The war rages on outside of my four walled cage buried deep below the earth. I might as well be oblivious to it...sometimes I wish I was, but as I've found out, wishes don't come true, and false hope is a dangerous game to play at.
I pick sullenly at the grizzly piece of meat covered in strange brown goop on the tray in front of me; even Greasy Sae's dog bone broth was better than this. With a sigh I pick up the tray from my lap and let it fall to the floor with a clatter, a chunk of meat jumping off and landing with a splatter on the floor. How they expect anyone to eat this stuff I don't know.
But then I don't know a lot of things. Like how this all started. Like why I'm still here.
It feels like most of my time in District 13 has been spent here in the hospital, staring at white walls and white ceilings. They say I'm depressed, or confused, or both, something with the word 'syndrome' in it anyway; I stopped listening to them when they told me that Peeta was gone. I've been pumped full of drugs, prodded and poked by all manner of strange people in white cloaks, ignored and suffocated in concern. 'I'm the Mockingbird!' I want to scream at them, but still they whisper behind hands whilst I can only stare groggily at them through a drug induced haze, the words I wish I could say caught in my throat like a clot.
Finally though they took away the tubes and the haze has cleared. Sort of. The sharp stabbing pain that felt like a shard of glass nestled in an artery is no longer there like it was before. But I still feel a dull throb right where my heart used to be. It's like someone ripped it out and replaced it with one that doesn't quite work properly. Like someone came along and replaced everything good inside of me with lead. Maybe I am depressed like they say. Or confused. Right now though, I just feel...lost. Lost in my own miserable existence. Lost from losing everything I once held dear.
I throw a suspicious glance at the perfectly cubed lump of meat that's slowly congealing on the floor. Perhaps they're trying to poison me, I'm sure it would be easier that way. Right now they have to put up with moping Katniss, half-dead Katniss, the Katniss who doesn't want to be Katniss any longer. I wrinkle my nose in disgust and vow not to eat another morsel they put in front of me, although my own body quickly foils my plan by sounding a gargling rumble from my stomach.
I contemplate going in search of a decent meal, maybe even a biscuit or two. Surely the food they serve to the rest of 13 is perfectly fine, but the doctors have always locked the door to the room after they leave, something about my trying to escape once before. Which confirms their motives really: I'm not here by choice and 'escape' is the operative word. Who would want to escape from somewhere they have chosen to be? Just to be sure though, I swing my legs off of the bed and make for the door, making sure to land far away from the mess of a 'meal' on the floor. The floor is cold against my bare feet and I feel vulnerable in just the flimsy hospital gown they have put me in. I shiver and wrap an arm around my midsection, the other trying the door handle, but it stays locked shut. I wiggle it in frustration and slap my palm flat against the wood, my skin tingling in response. The door remains shut. No body comes. I turn and kick the door with my heel for good measure and make my way back to the standard hospital bed, climbing back between the still warm covered.
There's a TV which has been placed overlooking the bed, and I turn it on, trying to ignore the empty feeling in my stomach. I'm immediately confronted with my own face, bold, braided and painted. The rebels are airing the "Because you know who they are and what they do" propo that Messalla edited. I watch myself as I shake hands with the injured people in the makeshift hospital of District 8, and touch the hair of the small children who are not so badly hurt that they are able to shift out of their crude stretchers and gather around me like a small flock of birds. The footage is occasionally intercut with short studio clips of Gale, Boggs and Cressida describing the incident. When the bombs start falling, I can't help but shiver and look away, only looking back when I hear myself say "If we burn, you burn with us". Apparently this has become some sort of slogan for the rebellion now. What fools.
Watching the bombing again has made me sick, and I feel an acrid bile rising up in my throat. Picking up the remote control I go to turn off the TV but before I can do so the Capitol's symbol flickers onto the screen and my finger pauses over the 'off' button. The tinny sound of the anthem plays out and Caesar Flickerman appears on screen, his powdered blue hair pulled back from his face, giving him an unpleasant look of someone having their skin pulled taut by a crocodile clip. I wonder whether this is supposed to be attractive.
