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The implications of what Gale is suggesting settle quietly around the room. You can see the reaction
playing out on people's faces. The expressions range from pleasure to distress, from sorrow to satisfaction.
"The majority of the workers are citizens from Two," says Beetee neutrally.
"So what?" says Gale. "We'll never be able to trust them again."
"They should at least have a chance to surrender," says Lyme.
"Well, that's a luxury we weren't given when they fire-bombed Twelve, but you're all so much cozier with the
Capitol here," says Gale. By the look on Lyme's face, I think she might shoot him, or at least take a swing. She'd
probably have the upper hand, too, with all her training. But her anger only seems to infuriate him and he yells,
"We watched children burn to death and there was nothing we could do!"
I have to close my eyes a minute, as the image rips through me. It has the desired effect. I want everyone in
that mountain dead. Am about to say so. But then...I'm also a girl from District 12. Not President Snow. I can't
help it. I can't condemn someone to the death he's suggesting. "Gale," I say, taking his arm and trying to speak in
a reasonable tone. "The Nut's an old mine. It'd be like causing a massive coal mining accident." Surely the
words are enough to make anyone from 12 think twice about the plan.
"But not so quick as the one that killed our fathers," he retorts. "Is that everyone's problem? That our
enemies might have a few hours to reflect on the fact that they're dying, instead of just being blown to bits?"
Back in the old days, when we were nothing more than a couple of kids hunting outside of 12, Gale said
things like this and worse. But then they were just words. Here, put into practice, they become deeds that can
never be reversed.
"You don't know how those District Two people ended up in the Nut," I say. "They may have been coerced.
They may be held against their will. Some are our own spies. Will you kill them, too?"
"I would sacrifice a few, yes, to take out the rest of them," he replies. "And if I were a spy in there, I'd say,
'Bring on the avalanches!'"
I know he's telling the truth. That Gale would sacrifice his life in this way for the cause--no one doubts it.
Perhaps we'd all do the same if we were the spies and given the choice. I guess I would. But it's a coldhearted
decision to make for other people and those who love them.
"You said we had two choices," Boggs tells him. "To trap them or to flush them out. I say we try to avalanche
the mountain but leave the train tunnel alone. People can escape into the square, where we'll be waiting for
Heavily armed, I hope," says Gale. "You can be sure they'll be."
"Heavily armed. We'll take them prisoner," agrees Boggs.
"Let's bring Thirteen into the loop now," Beetee suggests. "Let President Coin weigh in."
"She'll want to block the tunnel," says Gale with conviction.
"Yes, most likely. But you know, Peeta did have a point in his propos. About the dangers of killing ourselves
off. I've been playing with some numbers. Factoring in the casualties and the wounded and...I think it's at least
worth a conversation," says Beetee.
Only a handful of people are invited to be part of that conversation. Gale and I are released with the rest. I
take him hunting so he can blow off some steam, but he's not talking about it. Probably too angry with me for
The call does happen, a decision is made, and by evening I'm suited up in my Mockingjay outfit, with my
bow slung over my shoulder and an earpiece that connects me to Haymitch in 13--just in case a good
opportunity for a propo arises. We wait on the roof of the Justice Building with a clear view of our target.
Our hoverplanes are initially ignored by the commanders in the Nut, because in the past they've been little
more trouble than flies buzzing around a honeypot. But after two rounds of bombings in the higher elevations of
the mountain, the planes have their attention. By the time the Capitol's antiaircraft weapons begin to fire, it's
already too late.
Gale's plan exceeds anyone's expectations. Beetee was right about being unable to control the avalanches
once they'd been set in motion. The mountainsides are naturally unstable, but weakened by the explosions, they
once they'd been set in motion. The mountainsides are naturally unstable, but weakened by the explosions, they
seem almost fluid. Whole sections of the Nut collapse before our eyes, obliterating any sign that human beings
have ever set foot on the place. We stand speechless, tiny and insignificant, as waves of stone thunder down the
mountain. Burying the entrances under tons of rock. Raising a cloud of dirt and debris that blackens the sky.
Turning the Nut into a tomb.
I imagine the hell inside the mountain. Sirens wailing. Lights flickering into darkness. Stone dust choking
the air. The shrieks of panicked, trapped beings stumbling madly for a way out, only to find the entrances, the
launchpad, the ventilation shafts themselves clogged with earth and rock trying to force its way in. Live wires
flung free, fires breaking out, rubble making a familiar path a maze. People slamming, shoving, scrambling like
ants as the hill presses in, threatening to crush their fragile shells.
"Katniss?" Haymitch's voice is in my earpiece. I try to answer back and find both of my hands are clamped
tightly over my mouth. "Katniss!"
On the day my father died, the sirens went off during my school lunch. No one waited for dismissal, or was
expected to. The response to a mine accident was something outside the control of even the Capitol. I ran to
Prim's class. I still remember her, tiny at seven, very pale, but sitting straight up with her hands folded on her
desk. Waiting for me to collect her as I'd promised I would if the sirens ever sounded. She sprang out of her seat,
grabbed my coat sleeve, and we wove through the streams of people pouring out onto the streets to pool at the
main entrance of the mine. We found our mother clenching the rope that had been hastily strung to keep the
crowd back. In retrospect, I guess I should have known there was a problem right then. Because why were we
looking for her, when the reverse should have been true?
The elevators were screeching, burning up and down their cables as they vomited smoke-blackened
miners into the light of day. With each group came cries of relief, relatives diving under the rope to lead off their
husbands, wives, children, parents, siblings. We stood in the freezing air as the afternoon turned overcast, a light
snow dusted the earth. The elevators moved more slowly now and disgorged fewer beings. I knelt on the ground
and pressed my hands into the cinders, wanting so badly to pull my father free. If there's a more helpless feeling
than trying to reach someone you love who's trapped underground, I don't know it. The wounded. The bodies.
The waiting through the night. Blankets put around your shoulders by strangers. A mug of something hot that you
don't drink. And then finally, at dawn, the grieved expression on the face of the mine captain that could only mean
What did we just do?
"Katniss! Are you there?" Haymitch is probably making plans to have me fitted for a head shackle at this
I drop my hands. "Yes."
"Get inside. Just in case the Capitol tries to retaliate with what's left of its air force," he instructs.
"Yes," I repeat. Everyone on the roof, except for the soldiers manning the machine guns, begin to make
their way inside. As I descend the stairs, I can't help brushing my fingers along the unblemished white marble
walls. So cold and beautiful. Even in the Capitol, there's nothing to match the magnificence of this old building.
But there is no give to the surface--only my flesh yields, my warmth taken. Stone conquers people every time.
I sit at the base of one of the gigantic pillars in the great entrance hall. Through the doors I can see the
white expanse of marble that leads to the steps on the square. I remember how sick I was the day Peeta and I
accepted congratulations there for winning the Games. Worn down by the Victory Tour, failing in my attempt to
calm the districts, facing the memories of Clove and Cato, particularly Cato's gruesome, slow death by mutts.
Boggs crouches down beside me, his skin pale in the shadows. "We didn't bomb the train tunnel, you
know. Some of them will probably get out."
"And then we'll shoot them when they show their faces?" I ask.
"Only if we have to," he answers.
"We could send in trains ourselves. Help evacuate the wounded," I say.
"No. It was decided to leave the tunnel in their hands. That way they can use all the tracks to bring people
out," says Boggs. "Besides, it will give us time to get the rest of our soldiers to the square."
A few hours ago, the square was a no-man's-land, the front line of the fight between the rebels and the
Peacekeepers. When Coin gave approval for Gale's plan, the rebels launched a heated attack and drove the
Capitol forces back several blocks so that we would control the train station in the event that the Nut fell. Well, it's
fallen. The reality has sunk in. Any survivors will escape to the square. I can hear the gunfire starting again, as the
Peacekeepers are no doubt trying to fight their way in to rescue their comrades. Our own soldiers are being
brought in to counter this.
"You're cold," says Boggs. "I'll see if I can find a blanket." He goes before I can protest. I don't want a
blanket, even if the marble continues to leech my body heat.
"Katniss," says Haymitch in my ear.
"Still here," I answer.
"Interesting turn of events with Peeta this afternoon. Thought you'd want to know," he says. Interesting isn't
good. It isn't better. But I don't really have any choice but to listen. "We showed him that clip of you singing 'The
Hanging Tree.' It was never aired, so the Capitol couldn't use it when he was being hijacked. He says he
recognized the song."
For a moment, my heart skips a beat. Then I realize it's just more tracker jacker serum confusion. "He
couldn't, Haymitch. He never heard me sing that song."
"Not you. Your father. He heard him singing it one day when he came to trade at the bakery. Peeta was
small, probably six or seven, but he remembered it because he was specially listening to see if the birds
stopped singing," says Haymitch. "Guess they did."
Six or seven. That would have been before my mother banned the song. Maybe even right around the time I
was learning it. "Was I there, too?"
