Hey guys! We're almost at the end but until then Willow and the gang are still fighting strong! Thank you annieduncan17 and obeykatnisss for reviewing and enjoy!
I sit by the cooking fire, soaking in the wonderful smell of mint that fills the air. The two women cooking have smiles on their faces as they make the tea.
One by one people gravitate towards the magnificent aroma coming from the fire. My mint is appreciated. By the looks on everyone's faces the scent alone is giving them what I found in the woods, hope and sweet survival. By the time the women are pouring the tea into cups you can smell the happiness in the air as much as you can the mint.
Everyone takes some of the tea and we just sit, drinking the liquid joy. With each sip I can feel the woods' adrenaline coming back to me, filling me with that optimistic euphoria. Happiness isn't something easy to come by in the arena so I'm thrilled that I was able to give everyone something this wonderful.
Sitting with everyone drinking tea, I again think of my mother in the woods. I found the woods again and now I have warm tea and people I love. Yes, I'm not home yet but we'll get there. What matters now is that we are ok and happy.
We are finishing our tea when Finnick comes up to me and his serious expression is the opposite of my gleeful one.
"What is it?" I ask him, putting my cup down.
"Willow, we need to talk."
My smile is slowly falling. "What?"
"Are you ok?"
I almost laugh. "Yeah! That's what you look so serious?"
"Yeah, I just wanted to make sure because last time I thought you were ok you completely weren't."
"Oh, well, right now I'm ok. I'm only focusing on the present and right now, with this tea and people I love, I feel happy."
He smiles. "I'm so glad, Willow."
"How about you?" I ask him, wrapping my arm around his shoulder.
"Yeah, I think I am. I mean, I miss everyone but you're right, we are good. But we don't have time to really talk, it'll have to wait for later. Now we really need to start getting food for lunch."
"Oh, ok." The tea must be getting to me, I'm so relaxed that I forgot all about work and thought I'd get a full length conversation with Finnick in the middle of the day when there's so much to get done. "So you want me to gather some more plants?"
"Well, we could really use your help hunting." He says it fast, like it's all one word.
I slowly start to take deep breaths. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Then suddenly I stop. I need to do this for my squad. It's no question, we can't survive just on plants, we need meat. If I'm going to do this I can't release one more breath of air, I need to trap the happy adrenaline that is keeping me going. Finally, I answer Finnick. "Ok."
He gives me a giant hung. I smile, that wasn't what I was expecting. I guess he's happy that we now have someone who can hunt well. Yes, Finnick's skilled with the trident but that's not very helpful in the woods.
"Well, we both know I'm better at archery," I say smiling at the memory of that first night when I creamed him.
"Willow, that's not why I'm so happy!"
I'm confused. "Then why?"
He laughs. "Because just yesterday you said you want no one to ever hunt again and now you're willing to pick up a bow. Willow, you know what that means? You're able to keep going, not get stuck in the blockade, and that's why I'm happy."
I can feel how wide my smile is and I hug him tighter. Only Finnick can talk like that. I had thought about my fear to hunt but not of what it meant to me that I'd do it, only to my squad. Finnick made it so much more valuable.
"Do you want to go in a group or alone?" Finnick asks.
"By myself," I say and he nods. Generally hunting's better alone unless you're comfortable with your partner. Plus, at the moment I have no idea how I'm going to manage hunting so I don't want an audience. Some things you have to do alone.
My bow and arrows were moved to the weapons hut on the other side of the camp. Each step I take feels forced and slow, like I'm trying to walk through quicksand to a goal I'm not sure I want to reach. Maybe it would be better to stay here and sink because the alternative seems even more dreadful. It turns out that my stamina outweighs my fear because I do end up at the mouth of the weapons hut but it takes every bit of my will to just turn my head and peek inside.
Silver, leather, wood, gold, feathered, spiked, intricate, practical, jagged...
Every weapon that could ever show up in a nightmare is right here in front of me. My heart is beating so fast I'm shocked it's not a problem. The amount of harm this stash can do is immense. It would be able to not only kill large numbers of people but mutilate them beyond recognition. They must have emptied the entire cornucopia. I shudder at the idea of someone deciding to abandon hopes of rescue and finding this. Step by step I gradually pull myself into the hut.
