Six months since I've had to deal with anything from the Capitol. My life has barely changed. I still live in the same elegant house. My brother is more respectful of me but lately he's been dropping hints that something is wrong but I have no idea what. The pain has lessened. On occasion I can almost delude myself into thinking that this isn't so bad, and that Eva was a fool to sacrifice herself. That in the end they thought they were giving me punishment but they were wrong.
Six months. I like to think I've dulled the pain.
The worst part is that I can barely remember why I was upset during the day. A part of me feels happy, I feel happy.
But when I return home and close my eyes, arms sometimes wrapped around another body, sometimes around a pillow, it all comes back. All. Of. It. Comes. Flushing back into my mind. I see it like I'm still there. The blood. The pain. Can't be blocked out, and the pain of being beaten to a pulp by Eva comes back full-blast. I scream and shout every time, scaring the shit out of the girl in my bed. She leaves and doesn't come back.
One thing Noah was wrong about though. I'm no longer desirable as a prostitute. Not with my injuries and rumors of mental instability. I try to hide it, I really do. But no matter what I do I can only feel distant contempt and hatred for the people around me.
Six months ago, I was a totally different person. Cocky. Arrogant. Competent. What happened?
Ha ha. Ha ha. Why do I want to get into this again? They broke me. But did I deserve to be broken? I killed, yes, but is that not the goal of the Games? I made it out, but even after the Games I still killed, and I only survived because someone else sacrificed their life for my ungrateful being.
WHY THE HELL DO PEOPLE WANT ME ALIVE? What the HELL do they have against me?
I have been kept from any sharp objects, and when at the dinner table I am kept a close eye on. There is no proof that I murdered Chef, still none, but still they are wary. Still they distrust me and whisper behind my back. Likely degrading, or perhaps, even worse, pitying me! And yet in the day, I can pretend everything's alright, and laugh off the idea of suicide as childish and selfish.
It's at night when I feel most like I was in the Arena.
I'm an animal, aren't I?
I can't afford to be repetitive. And yet no matter what I do my thoughts keep cycling around to the same old story, what I could have done better, what I should have done better. The fact is that I didn't. I am here. Alive.
And I'm currently having to relive this fucking pain more than ever now that I'm on the Victory Tour. Per usual, I head to the districts in descending order. District 12 wasn't too bad, although having to talk nicely about Cody and Sierra was a pain in the ass. I never interacted with them, but I genuinely respected that Cody had managed to make it so far, particularly after Sierra's death. I let them know of the fact, but I'm sure that it rang hollow. I had to keep my voice from cracking several times.
District 11 is a bit harder. I can only remember how I tortured LeShawna and almost killed her. I can only remember DJ the pacifist, whom I had thought so foolish at the time. It's hard to speak about their bravery in front of such a large crowd of people, all of them people who hate my guts. And rightfully so, really.
District 10 speeds by. I don't even remember their tributes' names. They both died in the Bloodbath, so I just read off of the cue cards like the good little boy I am supposed to be.
District 9, home of Trent and Gwen, is where I currently am. My heart is beating as I hold the cue cards in my hand. Trent was a fearsome opponent, and had I met him I would have respected his skills as a worthy adversary. Gwen was a warrior and I am truly sorry for her loss. I recite the lines in my head as I pace backstage.
Jose pulls me over, and I yelp. We haven't really talked throughout the whole trip. He looks me in the eye. "Brother, it's been six months and I haven't been able to talk to you without someone else listening."
"What do you want?" I ask irritably. "I'm about to make a speech."
My brother narrows his eyes. "You don't really care about the speech. Just the same as I didn't care about any of my speeches."
"What is it that you want?"
My brother sighs. "I couldn't tell you because there were people watching us all the time. I examined the unedited footage of your chat with Noah..." He glances around nervously, looking more and more nervous by the second. "...and...I...was used...by...the Capitol..." His breathing starts to accelerate as well. My eyes widen as I realize what he is saying.
"You mean, you were..."
He nods frantically. "I made the Career districts look like utter fools, and by extension the Capitol itself. They threatened to kill you. I guess...the meanness kind of stemmed from that."
I examine him. It doesn't seem like he's lying. He doesn't have any reason to. But years and years of not trusting him, of being bullied by him have made me wary.
"Are you sure?" I ask weakly.
He nods. "I wish I could have told you...you have no idea how hard it is being blackmailed and being unable to do anything about it...I couldn't show ANYTHING! I couldn't open up to people!"
I sigh, placing an arm on his shoulder. "Thank you for telling me this. We can talk about this later, okay? I promise."
He nods and smiles, and I walk onto the stage, looking out into the crowd.
My eyes find the escort who had witnessed the death of Chef and who had given me Eva's token.
