A/N: This is the last chapter of the story! Thank you all so much for being here, for reading and supporting me! I hope you enjoy this and that it was worth the wait. I've got an epilogue in mind, so keep an eye out for that to come soon!
They take us back to Snow's mansion three days after the Capitol falls. I wake up screaming every night. Peeta tries to calm me down, but the nightmares are worse than ever and feature all the people I let down, all the people that lost their lives because of me. He tells me it isn't my fault, that I didn't kill anyone, but it's not true. My hands are covered in the blood of my own neighbors from 12, hundreds of people that stood up against the Capitol in my name, the life of my own best friend…
I close my eyes tight, trying to block out the constant image of Gale's eyes before the flames devoured him. He haunts me every night. I wonder if I'll ever be able to sleep without thinking about it. He saved Prim. My sister is here because of him, and I should be happy. I am happy, relieved and so thankful that my sister has survived this war, but the price was steep. When I'm alone, sitting at the window watching the snow cover the ground, I ask myself if I would have done the same to save Rory. I like to think I would.
Giving up on sleep, I gently move Peeta's arm from around my waist and get out of bed as quietly as I can. He sleeps so peacefully lately, and I'm jealous of it. He may still have nightmares, but I never knew when he had them anyway. In the two weeks we've shared a room, he's not woken up in the middle of the night and been unable to fall back into the tendrils of sleep, I feel like I would know. I've not spent a night back in this hell without waking up.
I pull on a jacket that was provided to Peeta, but I always take it from him on these nighttime wanderings. Despite the warmth in the mansion, I always feel cold. My hand is on the door when I hear him. "That's mine, you know." Turning around, I see that my efforts to leave Peeta without his notice have failed. He gives me a knowing look. "Nightmares?" I nod and he frowns, pushing himself off the bed.
"How do you -" I begin, but he cuts me off with a smile and it's clear he's known about my wanderings since the first night.
"Care for some company tonight?" He walks over to me, pulling the jacket tighter around my shoulders.
We walk in silence for a long while, the only sound in the halls is Peeta's footfalls, a welcome one after all we've been through. We've come across a large bay window set before the grand staircase that leads to the main entrance of the mansion, when Peeta finally breaks the silence.
He's staring out at the falling snow, a faint smile on his lips. "It'd be beautiful if I could forget where we are."
"I don't think forgetting will ever be an option," I whisper. "Too much has happened for us to ever go back." It's true. Peeta and I were both 16 when this began, when the Capitol demanded us to be thrown into the Hunger Games. I thought Prim had been too young, at 12… but I know now that 16 is too young to face what we had to.
I look over at him and see the shadow that's fallen over his eyes. It's not the same one I would see before his episodes in 13; it's something different now. With the end of this war, with what should be peaceful times ahead, Peeta is still worried. We've had brief conversations, when we're left alone and he can convince me to speak. He talks about the meeting's he attends for both of us, about how President Coin seems a little different, a little more power hungry than she did even in 13. "I don't like what she's saying. It's Snow all over again," he said one night before falling asleep. Snow all over again. That's when I started planning.
"I saw you with Ava earlier." Peeta looks over at me. Along with the rest of the world, I've put distance between our daughter and myself. I think, deep down, he understands, but he doesn't want to.
I nod. "I wanted to see her."
Peeta takes my hand in his, and we start on our way back to the room.
My prep team is quiet as they busy themselves with remaking me for the day's event. They were brought back from District 13 a week ago, but I'm not sure if they're happy about it. While they hated life in 13, being back in the Capitol probably isn't what they thought it would be. The Capitol hasn't been destroyed, far from it really, but what was once a hub of nightlife and high fashion is now as bleak as the grey walls of 13. It didn't surprise me when the preps looked out onto the City Centre and nearly broke into tears. This was their home, and I know what it's like to look upon the ruined state of your home. I don't know how to comfort them, though, so I just stare ahead as they try to bring life back into my appearance.
The past few weeks have been draining on me, and it shows. There are dark circles under my eyes and I'm paler than I ever remember being. The preps have a difficult task of bringing me back to life. It's unnerving, their silence and I almost miss their endless chatter from before the Quell. Venia's hand slips as she pulls back my hair and the long locks fall around my shoulders. I watch her reflection in the mirror for a moment. None of them have fully recovered from what happened to them in 13, and I'm not all that surprised. I shouldn't feel sorry for them, not really, but I do and I can't help it.