The gleaming weapons jump out at me, springing up from each pile and out from every nook. Spears, knives, arrows, it all is spinning out of control. I close my eyes tight, trying to get it all to stop but it won't. In the blackness of my mind the weapons shine on. An arrow swerves towards me. I shriek and duck down to avoid a fatal blow but then it curves again. I relax but then I see its new target. The man I killed. "No!" I scream so loudly it rings in my ears and I'm sure it's heard across the whole camp but I'm frozen. My whole body won't move a muscle. The arrow hits him, directly in his heart, and he tumbles to the ground, blood spilling everywhere. "No!" I scream again, but it's too late. I fall down into his blood and it all goes black.
Someone is screaming for me far away.
"Willow! Wake up!"
I'm asleep? It feels bright out. Why would I be asleep in the day? And this doesn't feel like my bed. Where am I? It's actually kind of dark. Oh, my eyes are closed. I try to open them but they feel like they were glued shut.
"Willow! Come on! Wake up!"
The voice sounds closer now. And more desperate, I think the speaker is shaking me. It's not fair to them that I'm not waking up. After three tries I manage to rip my eyes open. I'm not in my room. I blink. I'm on the ground in the woods. I blink again. Piles of weapons swarm in front of me. I blink one last time and Finnick's scared face swarms in front of me and then it all comes into focus.
"Finnick," I say but it comes out in a hoarse whisper that sounds nothing like my own voice.
"Willow!" His smile is exuberant. "I'm so glad you're ok!"
"What happened, Finnick?" My voice still sounds wrong. I cough.
"Are you ok?"
"I don't know. I think so. I don't really remember what happened. Where are we?"
"Willow, we're in the arena..."
And then it hits me. The memorial. The sirens. Being a delegate. Hortensia keeping us captive. Hortensia throwing us in the arena. The man. The woods. The tea. The weapons. Then the arrow killing him all over again.
"Finnickkk..." I wail.
"Oh, Willow! What happened?"
That's all it takes for me to break all over again. Tears start streaming down my cheeks and I want to curl up again and never get up but Finnick doesn't let me. He pulls me into him and holds me in his arms.
"You're ok, you're safe," he says softly, rubbing his fingers soothingly through my hair.
"Finnick, I tried. I really did try."
"I know you did." He's still stroking my hair and it's calming but I'm still crying and my heart is racing.
"I went in and everything started spinning and weapons were flying everywhere and an arrow was going to hit me but then it swerved and killed the man all over again and I couldn't move." Now I'm crying harder and I can't catch my breath. The only thing I can hear over my heavy breathing is my heartbeat.
Finnick gaze doesn't waver as he makes shushing noises to go with the stroking and I try to loose myself in the sea green, mesmerizing orbs but it's no use. My breathing won't slow down. I think I'm going to pass out again. Finnick turns away and I'm completely gone. I just lost the last string holding me up. I manage to stutter something practically inaudible over my load breaths. He seems to have somehow heard me though, because he turns around and faces me again.
"Shh, shhh," he says while holds my head in his hands.
A girl comes up to him and hands him something. I can't tell what it is. I think my vision is going.
"Drink," Finnick says, passing me what's in his hands. I take it and it's warm. I think it's a mug. "Breathe, deep and slow."
I breathe and suddenly everything slows down and is clear, as if someone just flipped a switch. "Mint," I whisper, taking a slow, small sip of the soothing tea.
Finnick nods, "I know how much you love it".
I get out a small smile. "Isn't it magical, Finnick?"
"Sure," he says, giving a breathy laugh.
I take another tiny sip. "Really? It doesn't fill you with happiness, warmth, aynnd," I try to stifle my yawn, "and hope?"
This time Finnick smiles. "I guess so."
"See," I say blissfully, letting out another yawn. "Finnick, I think I should go to". But I can't finish my sentence, my eyes are too heavy to open and my mouth is too heavy to speak. Someone found it. Someone found my mentasom. That's my last thought before I fall unconscious.
When I open my eyes I am in another area. I stretch and turn around to see I'm lying on Kier's lap. I smile, reaching up to tousle his blond hair.
"Hey you," he says, smiling back, "wanna sit up?" But like all things Kier, he raises an eyebrow when he asks me, making it look like anything but a mindless request.
I do sit up and give him a soft kiss which makes his smile grow far wider. "Hey," I say, breaking away.
"You alright?" he says, his expression now serious.
"Yeah, why not?"
"Well, you were out for-"
"How long?!" I almost shout because suddenly I remember how I fell asleep.
"Hey, calm down, you didn't miss much. It was like three hours."
I sigh. It wasn't the mentasom, mentasom would knock you out for much longer.
"What got you so uptight there?" Kier asks, his bright eyes pooling with concern.
"Oh, nothing. I was just worried I'd missed a lot." His face relaxes so I know he believes me. Thank God I didn't say something about the mentasom.