"Don't think so. No mention of you anyway. But it's the first connection to you that hasn't triggered some
mental meltdown," says Haymitch. "It's something, at least, Katniss."
My father. He seems to be everywhere today. Dying in the mine. Singing his way into Peeta's muddled
consciousness. Flickering in the look Boggs gives me as he protectively wraps the blanket around my shoulders.
I miss him so badly it hurts.
The gunfire's really picking up outside. Gale hurries by with a group of rebels, eagerly headed for the battle.
I don't petition to join the fighters, not that they would let me. I have no stomach for it anyway, no heat in my blood.
I wish Peeta was here--the old Peeta--because he would be able to articulate why it is so wrong to be
exchanging fire when people, any people, are trying to claw their way out of the mountain. Or is my own history
making me too sensitive? Aren't we at war? Isn't this just another way to kill our enemies?
Night falls quickly. Huge, bright spotlights are turned on, illuminating the square. Every bulb must be burning
at full wattage inside the train station as well. Even from my position across the square, I can see clearly through
the plate-glass front of the long, narrow building. It would be impossible to miss the arrival of a train, or even a
single person. But hours pass and no one comes. With each minute, it becomes harder to imagine that anyone
survived the assault on the Nut.
It's well after midnight when Cressida comes to attach a special microphone to my costume. "What's this
for?" I ask.
Haymitch's voice comes on to explain. "I know you're not going to like this, but we need you to make a
"A speech?" I say, immediately feeling queasy.
"I'll feed it to you, line by line," he assures me. "You'll just have to repeat what I say. Look, there's no sign of
life from that mountain. We've won, but the fighting's continuing. So we thought if you went out on the steps of the
Justice Building and laid it out--told everybody that the Nut's defeated, that the Capitol's presence in District Two
is finished--you might be able to get the rest of their forces to surrender."
I peer at the darkness beyond the square. "I can't even see their forces."
"That's what the mike's for," he says. "You'll be broadcast, both your voice through their emergency audio
system, and your image wherever people have access to a screen."
I know there are a couple of huge screens here on the square. I saw them on the Victory Tour. It might work,
if I were good at this sort of thing. Which I'm not. They tried to feed me lines in those early experiments with the
propos, too, and it was a flop.
"You could save a lot of lives, Katniss," Haymitch says finally.
"All right. I'll give it a try," I tell him.
It's strange standing outside at the top of the stairs, fully costumed, brightly lit, but with no visible audience
to deliver my speech to. Like I'm doing a show for the moon.
"Let's make this quick," says Haymitch. "You're too exposed."
My television crew, positioned out in the square with special cameras, indicates that they're ready. I tell
Haymitch to go ahead, then click on my mike and listen carefully to him dictate the first line of the speech. A huge
image of me lights up one of the screens over the square as I begin. "People of District Two, this is Katniss
Everdeen speaking to you from the steps of your Justice Building, where--"
The pair of trains comes screeching into the train station side by side. As the doors slide open, people
tumble out in a cloud of smoke they've brought from the Nut. They must have had at least an inkling of what would
await them at the square, because you can see them trying to act evasively. Most of them flatten on the floor, and
a spray of bullets inside the station takes out the lights. They've come armed, as Gale predicted, but they've
come wounded as well. The moans can be heard in the otherwise silent night air.
Someone kills the lights on the stairs, leaving me in the protection of shadow. A flame blooms inside the
station--one of the trains must actually be on fire--and a thick, black smoke billows against the windows. Left with
no choice, the people begin to push out into the square, choking but defiantly waving their guns. My eyes dart
around the rooftops that ring the square. Every one of them has been fortified with rebel-manned machine gun
nests. Moonlight glints off oiled barrels.
A young man staggers out from the station, one hand pressed against a bloody cloth at his cheek, the other
dragging a gun. When he trips and falls to his face, I see the scorch marks down the back of his shirt, the red
flesh beneath. And suddenly, he's just another burn victim from a mine accident.
My feet fly down the steps and I take off running for him. "Stop!" I yell at the rebels. "Hold your fire!" The
words echo around the square and beyond as the mike amplifies my voice. "Stop!" I'm nearing the young man,
reaching down to help him, when he drags himself up to his knees and trains his gun on my head.
I instinctively back up a few steps, raise my bow over my head to show my intention was harmless. Now
that he has both hands on his gun, I notice the ragged hole in his cheek where something--falling stone maybe--
punctured the flesh. He smells of burning things, hair and meat and fuel. His eyes are crazed with pain and fear.
"Freeze," Haymitch's voice whispers in my ear. I follow his order, realizing that this is what all of District 2,
all of Panem maybe, must be seeing at the moment. The Mockingjay at the mercy of a man with nothing to lose.
His garbled speech is barely comprehensible. "Give me one reason I shouldn't shoot you."
The rest of the world recedes. There's only me looking into the wretched eyes of the man from the Nut who
asks for one reason. Surely I should be able to come up with thousands. But the words that make it to my lips are
Logically, the next thing that should happen is the man pulling the trigger. But he's perplexed, trying to make
sense of my words. I experience my own confusion as I realize what I've said is entirely true, and the noble
impulse that carried me across the square is replaced by despair. "I can't. That's the problem, isn't it?" I lower my
bow. "We blew up your mine. You burned my district to the ground. We've got every reason to kill each other. So
do it. Make the Capitol happy. I'm done killing their slaves for them." I drop my bow on the ground and give it a
nudge with my boot. It slides across the stone and comes to rest at his knees.
"I'm not their slave," the man mutters.
"I am," I say. "That's why I killed Cato...and he killed Thresh...and he killed Clove...and she tried to kill me. It
just goes around and around, and who wins? Not us. Not the districts. Always the Capitol. But I'm tired of being a
piece in their Games."
Peeta. On the rooftop the night before our first Hunger Games. He understood it all before we'd even set
foot in the arena. I hope he's watching now, that he remembers that night as it happened, and maybe forgives me
when I die.
"Keep talking. Tell them about watching the mountain go down," Haymitch insists.
"When I saw that mountain fall tonight, I thought...they've done it again. Got me to kill you--the people in the
districts. But why did I do it? District Twelve and District Two have no fight except the one the Capitol gave us."
The young man blinks at me uncomprehendingly. I sink on my knees before him, my voice low and urgent. "And
why are you fighting with the rebels on the rooftops? With Lyme, who was your victor? With people who were
your neighbors, maybe even your family?"
"I don't know," says the man. But he doesn't take his gun off me.
I rise and turn slowly in a circle, addressing the machine guns. "And you up there? I come from a mining
town. Since when do miners condemn other miners to that kind of death, and then stand by to kill whoever
manages to crawl from the rubble?"
"Who is the enemy?" whispers Haymitch.
"These people"--I indicate the wounded bodies on the square--"are not your enemy!" I whip back around to
the train station. "The rebels are not your enemy! We all have one enemy, and it's the Capitol! This is our chance
to put an end to their power, but we need every district person to do it!"
The cameras are tight on me as I reach out my hands to the man, to the wounded, to the reluctant rebels
across Panem. "Please! Join us!"
My words hang in the air. I look to the screen, hoping to see them recording some wave of reconciliation
going through the crowd.
Instead I watch myself get shot on television.
In the twilight of morphling, Peeta whispers the word and I go searching for him. It's a gauzy, violet-tinted
world, with no hard edges, and many places to hide. I push through cloud banks, follow faint tracks, catch the
scent of cinnamon, of dill. Once I feel his hand on my cheek and try to trap it, but it dissolves like mist through my
fingers. When I finally begin to surface into the sterile hospital room in 13, I remember. I was under the influence of
sleep syrup. My heel had been injured after I'd climbed out on a branch over the electric fence and dropped back
into 12. Peeta had put me to bed and I had asked him to stay with me as I was drifting off. He had whispered
something I couldn't quite catch. But some part of my brain had trapped his single word of reply and let it swim
up through my dreams to taunt me now. "Always."
Morphling dulls the extremes of all emotions, so instead of a stab of sorrow, I merely feel emptiness. A
hollow of dead brush where flowers used to bloom. Unfortunately, there's not enough of the drug left in my veins
for me to ignore the pain in the left side of my body. That's where the bullet hit. My hands fumble over the thick
bandages encasing my ribs and I wonder what I'm still doing here.
It wasn't him, the man kneeling before me on the square, the burned one from the Nut. He didn't pull the
trigger. It was someone farther back in the crowd. There was less a sense of penetration than the feeling that I'd
been struck with a sledgehammer. Everything after the moment of impact is confusion riddled with gunfire. I try to
sit up, but the only thing I manage is a moan.
The white curtain that divides my bed from the next patient's whips back, and Johanna Mason stares down
at me. At first I feel threatened, because she attacked me in the arena. I have to remind myself that she did it to
save my life. It was part of the rebel plot. But still, that doesn't mean she doesn't despise me. Maybe her
treatment of me was all an act for the Capitol?