He nods his head at me slightly. My heartbeat accelerates slightly. I look out to the crowd and under a picture of Trent I see his crying family.
From what I saw of his interviews, he seemed like a nice, friendly guy.
What the hell happened to him?
What the hell happened to me?
I open my mouth and words tumble out, recited flatly off of the cue cards. I talk about how they fought, and about how their parents should be proud of them. Shit like that. Empty piles of crap they are. Empty pile of horseshit I am.
Soon enough the speech ends. They applaud, but on their faces I know there is only pain and anger. Same as my face. But my anger is scattered and isn't going anywhere any time soon.
The celebrations are over.
I return to the train as soon as I can. Jose yawns. "I'm going to bed, brother. I'll see you tomorrow."
I nod. "See you, Jose."
The door closes and I collapse on the couch as the train starts to move. I close my eyes and events from the Arena dance behind my eyelids. Chef hits the floor with a thud while Scarlett stands there holding the gun, a victorious smirk on her face. A pawn, I was. A fool, I was.
"It certainly has been a while, hasn't it?"
I open my eyes, and once again the escort stands there. I look around nervously. The train's moving. I'm not sure what he's doing here or even if he should be here. It occurs to me that I never really thought about where escorts went after the Games. I guess I assumed they went back to the Capitol. So why is he here?"
"What are you doing here?" I ask nervously, shifting around. He motions for me to calm down.
"No one knows I'm here. The doors are locked. Don't worry. I just want some time to talk, okay?" He sits down across from me drink in hand. "My name is Billy. How have you been?"
"You want to know how I've been?" I ask, laughing in disbelief. "These last six months have been both amazing and miserable. Killing Chris and Blaineley...didn't...change anything. I only feel worse now because someone else had to sacrifice their life for me..."
"Do you know why Chef sacrificed himself for you?" Billy asks me.
I look around slightly. "Okay, I'm still a little confused about that. Could you explain everything? Like, from the beginning."
Billy sighs and sits back, his face darkening slightly. "Chef was in charge of our operations here. He covertly reported high-up decisions to us. He gathered information and we helped out. We tried to get Trent out of the Arena alive, but we underestimated Noah's brutality."
I laugh. "You were trying to get that psycho out of here?"
Billy looks at me. "As if you have any room to talk." The mood sobers up once again.
"After Trent's death we just decided to roll with things, and have a talk with the victor after we were done. Persuade them to escape the Capitol to come with us. Scarlett was blackmailing us into doing her bidding. All the guards who were there that night, they were ours, but under her orders. She could have had the President executed and we would have been forced to comply."
"But didn't you want that?" I ask, voice cracking. "And why did he save me?"
Billy looks at me. "He seemed to think you could help us, and that he had outlived his own usefulness. By dying and claiming that he made the insurrection up, he set back Scarlett's plans significantly. Oh, she still blackmailed us, still is, as a matter of fact. She decided she needed a loyal group of people who would answer to her, and we seemed to fit the bill."
I growl. "That bitch..."
He nods. "I'm not going back to the Capitol. And hopefully, neither are you. Scarlett has become a powerful political figure in her own right. People whom she doesn't like or doesn't have any need for have started 'disappearing,' including Sugar and Josh, who was her contact with the insurrection. I have a source that she has an agreement with the caretaker of the mutations to dispose of the bodies."
I wince. "That's...sick. How could someone do that?"
Billy rolls his eyes. "Once again, like you have any room to talk. If it were up to me, I'd trade you out for Chef in a heartbeat." He leans forward. "But considering you're the reason Chef is dead, the least we can do is talk to you."
"Why?" I ask weakly. "Why why why why WHY? WHY does everyone want me alive? What is so fucking important about me? Can't I just be left in peace? Can't...can't I just be NORMAL?"
"Believe it or not, being a Victor means you can never be normal again," Billy says. "If you want my honest opinion, I didn't like you during the Games. I thought you were going to die. You murdered, gloated, tortured, and were in general a total asshole. I wish Eva were here instead of you. Hell, any of the final five but you would have been great. Eva, Izzy, Noah, Cody...but no matter. You're in too deep now, and there's no going back. And I might say, you seem pretty miserable where you are now."
"What's your motherfucking point?" I seethe. "Just tell me what you want! Don't speak in circles, just get to the point already!"
Billy takes a deep breath, in and out. "We'd like to get you off of this train."
"We'd like to help you escape. You're broken, and I don't think you can ever be repaired completely. But I think...that if you stay where you are now you'll only get worse."
I slide down in my chair a little bit. "Leave? To where?"
Billy's eyes shift around before settling back on mine. "You all know what happened to District 13, correct?"