I catch Venia's eyes in the mirror. She's broken and her heart must be hurting for her lost home. "I know what it's like," I say without thinking. Slowly, she nods. They aren't words of comfort, but they're all I can offer.
No more words pass between us. They fix my hair in curls that fall past my shoulders, with part of it braided back. My makeup is minimal, just covering the dark under my eyes and bringing color back into my cheeks. The three stand back and admire their work, before leaving the room. I only have to wait a few minutes before the door opens again and Cinna stands in the frame, a soft smile on his lips. There's no hesitation as I rush from my seat and throw my arms around him.
"I'm so glad you're ok," I say as I move back. Cinna nods, still smiling, and places his hands on my shoulders. He looks me over, making sure my hair is still perfect and makeup not smudged.
Cinna helps me into my Mockingjay uniform and I'm somehow glad that he's here to see his creation brought to life. When they showed me the sketchbook, the one thing they had in secret that could have won me over completely, I longed for Cinna to be back with me. Longed to hear his voice again, to watch his deft fingers as they handled the fabric of my dresses. Being alive after this war has to be better than the alternative. Doesn't it?
There's a knock at the door and, unbelievably, Effie Trinket walks into my room. If I thought Cinna was lost, I certainly believed her to be gone forever. Turns out, she was captured and held in a Capitol prison facility. She tells me as she announces another "Big, big, big day." Before I can say goodbye to Cinna, she's ushering me out of the room and down several hallways. She rambles on about this and that, things I couldn't care less about, as if nothing has happened since our last meeting. "Ok, Katniss," she says as we stop outside a nondescript door. For a moment, we just look at each other and I wonder what she's thinking. Is she happy with the fall of the Capitol? Or, like so many citizens, will she resent the rebellion for what they've done? Quietly, she fixes a piece of my hair that's come loose from the braid. "You'll just follow Plutarch's instructions from here." She tries to give me a smile, but can't quite manage and turns away, walking toward another set of stairs.
I push open the door, expecting to find Plutarch and company ready to give me procedure for the event. Instead, what I find is a group consisting of Haymitch, Peeta, Finnick and Annie, Johanna and Beetee, and Enobaria. Frowning, I take an empty seat across from Peeta. "What's this about?"
Haymitch shrugs. "A meeting of the remaining Victors?"
"The remaining…" So, this is yet another price of the war. More destruction. I'm silent as Beetee explains what's happened. When the war began, the Capitol feared more Victors would align themselves with the rebellion and had them killed. The rebellion killed those they thought were with the Capitol.
"And that leaves us," he says sadly.
I can't respond. I don't know how. The senseless violence takes all words from me. I almost understand that Capitol, but the rebellion was supposed to be about peace amongst the districts. Why kill innocent people on the grounds of suspicion alone? It's all so frustrating and, I'll admit, terrifying to think that we've gone through all this to place our safety in the hands of someone else who just wants power. Looking up at Peeta, I can tell he's thinking the same thing.
"Good, you're all here." President Coin's voice is business-like as she walks into the room. "I've called you here to discuss what's to happen now that we've won the Capitol. Today, of course, is Snow's execution, but it seems like the people of Panem want more than that as repayment for how they've had to live for the past 75 years." She pauses and looks around at us all, as if giving us the opportunity to refute their claim to revenge. No one speaks and she continues on, "We've had cries to destroy everyone who held residence in the Capitol, but we simply cannot do that if we want to have a sustainable population." At this, my ears perk. We can't kill everyone in the Capitol because it would destroy our population? Not because it's harsh and unnecessary to kill people who didn't force us to live this way? They're in no means free of guilt, but to kill them for association. It's as disturbing as how the other Victors have been murdered. "So, it falls to you eight to settle the debate. An alternative has been put on the table. As penance for what they've done, there will be a final Hunger Games held this summer using children directly related to those of highest power in the Capitol."
Silence follows her words. I'm sure all of us are slowly turning over what she's just said. Making our decisions instantly.
Peeta speaks up first, "You can't be serious. Isn't this what we've fought to end?" He looks to me, but I remain silent, turning my eyes to the table.
Coin looks at him. "I am very serious. Keep in mind that if the Games are approved, it will not be kept secret that the eight of you made the decision. However, we will not reveal that breakdown of the vote."
"No," Peeta says loudly, determined to make us all see reason. "We can't keep doing this to each other. Punishing people for mistakes they didn't make."
"Why not? We weren't given that same respect." Johanna's eyes are mean as she says, "Snow has a granddaughter. I vote yes."
Enobaria nods. "So do I. Let them see what it's like."
Peeta's growing more and more frustrated, throwing glares at me for not speaking up with him. But I'm not thinking about what it would look like to the rest of Panem. I'm thinking of Gale and how weapons of his own creation destroyed him, because I know that trap was on the wall of Special Defense. I'm thinking about Prim, who could have been lost to me forever. All because of a power play. All because someone else thought they could run the country better than Snow. Doubts about this rebellion have been running through my mind since I woke up in 13. I don't trust the rebels, I don't trust the Capitol.
"I vote yes," I say quietly amid Peeta's pleas for people to see reason. I know he's looking at me in shock and disbelief. "For everyone we lost."
I'm not sure who voted what, but it's down to Haymitch for the deciding word. When my eyes find his, I know he's worked out my reasoning. He knows what's coming next. He probably did before me. Without taking his eyes off me he says, "I'm with the Mockingjay."
"That carries the vote then," Coin says. "Now we really have to take our places for the execution."
Everyone leaves the room, even Peeta. I'll never be able to explain it to him, not in the way that I want. He lost family in this war, lost pieces of himself he'll never get back again and I'm making this choice for him. For Ava.
Immediately, Plutarch enters the room and people making final checks on my appearance surround me. They usher me out of the room and to the grand front entrance of the mansion. I'm sure they're speaking, but I don't listen. I've been briefed on how this will go so many times I could do it in my sleep. I'm to stand outside on the groups, facing the mansion. Snow will be brought out and I will take the final shot in this war against the Capitol. The war against 75 years of oppression ends today.
Walking out into the sunlight, I can see crowds of people have come to witness this. I go to my position a few yards from the terrace. To my right, I can see what's left of my fellow Victors standing, watching with blank expressions. Peeta catches my eye and I'm glad to see he doesn't have Ava with him. She's too young for this to be her life.
I look away from him as they bring Snow out. He seems to look even smaller than when I spoke to him just a few days ago. They force him to his knees and he looks up at me. There's no fear or remorse in his eyes, he looks at me as if curious to see my next move. I load my bow and aim for his heart. I remember our conversation,
We agreed not to lie to one another.
We had been in Snow's mansion for nearly a week and my nightmares were only getting worse as each day passed. I wanted to leave. Peeta had mentioned District 12 briefly but how would we ever be able to live there with destruction and memories surrounding us?
Quietly, I slipped into a depression. Around me, everyone was making plans. Plans of what to do now that Snow's government was out of power, plans of what to do with the Capitol, the Districts, me. All around, the topic of conversation was what to do with the Mockingjay now that she was done serving. In the absence of fighting and performing, I just stopped. Nothing around me seemed to really matter, and no one seemed to really care that I'd dropped out. The only person that could coax any conversation out of me was Peeta, and he only succeeded some of the time. I would sit in our room, staring out the window for hours. He would bring Ava in, and she brought me some joy but her bright eyes couldn't light all the darkness that had settled in me.
When Peeta wasn't around, called away for stupid gatherings, I took to wandering the many halls that seem to make up the mansion. Halls that, with their quiet carpets and soft curtains, brought me more comfort than the people that paraded in and out of my room could. These halls covered in paintings don't judge. The eyes of people long gone cannot see this tiny girl who has killed so many people. No, the empty halls and rooms that never end were my escape. It felt almost normal to just walk and not think about the next move in the game.
"I'm so tired of playing." Slowing down, I ran my fingers across the colorful wallpaper and whispered, "No one ever does win the Hunger Games…" I took a deep breath and my entire body tensed.
The smell hit me fully and suddenly, as though I had walked through some invisible barrier that was keeping it in. I put my sleeve to my nose, trying to block out the overwhelming smell, and came upon a garden. It was beautiful, despite the horrible flower growing within.
"I was wondering if you'd find your way here." Turning, I came face to face with the man who helped make my life into this miserable thing. He looked so small, sitting within the garden and I couldn't help wonder why he wasn't being held somewhere else, why he was allowed to just tend to the garden like nothing had changed… Like he wouldn't be dead in a few days time. "Beautiful, aren't they?"
I shook my head. "I never cared for roses."