"I'm alive," I say rustily.
"No kidding, brainless." Johanna walks over and plunks down on my bed, sending spikes of pain shooting
across my chest. When she grins at my discomfort, I know we're not in for some warm reunion scene. "Still a little
sore?" With an expert hand, she quickly detaches the morphling drip from my arm and plugs it into a socket
taped into the crook of her own. "They started cutting back my supply a few days ago. Afraid I'm going to turn into
one of those freaks from Six. I've had to borrow from you when the coast was clear. Didn't think you'd mind."
Mind? How can I mind when she was almost tortured to death by Snow after the Quarter Quell? I have no
right to mind, and she knows it.
Johanna sighs as the morphling enters her bloodstream. "Maybe they were onto something in Six. Drug
yourself out and paint flowers on your body. Not such a bad life. Seemed happier than the rest of us, anyway."
In the weeks since I left 13, she's gained some weight back. A soft down of hair has sprouted on her
shaved head, helping to hide some of the scars. But if she's siphoning off my morphling, she's struggling.
"They've got this head doctor who comes around every day. Supposed to be helping me recover. Like
some guy who's spent his life in this rabbit warren's going to fix me up. Complete idiot. At least twenty times a
session he reminds me that I'm totally safe." I manage a smile. It's a truly stupid thing to say, especially to a victor.
As if such a state of being ever existed, anywhere, for anyone. "How about you, Mockingjay? You feel totally
"Oh, yeah. Right up until I got shot," I say.
"Please. That bullet never even touched you. Cinna saw to that," she says.
I think of the layers of protective armor in my Mockingjay outfit. But the pain came from somewhere.
"Not even. Bruised pretty good. The impact ruptured your spleen. They couldn't repair it." She gives a
dismissive wave of her hand. "Don't worry, you don't need one. And if you did, they'd find you one, wouldn't they?
It's everybody's job to keep you alive."
"Is that why you hate me?" I ask.
"Partly," she admits. "Jealousy is certainly involved. I also think you're a little hard to swallow. With your
tacky romantic drama and your defender-of-the-helpless act. Only it isn't an act, which makes you more
unbearable. Please feel free to take this personally."
"You should have been the Mockingjay. No one would've had to feed you lines," I say.
"True. But no one likes me," she tells me.
"They trusted you, though. To get me out," I remind her. "And they're afraid of you."
"Here, maybe. In the Capitol, you're the one they're scared of now." Gale appears in the doorway, and
Johanna neatly unhooks herself and reattaches me to the morphling drip. "Your cousin's not afraid of me," she
says confidentially. She scoots off my bed and crosses to the door, nudging Gale's leg with her hip as she
passes him. "Are you, gorgeous?" We can hear her laughter as she disappears down the hall.
I raise my eyebrows at him as he takes my hand. "Terrified," he mouths. I laugh, but it turns into a wince.
"Easy." He strokes my face as the pain ebbs. "You've got to stop running straight into trouble."
"I know. But someone blew up a mountain," I answer.
Instead of pulling back, he leans in closer, searching my face. "You think I'm heartless."
"I know you're not. But I won't tell you it's okay," I say.
Now he draws back, almost impatiently. "Katniss, what difference is there, really, between crushing our
enemy in a mine or blowing them out of the sky with one of Beetee's arrows? The result is the same."
"I don't know. We were under attack in Eight, for one thing. The hospital was under attack," I say.
"Yes, and those hoverplanes came from District Two," he says. "So, by taking them out, we prevented
"But that kind of thinking...you could turn it into an argument for killing anyone at any time. You could justify
sending kids into the Hunger Games to prevent the districts from getting out of line," I say.
"I don't buy that," he tells me.
"I do," I reply. "It must be those trips to the arena."
"Fine. We know how to disagree," he says. "We always have. Maybe it's good. Between you and me,
we've got District Two now."
"Really?" For a moment a feeling of triumph flares up inside me. Then I think about the people on the
square. "Was there fighting after I was shot?"
"Not much. The workers from the Nut turned on the Capitol soldiers. The rebels just sat by and watched,"
he says. "Actually, the whole country just sat by and watched."
"Well, that's what they do best," I say.
You'd think that losing a major organ would entitle you to lie around a few weeks, but for some reason, my
doctors want me up and moving almost immediately. Even with the morphling, the internal pain's severe the first
few days, but then it slacks off considerably. The soreness from the bruised ribs, however, promises to hang on
for a while. I begin to resent Johanna dipping into my morphling supply, but I still let her take whatever she likes.
Rumors of my death have been running rampant, so they send in the team to film me in my hospital bed. I
show off my stitches and impressive bruising and congratulate the districts on their successful battle for unity.
Then I warn the Capitol to expect us soon.
As part of my rehabilitation, I take short walks aboveground each day. One afternoon, Plutarch joins me
and gives me an update on our current situation. Now that District 2 has allied with us, the rebels are taking a
breather from the war to regroup. Fortifying supply lines, seeing to the wounded, reorganizing their troops. The
Capitol, like 13 during the Dark Days, finds itself completely cut off from outside help as it holds the threat of
nuclear attack over its enemies. Unlike 13, the Capitol is not in a position to reinvent itself and become selfsufficient.
"Oh, the city might be able to scrape along for a while," says Plutarch. "Certainly, there are emergency
supplies stockpiled. But the significant difference between Thirteen and the Capitol are the expectations of the
populace. Thirteen was used to hardship, whereas in the Capitol, all they've known is Panem et Circenses."
"What's that?" I recognize Panem, of course, but the rest is nonsense.
"It's a saying from thousands of years ago, written in a language called Latin about a place called Rome,"
he explains. "Panem et Circenses translates into 'Bread and Circuses.' The writer was saying that in return for
full bellies and entertainment, his people had given up their political responsibilities and therefore their power."
I think about the Capitol. The excess of food. And the ultimate entertainment. The Hunger Games. "So
that's what the districts are for. To provide the bread and circuses."
"Yes. And as long as that kept rolling in, the Capitol could control its little empire. Right now, it can provide
neither, at least at the standard the people are accustomed to," says Plutarch. "We have the food and I'm about
to orchestrate an entertainment propo that's sure to be popular. After all, everybody loves a wedding."
I freeze in my tracks, sick at the idea of what he's suggesting. Somehow staging some perverse wedding
between Peeta and me. I haven't been able to face that one-way glass since I've been back and, at my own
request, only get updates about Peeta's condition from Haymitch. He speaks very little about it. Different
techniques are being tried. There will never truly be a way to cure him. And now they want me to marry Peeta for
Plutarch rushes to reassure me. "Oh, no, Katniss. Not your wedding. Finnick and Annie's. All you need to
do is show up and pretend to be happy for them."
"That's one of the few things I won't have to pretend, Plutarch," I tell him.
The next few days bring a flurry of activity as the event is planned. The differences between the Capitol and
13 are thrown into sharp relief by the event. When Coin says "wedding," she means two people signing a piece
of paper and being assigned a new compartment. Plutarch means hundreds of people dressed in finery at a
three-day celebration. It's amusing to watch them haggle over the details. Plutarch has to fight for every guest,
every musical note. After Coin vetoes a dinner, entertainment, and alcohol, Plutarch yells, "What's the point of the
propo if no one's having any fun!"
It's hard to put a Gamemaker on a budget. But even a quiet celebration causes a stir in 13, where they
seem to have no holidays at all. When it's announced that children are wanted to sing District 4's wedding song,
practically every kid shows up. There's no shortage of volunteers to help make decorations. In the dining hall,
people chat excitedly about the event.
Maybe it's more than the festivities. Maybe it's that we are all so starved for something good to happen that
we want to be part of it. It would explain why--when Plutarch has a fit over what the bride will wear--I volunteer to
take Annie back to my house in 12, where Cinna left a variety of evening clothes in a big storage closet
downstairs. All of the wedding gowns he designed for me went back to the Capitol, but there are some dresses I
wore on the Victory Tour. I'm a little leery about being with Annie since all I really know about her is that Finnick
loves her and everybody thinks she's mad. On the hovercraft ride, I decide she's less mad than unstable. She
laughs at odd places in the conversation or drops out of it distractedly. Those green eyes fixate on a point with
such intensity that you find yourself trying to make out what she sees in the empty air. Sometimes, for no reason,
she presses both her hands over her ears as if to block out a painful sound. All right, she's strange, but if Finnick
loves her, that's good enough for me.
I got permission for my prep team to come along, so I'm relieved of having to make any fashion decisions.
When I open the closet, we all fall silent because Cinna's presence is so strong in the flow of the fabrics. Then
Octavia drops to her knees, rubs the hem of a skirt against her cheek, and bursts into tears. "It's been so long,"
she gasps, "since I've seen anything pretty."