"Okayyy," Kier says, rolling his eyes. He gives up though, and reaches down for his mug of tea. "You know, I'm so glad you found this stuff."
"Yeah, it's really relaxing"
He shakes his head and then takes a sip, staring off. "No, it's like liquidized happiness." His eyes are back on me now and the blues are mellower than I've ever seen them. "What do you think?"
I scoot closer to him and lean my head on his strong shoulder. I feel so calm and relaxed, like I actually am ok. That everything will be ok. "Uh huh, it's also kinda like hope," I reply, looking up to smile at him.
"Hope," he says, slowly tasting the word. His face is tightly crinkled, like he's deeply thinking and I just want to laugh. "I like it. It's been so long I think I forgot what hope is..."
I pick up my head, throwing my arms on his shoulders, and look straight into his crystal eyes. "How about I remind you?" I say deviously, closing the gap even further. His smile widens and that's the last thing I see before I close my eyes and remove the tiny bit of space left. He quickly kisses me back, and I feel his firm lips that I've only begun to memorize and I feel hope. We will have a future out of this arena; there will be a tomorrow and a day after that. And we'll have that together.
I don't want to let the kiss go, it's too good, but soon Kier pulls off. He has on one of his huge goofy smiles that have been absent almost as long as hope and my smile only grows.
"I think I remember what hope is," he says, running his fingers through my hair.
Hope. The taste, the feel, the warmth. The heat. It all demands to be there in a way it didn't before. Hope is definitely back. I may not be able to pick up my bow but right now with Kier and the tea it doesn't matter. The bow will come back but right now it doesn't have to because there's still more time.
"Mmhm" I say, still holding his face in my hands as I lightly caress his cheeks with my thumbs. He has a whole layer of golden scruff from days of not shaving but it's good, it almost makes him look older.
"Willow?" Kier's fingers go still in my hair, anticipating my answer.
"Yeah?" I say, taking his now limp hands out of my hair and interlocking them with mine.
"What's the first thing you're going to do when you get home?"
"Hmmm, hug my parents?"
He squeezes our intertwined hands. "What about after that?"
"Well, then I suppose I should see my aunts and uncle."
"And when do you suppose you should see me?"
"Hmmmm, I do not know..." I try to keep my face serious but I'm on the verge of laughing.
He sighs loudly. "Oh well, I guess this'll be all I get to know of my damsel in distress."
I can't help it. The memory of Kier's horribly stupid rescue attempt plays back in my mind and I laugh at his levity now just like I did then. It's refreshing to see him goof off again.
"Maybe I can make some time to see my valiant savior."
"Oh, so I am worthy of this fair damsel?"
I shake my finger, chastising him mockingly. "I said maybe!"
Now he's trying not to laugh. "Well, if your schedule is soo busy, perhaps we better wait until the summer?"
"Yeah, you know, the season after spring. The one that starts in a few weeks, the one without school."
I roll my eyes. "Ohhh, that summer!"
"Yep, that's the one! So, what do you say? You wanna come to 8 this summer?"
"Come to 8! Spend the summer with me!"
"Are you serious?"
"Yeah, why not?"
"I don't know. And you think your mom would be ok with it?"
"Ok then, that'll be fun!"
He smiles at me so warmly, like he thought I'd say no so I kiss him again. It a short kiss but just as the previous one was filled with hope this one is full of love and commitment. Through my kiss I tell him this thing we started isn't just because of the thirst for compassion in the tension of the capture and the arena. It's true. And it'll still be true after we get out of here and are safely in our own beds.
We separate and I give him a warm smile that seals the sentiment. Kier pulls me into his arms and summer feels closer than ever. I hear a bird whistle a single note and I'm reaching for his hair but then I can't find it.
The world suddenly goes black and silent. You could have heard all the birds if a single one still sung. My heart is pumping so fast I swear it's going to burst and, being next to Kier, I can feel his heart racing just as much as mine. His nerves make me squeeze him tighter. Is Hortensia killing us all? Or making us all freak out enough to kill each other? Is this what it would feel like if the world would end? My heart won't slow down.
The silence breaks just as suddenly as it came and then all I can hear is the pattering of raindrops the size of mice. Except, it's not raining, I am just as dry as before. The mice rain stops and a sizzling takes its place. The smell of burning foliage surrounds us and it all seems much closer than the rain. I clutch Kier so tight I'm sure it's cutting off his circulation but then the light comes back.
"Look!" I say, still squeezing Kier but pointing at the now brightened sky. "There's a hovercraft!"