I'm about to turn off again when the camera pans across the stage to a lone figure sitting in the same chair in which the Tributes were interviewed in a lifetime ago. Peeta's physical transformation shocks me. I grimace at the black shadows underneath his eyes and the cheekbones which protrude prominently from his face. He must have lost at least fifteen pounds from the last time I saw him. Even though he's dressed in fine Capitol clothes of ivory silk and red velvet, the material hangs off him at strange angles, like someone has dressed him in clothes two sizes too big.
Caesar and Peeta have a few empty exchanges before Caesar asks him about rumours that I'm taping propos for the districts. "They're using her, obviously," says Peeta. "To whip up the rebels. I doubt she even really knows what's going on in the war. What's at stake."
"Is there anything you'd like to tell her?" asks Caesar.
"There is," says Peeta. He looks directly into the camera, right into my eyes, the familiar blue gaze lacking its usual warmth. "Don't be a fool Katniss" he begins, "think for yourself. They've turned you into a weapon that could be instrumental in the destruction of humanity. If you've got any real influence, use it to put the brakes on this thing. Use it to stop the war before it's too late. Ask yourself, do you really trust the people you're working with? Do you really know what's going on?"
Caesar has been nodding along beside him the whole time that Peeta has rattled off this speech. The look of concern on his face is almost believable until he flashes his brilliant white smile to the camera again. "Well there you have it -" he begins, before Peeta's voice comes over the airwaves again.
"Wait", he says. A look of worry crosses over Caesar's face, before once again his plastic smile returns to normal. I can tell that this wasn't a part of the plan. The camera pans out again and if possible, Peeta looks even smaller in the overgrown chair and overlarge clothes. "I, I just wanted to to say," Peeta begins shakily. He looks to Caesar, and then to an unknown figure out of shot, and then back into the lens of the camera again. I can see, even from the other end of the lens, that his resolve has suddenly hardened.
"Be ready. They're coming" he says in a steady voice. For a moment there's silence, both at his end and mine. I swear I've stopped breathing. Suddenly all hell breaks loose and the camera veers widely off to the side, but not before I catch once last glimpse of Peeta being dragged from the chair by a gang of Peacekeepers, and the blood which sprays onto the white floor tiles.
Someone in the Capitol must finally have been able to shut off the live feed, as without warning the screen goes black and the Seal of Panem flares brightly on the screen. I stare motionless, frozen in place in front of the now still television. It's as if something inside me snaps. I swear I can almost hear it.
An almost inhuman wail fills the air of my small room, and it takes a while to register it has come from me. I launch myself from the bed, tangled in the sheets and blankets and fall to the floor in a crash. A blazing pain shoots from my knees up both my tibia but I ignore it, focusing only on the twisted shard of glass which has reappeared with a vengeance inside my chest at seeing Peeta. My poor Peeta.
What have they done to you?
I thrash out and my arm hits the side of the metal tray which stands next to the bed. I try to use it to haul myself up, but only succeed on bringing it down on top of myself. This fuels my rage even further and I scream out again. The syringes and bottles of pills which they've used countless times on me roll into view and I pick one up. I don't know what I'm going to do with it, only that I have to hurt everyone that has ever stood in my way, thats ever hurt Peeta, and Prim, and Gale, and everyone else I've ever cared about.
With the fire burning inside of me I manage to pull myself off the floor and throw myself at the door. I begin pounding on it with my fists, scratching and clawing at the door, the caged and crazy animal that they're always suspected I was. Somewhere in the back of my mind I can hear myself screaming again, but the voice sounds oddly detached. The only thing I can see is red and my rage consumes me.
Suddenly the door is flung open and I almost fall into the person standing on the other side. I don't though, and barrel past them, knocking the person in the white cloak to the floor. Before I can take more than a few strides though I'm caught in a pair of strong arms, whose hold grabs around both of my wrists. I thrash wildly and a part of me wonders whether this time I might actually have gone crazy.
"Drop it" I hear a firm voice from above me say. There's a pressure on my right wrist and I feel the syringe slip from my grasp as my fingers involuntary open. It falls to the ground with a clatter, my only weapon gone. For a second I can do nothing but stare at it, as if everything I planned to do and everything I could and would have done has completely dissipated into thin air, but then the rage is back even stronger, and I struggle even more desperately to be free of whoever it is holding me back.
