AN: This is a what if scenario. What if one thing changed and it changed the outcome? This is the first "what if". There should hopefully be more from other author's soon (we're trying to convince them. Sound off on what what if's you'd like to see!)
When I see ghosts they look perfectly real and solid - like a living human being. They are not misty; I can't see through them; they don't wear sheets or bloody mummy bandages. They don't have their heads tucked under their arms. They just look like ordinary people, in living color, and sometimes it is hard to tell who is a ghost.
Chris Woodyard, Invisible Ink interview
What If She Made Sure It Was Me?
If Aspen Checkov won...
By Phoenix Refrain
I hold her notebook in my hands. The pages are soaked through with blood and an edge of it is charred. I'd thrown it in the fire at first, desperate to make me forget her—to try to pretend like I never loved her and that things never happened. But as soon as the journal had touched the flames, I'd dived to get it back. I burnt my hand badly though the Capitol has erased even that. No scars to show what I've been through—no way to confirm that this all wasn't just some nightmare.
I tore out the incriminating pages and burned them, the swirls of smoke carrying away our secret forever. How long has it been since she died now? How long has it been since I killed Aleah Armani only to find that Nella was bleeding out behind me. Her face just registering what happened, tears running down her face as she started to slowly fall with the knife right above her heart.
I catch her as she falls. Crimson stains her teeth and lips, "A—I lov-love yo-you. I love you." Her hand trembles as she touched my face. "Go home Arau…Go home for me."
"I can't go home without you," I can feel the sobs clutching in my throat."It's not fair," my hands are shaking.
"I wasn't going—you were the one—I was going to make sure it was you." She presses her journal into my hands. "Take care—of our future."
"Don't leave me, please. I love you, Nella…I love you." She presses her lips to mine and I can taste the blood on them. I hold on to her until the light dims in her eyes and the sound of cannon booms.
My hands shake as they run over the journal and encounter the gash in the journal. I remember the last moments of the Games. I'll never forget them.
Pain courses through my body. It's been three days since Nella has died, my shoulder wound is infected—I can feel the heat and agony coursing through my veins. I can't stop shivering as I walk. It all ends soon, pushed together at the Cornocopia.
I see him standing there, Moss my old ally. I can see him waiting for me with a bandage around his leg. "I'm sorry about Nella," his voice sounds dead.
I feel the burn in my throat, "Sorry about Aella," I say back just as hollow.
"So it's us," Moss says dully. "Do you think it was planned this way?"
"I don't know Moss. I just don't know. I don't understand anything anymore."
"Neither do I," he pauses. "It really does come down to it doesn't it? One rule: kill or be killed."
"Yeah," I grip my axe tighter.
"Then let's finish this then, see who…wins." He launches at me.
I feel my shoulder bleeding again, he opens up a long cut across my face and over my eye. I sink my axe into the bandage of his leg where he gives a muffled scream. We grip each other and hit the ground rolling without weapons. His hand comes down hard against my face and his hand comes away with a bloody rock. Everything is dizzying, spinning.
There are four of them—three of them—six of him coming at me with a spear. "Sorry," he says bitterly as he drives the spear down into my chest where my heart is. But it stops as soon as it hits the leather bound journal. The tip barely pierces my skin as my hand finds the handle of my axe. I bring it around hard, right into his femoral artery.
He's still screaming when his cannon booms. My name is announced, as the blood pours into my face. Nothing is focused, my head is throbbing as the world fades to black.
Dae's hand touches mine, "Araucaria, you can talk to me." She'd been there since I woke up a few days later. Surgeries, body polishing, all of those fancy names until I looked like nothing had ever marred me before.
"I don't want to talk."
"It helps, Ara," she whispers as she sits beside me.
"What's it like?"
"No, being sold. What's it like to sleep with whoever they tell you to?"
"Maybe we should talk about that later, they won't bother you for awhile," she strokes my hand gently.
"You asked me what I wanted to talk about, this is it. I want to know…how it feels."
She pushes back her long brown hair, "It feels good because its sex and that's how it's meant to be most of the time. But it's awful because you feel nothing for the person you're doing it with. They don't care how you feel, they are only using you. It makes you feel…empty inside. It's a little easier though if you shut your eyes and hold on to someone you love." I can feel her eyes on me, "You can hold on to you and Nella when—"
I cut her off, "We never." My voice chokes a moment, "We found each other too late. I didn't love her until it was too late to have a happy ending." I clutch the book, "She told me to live our future. It only exists in these pages."
"I'm sorry," her voice is softer as her fingers touch the leather. "She saved your life, don't take that for granted."
They all move in with me at the Victor's mansion. Sometimes, I lie awake long into the night unable to sleep. Eventually, I go outside and go for a walk to soothe myself. That's when I discovered that Dea did that too.
