Somewhere Only We Know
"I came across a fallen tree, I felt the branches of it looking at me. Is this the place we used to love?"
Avanna's eyes opened slowly and unwillingly. Her body felt like it didn't belong to her. A dull ache seemed to be running through her veins, and moving didn't seem like a possibility. She let out a pained moan as she blinked a few times. She didn't remember the cottage being this bright. Then again, she was dying, perhaps all bright things seemed unbearable when you were about to slip away. Beside her, a slim figure appeared to be sitting on her bedside. She squinted at them, confused.
Did Rubin come back? He said he was leaving. She was never going to see him again.
"Avanna? Avanna honey, are you awake?"
It was a woman's voice, not Rubin's. It seemed familiar too, but she couldn't place it. Maybe she was already dead. It would make sense, she supposed. After all, she didn't seem to be coughing anymore. Blinking a few times, she waited for her vision to clear. Slowly, the details started to distinguish themselves. She could make out the woman's gentle curling hair, exhausted smile, weary eyes. Her heart stopped. Cecelia?
"What are you doing here?" Avanna asked weakly, her own voice surprising her. Her mentor's expression softened slightly as the woman looked at her.
"You won, you won the Hunger Games," she said simply.
Avanna shook her head. "No, Rubin was going to win," she said. Her tongue felt thick, her soul heavy.
"Rubin died in the final battle. Ranger and him, they killed each other. The Gamemakers picked you for victor," Cecelia explained softly.
Avanna's gut twisted painfully. "No, that's impossible," she said, feeling panic gripping her. "He was going to live. He was going to win for Kan and me. I'm not supposed to be alive anymore." She felt her body force itself into the sitting position. The sudden movement made her head start spinning. Looking to her arm, she saw an IV tube was pressed into the soft inside of her elbow. Without even thinking, she ripped it out.
"Avanna, you need to calm down," Cecelia warned. It was the look of complete and utter grief on her face that stopped her. It occurred to her that she never really got a chance to know her mentor in that week in the Capitol. At that point in time, everything was just about her and how she would survive. She had never seen the pain that was eternalized in Cecelia's eyes. But she saw it now. She wasn't quite sure how she had missed it in the first place.
Inside, she could feel another piece of her break.
Cecelia wasn't happy that she had won. No, she looked sorry for her, actually. Sorry because she knew the pain Avanna was going to have to live with, because she knew that this life wasn't worth living. Slowly, Avanna leaned back in her bed.
"You're not lying," she whispered, a tear rolling down her cheek. "Rubin's really dead... They're all dead."
Avanna could feel her shoulders beginning to shake. Who was she to deserve this? Every single one of the other tributes wanted life more than her. She hadn't even fought in the finale. No, she had been decaying in the village as sickness slowly drained her life from her. Rubin's face floated through her head, that final pained smile they shared. She thought that she had been crushed beyond repair once Kan had died, but she was wrong. Rubin's end was the final nail in her proverbial coffin. She knew she would never be the same now. Not that she was repairable when he was alive. His death had simply completed things. Now, she didn't even have the solace that one of them was still okay.
The two Victors from Eight sat in silence for an eternity as Avanna let the news settle like a noose around her neck. The arena surrounded her again, and she could feel herself reliving it all internally, every moment of hope, every defeat, every death, every kill. Suddenly, she couldn't breath as the guilt burst from within. Thoughts of Rubin and Kan and Zea and Rowan all disappeared. And Dice's face replaced them.
"Dice," she said the name aloud, her eyes widening with the realization. Maybe she did deserve to win after all. Now she would truly receive the retribution of her actions. "Have... have you... do you know what they think? People at home... They're going to hate me."
"Hate probably isn't a strong enough word," a voice came from the doorway. Avanna felt herself sinking back against the bed as Lea Paylor walked into the room, a cynical smirk on her face as she walked over to join them. She was Dice's mentor, and while she didn't think Dice had been close with her, she didn't think it mattered much. Paylor probably hated her too.
"Lea," Cecelia hissed, shooting the other woman a warning look.
"I'm sorry," Avanna squeaked feeling incredibly small.