Despite reservations on Coin's side that it's too extravagant, and on Plutarch's side that it's too drab, the
wedding is a smash hit. The three hundred lucky guests culled from 13 and the many refugees wear their
everyday clothes, the decorations are made from autumn foliage, the music is provided by a choir of children
accompanied by the lone fiddler who made it out of 12 with his instrument. So it's simple, frugal by the Capitol's
standards. It doesn't matter because nothing can compete with the beauty of the couple. It isn't about their
borrowed finery--Annie wears a green silk dress I wore in 5, Finnick one of Peeta's suits that they altered--
although the clothes are striking. Who can look past the radiant faces of two people for whom this day was once
a virtual impossibility? Dalton, the cattle guy from 10, conducts the ceremony, since it's similar to the one used in
his district. But there are unique touches of District 4. A net woven from long grass that covers the couple during
their vows, the touching of each other's lips with salt water, and the ancient wedding song, which likens marriage
to a sea voyage.
No, I don't have to pretend to be happy for them.
After the kiss that seals the union, the cheers, and a toast with apple cider, the fiddler strikes up a tune that
turns every head from 12. We may have been the smallest, poorest district in Panem, but we know how to
dance. Nothing has been officially scheduled at this point, but Plutarch, who's calling the propo from the control
room, must have his fingers crossed. Sure enough, Greasy Sae grabs Gale by the hand and pulls him into the
center of the floor and faces off with him. People pour in to join them, forming two long lines. And the dancing
I'm standing off to the side, clapping to the rhythm, when a bony hand pinches me above the elbow.
Johanna scowls at me. "Are you going to miss the chance to let Snow see you dancing?" She's right. What could
spell victory louder than a happy Mockingjay twirling around to music? I find Prim in the crowd. Since winter
evenings gave us a lot of time to practice, we're actually pretty good partners. I brush off her concerns about my
ribs, and we take our places in the line. It hurts, but the satisfaction of having Snow watch me dance with my little
sister reduces other feelings to dust.
Dancing transforms us. We teach the steps to the District 13 guests. Insist on a special number for the
bride and groom. Join hands and make a giant, spinning circle where people show off their footwork. Nothing
silly, joyful, or fun has happened in so long. This could go on all night if not for the last event planned in Plutarch's
propo. One I hadn't heard about, but then it was meant to be a surprise.
Four people wheel out a huge wedding cake from a side room. Most of the guests back up, making way for
this rarity, this dazzling creation with blue-green, white-tipped icing waves swimming with fish and sailboats,
seals and sea flowers. But I push my way through the crowd to confirm what I knew at first sight. As surely as the
embroidery stitches in Annie's gown were done by Cinna's hand, the frosted flowers on the cake were done by
This may seem like a small thing, but it speaks volumes. Haymitch has been keeping a great deal from me.
The boy I last saw, screaming his head off, trying to tear free of his restraints, could never have made this. Never
have had the focus, kept his hands steady, designed something so perfect for Finnick and Annie. As if
anticipating my reaction, Haymitch is at my side.
"Let's you and me have a talk," he says.
Out in the hall, away from the cameras, I ask, "What's happening to him?"
Haymitch shakes his head. "I don't know. None of us knows. Sometimes he's almost rational, and then, for
no reason, he goes off again. Doing the cake was a kind of therapy. He's been working on it for days. Watching
him...he seemed almost like before."
"So, he's got the run of the place?" I ask. The idea makes me nervous on about five different levels.
"Oh, no. He frosted under heavy guard. He's still under lock and key. But I've talked to him," Haymitch says.
"Face-to-face?" I ask. "And he didn't go nuts?"
"No. Pretty angry with me, but for all the right reasons. Not telling him about the rebel plot and whatnot."
Haymitch pauses a moment, as if deciding something. "He says he'd like to see you."
I'm on a frosting sailboat, tossed around by blue-green waves, the deck shifting beneath my feet. My palms
press into the wall to steady myself. This wasn't part of the plan. I wrote Peeta off in 2. Then I was to go to the
Capitol, kill Snow, and get taken out myself. The gunshot was only a temporary setback. Never was I supposed
to hear the words He says he'd like to see you. But now that I have, there's no way to refuse.
At midnight, I'm standing outside the door to his cell. Hospital room. We had to wait for Plutarch to finish
getting his wedding footage, which, despite the lack of what he calls razzle-dazzle, he's pleased with. "The best
thing about the Capitol basically ignoring Twelve all these years is that you people still have a little spontaneity.
The audience eats that up. Like when Peeta announced he was in love with you or you did the trick with the
berries. Makes for good television."
I wish I could meet with Peeta privately. But the audience of doctors has assembled behind the one-way
glass, clipboards ready, pens poised. When Haymitch gives me the okay in my earpiece, I slowly open the door.
Those blue eyes lock on me instantly. He's got three restraints on each arm, and a tube that can dispense a
knockout drug just in case he loses control. He doesn't fight to free himself, though, only observes me with the
wary look of someone who still hasn't ruled out that he's in the presence of a mutt. I walk over until I'm standing
about a yard from the bed. There's nothing to do with my hands, so I cross my arms protectively over my ribs
before I speak. "Hey."
"Hey," he responds. It's like his voice, almost his voice, except there's something new in it. An edge of
suspicion and reproach.
"Haymitch said you wanted to talk to me," I say.
"Look at you, for starters." It's like he's waiting for me to transform into a hybrid drooling wolf right before
his eyes. He stares so long I find myself casting furtive glances at the one-way glass, hoping for some direction
from Haymitch, but my earpiece stays silent. "You're not very big, are you? Or particularly pretty?"
I know he's been through hell and back, and yet somehow the observation rubs me the wrong way. "Well,
you've looked better."
Haymitch's advice to back off gets muffled by Peeta's laughter. "And not even remotely nice. To say that to
me after all I've been through."
"Yeah. We've all been through a lot. And you're the one who was known for being nice. Not me." I'm doing
everything wrong. I don't know why I feel so defensive. He's been tortured! He's been hijacked! What's wrong
with me? Suddenly, I think I might start screaming at him--I'm not even sure about what--so I decide to get out of
there. "Look, I don't feel so well. Maybe I'll drop by tomorrow."
I've just reached the door when his voice stops me. "Katniss. I remember about the bread."
The bread. Our one moment of real connection before the Hunger Games.
"They showed you the tape of me talking about it," I say.
"No. Is there a tape of you talking about it? Why didn't the Capitol use it against me?" he asks.
"I made it the day you were rescued," I answer. The pain in my chest wraps around my ribs like a vise. The
dancing was a mistake. "So what do you remember?"
"You. In the rain," he says softly. "Digging in our trash bins. Burning the bread. My mother hitting me. Taking
the bread out for the pig but then giving it to you instead."
"That's it. That's what happened," I say. "The next day, after school, I wanted to thank you. But I didn't know
"We were outside at the end of the day. I tried to catch your eye. You looked away. And then...for some
reason, I think you picked a dandelion." I nod. He does remember. I have never spoken about that moment
aloud. "I must have loved you a lot."
"You did." My voice catches and I pretend to cough.
"And did you love me?" he asks.
I keep my eyes on the tiled floor. "Everyone says I did. Everyone says that's why Snow had you tortured. To
"That's not an answer," he tells me. "I don't know what to think when they show me some of the tapes. In that
first arena, it looked like you tried to kill me with those tracker jackers."
"I was trying to kill all of you," I say. "You had me treed."
"Later, there's a lot of kissing. Didn't seem very genuine on your part. Did you like kissing me?" he asks.
"Sometimes," I admit. "You know people are watching us now?"
"I know. What about Gale?" he continues.
My anger's returning. I don't care about his recovery--this isn't the business of the people behind the glass.
"He's not a bad kisser either," I say shortly.
"And it was okay with both of us? You kissing the other?" he asks.
"No. It wasn't okay with either of you. But I wasn't asking your permission," I tell him.
Peeta laughs again, coldly, dismissively. "Well, you're a piece of work, aren't you?"
Haymitch doesn't protest when I walk out. Down the hall. Through the beehive of compartments. Find a
warm pipe to hide behind in a laundry room. It takes a long time before I get to the bottom of why I'm so upset.
When I do, it's almost too mortifying to admit. All those months of taking it for granted that Peeta thought I was
wonderful are over. Finally, he can see me for who I really am. Violent. Distrustful. Manipulative. Deadly.
And I hate him for it.
Blindsided. That's how I feel when Haymitch tells me in the hospital. I fly down the steps to Command, mind
racing a mile a minute, and burst right into a war meeting.
"What do you mean, I'm not going to the Capitol? I have to go! I'm the Mockingjay!" I say.
Coin barely looks up from her screen. "And as the Mockingjay, your primary goal of unifying the districts
against the Capitol has been achieved. Don't worry--if it goes well, we'll fly you in for the surrender."
"That'll be too late! I'll miss all the fighting. You need me--I'm the best shot you've got!" I shout. I don't usually
brag about this, but it's got to be at least close to true. "Gale's going."