He smiled slightly, perhaps the warmest expression I'd ever seen him make. He looked away from me, back to the flowers he was tending. "Simple flowers, when you get down to it. Common, almost. You can find them in any district, yet people yearn for them. It cannot be helped. Like you, Miss Everdeen. The people yearned for someone, anyone, to help them. And they were given you." He paused, looking back up at me. "Pity you never remember the thorns."
Silence filled the room, and I couldn't help but settle on his words. The people of Panem shouted for release from the Capitol, and I've given them that… but there always are thorns…
"I was lucky enough to meet your daughter." My heart began beating fast, who would take her anywhere near this monster? "Not to worry," he said, obviously seeing my confusion and anger, perhaps even my fear of letting him hold her over me. "A nurse was taking her through the halls and we happened to cross paths. My guards apparently were curious to see the Mockingjay's child." A smile twisted his lips. "She is delightful." He was quiet for a few minutes after that, letting this new knowledge sink in.
"I suppose it will be you who.. ends it all tomorrow?" His voice was so casual, almost like he was asking after a cup of tea. I nodded, bringing a small smile to his lips. "Fitting."
"You aren't even scared." It's not a question. He wouldn't be frightened of what's to come.
"No," he said. "I knew it was coming. I lost thing war long before Coin dropped those bombs on Capitol children."
My eyes narrowed. "You ordered that to happen."
Smirking he said, "Do you really think I would have wasted my chance to escape if I had access to a working hovercraft?" He shook his head. "I thought you knew me better than that, Miss Everdeen. I don't kill without reason."
Somewhere in District 13, Gale and Beetee are designing the trap which plays to its victims emotions, making them approach a destruction scene and then be destroyed themselves. I can almost hear Coin calling the order to drop the parachutes…
"You're lying," I whispered, shaking my head.
"We agreed not to lie to one another." For the first time, he almost looked sorry.
My bow tilts up and I let loose the arrow. My aim is true and Coin slumps forward, falling to the courtyard dead.
There's a moment where no one quite knows what's happened. I can hear Snow starting to laugh at the top of the courtyard. I whisper, "goodnight" to my bow and let it fall to the ground as the rebel guards rush to me. I don't fight, not really. I knew this would happen. I knew they would come after me like this. Before the first man reaches me, I search for Peeta in the crowd. He's moved forward, closer to me but still so far away. It's so perfect for our relationship. I've been grabbed by one of the guard and shout out, "Take care of her!" as they pull me back toward the mansion.
I'm blindfolded the instant we reach the mansion. Guards hold tight to my arms, even though I'm not putting up much of a struggle. They march me through the long corridors of the mansion and down several sets of stairs. I'm sure of my destination before I hear the familiar creak of the cell door, and I'm pushed through.
The door behind my shuts and I push my blindfold up. I realize instantly this is not the same cell I was held in only two weeks ago. That one was empty, save for my prize for betraying the rebellion, and this one at least contains a low cot. I sit down and push myself against the wall, wondering what the next move will be. I've killed the new President of Panem, there's no denying that.
I'm kept in the cell for several days, my only visitor is a guard that brings me meals three times a day. He never speaks, merely opens the door and pushes in a tray. I don't know what's happening outside of these four walls. Am I to be executed? Jailed for life? Spared?
It's five days after my assassination of President Coin that I get a visitor aside from the regular guard. The door opens and I'm shocked to see Haymitch standing there, his old smirk present.
"Well, sweetheart, you've certainly done it this time." He doesn't sound anxious, disappointed or anything else that he should were my life in serious danger. And I feel I know Haymitch enough now to make that claim. He sits down on the edge of my cot and looks around. "Nice place."
I roll my eyes. "What's going on, Haymitch? I've been here five days longer than I expected to be."
He frowns at that. He understands that I fully expected to be killed for my actions. "Don't let the boy hear you say that."
"How is he?" I can hear the edge of desperation in my voice. I did this knowing Peeta would be left behind, knowing that whatever happened I could very well not see him again. Sitting locked away is worse than the alternative. He's out there, taking care of our daughter in a way I never could imagine, and thoughts of him fill my mind every day.
"Fighting for you." Haymitch looks at me, and I can read what he hasn't said. "He's angry, alright, but he won't give up on you. The trial started yesterday." He shakes his head slightly. "Plutarch is putting up a big defense for you."