"Don't apologize to me," Paylor said, ignoring Cecilia entirely. "Because I'm one of the few people who probably understand that you had no other choice. If it makes you feel any better, the Capitol adores you for it. It's not going to be a burden until you get home."
"Can't this wait?" Cecelia asked, glaring at Paylor. "She needs more time."
"Well, she's got all the time in the world now, and that's not going to make anything better. You know that just as well as the rest of us Cecelia. She's got to toughen up if she thinks she is going to make it," Paylor said, rolling her eyes.
"Did you talk to Woof yet or not," Cecelia asked.
"Yes, he was in his house pretending not to know what I was talking about though. Apparently he wasn't even aware that we had another victor, let alone how everyone was reacting to her. That old fart's the worst liar I've ever met. He just wants to make you sweat about this," Paylor answered, with a smirk.
"Um, when will I be going home?" Avanna asked quietly.
The two women looked down at her, as if just remembering she was there. Honestly, she wasn't even sure if she wanted to go home anymore. She didn't want to know what her family and friends thought about all of this. They probably hated her, all of them. There was really only one rule that every tribute had to abide by in the Games, and that was not to kill your District partner. Careers could get away with breaking this occasionally, but never outer District tributes. She was more than just a killer now.
"The recap interview has been scheduled for tonight. I think they'll let you leave tomorrow," Cecelia answered her.
"They've got dinner ready for us downstairs, if you're in the mood. They've been feeding you through that tube for days now while they flushed the sickness out of your system. Something solid might do you some good," Paylor offered.
Avanna shook her head though. She didn't have an appetite. She probably never would again. "No, that's okay. I'm not hungry," she said quietly.
"Suit yourself," Paylor shrugged before making her exit.
Cecelia sighed. "Sorry about Lea. She's happy for you, if it makes a different. She just has a funny way of showing it. You'll get used to it eventually."
"Oh, okay," Avanna shrugged. "You can go eat if you want to. I think I want some time alone, if that's okay."
"If that's what you think you need," Cecilia said, looking unsure of herself. She sent Avanna one last worried glance before walking out of the door, leaving her in silence.
Avanna put her head back on her pillow as the emptiness of the room infiltrated her being. It was now more than ever that she could feel their absence. Every time she blinked, she was expecting to open her eyes and find Zea smiling at her from the corner or Rubin bringing her a cup of water. The world didn't seem right without Kan's gentle laughter in it. She had only known these people for about three weeks, but now, she couldn't swallow the world without them.
She closed her eyes, ready for sleep to take her. She didn't dare think about the future, about the recaps that were looming on the horizon. She knew that the minute she dared start worrying about them, she'd never stop.
"There, you look gorgeous," her stylist cooed as she finished doing her make-up. Avanna glanced at her reflection emptily in the mirror. She didn't really look that pretty. It was more like she just didn't look like a starving skeleton anymore. They had put some padding in her dress to make it look like she was healthier than she was, and the make-up hid some of the angular curvature of her face. She even looked like she had some color back in her cheeks. But that was the extent of it.
She knew what beauty looked like, or at least, she once did. Before the Games and the Capitol and the reaping, beauty was all that she thought about, but she was sure right now, that "gorgeous" wasn't the right description to label her with. There was a certain happy twinkle that went with that word- gorgeous. She no longer possessed it.
"Are you ready?" Cecelia asked, her eyebrows creased.
"No," Avanna whispered, letting the fear leak into her voice. She had spent all afternoon bracing herself for this moment. Brick by brick, she had tried to build her sanity back to some level of stability. Right now, she knew that it would only take a small push to send it all tumbling down, and by no means could the recap be considered small. No, it was more like a horrible earthquake coming to worsen all of her wounds. She had never seen Kan's body, though she had been told he died only feet away from her. And of course, she was going to watch Rubin die now, for the entertainment of her audience. it was all she could do not to break down before it all even started.
"Just try and get through it. You'll have six months to recover after tonight," Cecelia sighed. The woman was trying so hard to make this burden easier on her, and Avanna appreciated it in some distant way. She knew there was nothing that she could do though.
