Chapter 5

I can't believe it. I won't believe it. District Twelve bombed and burned down in retaliation? Beacuse of me? Surely they...

"I know", Seeder says quietly, breaking my train of thoughts. "It all seems far-fetched and unbelievable. But our sources are adamant. The orders come from Snow himself and will be carried out by his evil minister of justice, Regulus Scipio. In fact, Snow's already dying, and they know what you're about to do. At least", she adds seeing the devastation in me, "they're making a good guess. And they're planning on it. To have an excuse to wipe out an entire District to subdue the others."

This is just plain evil, I think desperately. Am I still a pawn in the Games, then? And what do these people want from me? I have to know. I address Haymitch.

"What do you want from me?"

"First", he exhales in obvious relief, "we'd like you to attend tonight's show and be crown victor like any other victor. Pretend you acted like you did in the interview out of sorrow and mourning. Maybe not jump around in glee, but at least stay impassive. It'll pass as shock."

I hesitate. There's a huge drawback in this plan. I'll have to stay alive after all, and that doesn't suit me at all. I need time to think about it, and I tell him so. But then...

"You said 'first'. What's second, then?"

Again he hesitates. And this time nobody speaks up for him. The other mentors look at everything but me, clearly ill-at-ease. Even Johanna who studies the wind chimes on the branches of the oak above us with a scowl.

"Second", Haymitch finally says, inhaling deeply, "we'd like you to join our cause. We'd like you to become the Mockingjay."

"What do you mean?" I ask him, nonplussed. "Become the Mockingjay?"

His voice, already low, drops to a whisper barely audible.

"The Mockingjay is the embodiment of the resistance, the voice of the rebellion. When seeing Katniss in the arena after Rue's death, we thought she would be the Mockingjay, but..."

I nod in dismay. Katniss, with her courage and her regal attitude would've been the perfect Mockingjay. I'm just the second choice, the only choice since the first died saving me. Another piece in another wicked Games, a larger one, but still.

And that's the end of it. I can't be their Mockingjay. Katniss was meant to be, not me. And even though I know she gave her life for me, I won't be able to take her place in this rebellion. I'm not strong like her. I'm not a survivor like her. And I'm definitely not anyone's pawn anymore.

I want to lash out in anger at them, tell them to go to fucking hell, but I can't. I feel myself crumpling yet again, hugging my sides and almost doubling over.

Haymitch reaches out but I stop him, not wanting anything more from him or anyone. "Don't!"

"Peeta", he says tentatively, "please, just—"

"No!", I cut him abruptly, my voice filled with barely controlled, furious and aching sobs. "No more of this shit! I won't be what you want me to be! I've been used already in these fucking Hunger Games, don't expect me to be anymore!"

"Peeta", Seeder starts, "we don't want to use you. On the contrary, we—"

"Enough!" I yell, covering my ears and retreating towards the door leading into the building. "Leave me alone! I said no!"

Finnick, looking mad, takes a step towards me but Haymitch grabs him by the shoulder, murmuring something too low for me to hear, shooting me an unhappy look. I don't care. I don't fucking care! He left me to die in the arena, for heaven's sake! And now he needs me!

I stomp back to my bedroom, ignoring and upsetting Effie, but I just don't care anymore. I throw myself on the bed, still sobbing my heart out, still shouting her name. "Katniss! Katniss!"

Nobody disturbs me, and it's fine by me. I'm too busy crying myself hoarse again, grieving for the love of my life. I'm supposed to attend the crowning ceremony in a couple hours, but I honestly don't know if I can face it. And now I know the Capitol is awaiting me to murder Snow so they can bomb District Twelve, I'm no longer eager to go.

So they stole everything from me, I think bitterly. My loved one, my reason to live, my innocence, my idea of revenge. I'm a lonely murderer with nothing to go back to in District Twelve except hate and pain and an empty life ahead of me. And I won't be used anymore.

As this last idea resonates in my head, something breaks in me again. My will to live and die for a purpose. I wanted to die a hero for the rebellion, killing Snow before being shot by Peacekeepers or lynched by the Capitol people. Even that I cannot do. I still care enough for the remaining people in my District not to trigger an awful retaliation on them, including my family, or at least my father and brothers. So I'll have to do it myself. I know I'm being monitored, it'll be tricky.

I take a look at my surroundings, calming enough to wipe away the tears blinding me without fresh ones to trouble my vision again. And I see them. Deep crimson curtains held with matching bits of embroidered rope and bobbles at each end. Perfect, I think.