The guard comes back to the door at this point. I guess Haymitch has limited time. Or I suppose I do. I watch as he walks away, wondering when the next contact will be. Before he leaves I blurt out, "Tell Peeta I…" I look down as Haymitch turns back. Tell him I'm sorry, tell him I know he didn't sign on for this, tell him to live a better life… one he deserves. Haymitch doesn't say anything, just nods and the door closes behind him.
Time passes even slower after Haymitch's visit. I constantly think about the trial and how I could possible be found innocent in all of this. Plutarch has his work cut out for him with this.
Another week goes by before my cell door opens again to reveal someone other than my constant guard. I'm lying on my cot, staring up at the ceiling, when a voice I wasn't expecting says, "Well, Miss Everdeen you have caused quite the stir." I sit up and my eyes meet those of Plutarch Heavensbee, and he's smiling. My heartbeat quickens as I wonder what the smile could mean. He was a game maker, he loves heartbreak as long as it provides a good show. And what could make for a better show than this? He clasps his hands together, smile widening. "I come with good news."
The shock that follows his statement is something I doubt I will forget. I'm free. I get to leave this cell, I'm not being killed for what I did.
Plutarch motions for me to follow him from the cell, talking as we walk up the stairs back into the main part of the mansion. "It was a tough case to make, I will say. The evidence overwhelming against you, but I did my research and uncovered some… ah, interesting information about Coin." That gets my attention away from the curious activity within the mansion, I had assumed it would be empty without a President to live in. "In the end," Plutarch continues, "they decided to let you go. On the condition that you were returned to District 12." I look up at him as he stops at a door to the back lawns. "You will have to stay there. Forever."
He leads me to a hovercraft that sits on the flowing grounds of the mansion. District 12. What's even left of it? Ashes and grey shells of my former life? We board the hovercraft and I'm surprised to find Haymitch waiting for us. He gives me a brief smile, a real one that tells me he truly is happy to see me. One look around the room tells me Peeta is not here, he would have been the first to greet me, to pull me into his arms. I frown and move to a seat by the window, watching as we lift away from the mansion, away from the Capitol. It looks the same as ever, glittering and candy-colored, but maybe it will change under the surface.
Plutarch rambles on for what feels like hours. He talks about the trial, about his role in mounting my defense, and how it was easy to present me as a shell-shocked victim who wanted a better world for her daughter. I cringe and keep my eyes on the window, refusing to respond or look at Plutarch until we drop him off in District 2. He stops before disembarking and says, "Don't be a stranger, Miss Everdeen." With any luck, this will be the last time I ever see him.
The ride is quieter after Plutarch leaves. Haymitch shifts through all the compartments in a search for any liquor he can find. When he returns to the seats, lap full of tiny bottles, I raise an eyebrow. "Don't give me that look, sweetheart. War's over. I can celebrate however I like."
"Where is he?" I can't help when the same fear that consumed me after the Quarter Quell starts to creep back up. There was no mention of Peeta then either…
Haymitch twists the cap off one of the bottles and takes a swig before answering. "He's back in 12 with your mom and sister. They went ahead after the trial ended and your sentence served." For a moment, I don't believe him. Why wouldn't Peeta demand to be here? Haymitch smirks, almost like he can hear my thoughts. "He put up a fight against leaving without you, but he went on in the end. Threatened me though, told me I better not start drinking before I knew you were alright." He takes another drink from the bottle. "Saw you from the window, looked alright to me."
I shake my head, allowing him a small smile. "What will you do?"
He shrugs. "Stay in 12. There's no place for me in the Capitol, wouldn't want one either."
There's something in his voice, something in the easy way he says that words that makes me think they're practiced. Haymitch refused to go into 12 when we went there with the camera crew, hasn't been down even once since the bombs are far as I know. He isn't coming back because there's no where else for him, he's coming back because of me.
"You have to watch me, don't you?" I don't take my eyes off him, and I see the frown in his eyes before it shows on his face. "With everyone there, you still have to be my mentor?"
"There are worse things to do, sweetheart."
We're quiet for the remainder of the trip. I watch the trees below us become more and more familiar. As the sun begins to set, we begin to land in an open area outside the Victor's Village. Haymitch grabs his bag of bottles and staggers off toward his house. I wonder if I'll really see him much, probably not. I take a deep breath as I move into the Village, walking slowly toward my own house. It looks warm and inviting, a steady stream of smoke coming out of the chimney. The door opens when my feet reach the walkway, and Peeta steps out. Behind him, my mother holds Ava with Prim not far behind.