After a while, she starts to fall in with me and it becomes our thing. It takes a month or two before we even talk to each other on these walks. "How'd the homecoming go?"
"They're happy I'm back. But nothing is the same. Nothing will ever be the same again." I shrug my shoulders, "For the first time in my life, As doesn't know what's going with me. He's always done everything with me, and now there's a gap that he can't cross and I don't want him to."
We walk in silence awhile longer, "Have you visited Nella?"
"Everyday." I pause and she passes me before she stops. "Who do you hold on to?"
"A boy I loved once. He was the love of my life," her eyes glisten with tears.
"How did he die?"
"He didn't. I told him I couldn't be with him. I told him, I never loved him," she wipes at her eyes. "He's got a wife and little girl now. He's safe."
"You let him go?" I scoff
"I let him go, so he could be safe."
Months pass, but the nightmares never fade. The snow is falling softly when I knock on her front door. Dea answers it after the first knock, "I thought you might not come."
"I said I would," I take off my coat and lay it on the table in the hall. She's looking at me, wrapped tightly in her robe. "So how do we do this?"
She slips off her robe, and lets it fall to the ground revealing the thin nightgown underneath. I can feel myself blushing, I want to look away but she stops me.
"You can't be shy, you can't act like that. You need to look at me, make me feel like you want to do this not like you're dreading it. If you can't act, if you can't even pretend to care for me while we do this, then you'll never be able to do it with them."
"Why are you offering to help me?" My hand touches the uncovered skin of her shoulder.
"You have people left to save," she touches my face gently. "Besides it's nice to have sex with someone who's not them." She wraps her arms around my neck, pressing her lips and body to mine.
I feel a bit of heat, but it feels wrong. It's nothing like what I felt with Nella. It's nothing like the ache of more that I felt before. I wanted Nella, but it wasn't just carnal—it was because I cared for her. The lust for Dea's body builds in mine as we deepen the kiss, as she unbuttons and pulls off my shirt but it's not the same. It's pleasurable, the look of her—the feel of her as we make our way upstairs to her room, as she shows me what to do but it's a hallow kind of feeling.
I lay there in the morning with her in my arms. I don't regret doing it, she was right. It will help me to please other women—to know what I'm doing so that my family isn't punished for me being inept. I just wish I'd gotten the chance to do it with someone I loved.
When we try it again, I ask her not to say a word so that I can imagine it's Nella when I close my eyes. I run my fingers through her hair and over her skin. I can almost imagine it's really her—almost. But when it's over, and I open my eyes it's still just Dea.
She strokes my hair, and talks to me as I lay against her chest. She tells me I'll be fine, she asks me how it was. "Empty," is all I can say.
"Because you don't love me, and I don't love you."
"Yeah," I whisper back. "Maybe one day, you'll love someone and get to feel it."
"Maybe," I lie. I know the truth though, I'll never love anyone the way I did Nella.
It's been a year and a half since my Games ended when we received the note. Perfectly written and signed with a flourish.
I hear congratulations are in order for you and Dea on your impending marriage. The public will be pleased to hear of how you wed secretly this week. May your family multiply quickly.
We took the hint and got married that evening with just my family there. They were surprised to say the least, but they were happy with whatever kept me happy. In a way it sort of did. After the news of our marriage hit, there was a sudden decline of trips to the Capitol for either of us except for actual interviews. People wanted to know when we planned to have kids. Honestly, we wanted to say never but we couldn't.
A year passed with no visits, we were solely with each other. In all that time, Dea never got pregnant—not even a maybe. That's when the second note came. This one was far less cryptic and we sat there trying to take it in. We had a year to conceive a baby or Ashe would be reaped.
We tried harder to have a child. Fertility treatments, everything—but nothing was working. Finally Dea found out, she couldn't have a child. We would have been happy, because any child of two victors would be destined for the arena—but unless we created a child together my sister would be sent off to her death.
It was easier to give something up that was still intangible. We found a girl to carry the baby while Dea faked the pregnancy. When the baby was born—a beautiful little boy, Ashe had just faced her last reaping married and pregnant. The girl who had carried our child was the girl who was reaped instead.
I knew from the moment I held Ezra in my arms that I loved him. I could see it on Dea's face too. And already, we knew that he'd be taken from us. We'd get to have maybe seventeen years with him, before we had to give him up to the Games. Seventeen years…that's all we had to love him until he'd be taken away from us.
I have watched him grow for seventeen years. I have made him, and his cousins train. I have made him be ready for this day. We've told him everything we know, everything that can possibly help him in the arena. But when he's chosen, it still feels surreal. It's like the end of a long dream that turns into a nightmare.
But before he can reach the stage, someone volunteers for him. I can see him shoulder through the crowds, I can see him argue with Ezra for a moment before I see his face. It's Ashe's son—it's Adam Blight.