"It was destroyed during the rebellion," I say calmly. "We all know this."
"District 13 was not destroyed. They were merely forced underground, never to bother the Capitol again. As long as they leave the Capitol alone, they won't be included in the Games. However, they allow our insurgent group to operate out of their headquarters, unbeknownst to the Capitol. One of our recent missions involved escorting Dawn Raleigh and Cameron Wilkins to District 13, but Agent Miller and his team have not been heard from. One of their most ruthless Peacekeepers, Jo, was dispatched. We assume the worst, but we can get you out of here. You can come with us there if you so desire."
"What about the rest of the insurrection?" I ask.
"We're evacuating the Capitol," he says. "Slowly trickling out as discreetly as we can. Scarlett could reveal us at any time. I managed to stow away to District 9 along with several of my team. We're ready to get you out of here. If you want to, of course."
I rub my shoulder slightly. "I...don't know."
"What do you mean, you don't know? I thought you wanted out of here!"
"It's not that I don't want that," I say hesitantly. "It's just that...well, for the first time ever my brother has shown vulnerability. I don't want to leave my parents behind. That would be selfish of me."
"Because you've never been selfish before," he deadpans, and I ball my fists. I don't like him very much.
"Well, what would you do if you had to leave your family behind?" I ask.
"My family is dead!" he yells. "Killed by Antonius! You're not the only one with problems, Al! And here we are hoping to get you away from them, you just keep digging yourself deeper! You didn't HAVE to kill Chris! You didn't HAVE to be the bad guy, but you were anyway!"
"I was trying to win!"
"You were a FOOL!"
I rise to my feet. "How about everyone STOPS REMINDING ME ABOUT THAT AND ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING?"
It's quiet, and I hear noise from the other cars. Billy looks around nervously. "We don't have much time. I'm leaving this train now. I'm not going to let the Capitol control me any longer. You should think about that." He opens the door to the previous car as the train bumps along. I look to the train car in front of me, where Jose will undoubtedly be coming through soon. I look back at Billy's retreating figure.
I'll come back for you guys, I say in my head, and follow Billy.
He turns around and a wicked grin stretches across his face. "Good. Follow me."
He walks me down the cars and I see that the escorts and servants are drugged and unconscious on the floor. Sitting in a chair typing away at a screen is the overweight Avox from the night of Chef's death.
"B, he's coming," Billy says. "Are we clear?" The Avox, B gives a thumbs up.
A skinny, tanned male with spiked hair peers his head around the door. "We've got two minutes! We're cutting this close!"
"It'll be fine, Mike. Brick, how's it coming?"
Billy moves through to the caboose and barricades the door behind him. A man with short-cut hair stands at the end of the caboose, looking out an open door at the countryside beside us. He turns to face us. "Parachutes are ready, we need to get them on FAST! We have a five second window to jump before we head back onto land. And jumping out of a moving train at this speed won't be pretty if there's ground right underneath us."
The skinny one, Mike, straps a harness and a backpack onto me. "When we tell you to jump, jump. It's only wide enough for three of us to jump at a time. Use your parachute as soon as possible. Hitting water from this height wouldn't be pretty."
I stand at the edge of the car, harness on, looking out at the countryside zipping by in front of me. The wind blows my hair around wildly, and I wonder if this is what I need. If this is what I want.
Billy walks in and stands next to me, parachute on his back. He gives me a nod. Brick moves in on the other side. B and Mike wait.
"One minute!" Mike yells.
My head whips around as I hear shouts from the other end of the train car.
"They're coming!" Brick yells.
"Thirty seconds!" Mike bellows.
Billy places a hand on my shoulder. "It's not too late. If you want to go back, I won't stop you."
I look back at the barricaded door, and then out at the freedom in front of me. I'll come back for my parents and for Jose. But I will not spend another minute being a pawn. I don't deserve freedom. I don't deserve a second chance.
But the world doesn't always work in black and white, it seems.
I shake my head. "No. But I want my family back soon."
"Not now," Billy says. "But I promise we'll try our best."
There's more banging on the door as people try to get through. Jose is probably on the other side wondering what's going on. But I can't go back. Not now, not ever.
I remember now. I remember those I've killed. By name, each and every one of them. Eva. Izzy. Noah. Courtney. Harold. Geoff. And all the others I hurt. I remember them all now. I don't feel guilty...or perhaps I do, one can never be sure. But maybe I can move on.
"Ten seconds! Nine! Eight! Seven! Six! Five!"
The door barges open and Jose stands there before me, looking confused and betrayed.
Mike mercilessly continues the countdown, and I meet Jose's eyes for a split second.
I turn away and look at the brightness ahead of me.
I take a deep breath as a guard raises his gun.