Through the thin wall of her dressing room, she could hear the audience begin to roar. Paylor stuck her head through the door, looking pissed at no one in particular. Cecelia raised an eyebrow inquisitively. Avanna was getting used to their dynamic, sort of. She got the sense that they were very close, as Paylor had been Cecelia's mentor six years ago. That was why Paylor was bothering with Avanna's recovery. It was for Cecelia's sake. "They're ready for her," Paylor said. She turned, about to leave.
"Wait Paylor. Is something wrong?" Avanna asked, feeling panicked.
"First off, you're a Victor now, not some random citizen from Eight. Call me Lea, like we're equals. And second nothing's wrong, I just got a sneak preview of the recap from a friend that's all," she snapped. Avanna swallowed thickly. Paylor rolled her eyes. "Oh relax, it wasn't the recap that was bad, it was the friend. You'll get through it."
"Somehow," Avanna muttered. Cecelia led her wordlessly over to the backstage area, and squeezed her hand gently. She couldn't put this off any longer.
Stepping out onto the stage, Avanna squinted as the audience cheered. Flower petals fell from the ceiling as she walked shakily over to Caesar who was smiling at her from center stage. He was clapping as well as he watched her approach, and when she reached him, he bowed dramatically. She felt her cheeks turn red involuntarily, as the audience laughed at his... regal gesture.
"Ladies and Gentleman, your victor," Caesar yelled. The audience got louder, if it was possible, and Avanna spotted a screen in the back of the room, showing a picture of her looking overwhelmed. After several minutes, the Capitol finally managed to calm down, and Caesar guided her to her seat.
"So Avanna, how are you feeling? I know that you had us all worried at the end there because of your illness. Did the doctors do their job well?" Caesar asked.
"Yeah, I guess so. I'm a little sore, but I'm not coughing anymore," Avanna said dully.
"Well that's good to hear. What was it like when they told you that you were Victor? I know that most of us had made the mistake of counting you out after Rubin left you in the cottage. It must have been such a good feeling waking up back in the Capitol," Caesar went on.
Not really, Avanna thought. Waking up had perhaps been the very worst form of torture that she'd received yet.
"I-... It was hard. I am happy that I'm going to get to see my family again because I miss them. A lot. But, waking up also meant that Rubin had died," she didn't need to explain any further. The audience all let out a hushed adoring noise, as they ogled at her pain. She swallowed, pushing the tears back for at least another moment. She couldn't break in front of them yet.
"See that's what I love about you. I've gotten to meet a lot of Victors, but not many of them have your heart," Caesar said. The audience cheered in agreement. "But of course, just because you're nice, doesn't mean you're not strong right? Two kills in the arena, and they weren't little ones at that! You beat you're District partner Dice Bromton who had a score of seven! And of course Auden too! We were all impressed."
"He killed Zea, what was I supposed to do? A-and she knew where we were. I had to" Avanna muttered back, feeling the color drain from her face. Guilt welled up inside of her as she then thought of them. She should never have fought back after Zea had fallen. Dust and Dice would have killed her in that fight if she had let them. She should have let them.
"Well of course you had to! And believe me, we were all very happy you did," Caesar assured her. Somehow, his words only made her feel more sick. "Why don't we transition right into the recap now folks?" Caesar moved on, thankfully taking the focus away from Avanna, if only slightly.
The screen that had been showing her face earlier suddenly got bigger, as the tittle "The 66th Hunger Games" appeared on it, written in black cursive letters. Avanna swallowed as it transitioned into the reapings. It wasn't anything too earth shattering at first. It flashed between each reaping, showing only District Eight's in entirety before moving onto the chariot rides. Avanna could feel her pulse spike as it zeroed in on her and Dice. He was leaning away from her, a sour look on his face. She looked timid and rejected as she glanced nervously at him. She remembered the dejection that she had felt when he had ignored her. If only she could have known, she would have stayed further away.
During the interviews, they skipped quickly over Porcelain's before giving Rubin, Alexis, District Seven, District Eight, and Ranger a lot of face time. Avanna felt her heart squeeze as Kan's voice drifted through the air. It was like he was here with her again. She could feel tears start prying at her eyes as he joked with Caesar. I'd rather just not get injured in the first place, he had said. He hadn't known then that he would lose his arm, that he would suffer so much before he died. Avanna missed him dearly.