"Gale has shown up for training every day unless occupied with other approved duties. We feel confident
he can manage himself in the field," says Coin. "How many training sessions do you estimate you've attended?"
None. That's how many. "Well, sometimes I was hunting. And...I trained with Beetee down in Special
"It's not the same, Katniss," says Boggs. "We all know you're smart and brave and a good shot. But we
need soldiers in the field. You don't know the first thing about executing orders, and you're not exactly at your
"That didn't bother you when I was in Eight. Or Two, for that matter," I counter.
"You weren't originally authorized for combat in either case," says Plutarch, shooting me a look that signals
I'm about to reveal too much.
No, the bomber battle in 8 and my intervention in 2 were spontaneous, rash, and definitely unauthorized.
"And both resulted in your injury," Boggs reminds me. Suddenly, I see myself through his eyes. A smallish
seventeen-year-old girl who can't quite catch her breath since her ribs haven't fully healed. Disheveled.
Undisciplined. Recuperating. Not a soldier, but someone who needs to be looked after.
"But I have to go," I say.
"Why?" asks Coin.
I can't very well say it's so I can carry out my own personal vendetta against Snow. Or that the idea of
remaining here in 13 with the latest version of Peeta while Gale goes off to fight is unbearable. But I have no
shortage of reasons to want to fight in the Capitol. "Because of Twelve. Because they destroyed my district."
The president thinks about this a moment. Considers me. "Well, you have three weeks. It's not long, but you
can begin training. If the Assignment Board deems you fit, possibly your case will be reviewed."
That's it. That's the most I can hope for. I guess it's my own fault. I did blow off my schedule every single day
unless something suited me. It didn't seem like much of a priority, jogging around a field with a gun with so many
other things going on. And now I'm paying for my negligence.
Back in the hospital, I find Johanna in the same circumstance and spitting mad. I tell her about what Coin
said. "Maybe you can train, too."
"Fine. I'll train. But I'm going to the stinking Capitol if I have to kill a crew and fly there myself," says
"Probably best not to bring that up in training," I say. "But it's nice to know I'll have a ride."
Johanna grins, and I feel a slight but significant shift in our relationship. I don't know that we're actually
friends, but possibly the word allies would be accurate. That's good. I'm going to need an ally.
The next morning, when we report for training at 7:30, reality slaps me in the face. We've been funneled into
a class of relative beginners, fourteen- or fifteen-year-olds, which seems a little insulting until it's obvious that
they're in far better condition than we are. Gale and the other people already chosen to go to the Capitol are in a
different, accelerated phase of training. After we stretch--which hurts--there's a couple of hours of strengthening
exercises--which hurt--and a five-mile run--which kills. Even with Johanna's motivational insults driving me on, I
have to drop out after a mile.
"It's my ribs," I explain to the trainer, a no-nonsense middle-aged woman we're supposed to address as
Soldier York. "They're still bruised."
"Well, I'll tell you, Soldier Everdeen, those are going to take at least another month to heal up on their own,"
I shake my head. "I don't have a month."
She looks me up and down. "The doctors haven't offered you any treatment?"
"Is there a treatment?" I ask. "They said they had to mend naturally."
"That's what they say. But they could speed up the process if I recommend it. I warn you, though, it isn't any
fun," she tells me.
"Please. I've got to get to the Capitol," I say.
Soldier York doesn't question this. She scribbles something on a pad and sends me directly back to the
hospital. I hesitate. I don't want to miss any more training. "I'll be back for the afternoon session," I promise. She
just purses her lips.
Twenty-four needle jabs to my rib cage later, I'm flattened out on my hospital bed, gritting my teeth to keep
from begging them to bring back my morphling drip. It's been by my bed so I can take a hit as needed. I haven't
used it lately, but I kept it for Johanna's sake. Today they tested my blood to make sure it was clean of the
painkiller, as the mixture of the two drugs--the morphling and whatever's set my ribs on fire--has dangerous side
effects. They made it clear I would have a difficult couple of days. But I told them to go ahead.
It's a bad night in our room. Sleep's out of the question. I think I can actually smell the ring of flesh around
my chest burning, and Johanna's fighting off withdrawal symptoms. Early on, when I apologize about cutting off
her morphling supply, she waves it off, saying it had to happen anyway. But by three in the morning, I'm the target
of every colorful bit of profanity District 7 has to offer. At dawn, she drags me out of bed, determined to get to
"I don't think I can do it," I confess.
"You can do it. We both can. We're victors, remember? We're the ones who can survive anything they throw
at us," she snarls at me. She's a sick greenish color, shaking like a leaf. I get dressed.
We must be victors to make it through the morning. I think I'm going to lose Johanna when we realize it's
pouring outside. Her face turns ashen and she seems to have ceased breathing.
"It's just water. It won't kill us," I say. She clenches her jaw and stomps out into the mud. Rain drenches us
as we work our bodies and then slog around the running course. I bail after a mile again, and I have to resist the
temptation to take off my shirt so the cold water can sizzle off my ribs. I force down my field lunch of soggy fish
and beet stew. Johanna gets halfway through her bowl before it comes back up. In the afternoon, we learn to
assemble our guns. I manage it, but Johanna can't hold her hands steady enough to fit the parts together. When
York's back is turned, I help her out. Even though the rain continues, the afternoon's an improvement because
we're on the shooting range. At last, something I'm good at. It takes some adjusting from a bow to a gun, but by
the end of the day, I've got the best score in my class.
We're just inside the hospital doors when Johanna declares, "This has to stop. Us living in the hospital.
Everyone views us as patients."
It's not a problem for me. I can move into our family compartment, but Johanna's never been assigned one.
When she tries to get discharged from the hospital, they won't agree to let her live alone, even if she comes in for
daily talks with the head doctor. I think they may have put two and two together about the morphling and this only
adds to their view that she's unstable. "She won't be alone. I'm going to room with her," I announce. There's some
dissent, but Haymitch takes our part, and by bedtime, we have a compartment across from Prim and my mother,
who agrees to keep an eye on us.
After I take a shower, and Johanna sort of wipes herself down with a damp cloth, she makes a cursory
inspection of the place. When she opens the drawer that holds my few possessions, she shuts it quickly. "Sorry."
I think how there's nothing in Johanna's drawer but her government-issued clothes. That she doesn't have
one thing in the world to call her own. "It's okay. You can look at my stuff if you want."
Johanna unlatches my locket, studying the pictures of Gale, Prim, and my mother. She opens the silver
parachute and pulls out the spile and slips it onto her pinkie. "Makes me thirsty just looking at it." Then she finds
the pearl Peeta gave me. "Is this--?"
"Yeah," I say. "Made it through somehow." I don't want to talk about Peeta. One of the best things about
training is, it keeps me from thinking of him.
"Haymitch says he's getting better," she says.
"Maybe. But he's changed," I say.
"So have you. So have I. And Finnick and Haymitch and Beetee. Don't get me started on Annie Cresta. The
arena messed us all up pretty good, don't you think? Or do you still feel like the girl who volunteered for your
sister?" she asks me.
"No," I answer.
"That's the one thing I think my head doctor might be right about. There's no going back. So we might as
well get on with things." She neatly returns my keepsakes to the drawer and climbs into the bed across from me
just as the lights go out. "You're not afraid I'll kill you tonight?"
"Like I couldn't take you," I answer. Then we laugh, since both our bodies are so wrecked, it will be a
miracle if we can get up the next day. But we do. Each morning, we do. And by the end of the week, my ribs feel
almost like new, and Johanna can assemble her rifle without help.
Soldier York gives the pair of us an approving nod as we knock off for the day. "Fine job, Soldiers."
When we move out of hearing, Johanna mutters, "I think winning the Games was easier." But the look on
her face says she's pleased.
In fact, we're almost in good spirits when we go to the dining hall, where Gale's waiting to eat with me.
Receiving a giant serving of beef stew doesn't hurt my mood either. "First shipments of food arrived this
morning," Greasy Sae tells me. "That's real beef, from District Ten. Not any of your wild dog."
"Don't remember you turning it down," Gale tosses back.
We join a group that includes Delly, Annie, and Finnick. It's something to see Finnick's transformation since
his marriage. His earlier incarnations--the decadent Capitol heartthrob I met before the Quell, the enigmatic ally
in the arena, the broken young man who tried to help me hold it together--these have been replaced by someone
who radiates life. Finnick's real charms of self-effacing humor and an easygoing nature are on display for the first
time. He never lets go of Annie's hand. Not when they walk, not when they eat. I doubt he ever plans to. She's lost
in some daze of happiness. There are still moments when you can tell something slips in her brain and another
world blinds her to us. But a few words from Finnick call her back.