B tackles the guard to the ground before he can fire, and I look out over the bridge, heart pumping through my body.
The wind rushes through my ears as I plummet towards the water, and quickly I pull the string. The parachute fills out above me and the wind slows as I float down, Billy and Brick on either side of me. It's quiet.
In a few moments, we've touched down in the lake below, and I breathe a sigh of relief. We made it. We made it. I look around at the other two who are floating in the water.
"Is everyone okay?"
Something bloody smacks into me at an alarming velocity, catching itself in my parachute, and I'm pulled underwater.
Bubbles escape from my mouth as I frantically try to take the backpack off, but to no avail. I scramble to untangle myself, and slide the backpack off of my shoulders.
I look down and blood spreads throughout the water as I see Mike's lifeless eyes staring at me, his body being dragged down by the parachute, until I can't see him anymore, only the blood.
I swim back up to the surface. As my head reaches above water, I gasp for air as I start treading water. Billy and Brick do the same. All of us gasp for air and try to swim for shore. We made it. We made it out.
"Where's B?" I ask, but no one answers. "Where's B?" I ask again.
"No longer here," Billy spits out water as he talks, glaring at us. "Same as Mike. He sacrificed himself so we could make it out."
Tears fill up my eyes once again and a growl spreads through me. Once again, someone saved me...
Brick looks up at the tracks. The train is gone. "He was a true soldier. We will never forget him or Mike. Come on. We need to get to shore."
It's quiet as the three of us start swimming. The sloshing of water is the only thing we can hear. The water is cold, but I quickly get used to it. I dissolve into a rhythm that allows me to forget about my worries, my sorrows, my insanity.
I wash up onto the shore, coughing weakly. Brick crawls onto the sand, breathing in and out deeply and calmly. Billy is struggling in the water, and immediately Brick gets over his tiredness and goes back out to help.
Selfless, he is.
I look up at the red-stained evening sky. The only thing that fills me is hatred. Not for the Capitol, no. But for myself. Because I don't know what the hell I'm doing, or where the hell I'm going, or even if I want to be living right now anymore. I don't deserve to live. Even Billy said as much. He'd have preferred that the oh so brave, noble Eva of all people. Or anyone but me...
Brick pulls Billy back to shore, and the escort coughs weakly. "We need to keep moving..." Billy groans, struggling to rise to his feet. "The Capitol will be sending troops after us and we need to regroup with the pack."
I nod as the three remaining members of the insurrection look at one another. "I'll help you out any way I can, sir," Brick says calmly, linking his shoulder with the escort's.
"I'll do it," I say, moving towards Brick. "You can just walk for a bit. You deserve the rest."
Brick looks ready to protest, but Billy nods to him. "Let him do it, Brick. It's fine."
Brick unlinks himself, and I take his place. The three of us walk through the woods, and I look up to see a tree similar to the one Noah had been sitting in. I see a clearing that reminds me of where I murdered Courtney. I close my eyes. I remember them. I remember them all.
I turn to the straw-haired escort as we keep moving. "I don't deserve to be here, do I?"
Billy shakes his head. "No. I don't think you do. Seems kinda anticlimactic, don't ya think? But hey, we got you out of here. As long as you can fight, as long as you can survive, I think we can put it past us."
"I'm not going to feel any better," I say, choking up a bit slightly.
"No...I think you will," he says with a genuine smile in my direction. "I don't think you'll ever be able to repay the families of the tributes you killed, or of the world. People like the President, people like Scarlett are still out there. Alejandro, don't think of this as a selfish means of escape. Think of it...as a clean slate. A new opportunity."
With that he falls into silence as we trudge through the woods.
A clean slate, huh?
I am never going to fully get past everything that happened in the Arena.
I might get better, but not fully healed.
I still have no idea what I'm doing.
But maybe it's time to let fate decide what happens next, rather than trying to make things better than myself and making things worse in the process.
Maybe it's time to let go. Behind me, the sun dips behind the horizon, leaving only darkness in the path ahead of me.
But the sun will come up again.
And I'll be ready for it.
And so it ends.
Thank you all for reading. This has truly been a pleasure.
I'm not sure how you all will react to this. Personally my only problem with this ending is that it would rather mitigate Al's karma. But as this is portrayed realistically...Al isn't going to get over it just like that. He still has a shitload of grievances and a long-distance trek while being pursued by the Capitol. I chose to end it here because it was the only ending that made sense to me.
He is the Victor only in name.
All those who died with content in the Games, Team E-Scope, Cody, Sierra, Bridgette, DJ, Gwen, Geoff, even EZEKIEL...THEY are the true Victors because they went out in peace.
So what happens next?
That's for your imagination to decide.
So for the last time: