
For once, I'm afraid that's true.