Delly, who I've known since I was little but never gave much thought to, has grown in my estimation. She
was told what Peeta said to me that night after the wedding, but she's not a gossip. Haymitch says she's the best
defender I have when Peeta goes off on some kind of tear about me. Always taking my side, blaming his
negative perceptions on the Capitol's torture. She has more influence on him than any of the others do, because
he really does know her. Anyway, even if she's sugarcoating my good points, I appreciate it. Frankly, I could use a
I'm starving and the stew is so delicious--beef, potatoes, turnips, and onions in a thick gravy--that I have to
force myself to slow down. All around the dining hall, you can feel the rejuvenating effect that a good meal can
bring on. The way it can make people kinder, funnier, more optimistic, and remind them it's not a mistake to go
on living. It's better than any medicine. So I try to make it last and join in the conversation. Sop up the gravy on my
bread and nibble on it as I listen to Finnick telling some ridiculous story about a sea turtle swimming off with his
hat. Laugh before I realize he's standing there. Directly across the table, behind the empty seat next to Johanna.
Watching me. I choke momentarily as the gravy bread sticks in my throat.
"Peeta!" says Delly. "It's so nice to see you out...and about."
Two large guards stand behind him. He holds his tray awkwardly, balanced on his fingertips since his wrists
are shackled with a short chain between them.
"What's with the fancy bracelets?" asks Johanna.
"I'm not quite trustworthy yet," says Peeta. "I can't even sit here without your permission." He indicates the
guards with his head.
"Sure he can sit here. We're old friends," says Johanna, patting the space beside her. The guards nod and
Peeta takes a seat. "Peeta and I had adjoining cells in the Capitol. We're very familiar with each other's
Annie, who's on Johanna's other side, does that thing where she covers her ears and exits reality. Finnick
shoots Johanna an angry look as his arm encircles Annie.
"What? My head doctor says I'm not supposed to censor my thoughts. It's part of my therapy," replies
The life has gone out of our little party. Finnick murmurs things to Annie until she slowly removes her hands.
Then there's a long silence while people pretend to eat.
"Annie," says Delly brightly, "did you know it was Peeta who decorated your wedding cake? Back home,
his family ran the bakery and he did all the icing."
Annie cautiously looks across Johanna. "Thank you, Peeta. It was beautiful."
"My pleasure, Annie," says Peeta, and I hear that old note of gentleness in his voice that I thought was gone
forever. Not that it's directed at me. But still.
"If we're going to fit in that walk, we better go," Finnick tells her. He arranges both of their trays so he can
carry them in one hand while holding tightly to her with the other. "Good seeing you, Peeta."
"You be nice to her, Finnick. Or I might try and take her away from you." It could be a joke, if the tone wasn't
so cold. Everything it conveys is wrong. The open distrust of Finnick, the implication that Peeta has his eye on
Annie, that Annie could desert Finnick, that I do not even exist.
"Oh, Peeta," says Finnick lightly. "Don't make me sorry I restarted your heart." He leads Annie away after
giving me a concerned glance.
When they're gone, Delly says in a reproachful voice, "He did save your life, Peeta. More than once."
"For her." He gives me a brief nod. "For the rebellion. Not for me. I don't owe him anything."
I shouldn't rise to the bait, but I do. "Maybe not. But Mags is dead and you're still here. That should count for
"Yeah, a lot of things should count for something that don't seem to, Katniss. I've got some memories I can't
make sense of, and I don't think the Capitol touched them. A lot of nights on the train, for instance," he says.
Again the implications. That more happened on the train than did. That what did happen--those nights I only
kept my sanity because his arms were around me--no longer matters. Everything a lie, everything a way of
Peeta makes a little gesture with his spoon, connecting Gale and me. "So, are you two officially a couple
now, or are they still dragging out the star-crossed lover thing?"
"Still dragging," says Johanna.
Spasms cause Peeta's hands to tighten into fists, then splay out in a bizarre fashion. Is it all he can do to
keep them from my neck? I can feel the tension in Gale's muscles next to me, fear an altercation. But Gale simply
says, "I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it myself."
"What's that?" asks Peeta.
"You," Gale answers.
"You'll have to be a little more specific," says Peeta. "What about me?"
"That they've replaced you with the evil-mutt version of yourself," says Johanna.
Gale finishes his milk. "You done?" he asks me. I rise and we cross to drop off our trays. At the door, an old
man stops me because I'm still clutching the rest of my gravy bread in my hand. Something in my expression, or
maybe the fact that I've made no attempt to conceal it, makes him go easy on me. He lets me stuff the bread in
my mouth and move on. Gale and I are almost to my compartment when he speaks again. "I didn't expect that."
"I told you he hated me," I say.
"It's the way he hates you. It's so...familiar. I used to feel like that," he admits. "When I'd watch you kissing
him on the screen. Only I knew I wasn't being entirely fair. He can't see that."
We reach my door. "Maybe he just sees me as I really am. I have to get some sleep."
Gale catches my arm before I can disappear. "So that's what you're thinking now?" I shrug. "Katniss, as
your oldest friend, believe me when I say he's not seeing you as you really are." He kisses my cheek and goes.
I sit on my bed, trying to stuff information from my Military Tactics books into my head while memories of my
nights with Peeta on the train distract me. After about twenty minutes, Johanna comes in and throws herself
across the foot of my bed. "You missed the best part. Delly lost her temper at Peeta over how he treated you.
She got very squeaky. It was like someone stabbing a mouse with a fork repeatedly. The whole dining hall was
"What'd Peeta do?" I ask.
"He started arguing with himself like he was two people. The guards had to take him away. On the good
side, no one seemed to notice I finished his stew." Johanna rubs her hand over her protruding belly. I look at the
layer of grime under her fingernails. Wonder if the people in 7 ever bathe.
We spend a couple of hours quizzing each other on military terms. I visit my mother and Prim for a while.
When I'm back in my compartment, showered, staring into the darkness, I finally ask, "Johanna, could you really
hear him screaming?"
"That was part of it," she says. "Like the jabberjays in the arena. Only it was real. And it didn't stop after an
hour. Tick, tock."
"Tick, tock," I whisper back.
Roses. Wolf mutts. Tributes. Frosted dolphins. Friends. Mockingjays. Stylists. Me.
Everything screams in my dreams tonight.
I throw myself into training with a vengeance. Eat, live, and breathe the workouts, drills, weapons practice,
lectures on tactics. A handful of us are moved into an additional class that gives me hope I may be a contender
for the actual war. The soldiers simply call it the Block, but the tattoo on my arm lists it as S.S.C., short for
Simulated Street Combat. Deep in 13, they've built an artificial Capitol city block. The instructor breaks us into
squads of eight and we attempt to carry out missions--gaining a position, destroying a target, searching a home-
-as if we were really fighting our way through the Capitol. The thing's rigged so that everything that can go wrong
for you does. A false step triggers a land mine, a sniper appears on a rooftop, your gun jams, a crying child
leads you into an ambush, your squadron leader--who's just a voice on the program--gets hit by a mortar and you
have to figure out what to do without orders. Part of you knows it's fake and that they're not going to kill you. If you
set off a land mine, you hear the explosion and have to pretend to fall over dead. But in other ways, it feels pretty
real in there--the enemy soldiers dressed in Peacekeepers' uniforms, the confusion of a smoke bomb. They
even gas us. Johanna and I are the only ones who get our masks on in time. The rest of our squad gets knocked
out for ten minutes. And the supposedly harmless gas I took a few lungfuls of gives me a wicked headache for
the rest of the day.
Cressida and her crew tape Johanna and me on the firing range. I know Gale and Finnick are being filmed
as well. It's part of a new propos series to show the rebels preparing for the Capitol invasion. On the whole,
things are going pretty well.
Then Peeta starts showing up for our morning workouts. The manacles are off, but he's still constantly
accompanied by a pair of guards. After lunch, I see him across the field, drilling with a group of beginners. I don't
know what they're thinking. If a spat with Delly can reduce him to arguing with himself, he's got no business
learning how to assemble a gun.
When I confront Plutarch, he assures me that it's all for the camera. They've got footage of Annie getting
married and Johanna hitting targets, but all of Panem is wondering about Peeta. They need to see he's fighting
for the rebels, not for Snow. And maybe if they could just get a couple of shots of the two of us, not kissing
necessarily, just looking happy to be back together--
I walk away from the conversation right then. That is not going to happen.
In my rare moments of downtime, I anxiously watch the preparations for the invasions. See equipment and
provisions readied, divisions assembled. You can tell when someone's received orders because they're given a
very short haircut, the mark of a person going into battle. There is much talk of the opening offensive, which will
be to secure the train tunnels that feed up into the Capitol.
Just a few days before the first troops are to move out, York unexpectedly tells Johanna and me she's
recommended us for the exam, and we're to report immediately. There are four parts: an obstacle course that
assesses your physical condition, a written tactics exam, a test of weapons proficiency, and a simulated combat
situation in the Block. I don't even have time to get nervous for the first three and do well, but there's a backlog at
the Block. Some kind of technical bug they're working out. A group of us exchanges information. This much
seems true. You go through alone. There's no predicting what situation you'll be thrown into. One boy says, under
his breath, that he's heard it's designed to target each individual's weaknesses.