She swallowed as the Games began, throwing her back into the arena unwillingly. The count down began and she could feel the tension building. The only question now was how long she would be able to hold it together before she showed the world just how badly the Games had destroyed her.
For a while she held strong. Rowan died and she was able to keep her reaction to a minimum, only wincing as Porcelain slit her throat. Then Dice killed Zea and she killed Dice, and her hands began to shake. Still she held in the worst of it. Even as Kan's tortured screams echoed around the room as Rubin burned his arm shut, she managed to hold herself together.
Then Kan died. She watched with horror as Alexis moved into their house and raised her axe high. Avanna let out a small cry as it came down, killing Kan instantly. Outside, Rubin leapt to his feet at the sound of the cannon, rushing in. She had been right there, just a few feet away. It could have just as easily been her. Salty tears began to trickle down her face as she tried futilely to keep them in.
On the screen she was making the decision that brought her here- the one where she told Rubin not to kill her. If she could have foreseen what it would have led to this, maybe she would have made another decision.
Finally, it moved on. All that was left was the last battle, the one that she was least prepared for. Avanna watched as Rubin and Ranger struggled, each one having their moments of strength and weakness. It wasn't until Rubin's heart got the better of him that he truly lost though. The minute he let go of her ankle to go for the sword, he was doomed. Avanna felt herself shrinking as he lied on the ground his heart beat slowing. He looked so happy. So happy that she was going to win. Then he said those last words: "Guess she's going to be the one to tell everyone how brave I was"
She couldn't take it anymore. He should be the one sitting here not her. She was supposed to be in a better place with Kan, Zea, and Rowan.
The audience began to clap as the recaps came to a close, but she was done. She couldn't stay on that stage any longer.
"Wow what a-" Ceasar was saying as she rose to her feet. "Avanna?"
"I- I have to go," Avanna stuttered out. And before he could stop her, or one of the guards could force her to stay, she sprinted away from the audience, away from her pain, away from everything.
"It could have been worse," Lea said as she leaned back in the train car chair. Avanna didn't respond. She hadn't said anything since her interview, and the others were starting to worry. It had gotten to the point that even the Capitol just wanted her out of their hair. Apparently there was supposed to be a breakfast this morning that she was supposed to go to. They postponed it though out of concern for her "mental health." They were due to arrive in District Eight now any minute. Avanna's stomach was in knots.
"Yeah, I think Rollag didn't say three words during his recap interview," Cecelia nodded quickly.
"That's nothing. Sparky Nuetro puked," Lea grinned, looking slightly too pleased about this tidbit if information. "We can't all be Finnick Odair and woo the Capitol with just our winning smiles."
"Do you think it's going to be bad, when we get home?" Avanna asked quietly.
"Is that what's bothering you? Not the interview?" Cecelia asked, a worried crease forming between her eyebrows. Avanna nodded sheepishly.
"Well, there is no way to tell honestly. There is going to be a mixed reaction about it. People liked Dice because he hit a peacekeeper during the reapings, and obviously, there is going to be those who are spiteful about what you did. Sometimes people just need somebody to hate, and right now you'll be an easy target. But at the same time, the bottem line is that he did kill your ally, and more importantly, it means that instead of normal tesserae, they'll be getting real food from the Capitol once a month. For most, that will be enough to forgive you for," Lea said, her face growing serious.
"What's really important here is that President Snow is happy with how you won. Trust me pleasing the Capitol is more important than making everyone at home happy," Cecelia added softly. Avanna could see the grief on her face again, and it seemed to amplify her own. She didn't want to leave this train, ever.
They arrived in District Eight too soon. Avanna could feel her entire body shaking as panic took over. She felt like she was back on the interview stage, only this time there was nowhere to run. Cecelia put her hand on Avanna's shoulder and lead her to the exit. Avanna stopped just before reaching the door.
"I can't do this," she whispered desperately as she heard the noise coming from outside.
