Do you know what it's like
To wanna surrender?
-Never Surrender, Skillet
The woman who spoke was slight, maybe an inch taller than me, but she radiated an aura of authority that made her seem a foot taller. Her hair was a sheet of gray that fell to her shoulders, not a hair out of place.
Her eyes where what scared me the most; it was the same look I had seen in Cray's eyes.
Cold. Dead. Nothing animating them but the will for power and control.
Unintentionally I shivered, but I past it off with a sneeze.
Glimmer, Cato, Clove, and Marvel's faces all turned blank, almost like they were slipping on a mask. Thresh still had his arm around the young girl, but he had pulled her somewhat behind him.
Internally, I was thankful that Rue, Finn and Prim weren't there; I didn't want them to be scared.
"My name is Alma Coin. Everyone here is so thrilled to have you here. Care to tell us everything that's happened since the camera's have gone off?"
In a dead voice, Glimmer spouted off, "We all fell together. Some bumps in the road, but we managed to break down the force-field and escape. We walked until we hit the boundary of District Twelve, Katniss went in, found some information, came back, and here we are."
Coin nodded, her eyes then zeroing in on the little bundle in my arms.
"When did your child come into this picture?"
Haymitch finally jumped in here, swaggering with an air of cockiness so no one would see his hands shaking; judging by the lack of alcohol in his hand or on his breath, I guessed he was in withdrawal.
"I sent the child in from the launching room. I knew the rebels were attacking; I didn't want him anywhere near the bombs. Plus, I knew she would be concerned about his well-being."
Internally, I thanks Haymitch for his quick interference.
Coin nodded her head once, eyes still raking over each and every one of us.
Finally, she spoke.
"Quarters have been made up for you. Four to a room, unless you will want to stay with your families?"
I jumped in quickly, since as far as I knew, only Thresh and my family was here.
"We will stay together."
I saw a flash of relief in Clove's eyes, but it was gone before I could see it again.
"Good. Soldier Hawthorne, escort the males to their rooms. Everdeen, your sister is being paged to bring you to your rooms. The District 11 girl will be brought up to your room when she is healed. Dismissed."
Prim tried hard to be upbeat around us, but I could tell she was tensed. She almost sighed with relief when we got to our room.
"Mom and I are three doors down, room 1143. You guys are in 1140, obviously. I think there is a crib in there for Roan, but I know you will probably prefer to have him with you. Rue should be in there, so I'll leave you guys to it. Katniss, come visit when you get some sleep and food, OK?"
I nodded, giving her a one armed hug and a kiss to the top of her head.
"Will do little duck. Tell mom I'll swing by in the morning."
Prim smiled before ducking out of the room and down the hall.
The room Glimmer, Rue, Clove and I were put in was a decent size. Two bunk beds were pressed lengthwise on the opposite wall, and there were four wardrobes on both walls. A door lead to what I assumed was a bathroom. There was a crib between the two bunk beds, but I doubted I would use it often.
Rue was already on one of the bottom bunks, her ankle wrapped and propped up.
Clove immediately claimed the bunk over Rue's. Before she did, she ran her hands over the frame and the bottom, not even thinking about it.
I knew from Glimmer that in the academy, those who were on the top bunks were always afraid an enemy would stick a knife or a sword through the mattress and kill them.
Glimmer told me to take the bottom, as she knew Roan would be sleeping with me. The amount of trust she had in me was humbling; it must have gone against her training to let me do that.
Clove and Glimmer went into the bathroom, which had two showers. When they were done, I handed Roan to Glimmer and went to take my own shower. When I came back, there was food on my bunk; a small pitcher of water, a bowl of some hearty smelling soup, and a thick slice of bread.
The four of us ate quickly, and then I fed Roan.
Soon, the other three were out cold.
Roan was curled up next to me, his hands curled into fists near his face.
I watched his chest rise and fall for what must have been an hour. It became apparent that I was not going to fall asleep anytime soon.