I know I'll be stopped if I make my intentions clear, so I go for another wrecking fit. I tear everything down, breaking my bedpost, the lamps, the furniture, and of course the curtains. I surreptitiously pocket a rope while wailing and crashing porcelain under my feet, and I keep going for a long ten minutes more. During the fit I see Haymitch and Effie out of the corner of my eye in the doorway, but they don't stay. They gaze at me with pained looks on their faces, but I'm beyond their pity.

At last I slowly stop, pretending to feel weakened and tired by my outburst. I exit my bedroom, now a fresh havoc, and make my way to the roof, leaning forward as if burdened by anvils. I can barely make out Haymitch and Effie's muted voices from the sitting room, but I ignore them. I have nothing to say to them.

I step out in the fading daylight, taking another good view of the Capitol. Such a beautiful place, where so much evil roams freely. It's almost a personal insult for me. I take a good breath, inhaling the city, and make my way to the biggest tree on the roof. It's an oak, and its highest branches tower at twenty metres above ground.

Maybe I'm still spied at, so I start to climb the tree. I know I won't be able to have too much time from now on, and I didn't often climb, except our apple tree in the backyard of our bakery when my mother wasn't watching. But I climb as fast as I can, cutting my palms and breaking my nails. I don't care. I can't feel any pain except the gaping hole in my heart.

I stop when I'm ten metres up. Enough to give me time from Peacekeepers, or from Haymitch or his new friends. I quickly take out my rope. It's only a metre long, but it's enough. I make a noose and tie the end to the branch just above me. The noose is just large enough for my neck to go through, no rope left for me to dangle from. I don't care.

I can hear hurried footsteps coming from the building towards me, so I don't waste any time. The Capitol stole my life, they won't steal my death as well. I fasten the noose around my neck, take a last look at the setting sun, losing myself in its soft orange glow. On the ground below me someone yells, "He's up there! He's got a rope around his neck!"

Time's up, I dimly think. So I take a deep breath, ignoring the frantic swarming under my feet, only thinking of Katniss waiting for me, almost hearing her reassuring whisper in the rustling leaves around me, and I take a step forward.

A jolting sensation brings me out of my unconsciousness, and I gasp for air, frantically looking around me, taking in the somehow familiar surroundings. I'm lying on my back on a bed, and this puzzles me. I was hanging myself last I checked, and my hand shoots upwards to feel the rope digging in my flesh, crashing my larynx. But nothing. How weird, I think. Am I already dead? But then why am I sweating like mad, my heart hammering in my chest?

While trying to regain my bearings I take a better look around me. The room is huge, even larger than the one in the Training Center in the Capitol, scarcely furnished, with orange walls. Orange...

My mind, already on edge thanks to my failed suicide attempt, goes into overdrive. I remember now where I am. I'm in my room, in the house I've been given in Victor's Village in District Twelve, or rather what's left of it after the bombing. But then, I think slowly, realization dawning on me, then it means that... that Katniss...

A pair of footsteps echoing through my house stops my train of thoughts, and hope flares up in my fluttering heart. Maybe this was all a nightmare! Maybe she's here, alive and safe!

I hear a growl coming from down the stairs, and I recognize Haymitch's drunken voice. "… right about his alarming state, sweetheart, because I don't like being woken up at this time of day."

"For heaven's sake, Haymitch! It's past midday! And I told you he's unconscious! I can't wake him up!"

"Since when do you care about him, sweetheart? I bet it's the first time you leave that house of yours since you came back." Haymitch's sarcastic voice bounces off the walls of the staircase.

"Oh, damnit, Haymitch! He comes every morning to my house with fresh bread, but this morning nothing!" Katniss says, sounding anguished and panicked. "So one hour ago I came here to see if he was okay, and I found him on the floor of his bedroom, flailing around, screaming his head off, eyes rolling! I tell you he needs help!"

The door opens, and she stops talking as she walks in, followed by a disgruntled Haymitch. She looks worried out of her mind, she has dark circles under her eyes, her olive skin looks paler than usual, and yet she's never been more beautiful to me. As I take in her presence, relief and love flood through me, warming me to the bone, allowing me to breathe. She's here! She's safe! It was a nightmare!

"Peeta!" she shouts, running to me and taking my hand. "You're awake! Are you all right? I couldn't wake you, you were thrashing around and screaming in your sleep! I couldn't leave you and Haymitch wouldn't answer his damn phone! I..."

She trails off, obviously taking in my bewildered expression. And suddenly I can't hold off any longer. I get up, throwing away the quilt, and I take her in my arms. I kiss her urgently, passionately, not quite believing what's happening. She's alive! She's alive and safe and here!

