Chapter Twenty-Five: All Fall Down
A/N: So difficult to think this story has finally come to a close! Yep, this is the last chapter, guys. The sequel will be titled LEAVE THE SOUL ALONE, and will be up whenever I get around to the first chapter :P Thanks for being so amazing, please leave some parting reviews? Hope you enjoy!
"Lost til you're found, swim til you drown
Know that we all fall down
Love til you hate, strong til you break
Know that we all fall down."
- All Fall Down, OneRepublic
There's nothing left. That's all that echoes through my mind, through my numb body, as Finnick and I make the journey back to District 4. My mother might physically only have lost one of her children, but emotionally, she's already lost us both. I look down at my hands as the train jolts. My knuckles are red and raw, and I know they'll bruise from where I beat at the wall until Finnick had to physically pull me away. I don't want to be this. I don't want to be broken. But I have never had a choice, and Leon's death only cut the final tie to sanity.
What am I meant to say to Mum? How am I meant to make it better? I can't help but feel that because Leon was my responsibility, somehow, his death is my fault. But what could I have done to stop it? I feel so frustratingly helpless and my hands curl into fists despite how it hurts my knuckles. The Capitol has done this to us. I wish I could find the strength to be angry, but all that finds me is the melancholy.
Finnick has tried his best to help me. But despite my feelings for him, even he can't understand the pain of losing a younger sibling. He holds me close and strokes my hair until I cry myself to sleep – or so he thinks. I barely sleep at all, mainly I lie there awake thinking about my sins and what I can do to redeem them. But no redemption is enough to bring Leon back from the dead, and that just makes me cry harder.
"El?" I look up as I hear the sound of Finnick's voice. He's being so painfully patient, as if I'm a small child. "We're nearly back in District 4. Come on. It's time to face the music."
I can't do this alone. Neither can I. That much has always been obvious. When the train starts to slow, I take Finnick's hand in mine and squeeze tightly. He glances down at our linked hands and smiles. We exit the train like that, united. There is no cheering on the platform, no happy residents come to see the new Victor. There is only a grim silence, the grief of the tributes' families…my family, or what's left of it. I clutch Finnick's hand even tighter as my eyes scan the crowd desperately for my mum.
"Elethea." She steps out, her voice hoarse and…she looks so different. She's only thirty-five, but she looks like she's aged ten years. I didn't know grief could take that kind of toll so quickly. I release Finnick's hand and fling my arms around her, holding her close as her tears seep through the fabric of my shirt. "My darling girl."
"No, Mum, I'm not." I choke the words out, trying desperately to suppress tears of my own. "I should have done something more…I should have protected him…"
Mum grips my shoulders, but although her eyes are watery, her tone is firm. "Don't you dare blame yourself. It's the Capitol that did this to both of you. They took you away and now they've killed Leon. It was never your fault."
I can't bring myself to object, even though I feel differently. Mum's been through enough, and I don't want to make things harder. All I can do is cling to her, and try to ignore the empty place in my heart where Leon once was.
"How is she going?" Rayne asks quietly when I walk back downstairs from settling Elethea down. She has nightmares so frequently that I've been spending more time in their house in the Victor's Village than my own. I think it helps Rayne as well as Elethea. I know it definitely helps me. Dealing with Elethea's screams during the night is nothing new, and I don't want to leave that to Rayne so soon after she's lost her son.
"She'll sleep, for now." I sit down and rake my hair back, smiling slightly when Rayne pushes a mug of coffee across the table to me. Elethea's mum has always taken a liking to me, for reasons that are beyond me. Aren't I broken? How would she feel if she knew I'd had sex with her daughter? Would she still treat me the same?
"It's frightening," Rayne murmurs, stirring sugar into her own coffee. "I feel like I'm an entire world away from her. All I want to do is help, but she responds to you so much better than she responds to me."
"A lot of bad things happened in the Capitol," I admit. There's a bitter taste in my mouth and I know it's not the coffee. "I think, because I'm in tune with how she feels, and I know what she's going through, it makes it easier to have me around. Don't worry, I'm sure in time she'll start to open up to you."
I look up from my coffee to realise that Rayne is watching me intently. There's so much hurt in those eyes, and I pity this poor woman. Her youngest child was needlessly slaughtered for sport. Her oldest, her only remaining child, still cries out in her sleep and has nightmares about her Games two years past…and the incidents that have occurred since then.
"What happened in the Capitol?" Rayne inquires softly. "Finnick, I…I know you're close with her. Something's different this time, I can tell…and I know it's not just Leon's death. Please, if you know anything…tell me."
I'm torn. I don't want to lie to Rayne or keep things from her, but at the same time…she doesn't really want to know the horrors Elethea has been through. It's her child. She wouldn't be able to stand it. I take a deep breath.
"I know what happened, but I don't think Elethea would want me to talk about it. I'm sorry. It's just…too raw, I guess."
"Please, Finnick." Rayne's voice becomes hoarse with unshed tears. "She's my little girl, she's all I have. I need to know what they've done to her."
"When we were in the Capitol…" I take a deep breath. Am I making a horrible mistake? No, I don't think so. Maybe it's time to stop hiding the truth and let it have its day. "Rayne, I'm so sorry. I didn't even know until afterwards, but…Elethea was raped."
Rayne lapses into an awful silence that's worse than screaming or tears. She stares at her hands for a long while, nodding as though she comprehends. When she looks back at me, there's no sadness in her eyes – only the incandescent rage of a parent whose child has been hurt, and who wants to know who is responsible.