My weaknesses? That's a door I don't even want to open. But I find a quiet spot and try to assess what they
might be. The length of the list depresses me. Lack of physical brute force. A bare minimum of training. And
somehow my stand-out status as the Mockingjay doesn't seem to be an advantage in a situation where they're
trying to get us to blend into a pack. They could nail me to the wall on any number of things.
Johanna's called three ahead of me, and I give her a nod of encouragement. I wish I had been at the top of
the list because now I'm really overthinking the whole thing. By the time my name's called, I don't know what my
strategy should be. Fortunately, once I'm in the Block, a certain amount of training does kick in. It's an ambush
situation. Peacekeepers appear almost instantly and I have to make my way to a rendezvous point to meet up
with my scattered squad. I slowly navigate the street, taking out Peacekeepers as I go. Two on the rooftop to my
left, another in the doorway up ahead. It's challenging, but not as hard as I was expecting. There's a nagging
feeling that if it's too simple, I must be missing the point. I'm within a couple of buildings from my goal when
feeling that if it's too simple, I must be missing the point. I'm within a couple of buildings from my goal when
things begin to heat up. A half dozen Peacekeepers come charging around the corner. They will outgun me, but I
notice something. A drum of gasoline lying carelessly in the gutter. This is it. My test. To perceive that blowing up
the drum will be the only way to achieve my mission. Just as I step out to do it, my squadron leader, who's been
fairly useless up to this point, quietly orders me to hit the ground. Every instinct I have screams for me to ignore
the voice, to pull the trigger, to blow the Peacekeepers sky-high. And suddenly, I realize what the military will think
my biggest weakness is. From my first moment in the Games, when I ran for that orange backpack, to the
firefight in 8, to my impulsive race across the square in 2. I cannot take orders.
I smack into the ground so hard and fast, I'll be picking gravel out of my chin for a week. Someone else
blows the gas tank. The Peacekeepers die. I make my rendezvous point. When I exit the Block on the far side, a
soldier congratulates me, stamps my hand with squad number 451, and tells me to report to Command. Almost
giddy with success, I run through the halls, skidding around corners, bounding down the steps because the
elevator's too slow. I bang into the room before the oddity of the situation dawns on me. I shouldn't be in
Command; I should be getting my hair buzzed. The people around the table aren't freshly minted soldiers but the
ones calling the shots.
Boggs smiles and shakes his head when he sees me. "Let's see it." Unsure now, I hold out my stamped
hand. "You're with me. It's a special unit of sharpshooters. Join your squad." He nods over at a group lining the
wall. Gale. Finnick. Five others I don't know. My squad. I'm not only in, I get to work under Boggs. With my friends.
I force myself to take calm, soldierly steps to join them, instead of jumping up and down.
We must be important, too, because we're in Command, and it has nothing to do with a certain Mockingjay.
Plutarch stands over a wide, flat panel in the center of the table. He's explaining something about the nature of
what we will encounter in the Capitol. I'm thinking this is a terrible presentation--because even on tiptoe I can't
see what's on the panel--until he hits a button. A holographic image of a block of the Capitol projects into the air.
"This, for example, is the area surrounding one of the Peacekeepers' barracks. Not unimportant, but not
the most crucial of targets, and yet look." Plutarch enters some sort of code on a keyboard, and lights begin to
flash. They're in an assortment of colors and blink at different speeds. "Each light is called a pod. It represents a
different obstacle, the nature of which could be anything from a bomb to a band of mutts. Make no mistake,
whatever it contains is designed to either trap or kill you. Some have been in place since the Dark Days, others
developed over the years. To be honest, I created a fair number myself. This program, which one of our people
absconded with when we left the Capitol, is our most recent information. They don't know we have it. But even
so, it's likely that new pods have been activated in the last few months. This is what you will face."
I'm unaware that my feet are moving to the table until I'm inches from the holograph. My hand reaches in
and cups a rapidly blinking green light.
Someone joins me, his body tense. Finnick, of course. Because only a victor would see what I see so
immediately. The arena. Laced with pods controlled by Gamemakers. Finnick's fingers caress a steady red glow
over a doorway. "Ladies and gentlemen..."
His voice is quiet, but mine rings through the room. "Let the Seventy-sixth Hunger Games begin!"
I laugh. Quickly. Before anyone has time to register what lies beneath the words I have just uttered. Before
eyebrows are raised, objections are uttered, two and two are put together, and the solution is that I should be
kept as far away from the Capitol as possible. Because an angry, independently thinking victor with a layer of
psychological scar tissue too thick to penetrate is maybe the last person you want on your squad.
"I don't even know why you bothered to put Finnick and me through training, Plutarch," I say.
"Yeah, we're already the two best-equipped soldiers you have," Finnick adds cockily.
"Do not think that fact escapes me," he says with an impatient wave. "Now back in line, Soldiers Odair and
Everdeen. I have a presentation to finish."
We retreat to our places, ignoring the questioning looks thrown our way. I adopt an attitude of extreme
concentration as Plutarch continues, nodding my head here and there, shifting my position to get a better view,
all the while telling myself to hang on until I can get to the woods and scream. Or curse. Or cry. Or maybe all three
If this was a test, Finnick and I both pass it. When Plutarch finishes and the meeting's adjourned, I have a
bad moment when I learn there's a special order for me. But it's merely that I skip the military haircut because
they would like the Mockingjay to look as much like the girl in the arena as possible at the anticipated surrender.
For the cameras, you know. I shrug to communicate that my hair length's a matter of complete indifference to me.
They dismiss me without further comment.
Finnick and I gravitate toward each other in the hallway. "What will I tell Annie?" he says under his breath.
"Nothing," I answer. "That's what my mother and sister will be hearing from me." Bad enough that we know
we're heading back into a fully equipped arena. No use dropping it on our loved ones.
"If she sees that holograph--" he begins.
"She won't. It's classified information. It must be," I say. "Anyway, it's not like an actual Games. Any number
of people will survive. We're just overreacting because--well, you know why. You still want to go, don't you?"
"Of course. I want to destroy Snow as much as you do," he says.
"It won't be like the others," I say firmly, trying to convince myself as well. Then the real beauty of the
situation dawns on me. "This time Snow will be a player, too."
Before we can continue, Haymitch appears. He wasn't at the meeting, isn't thinking of arenas but
something else. "Johanna's back in the hospital."
I assumed Johanna was fine, had passed her exam, but simply wasn't assigned to a sharpshooters' unit.
She's wicked throwing an ax but about average with a gun. "Is she hurt? What happened?"
"It was while she was on the Block. They try to ferret out a soldier's potential weaknesses. So they flooded
the street," says Haymitch.
This doesn't help. Johanna can swim. At least, I seem to remember her swimming around some in the
Quarter Quell. Not like Finnick, of course, but none of us are like Finnick. "So?"
"That's how they tortured her in the Capitol. Soaked her and then used electric shocks," says Haymitch. "In
the Block she had some kind of flashback. Panicked, didn't know where she was. She's back under sedation."
Finnick and I just stand there, as if we've lost the ability to respond. I think of the way Johanna never showers.
How she forced herself into the rain like it was acid that day. I had attributed her misery to the morphling
"You two should go see her. You're as close to friends as she's got," says Haymitch.
That makes the whole thing worse. I don't really know what's between Johanna and Finnick. But I hardly
know her. No family. No friends. Not so much as a token from 7 to set beside her regulation clothes in her
anonymous drawer. Nothing.
"I better go tell Plutarch. He won't be happy," Haymitch continues. "He wants as many victors as possible
for the cameras to follow in the Capitol. Thinks it makes for better television."
"Are you and Beetee going?" I ask.
"As many young and attractive victors as possible," Haymitch corrects himself. "So, no. We'll be here."
Finnick goes directly down to see Johanna, but I linger outside a few minutes until Boggs comes out. He's
my commander now, so I guess he's the one to ask for any special favors. When I tell him what I want to do, he
writes me a pass so that I can go to the woods during Reflection, provided I stay within sight of the guards. I run
to my compartment, thinking to use the parachute, but it's so full of ugly memories. Instead, I go across the hall
and take one of the white cotton bandages I brought from 12. Square. Sturdy. Just the thing.
In the woods, I find a pine tree and strip handfuls of fragrant needles from the boughs. After making a neat
pile in the middle of the bandage, I gather up the sides, give them a twist, and tie them tightly with a length of
vine, making an apple-sized bundle.
At the hospital room door, I watch Johanna for a moment, realize that most of her ferocity is in her abrasive
attitude. Stripped of that, as she is now, there's only a slight young woman, her wide-set eyes fighting to stay
awake against the power of the drugs. Terrified of what sleep will bring. I cross to her and hold out the bundle.