At first she kisses me back, but after a few seconds she pulls away, looking stunned and flushed. "Peeta", she says, "I think you're not in your right mind. Are you all right?"

"I've never been more in my whole life", I say fervently, drinking her in, feeling so relieved and happy I'm starting to feel dizzy.

And two seconds later, my head starts spinning violently and my knees buckle under me. Katniss catches me with her firm grip, and Haymitch comes to help her putting me back on my bed.

"Peeta, what's wrong?" she asks me, frightened. "Just stay awake!"

"No problem", I whisper, my bed transforming into a rocking boat, making me queasy.

"You don't smell alcohol", Haymitch says, bending over me and appraising me. "What happened to you, kid?"

I rack my brains, trying to remember past my awful nightmare. What happened to me to make me so ill and dreaming such dreadful things? And then it starts coming back, bits by bits.

"It's this new treatment from the Capitol", I recall. "Dr Aurelius sent it to me. He thought it would help me fighting back the episodes. I swallowed it and after a few minutes I felt bone tired. So I went to my bedroom, but I don't remember anything else. Except my nightmare."

"What kind of nightmare?" Katniss asks, still holding my hand but clearly unaware of it.

"The horrible kind", I mutter, looking away from her, seeing her dead before my eyes. "The kind where you died in the arena for me."

Silence follows my words. I hear Haymitch leave the room, unusually quiet. Then Katniss sits on the bed by my side, tightening her grip on my hand.

"It explains the kiss. You believed me dead."

"It was so real", I explain, sitting up, shedding tears unshamefully, the pressure going down. "In my nightmare, you died after injecting me the cure in the cave, while I was out. I was desperate. I won the Games to avenge you, but after that there was nothing left for me. So I hung myself in a tree on the roof of the Training Center in the Capitol. I woke up right when I walked off the branch."

She squeezes my hand gently, and I can't resist anymore. The physical distance between us is too much for my wounded heart. Since I came back to District Twelve I've kept my distance with her, giving her time to heal as she sorely needed it. She was a wreck, worse than me, and she was slowly coming back to life. But now it's me who needs her.

I lean towards her and put my head on her shoulder, my cheeks wet, my chest heaving with sobs and fighting nausea. I'm trembling from head to toe, from cold and from dread. I don't want to lose her, ever.

She grabs my quilt and wraps it around us, and put an arm around my shoulders. After a few seconds, she kisses my forehead softly, like a feather on my skin.

"You're feverish", she says kindly. "You should lie down."

"No. I'm afraid to go to sleep."

I want her to stay with me, but I don't say it aloud. She needs space, and I've just kissed her. I don't want to suffer another rejection, but I'm so afraid of letting her out of my sight!

She squeezes me a little harder and says, "Lie down, Peeta. I'll lie down with you."

"You will?" I'm astonished, locking eyes with her and admiring her silver gaze and unusually understanding expression.

"Of course", she says with a small smile. "All you have to do is ask. It's not like I've never asked myself."

I stare at her with all my love, hoping she can see it, and I'm rewarded with her cheeks getting crimson. So I lie back down, and she helps me removing my prosthetic leg without a flinch. Then I ask, my voice not quite steady, "Katniss, will you stay with me?"

She lies down by my side, snuggling inside the crook of my arm, and we hug like never before.

"Always", she exhales in obvious satisfaction.

I sigh happily, hugging her a little tighter, and she surprises me even more. She starts to caress my chest and my face. I do the same on her arms, her hair, her neck, her face.

Pretty soon we're kissing like on the beach during the Quarter Quell, where I could've sworn she loved me. A powerful desire clenches my guts, and I feel myself harden against her. I love her so much it almost hurts. But it also heals my broken heart.

When we pull apart for air, we exchange a smile.

"Lucky Haymitch didn't stay", I tell her. She giggles, and the sound is like the bells of heaven.

We kiss some more, and then I ask her the question I've wanted to ask since our first kiss in the arena of the 74th Hunger Games.

"You love me. Real or not real?"

She hesitates for a second, and I'm afraid she'll crumple back on herself. But then she sets her jaw, her eyes full of an emotion I've rarely seen on her, and she murmurs her answer in my ear before kissing me some more.


And this time, with joy erupting throughout all my body, I know that this is not a nightmare, but my dearest dream come true.

A/N: That's it, then! The end of this Everlark story. I set it during the last chapters of Mockingjay, as you probably noticed. I do hope you enjoyed it! Thanks for the readers who followed, favourited and/or reviewed! Feedback is always welcome, even years after the last update ;)