I can hear footsteps and the squeak of a trolley and the shout of voices coming closer. Something tells me that they're coming for me and that they'll kill me, torture me, just like the Capitol has done to Peeta. Panic breaks through the rage. I have to go. Peeta had tried to warn me.
"Do you really trust these people?"
No, I realise suddenly. No I don't. I manage to pull a wrist free but before I can make an escape I'm grabbed around my torso and pulled back, my arms pinned to my sides. I launch a kick and feel my foot come into contact with soft flesh. There's a grunt but other than that I'm still restrained by the strong grip around my body. "You're going to pay for that, sweetheart", I hear a low voice growl above me. I'm spun around and pulled against a chest, my legs captured between somebody else's.
There's hands grabbing hold of my arms now, and I feel a prick as a needle enters my arm. It's as if the fight suddenly goes out of me, and I'm left feeling exhausted. My legs go from underneath me and I feel the arms around me loosen, no longer restraining me, but instead picking me up from where I've sank to the floor. My head rests against a warm but hard chest, and I can smell pine and grass, but mostly liquor. I realise then who it was restraining me and who was now carrying me away. I'd know that smell anywhere. Haymitch.
I managed to mumble the last coherent thing that comes to my mind before sleep completely consumes me.
"I trusted you".
I don't dream but I can hear. Sometimes there's a long piercing scream. I think it could belong to me, but sometimes it morphs into Prim's, or sometimes my mother's, but most often Peeta's. Other times I swear I can hear the swoosh of a baton and a dull thud as it meets bone and muscle. Sometimes all I can hear is silence, but it's heavy and consuming and stifles me.
I wonder whether I am dead and how long I've been dead for. Minutes? Hours? Sometimes I think years. I wonder if Prim misses me. I wonder what type of funeral they had for me. Did Gale cry?
But just as I become sure I'm dead, I can hear my name being called. It's as if I'm below water, drowning in a deep lake, and someone is calling me from the surface. "Katniss". I try and swim towards it but it always fades, although every time I hear the call it's closer to me again, until at some point I'm right next to it.
My eyes open slowly. There's a light above me. It's bright and I try to shield my eyes, only my find my hands restrained by thick leather belts which wrap around my wrists. I try to move my legs only to find the same restraints wrapped around both ankles. The feeling of being completely trapped scares me, and I feel panic rising from the pit of my stomach as I try and pull my limbs from their bindings to no avail.
There's a cool hand on my forehead though and a soft voice whispering in my ear. Somewhere a button bleeps and I feel a surge of drugs being pumped back into my system. My eyes close again and the panic subdues until I'm left in the darkness again.
When I wake next, the room is dark. I try to move but I'm still bound to the bed. I'm expecting it this time though and don't struggle so much. There's a sound next to me and I try to move my stiff neck to ascertain who or what it came from. My eyes make out the shape of another human being sitting in a chair to my right, his or her form lit dimly by the glowing lights of the monitors which stand next to the bed.
My eyes adjust to the darkness, and slowly I can make out the broad shoulders, a flop of blonde hair, the shirt rolled up the forearms, and the blonde stubble on his chin. As if he could sense me watching him, he opens his eyes and pushes himself off the chair, coming to stand next to me.
He studies me from a moment and I in turn stare up at him. There's so much I want to scream at him. I want to hit him and punch him and gouge his skin with my nails, but instead I do nothing. Haymitch's gray eyes bare down on me as if he's trying to work something out. The silence stretches out between us as we both study one another. Finally though he speaks, gesturing to the restraints holding me in place.
"If I let you out of these" he says, "there can be no repeat of last time". I continue to stare at him, testing him. "I mean it sweetheart" he warns, his voice laced with an edge of command. He makes no move towards me as he waits for my response, so I tilt my head slowly in assent. He moves closer then and I can feel his cold fingers unbuckling the leather straps around my wrists and ankles. He takes a step away, his eyes never leaving my own. I expected to feel a glut of terrible emotion towards him, but all I can feel is strangely detached. Not anger. Not rage. Not hurt. Just the feeling of complete and utter nothingness.
I slowly push myself up in bed, feeling my stiff muscles screech in protest and I wonder how long I've been out for. Haymitch settles himself in the chair again and passes a hand across his eyes, running it through his hair and sighing deeply.
