Chapter 35

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Hours. Days. Weeks. Months. Years. I could've been in this cell for anyone of them. Judging by the amount of times they fed me (bread and water twice a day), I figured I'd been stuck here for about a month. And every day was hell. New forms of torture and what they called "persuasion" everyday and yet they still didn't understand that I knew nothing about the rebels and the uprising. I knew of building tensions in the Districts, having seen the uprising in eight last year on Katniss and Peeta's Victory Tour, but I wasn't aware of a plot bubbling beneath the surface. In a way, I'm impressed by how well they were able to conceal everything from Snow - but I don't know exactly what they were planning. I only know of Finnick, Haymitch and now - since Snow had let it slip during a particularly nasty torture session - Plutarch's involvement but I never even knew District 13 still existed.

I've become weaker and tired, my skin felt pale and as dry as my throat. It hurt to breathe in, my body bruised and cut. My short hair was beginning to grow, but it was wild and unruly. If I breathed in, I could feel my ribs begin to poke out from being starved. The once pristine white floors are now stained with blood, my blood. There are days where I have chunks of time blocked out, blurry and missing. I'm not sure if it's my own mind ridding me of those horrid experiences, or that I was in so much pain I blacked out. It wouldn't be the first time. I know now that on the left of my cell is Peeta's cell, which broke my heart to think he wasn't rescued either and that Katniss must be livid with Snow, and on the right is Johanna, which is equally as awful to think about. We're all too familiar with each other's screams.

The worst part of being in this damned cell, however, is the fact that it is so far away from Finnick Odair. It's cruel how much we've been ripped apart from each other in our lives - and this time I'm determined to remember him. Every day I pray he's safe and he's not stupid enough to come and rescue me, despite the threat I yelled at Snow on the first day I woke up here. I pray Haymitch isn't foolish enough to let him come for me; it'll only get the both of us killed. If I die here, knowing he's safe...then that is a death I'd willingly accept. Anything is better than the pain.

~

I hear the heavy clicking of my cell door, and hear it unlock and open. From where I lay in the far corner, utterly exhausted, I muster the courage to flick my gaze up. A pair of black shoes are by the door and I turn my head and sit up, back against the wall, to see Coriolanus Snow smiling down at me. He nods to the Peacekeeper guard outside of my door and it swings shut with a clang. He takes the little stool by the door and places his hands on his knees.

"Hello, Miss Everly," he says, ever so calmly. "It's been a while."

"Not nearly long enough," I narrow my eyes at him and take a deep breath, apprehension beginning to course through my veins. "What new form of torture have you invented for me today?"

He chuckles and leans back. "Oh, I've not come with any form of device today, Miss Everly,"

That makes me frown. No torture? In my month here, there hasn't been a visit from Snow (which was still rare) without torture following. "Then why are you here?"

"I'm going to tell you a story," the tyrant grins and something twinkles in his eyes; something surely sinister.

"A...story?" I repeat, wary of how harmless it sounds. Nothing about Snow is harmless. Nothing.

"A story," he nods. "And listen very closely, Miss Everly, as there's a lesson to be learn within it. I find that they're the best kind of stories, don't you think?"

No, I don't think. I don't want to know what story he's going to tell me. Anything he says is sure to be evil and cruel and I would like nothing more than to lash out and stop him from being able to speak forever. Sadly for me, my wrists and ankles are bound and the only way I'm getting out of them is for them to be unlocked. And I doubt that's going to happen any time soon.

"Once upon a time..."

~

- Finnick's P.O.V -

A month. A long, arduous month without Anna by my side. I can barely breathe without her - and Coin expects me to become a 'Rebel Leader' when I can hardly survive without knowing she's safe. I know that she isn't, she's far from safe. In the lion's den. I ignore all my schedules printed on my arm, and instead spent my time in my room, hoping, wishing, praying that they'll keep her alive long enough for me to get to her. I need to get to her, I won't rest until I know that she's safe in my arms. Anything less simply wont do.

Before I can think another thought, the little television screen that plays Capitol broadcasts catches my eye as the camera pulls back to reveal Peeta in an interview with Caesar Flickerman. I rush towards it and turn the volume up. He looks perfectly normal, no injuries or any hint of pain inflicted upon him. If Peeta's alive...then surely?

Caesar settles himself more comfortably in the chair across from Peeta and gives him a long look. "So...Peeta...welcome back."

Peeta smiles slightly. "I bet you thought you'd done your last interview with me, Caesar."

"I confess, I did," says Caesar. "The night before the Quarter Quell...well, who ever thought we'd see you again?"