"What's that?" she says hoarsely. Damp edges of her hair form little spikes over her forehead.
"I made it for you. Something to put in your drawer." I place it in her hands. "Smell it."
She lifts the bundle to her nose and takes a tentative sniff. "Smells like home." Tears flood her eyes.
"That's what I was hoping. You being from Seven and all," I say. "Remember when we met? You were a
tree. Well, briefly."
Suddenly, she has my wrist in an iron grip. "You have to kill him, Katniss."
"Don't worry." I resist the temptation to wrench my arm free.
"Swear it. On something you care about," she hisses.
"I swear it. On my life." But she doesn't let go of my arm.
"On your family's life," she insists.
"On my family's life," I repeat. I guess my concern for my own survival isn't compelling enough. She lets go
and I rub my wrist. "Why do you think I'm going, anyway, brainless?"
That makes her smile a little. "I just needed to hear it." She presses the bundle of pine needles to her nose
and closes her eyes.
The remaining days go by in a whirl. After a brief workout each morning, my squad's on the shooting range
full-time in training. I practice mostly with a gun, but they reserve an hour a day for specialty weapons, which
means I get to use my Mockingjay bow, Gale his heavy militarized one. The trident Beetee designed for Finnick
has a lot of special features, but the most remarkable is that he can throw it, press a button on a metal cuff on his
wrist, and return it to his hand without chasing it down.
Sometimes we shoot at Peacekeeper dummies to become familiar with the weaknesses in their protective
gear. The chinks in the armor, so to speak. If you hit flesh, you're rewarded with a burst of fake blood. Our
dummies are soaked in red.
It's reassuring to see just how high the overall level of accuracy is in our group. Along with Finnick and Gale,
the squad includes five soldiers from 13. Jackson, a middle-aged woman who's Boggs's second in command,
looks kind of sluggish but can hit things the rest of us can't even see without a scope. Farsighted, she says.
There's a pair of sisters in their twenties named Leeg--we call them Leeg 1 and Leeg 2 for clarity--who are so
similar in uniform, I can't tell them apart until I notice Leeg 1 has weird yellow flecks in her eyes. Two older guys,
Mitchell and Homes, never say much but can shoot the dust off your boots at fifty yards. I see other squads that
are also quite good, but I don't fully understand our status until the morning Plutarch joins us.
"Squad Four-Five-One, you have been selected for a special mission," he begins. I bite the inside of my
lip, hoping against hope that it's to assassinate Snow. "We have numerous sharpshooters, but rather a dearth of
camera crews. Therefore, we've handpicked the eight of you to be what we call our 'Star Squad.' You will be the
on-screen faces of the invasion."
Disappointment, shock, then anger run through the group. "What you're saying is, we won't be in actual
combat," snaps Gale.
"You will be in combat, but perhaps not always on the front line. If one can even isolate a front line in this
type of war," says Plutarch.
"None of us wants that." Finnick's remark is followed by a general rumble of assent, but I stay silent. "We're
going to fight."
"You're going to be as useful to the war effort as possible," Plutarch says. "And it's been decided that you
are of most value on television. Just look at the effect Katniss had running around in that Mockingjay suit. Turned
the whole rebellion around. Do you notice how she's the only one not complaining? It's because she understands
the power of that screen."
Actually, Katniss isn't complaining because she has no intention of staying with the "Star Squad," but she
recognizes the necessity of getting to the Capitol before carrying out any plan. Still, to be too compliant may
arouse suspicion as well.
"But it's not all pretend, is it?" I ask. "That'd be a waste of talent."
"Don't worry," Plutarch tells me. "You'll have plenty of real targets to hit. But don't get blown up. I've got
enough on my plate without having to replace you. Now get to the Capitol and put on a good show."
The morning we ship out, I say good-bye to my family. I haven't told them how much the Capitol's defenses
mirror the weapons in the arena, but my going off to war is awful enough on its own. My mother holds me tightly
for a long time. I feel tears on her cheek, something she suppressed when I was slated for the Games. "Don't
worry. I'll be perfectly safe. I'm not even a real soldier. Just one of Plutarch's televised puppets," I reassure her.
Prim walks me as far as the hospital doors. "How do you feel?"
"Better, knowing you're somewhere Snow can't reach you," I say.
"Next time we see each other, we'll be free of him," says Prim firmly. Then she throws her arms around my
neck. "Be careful."
I consider saying a final good-bye to Peeta, decide it would only be bad for both of us. But I do slip the
pearl into the pocket of my uniform. A token of the boy with the bread.
A hovercraft takes us to, of all places, 12, where a makeshift transportation area has been set up outside
the fire zone. No luxury trains this time, but a cargo car packed to the limit with soldiers in their dark gray
uniforms, sleeping with their heads on their packs. After a couple of days' travel, we disembark inside one of the
mountain tunnels leading to the Capitol, and make the rest of the six-hour trek on foot, taking care to step only on
a glowing green paint line that marks safe passage to the air above.
We come out in the rebel encampment, a ten-block stretch outside the train station where Peeta and I
made our previous arrivals. It's already crawling with soldiers. Squad 451 is assigned a spot to pitch its tents.
This area has been secured for over a week. Rebels pushed out the Peacekeepers, losing hundreds of lives in
the process. The Capitol forces fell back and have regrouped farther into the city. Between us lie the boobytrapped
streets, empty and inviting. Each one will need to be swept of pods before we can advance.
Mitchell asks about hoverplane bombings--we do feel very naked pitched out in the open--but Boggs says
it's not an issue. Most of the Capitol's air fleet was destroyed in 2 or during the invasion. If it has any craft left, it's
holding on to them. Probably so Snow and his inner circle can make a last-minute escape to some presidential
bunker somewhere if needed. Our own hoverplanes were grounded after the Capitol's antiaircraft missiles
decimated the first few waves. This war will be battled out on the streets with, hopefully, only superficial damage
to the infrastructure and a minimum of human casualties. The rebels want the Capitol, just as the Capitol wanted
After three days, much of Squad 451 risks deserting out of boredom. Cressida and her team take shots of
us firing. They tell us we're part of the disinformation team. If the rebels only shoot Plutarch's pods, it will take the
Capitol about two minutes to realize we have the holograph. So there's a lot of time spent shattering things that
don't matter, to throw them off the scent. Mostly we just add to the piles of rainbow glass that's been blown off the
exteriors of the candy-colored buildings. I suspect they are intercutting this footage with the destruction of
significant Capitol targets. Once in a while it seems a real sharpshooter's services are needed. Eight hands go
up, but Gale, Finnick, and I are never chosen.
"It's your own fault for being so camera-ready," I tell Gale. If looks could kill.
I don't think they quite know what to do with the three of us, particularly me. I have my Mockingjay outfit with
me, but I've only been taped in my uniform. Sometimes I use a gun, sometimes they ask me to shoot with my
bow and arrows. It's as if they don't want to entirely lose the Mockingjay, but they want to downgrade my role to
foot soldier. Since I don't care, it's amusing rather than upsetting to imagine the arguments going on back in 13.
While I outwardly express discontent about our lack of any real participation, I'm busy with my own agenda.
Each of us has a paper map of the Capitol. The city forms an almost perfect square. Lines divide the map into
smaller squares, with letters along the top and numbers down the side to form a grid. I consume this, noting
every intersection and side street, but it's remedial stuff. The commanders here are working off Plutarch's
holograph. Each has a handheld contraption called a Holo that produces images like I saw in Command. They
can zoom into any area of the grid and see what pods await them. The Holo's an independent unit, a glorified
map really, since it can neither send nor receive signals. But it's far superior to my paper version.
A Holo is activated by a specific commander's voice giving his or her name. Once it's working, it responds
to the other voices in the squadron so if, say, Boggs were killed or severely disabled, someone could take over.
If anyone in the squad repeats "nightlock" three times in a row, the Holo will explode, blowing everything in a fiveyard
radius sky-high. This is for security reasons in the event of capture. It's understood that we would all do this
So what I need to do is steal Boggs's activated Holo and clear out before he notices. I think it would be
easier to steal his teeth.
On the fourth morning, Soldier Leeg 2 hits a mislabeled pod. It doesn't unleash a swarm of muttation gnats,
which the rebels are prepared for, but shoots out a sunburst of metal darts. One finds her brain. She's gone
before the medics can reach her. Plutarch promises a speedy replacement.
The following evening, the newest member of our squad arrives. With no manacles. No guards. Strolling
out of the train station with his gun swinging from the strap over his shoulder. There's shock, confusion,
resistance, but 451 is stamped on the back of Peeta's hand in fresh ink. Boggs relieves him of his weapon and
goes to make a call.
"It won't matter," Peeta tells the rest of us. "The president assigned me herself. She decided the propos
needed some heating up."
Maybe they do. But if Coin sent Peeta here, she's decided something else as well. That I'm of more use to
her dead than alive.