"I -" he begins, but stops, unsure of how to go on. "You weren't meant to see that", he starts again. He goes to gesture to the corner of the room where the TV had been, but I realise that it's been removed. I remain silent and Haymitch continues when he realises he's not going to get a response.
"We knew they'd always try to use Peeta against us, against you, but well we never realised -", he trails off, his gaze falling to his feet. "You know, Peeta saved us - when he said about being ready. Coin realised at once that he meant that the Capitol was planning an air strike and she managed to get everyone down to the lower levels before the bombs hit. That's where we are now", Haymitch explains, gesturing half-heartedly around the room with his hand.
For the first time I notice that we're not in the hospital. That he's telling the truth. There's a smell of damp and mildew, rather than the cold sterile cleanliness I've become so accustomed to and even in the dark I can tell that the walls aren't as brilliant a white as normal.
"This is your fault" I manage to croak out, my voice stiff from disuse. I expect Haymitch to answer back with some clever line about how this is Coin's fault, the Capitol's fault, everyone's fault but his own, but instead he nods dejectedly, and his head drops to his chest. "I know" he says in a whisper. I almost feel sorry for him. Almost.
"I though that we'd be able to save you both, you and Peeta. We had a small window of time you see, to get you both out of that arena, but when you weren't together, well, we had to choose one of you. I had to choose one of you" says Haymitch.
"You lied to me Haymitch", I spit out, "you promised me that you'd protect him, that he'd be the one to live and survive. I was supposed to die, not Peeta. You promised".
"I know," says Haymitch wearily, running his hand through his hair again. A jolt of realisation passes through me then and suddenly everything becomes clear.
"You promised him the same thing as well though didn't you? You promised Peeta you'd keep me safe, so that I could live".
Haymitch remains silent but nods his head slowly, his expression unreadable as he bows his head to his chin.
"Well you lied to us both then" I say, and I can see my words strike him, his face visibly grimacing.
There's a silence than stretches out for minutes in the dark room, only interspersed by the soft beeping coming from the monitors which cast out a strange green light over the floor of the room. "That's not just it though Katniss", whispers Haymitch after a time. "It wasn't about the promises I made to you and Peeta. Don't you see", he asks, rising from the chair to stand by my bedside and looking me directly in the eyes, "it was bigger than that?"
I consider his words thoughtfully for a moment. And then I understand.
"This was never about us was it? It was all about you and your revenge on the Capitol. You only need me to rally the masses". I can hear my voice growing steadily louder. "Did you even care about us? Does it even matter if we die in the process, or is that actually better for your plan then... to become martyrs for the cause?"
I'm shouting now but I don't care. I feel so used, but not only that I feel betrayed. Betrayed by the one person I though was a true friend to me, my mentor and my guide through everything past even the Games.
"Sweetheart, how can you even say that?" I hear Haymitch say, but the words don't even register properly, they're just sound to me.
"Fine", I hiss, "I'll give you what they want, what they all want". I begin to reach for a pill bottle and I truly intend to take my own life. If I die, perhaps the Capitol will let Peeta go home, perhaps Gale will finally be happy that I don't keep shoving my fake relationship in his face, perhaps Haymitch will finally get the revenge he wants on the Capitol when the death of the Mockingjay spreads through the districts. Even Prim and my mother could finally get on with their lives without having to worry constantly for my safety. Yes, I think, everyone would truly be better off if I were dead.
My fingers close around the smooth plastic of the bottle but then Haymitch is there and it's being taken from my grasp. The one thing I want, my one right to die, has been taken away from me, like everything else in the world. I lunge for the pills but Haymitch catches my shoulder and pushes me down onto the bed. I feel moisture on my cheeks and I realise that I'm crying, and looking up I see a glistening in Haymitch's eyes too.
"I'm sorry" he mumbles, as one hand keeps me down and the other reaches up to press at the buttons of the machine. I feel a wave of drugs pass into my blood system but as I try to claw the tubes out of my arm I feel the leather straps being pulled tightly around me once again. Unconsciousness takes me back again as a last silent tear spills from my eye and finds it way down my cheek.
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Disclaimer: Although I wish I did, I own nothing of this world. All rights belong to Suzanne Collins and Scholastic. Some lines in this Chapter have been lifted from 'Mockingjay' to add some authenticity.