Without waking him up, I moved Roan over to Rue's bed. I roused her long enough to have her wrap one of her arms around him and then fall back asleep.
Quietly so not to wake the other two in the room, I padded down the hallway.
The doors were all the same monotonous gray color, the numbers rising as I walked.
I didn't know what I expected to find. I just needed to get tired enough to fall asleep, because I knew that tomorrow would be rough.
I was just about to turn around and go back to the room when I spotted a door that was different.
It was made of clear glass, and through it I saw Cato running on a machine, the sweat-drenched back of his shirt a clear indicator that he had been there for a while.
I debated with myself. Did I really want to go in there and talk to him? I could turn around right then and go back to my bed and sleep.
That plan got shot all to hell when Cato suddenly stopped running, his head whipping back around to look me straight in the eye.
I refused to backdown.
Reaching out a hand, I walked into the gym, my bare feet not making a single sound on the tile floor.
"What are you doing here?"
He didn't sound bitter or angry, just…weary. Like the week it took for us to get out of the arena and to District Thirteen was more like seven years.
"I could ask you the same question."
There was silence after that.
The tension in the air could be cut with a knife, and I watched with some detached amusement as Cato visibly fumbled around in his head for something to say.
"How's Roan? And your sister?"
"They're fine. Sleeping. Is your family here?"
Cato flinched, and I wanted to hit myself. It was obvious that something happened in his past to make even him, with his Career persona, flinch when his parents were bought up.
The tension rebounded double, and I wanted to pull my hair out with frustration.
Cato stood there for maybe three more seconds, before he sighed and walked by me to the door.
I didn't turn. I didn't know what to do in this situation. I didn't even know what situation this was.
I heard the door open, but then Cato took a deep breath, like he was preparing himself to ask something he wasn't sure he wanted to know.
"Did you mean it?"
"Mean it when you told Glimmer you believed we were more than ruthless killing machines."
There was a moment of silence, and then I heard the door start to close. I called out, before I lost my nerve, "Did you really mean it when you said, 'Do you really think we're friends? Do you think I could care about anyone else, even you or your bastard of a son?'"
I turned around to face him.
Cato had his back to me, his hand still holding onto the door so tight, his knuckles had turned white; I was genuinely afraid he was going to shatter the glass.
"No. No, I didn't."
"Then why did you say it?"
There was silence for a moment, and then he replied in a soft monotone, "You were getting too close."
I snapped then, throwing my hands up in the air.
"Why do you have to push us away!? We're not going to hurt you, we're not going to kill you, so why-"
"BECAUSE I'M NOT GOOD!" He roared, turning to face me with bright eyes and flushed cheeks.
I shouted right back, "You always say that, but what the hell do you mean?"
Cato shoved away from the door, coming right up into my personal space, his body hovering over mine; I refused to back down.
"I was five years old when I was handed a weapon and told to kill a chipmunk. Cute little thing, with bright eyes and a fluffy tail, and I decapitated it as easily as if it were a practice dummy. I was thirteen when I was ordered to fight my best friend, a boy I had trained with since I was little. I had him pinned down, and they handed me a knife and told me to stick it in his heart. I was sixteen when they threw a teenage girl at me and told me to rape her. I did everything they told me to do Katniss, and I never fought. Never thought there was a reason to. They broke me down and remade me into a killer. I'm not even certain I was born innocent."
Bile rose in my throat when he said those things, especially the girl he was forced to rape.
He plowed on. "I was told that other people were nothing more than pawns, nothing more than animals to be killed for glory and money and honor. I was thrown into rings with nothing more than my fists, and told to kill or be killed. I trained eighteen hours a day until I thought I would collapse, and then they would shock me with electrical wires and I would train for another four hours. I'm. Not. Human. I'm. Not. Good."
He punctuated each of his words with steps to back me up against the wall. I didn't flinch or look away from his eyes, not even when he raised both of his hands and slammed them against the wall.