"Just think of your family Avanna. They want to see you. It'll be over soon," Cecelia whispered. Lea moved to flank her on her right, winking at her as she pulled open the door.
The crowd was overwhelming. The platform was caked with people, smeared all over the place, holding signs and screaming her name. A path was open for her to walk down, leading to the town square. Huge overjoyed smiles were all over the place. Every so often, she would see a face that she recognized, from her parent's store, school, around town, or otherwise, and their excitement would grow when she made eye contact. For a minute, Avanna couldn't even force herself to move off the train. She had thought they'd all be mad at her, furious actually. She had anticipated a mob.
"Raise your hand and wave before they get bored of you," Lea whispered in her ear, her voice sounding happy. Avanna glanced over at her companions, finding that both of them were smiling and nodding at people. They were saving most of the attention for her though. This was her day.
Slowly, Avanna raised her hand and moved it through the air. The noise around her got impossibly louder. Feeling her confidence gaining, she took a step off the train and onto the platform and began to move through the marked off walkway. She couldn't take her eyes off the faces. The adults looked proud of her. The kid's idolized her. She couldn't believe it.
The victor turned towards the voice instinctively, feeling the tears well in her eyes. She saw her father first, standing beside the head peacekeeper with an impatient expression on his face. Avanna burst away from Cecelia and Lea in an instant, sprinting towards him. His face contorted as he saw her running. Throwing herself into his chest, she let the tears flow uncontrollably as his strong arms embraced her. There weren't words to describe how good it felt to see him again, how badly she needed to hear his voice.
More arms encircled her even before her father had released her, and she knew it must be her mom and sister. For what felt like an eternity they stood there, embracing each other. For a minute, the rest of the District disappeared and she was there alone with her parents and her sister, releasing everything, and passing out her burden. Everything she had seen, all the pain that she'd experienced felt bearable the minute she saw them. She felt foolish that she'd ever thought they'd hate her for what she'd done. Because of course that wasn't possible.
A little tug on the bottom of the dress she was wearing brought her back to reality. She looked down to see her little brother, Merik staring at her with accusing eyes. For a minute, Avanna felt her heart stop. Gingerly, she lowered herself to eye level with him. "Hey," she said shakily.
His lower lip stuck out in a pout, making his green eyes pop out on his face. "My friends said you were going to die," he said, his voice sounding uneven. He looked mad at her for it too. She remembered her good byes. Her parents had brought Merik along, but he really didn't understand what was happening.
"I- I guess they were wrong," Avanna said back, wiping her cheeks. Merik's pout softened as he threw himself at her. She staggered back, her muscles protesting the sudden weight- she hadn't fully recovered from the arena yet.
"Merik, want to walk to our new house with Avanna?" Emilie, Avanna's sister, asked from above.
"Avanna's going to carry me," he responded definitively.
"Merik," her father's warning voice cut in.
Avanna smiled though, feeling a small taste of happiness for the first time in a long time. With a strong heave, she managed to bring herself to her feet while bearing Merik's weight as well. "That's okay, I can do this," Avanna said. She had carried worse loads before. Then Lea and Cecelia were there again, walking with her family and her as they moved through the platform and onto the street.
She paused again, gazing out at the even larger mass of people who had gathered out here. "There've been gathering here for the past three days. Ever since you won, the Games all anyone can talk about," Emilie whispered in Avanna's ear.
"Where's Lacey and Melton?" Avanna asked her, searching the streets for her two best friends.
"They didn't want to crowd you. They're going to be at the house though, don't worry," Emilie responded.
She stepped down into the street, the smile coming easier for her now. Merik was occupying her arms, but he waved for her, enjoying the attention immensely. She glanced over her shoulder, checking to see that Cecelia and Lea were still following them. They were. Cecelia was beaming as Avanna walked, and Lea looked happy enough. Avanna sniffled, finding that she was crying yet again. Only this time, they were tears of joy. It was a nice change.
Suddenly, just ahead of her in the street, a woman darted out from behind the peacekeeper marked lines, and started to sprint towards her. She tripped on the cobblestones before she reached them, skidding against the ground. Avanna paused, confused. The woman looked unbelievably frail. Her hair grey- blonde hair sat in a matted frizzy mess on top of her head. Her limbs looked withered and her skin was a pasty wrinkled white. Slowly she collected herself and rose to her feet before she pointed a knobby finger straight at Avanna.