"It wasn't part of my plan, that's for sure," says Peeta with a frown. Mine either, Peeta.

Caesar leans in to him a little. "I think it was clear to all of us what your plan was. To sacrifice yourself in the arena so that Katniss Everdeen and your child could survive."

"That was it. Clear and simple." Peeta's fingers trace the upholstered pattern on the arm of the chair. "But other people had plans as well."

Yes we did, and it didn't turn out great for any of us.

"Why don't you tell us about that last night in the arena?" suggests Caesar. "Help us sort a few things out."

Peeta nods but takes his time speaking. "That last night...to tell you about that last night...well, first of all, you have to imagine how it felt in the arena. It was like being an insect trapped under a bowl filled with steaming air. And all around you, jungle...green and alive and ticking. That giant clock ticking away your life. Every hour promising some new horror. You have to imagine that in the past two days, sixteen people have died--some of them defending you. At the rate things are going, the last eight will be dead by morning. Save one. The victor. And your plan is that it won't be you. Once you're in the arena, the rest of the world becomes very distant," he continues. "All the people and things you loved or cared about almost cease to exist. The pink sky and the monsters in the jungle and the tributes who want your blood become your final reality, the only one that ever mattered. As bad as it makes you feel, you're going to have to do some killing, because in the arena, you only get one wish. And it's very costly."

"It costs your life," says Caesar. I laugh at that. There are worst things than being dead. I'd rather be dead than without Anna.

"Oh, no. It costs a lot more than your life. To murder innocent people?" says Peeta. "It costs everything you are."

"Everything you are," repeats Caesar quietly.

Peeta goes on. "So you hold on to your wish.And that last night, yes, my wish was to save Katniss. I'm sure Finnick's was to save Vivianna. But even without knowing about the rebels, it didn't feel right. Everything was too complicated. I found myself regretting I hadn't run off with her earlier in the day, as she had suggested. But there was no getting out of it at that point."

"You were too caught up in Beetee's plan to electrify the salt lake," says Caesar.

"Too busy playing allies with the others. I should have never let them separate us!" Peeta bursts out. "That's when I lost her."

"When you stayed at the lightning tree, and she, Vivianna Everly and Johanna Mason took the coil of wire down to the water," Caesar clarifies.

"I didn't want to!" Peeta flushes in agitation. "But I couldn't argue with Beetee without indicating we were about to break away from the alliance. When that wire was cut, everything just went insane. I can only remember bits and pieces. Trying to find her. I know she was calling my name. Then the lightning bolt hit the tree, and the force field around the arena...blew out."

"Katniss blew it out, Peeta," says Caesar. "You've seen the footage."

Footage? Does that mean Anna's seen it? I bite my lip hard, drawing blood.

"She didn't know what she was doing. None of us could follow Beetee's plan. You can see her trying to figure out what to do with that wire," Peeta snaps back.

"All right. It just looks suspicious," says Caesar. "As if she was part of the rebels' plan all along."

Peeta's on his feet, leaning in to Caesar's face, hands locked on the arms of his interviewer's chair. "Really? And was it part of her plan for Johanna to nearly kill her? For that electric shock to paralyze her? To trigger the bombing?" He's yelling now. "She didn't know, Caesar! Neither of us knew anything except that we were trying to keep each other alive!"

Caesar places his hand on Peeta's chest in a gesture that's both self-protective and conciliatory. "Okay, Peeta, I believe you."

"Okay." Peeta withdraws from Caesar, pulling back his hands, running them through his hair. He slumps back in his chair, distraught.

Caesar waits a moment, studying Peeta. "What about your mentor, Haymitch Abernathy? And your previous mentor turned tribute, Vivianna?"

Peeta's face hardens. Haymitch, how he misses Anna too. He never seems to be around and when he is, he looks worse for wear - especially as he's been banned from alcohol. And both of them know Anna is there with them, and knows nothing. "Anna knew nothing. I don't know what Haymitch knew."

"Could he have been part of the conspiracy?" asks Caesar.

"He never mentioned it," says Peeta.

Caesar presses on. "What does your heart tell you?"

"That I shouldn't have trusted him," says Peeta. "That's all."

Caesar pats Peeta's shoulder. "We can stop now if you want."

"Was there more to discuss?" asks Peeta.

"I was going to ask your thoughts on the war, but if you're too upset..." begins Caesar.