The ship is just disappearing, leaving behind a great gust of wind from its powerful engines full of smoke. Smoke. The fire.
"Kier! Where's the fire!" I scream franticly. Then I hear the sizzling again. And it's right behind us. Kier and I jump up simultaneously and spin around. Behind us is a perfectly shaped ring of fire.
"What the hell!" Kier shouts loudly even though I don't see anyone else around. But that doesn't last. Everyone in the camp seems to be slowly making their way to the ring of fire.
When I finally get to the edge I see that it's not just a deadly design. Inside the circle is dozens of roses. Perfect, deep, dark, red roses. The same way the threat was left in the Training Center. This is no fiery display, this is a message. A threat from Hortensia.
The world turns dark again. Even though I know it's a hovercraft it still terrifies me so I squeeze Kier's hand. A tiny mouse droplet falls and I wonder if it's another rose. But if it is why wouldn't it have come with the others?
This time when the light comes back I don't bother looking at the sky. I look at the roses.
Dead center there is a neatly rolled scroll. I was right. I shriek but I don't hear one decibel of sound. All nine of us are standing rooted around the fire. It's like time is frozen, no one dares to move a muscle.
Finally, Finnick cautiously steps over the fire and into the circle. My heart is pounding and I think my throat closed. He's going to die. He's going to die. Finnick leans over to pick up the scroll and I can see the sweat beaded up on the back of his neck. I can't breathe. He reads the scroll and his complexion quickly goes pale as a white sheet, a strong contrast form the rosy glow the flames gave it seconds ago.
He's going to pass out. "Finnick!" I shout out but suddenly his color rushes back.
"If everyone could please get some water so we can put out these flames that would be great," Finnick says calmly and begins to toss roses into the fire.
I decide to help Finnick with the roses instead of getting water so I can make sure he's ok, but as we toss the roses in he looks fine. As they all burn up and I'm reminded of the burning mentasom, both the roses and my leaves are beautiful in nature but, in the wrong hands, are quite deadly.
Soon, all the roses are ash and the flames are gone. All that's left is the scroll, clenched tightly in Finnick's hand.
"Thank you all for helping. I think the best course of action is for everyone to go back to work except Willow, Kier, Alexa, and Persimmon," Finnick says and the four of us follow him into the meeting hut.
When we are all settled on the mats, Finnick shows us the scroll. The writing is straight and hard, almost too perfect to have been written in ink. But it was written in ink. The same blood red ink of the original message.
I then go on to read the words and I notice that although the writing is perfect there are slight smudges from the sweaty, nervous palms of the one who held it.
It reads: "Hortensia requests a meeting with Willow in two hours' time." I almost laugh. The fiery show was for this? What happened to the simple knock on the door? There was no need for all the dramatics before every one of our little chitchats back in the mansion. I'm ready to get back to work and forget all of this until two hours from now but then I look at the scroll again, at those smudged patches. Finnick was nervous over this.
I look up at the others and see an expression on each them that is just as clammy as Finnick's palms.
"Why are you all so freaked out?" I ask.
Persimmon answers. "Because Hortensia has asked to meet with you!"
"But that's normal! Back in the mansion it was abnormal if I meet with her only once in a day! I'm used to dealing with her and nothing bad has ever come from it, if anything our meetings were good!"
Persimmon and Alexa look at Finnick and he nods. "But Willow," Finnick says, "this is different. Before we were captives, now we're in the arena. We have no clue what she's playing at."
"Finnick! It's exactly the same! She will probably tell me what's going on at the Training Center or what's next in her master plan. Honestly, I think she likes talking to me because she's lonely but who cares, we get valuable information with no repercussions!"
"I think I have to agree with Willow," Kier says winking at me, "how bad could it be? And if Willow doesn't come, what do you think Hortensia will do then?"
I smile at him but one person on my side doesn't end this argument. It goes back and forth for so long that by the time there is a unanimous decision to send me the two hours are already up.
This time when the hovercraft blocks the sun it turns a light on under its bottom so we can still see. As a ladder descends from the belly of the ship I hug Finnick tightly and then kiss Kier for as long as I can afford.
Some part of me registers that this could be the last time I see them but mostly all I can think is this could be the last time I see them in the arena. So, when I step onto the ladder, my feet frozen in place by the current, and turn back to wave goodbye, I call out "Maybe we'll go home today."
Thanks for reading, I hope you liked it! With the end coming closer I'd love to hear your suggestions for the ending so I can try to incorporate them all. If you get a chance, please leave a review with any thoughts you've got! Thanks again and have a great weekend!