"You killed my son," she wailed, silencing the entire District with only four words. "He was doing so well, but you killed him. You murderer." That was all it took for Avanna's slowly repairing world to shatter one last time. Avanna stared at the woman, terrified and incredibly guilty. She understood it then. The people around her weren't all cheering. Some of them had cared for Dice, some of them hated her for what she did. As much as she wanted to pretend otherwise, this was just a show for her: a robotic act that people went through just because Avanna's victory was going to feed them for a year.
The food that she won wasn't going to bring Dice back though. It wasn't going to return this woman's son to her.
"Mom," another boy yelled as he too sprinted out from the crowd. "Mom, you can't do this, come on." Avanna didn't have to be told that this boy was Dice's brother. He had a different hair color, and a slightly different build, but Dice was there, in his nose and lips. For only a moment, he made eye-contact with Avanna. She couldn't tell whether he was mad at her or not. All that she could see was the massive well of grief that was pooling up in his soul.
When she looked back over at her family, they didn't look as sweet. All she could see was the happiness that she had taken from the twenty three other sets of parents and siblings and friends. Her father's hand settled protectively on her shoulder as he ushered her forward. "Come on," he said, sounding angry. She listlissly obeyed, and after a few moments, the crowd began cheering again, though this time, she could sense their reservation.
The magic of the moment had dissolved, and all that was left, and all that would ever be left, was reality.
Avanna stared at the blank canvas, feeling completely and utterly empty. When she had gotten back to the house, she'd found her two friends, Melton and Lacey waiting for her with smiling faces. She didn't have the heart to smile back though. There had been a shift in their dynamic. Melton had asked Lacey out after Avanna had been reaped, and the two were dating now. She was happy for them, of course- their relationship was long overdue-, but she felt that her time in their lives was maybe coming to an end. Being around them just made her think of Kan, Rowan, Zea, and Rubin, and all the happy memories they didn't get to share.
They had left just about a half-hour ago, the two of them.
After a dinner of failed conversations that ultimately ended with her Lea Paylor telling some long story about something stupid, just to fill the void, they had decided that maybe they should try back again tomorrow to see if things might be better. Avanna knew that things wouldn't improve though.
It was Emile who had recommended that she come up to this room and try some painting. In the past, art had been her outlet. Whenever she needed some sort of emotional release, she'd go get her paintbrush or her sketchbook, and everything would come out. She was staring at a blank canvas now, trying to remember what it felt like to be inspired.
Shakily she plunged the brush into one of the happier colors on her easel- yellow- before smearing it onto her picture. Taking a step back, she stared at it feeling wrong. She used to think that the first stroke was the best part of a painting. It was at this point that the possibilities were endless. Staring at the yellow now though, all she saw was a stain. Her heart sank as she let the brush clatter to the ground, and threw the canvas from its stand.
She knew she'd never pick up another pencil. The Games had taken her spark from her and without it she was nothing. Sinking to the floor, she ran her fingers through her hair, curling herself into a tight ball of misery and sorrow. A frustrated sob moved through her frame as she let the anguish flow from her. This would be her art now. She would smother the entire world with her tears.
There used to be a light dangling somewhere on the horizon, lazy and inviting. But it had disappeared now. Perhaps it was never even there.
Somewhere Only We Know by Keane
I think I got a little carried away with this chapter. Its pushing 6000 words, but oh well. I loved writing all the inter victor dynamics into this. Its something I couldnt do in FtD because I didnt know all the Victors yet. And of course Avanna. We'll get the one year check up on her in the prologue for Forever Bound, so expect on seeing more from her.
So before I check out here, I want to say thanks to all my reviewers. This story hit 400 reviews yesterday and that meant the world to me and more. I really appreciate all the feedback I've gotten. Its more than I could ever ask for really.
And for all those who are planning on submitting to Forever Bound. I will be posting the prologue this Saturday and at that point you'll have a week to get your character in. So get excited :)
So yeah. The end.