"Oh, I'm not too upset to answer that." Peeta takes a deep breath and then looks straight into the camera and I raise an eyebrow in curiosity. "I want everyone watching--whether you're on the Capitol or the rebel side--to stop for just a moment and think about what this war could mean. For human beings. We almost went extinct fighting one another before. Now our numbers are even fewer. Our conditions more tenuous. Is this really what we want to do? Kill ourselves off completely? In the hopes that--what? Some decent species will inherit the smoking remains of the earth?"

"I don't really...I'm not sure I'm following..." says Caesar. I laugh again, bitterly. Sure you don't.

"We can't fight one another, Caesar," Peeta explains. "There won't be enough of us left to keep going. If everybody doesn't lay down their weapons--and I mean, as in very soon--it's all over, anyway."

"So...you're calling for a cease-fire?" Caesar asks and I straighten up quickly.

"Yes. I'm calling for a cease-fire," says Peeta tiredly. "Now why don't we ask the guards to take me back to my quarters so I can build another hundred card houses?"

Caesar turns to the camera. "All right. I think that wraps it up. So back to our regularly scheduled programming."

I switch the television off, fuming. A cease-fire?! Because if we call that, Snow's obviously going to return Anna, Peeta and Johanna back! He's not thinking straight, he can't be. We can't call a cease-fire. It would be suicide. The only good thing about Peeta's interview is that it gives me hope for Anna's safety.

And hope is all I can cling to.

~

- Vivianna's P.O.V -

"Once upon a time..." Snow begins and I have to restrain myself from rolling my eyes. "There was a man, who had power thrust upon him. It quickly became his duty to his people to remind them how imperative it is to live by the rules. He was always a fan of the annual Hunger Games, as it proved to his citizens that life is fragile - and not something they should throw around lightly."

I bit back a laugh. How hypocritical.

"The man was widely adored by his people, and his Games were always a popular hit. Alas, not everyone was as wise as them, and several people begin to plot against him...double cross him. They would feed information to people who rivaled the brilliant leader. They were sneaky and quiet, almost going undetected. Almost. The leader found that two of his most trusted advisers, a young couple, were trying to undermine him - and you know what he felt?"

"Nothing, because he has no heart," I told him monotonically. Malice flashes in his eyes, and I know then that I'll be punished later for speaking out of turn.

"Betrayal, Miss Everly. He felt betrayed by the closest to him," he continues, an edge in his voice that begins to scare me. What is the point of this pathetic, over dramatic story anyway? "Now, here's where the story gets exciting. This talented leader was, indeed, very intelligent, and didn't give the couple any inkling that he'd found out their little secret, and allowed them to carry on their lives. They had an infant child, after all, and he decided to bide his time wisely...wait for the opportune moment. Then he struck. The couple were taken from their District, and brought here,"

I furrow my brows, already thinking I don't want to hear the end. I think I know how it ends already. And it's not pretty.

"He kept them here, down in the cells, and asked them nicely for information - much like yourself," Snow smirks and it makes my skin crawl. "And then he tortured them. Burned them, lacerated their organs, shocked their minds, tore them apart very slowly," he tells me gleefully, eyes lighting up. "The only sound throughout my home was the beautiful sound of their screams. It was almost musical, how the couple even managed to scream in chorus. Something of a masterpiece, really."

"You're sick," I whisper, tears filling my eyes, threatening to spill.

He laughs. "Oh, you haven't seen anything yet. They were kept alive for days, bleeding out slowly, watching each other die. Isn't that romantic? Two lovers watching the other die, wondering who's going to be first, if they'll be lucky or the other will. It was his own form of Game, away from the prying eyes of his nation. He loved it!"

"Stop it!" I suddenly yell at him, wishing I could separate my hands enough to cover my ears. "That's barbaric, stop!"

Snow stands and walks close to me. "I'm sure you know why I'm telling you all of this, Miss Everly. But in case you didn't, do you want to know the couple's names?"

I shake my head, lip trembling. "Leave me be, please," I plead with him.

He straightens his jacket. "Their names were, as you've guessed, Odaren and Estella Everly."

I squeeze my eyes shut at the thought of them as Snow goes towards the cell door and taps on it three times. It's unlocked and swings open. Before he's fully crossed the threshold, Snow turns back to look at me, and makes a point of glancing around my small, bloodstained cell. "There's a reason you were given this particular cell..." he looks me in the eye and my blood runs cold. A cruel smile twists on his mouth. "This is where your parents died."

And then he leaves, the door locking behind him.

My chest constricts and I can't breath. The floor suddenly feels slick with blood...but not just my own blood this time. My parents!

And then I scream. For Finnick. For Katniss. For Peeta and Johanna and Haymitch. And for my parents. 


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