"Which of those fucked-up bastards did this to my daughter? Why would that monster want to hurt her?"
"His name is Hyperion Dormer," I state, because there is nothing but loathing inside of me for what that man has done. "He was a former Gamemaker, and he did it for the same reason they host the Hunger Games: for fun."
It must be so sick, so horrible to hear that her sixteen-year-old daughter was raped for something like a man's amusement, but I can't lie to her. The truth is hard, but it's better than telling her a lie to ease her pain. The pain's always there. There's no point trying to kill it with sweet lies.
"I would kill him with my bare hands." Rayne's grip tightens around her coffee mug. "No one should ever go through something like that, especially not my baby girl. Were…were you there for her, after it happened?"
I remember then what the medic said: Elethea can't have children. But I spare Rayne that sickening blow, because it's not a lie. It's concealing the truth until she's better equipped to handle it. She will never look upon a baby with a proud grandmother's smile on her face. There's suddenly a lump in my throat, and my eyes sting with tears. It's not just Elethea and I in pain. This is hurting Rayne, too.
"Help her, Finnick," Rayne whispers, staring down at her empty coffee mug. "I don't care what it takes. Just…take her pain away."
I feel my bed sag under someone's weight, and I know that it's Finnick. It's the early hours of the morning, but I think he knows that I'm not asleep. I crack my eyes open, because curling up beneath the sheets and being alone doesn't do it anymore. I've had my time to mope, but it only makes me feel worse. I reach up and touch his arm, letting him know through the darkness that I'm awake.
"Hey. What are you doing up here?"
"Checking on you," Finnick's voice is heavy. "Your mum is really worried about you, El. You haven't been eating much, and when you sleep, you're always having nightmares."
I've got him to take care of me. I want to say that, but it seems somehow selfish, relying on him to banish my nightmares. Just him being here helps, oddly enough. But I want more than him sitting beside me keeping his distance. I'm sick of people staying away, like I'm contagious, like I'll infect them with my sadness. I yank him closer, pulling him onto the bed beside me and crawling out of the blankets.
"I'm okay, now that you're here."
"El, what are you doing?" Finnick asks almost suspiciously as I clamber on top of him. At first I just rest my head against his chest, listening to the steady sound of his heartbeat. But that's not enough. I need skin on skin. I need a reminder of what's real. I need pleasure, I crave it, and I know it's selfish, maybe it's wrong…but I can't help it.
"I want you." I whisper against his neck. I don't just mean sex. I want all of him. But if we're seen as romantically involved, the Capitol will use us against each other. I can't afford to lose him too. My hands fumble hurriedly, tugging up his shirt. He sits up, brushing me off him, and catches my wrist.
"Elethea, stop. Just…think about this for a moment."
I'm already lost, and I think he knows it too. We both want this. He might be too morally decent to want to do it while I'm in grief, but I'm sure I can convince him. I kiss him hard, wrapping my arms around him, and we roll around on the bed in a flurry of arms and legs and clothes. I'm half-laughing and half-crying, and I don't even understand it. Finnick kisses away my tears, and when I'm on my back and he looms over me, it just seems wrong. It seems terrifying.
So I flip us so he's beneath me and it seems better again. He raises his eyebrows, but quickly disregards any questions he might have when my lips on his chest make him groan and run his fingers through my dark hair. Maybe it's because of what happened with Hyperion, but I have to be on top. I have to be in control.
"You have to be quiet," Finnick whispers huskily, "Your mum's just in the next room."
"I know," I murmur in his ear, crawling on top of him. "Quiet, I can do."
I walk over to Elethea and place a hand on her shoulder as she and Rayne stand by the raging ocean. Today the winds are fierce and the water is choppy, as if the sea itself is protesting on behalf of Leon. Elethea's dark hair billows in the wind and she clutches the clear bottle tight in her hands. It's an old superstition that if you toss a bottle into the ocean with a message inside it, someone will eventually find it. Many in District 4 do it for the tributes lost to the Hunger Games, heart-wrenching messages swept out to sea and likely never to be found.
"Are you ready?" I ask, earning a nod from the dark-haired girl. She pads barefoot across the wet sand to the water, and it eagerly sloshes over her feet. It splashes over her and wets the hem of her dress, but Elethea doesn't care. Rayne lifts her chin and watches Elethea, and I see in her eyes that no matter how broken her daughter has become, she's proud of her.
Elethea hikes her skirt up above her knees with one hand and flings her other arm out, bottle in hand. She tilts her head back and lets the harsh sea breeze whip her dark hair about her, so she looks like some strange, fierce creature of the ocean. I fold my arms and watch her, watch as she wades deeper still. She can send the bottle out anytime she wants, but it's up to her how far out she goes. So long as Elethea doesn't try and drown herself, we aren't objecting.
She sets the bottle down on the surface of the water, pushing it slightly so that it floats out over the waves, bobbing out to see. Elethea stumbles back then, and I rush forward and catch her before she can fall. She clings to my arms but she's smiling, smiling as tears run down her face and I'm not sure if she's happy or sad or both. But Leon is at peace, and that's all that matters to her.
"Do you think someone will ever read it?" she asks.
"I'm not sure," I reply. I know that we need to cling to fantasy sometimes because reality is too hard. But Elethea can cling to me, because as long as we have each other, anything is possible.