"I pushed you away because the last time I let a girl get close to me, the last time I allowed myself to feel like a normal teenage boy, she was thrown at my feet in training, raped and beaten and bloody. Her throat had been cut, and her eyes had been stabbed out. They told me that I didn't deserve love, didn't deserve to be normal. I was a monster, and that was what they created me as."
His shoulders slumped when he was done, his eyes glazing over when he thought of his past. I felt my own tears rise up in my eyes, tears for the pain and the horror and the suffering he and so many other teens had faced at the hands of the Capital and the District Trainers.
Were these the teens Gale and I had condemned?
I had always thought of them as nothing more than sheep, monsters who followed an even bigger monster, who enjoyed killing and terrorizing others.
They were just as much the victims as we were.
They had been broken down, remade into weapons, had the humanity literally beating and bleed out of them. They were taught never to make emotional attachments, never to give into their urges, never to be happy, or it would all be torn out from under them and thrown bloody and broken back at their feet.
Shame rose up within me; how could I have hated them? How could I have scoffed at them and pretended to be something better? How could I have turned my back on the suffering that others had faced?
I had to push that away now; Cato was still hovering over me, his body tense with remembered pain and the confessions he had just spouted to me.
I could do this; I protected people, I nurtured younger ones, I comforted others, even Gale, when they had nightmares.
But this was a little bit beyond me.
Moving slowly, so not to startle him, I placed my hands on his wrists, gently pulling them from the wall and letting him wrap them tightly around my own wrists; his hands were so large his fingers overlapped.
"You are not a monster. You, Marvel, Glimmer, Clove…you just had a rotten hand dealt. None of you are monsters; you had the feelings and humanity literally beaten out of you, and that doesn't make you a monster. That makes you a victim. But you are all strong. You are brave and smart and human."
His hands tightened convulsively on my wrists, almost to the point of pain, but deep in his eyes I could see the hope and desperation, reminiscent of a little boy trying so desperately to be a man.
I ran my thumbs over the pulse in his wrists, trying to soothe him in the little way I cold.
"A monster can't love. A monster can't show compassion, or emotion. Marvel does. He laughs with Thresh and plays jokes with Rue. Clove protects Rue and Finn, and she cried when Coral was dead. Glimmer loves Roan, almost like her own son. She cared about Coral, and she would die in a heartbeat for Finn or Rue or any one of us."
I made sure he was looking at me for the next part.
"A monster can't regret, can't be afraid, can't be sad. And you are. You're not a monster because I know you regret what you did. I know you're not a monster because even when you try to hide it, I can see you take inventory of us when we're walking, making sure none of us are falling behind or hurt. I know you're not a monster because you are trying so desperately to keep yourself from making connections to us, because you are so sure we're going to be taken. And that, that right there, that fear and emotion and turmoil you're feeling…that means that you're human. You're not a monster Cato. You're not."
His hands gripped my wrists even tighter, and his eyes rolled with repressed emotion.
I don't know how long we stood there; it could have been moments, minutes, hours.
I just knew that everything seemed to righten in the world when he leaned down quickly, and smashed his lips to mine.
Everyone say it with me now: FINA - FRICKIN - LY!
OK, I am so sorry about not getting a chapter out sooner. Real life kind of caught up to me.
Thank you so much for all the reviews! I'm sorry to leave you with this little cliff-hanger, but the next couple of chapters should make up for it...I hope.
I'm trying to get into a posting schedule, but I'm not sure how it's going to work out.
I know I've said this before, but I posted a Oneshot in my "101 PJATO ONESHOTS" and NO ONE has reviewed it. It's a kind of Hunger Games/PJATO crossover, and I would really appreciate it if SOMEONE read it and reviewed.
Anyway, before this author's note turns into a chapter by itself, please drop me a line, and again, I'm sorry for not posting sooner!