I realise pretty quickly that I need more information.
Over the next few days all of the leaders meet in Command to discuss plans, be they of reintroducing me to the cause, or ways of promoting Katniss, or even just general tactics. As they all talk I quietly watch the District 13 Commanders, and the Capitol citizens who had thrown their lot in with them.
I am careful, the last thing I want is to make them think that I doubt them, that I am plotting in my own head, thoughts that they would not like, but I watch them all. Plutarch Heavensbee and his team, but particularly Coin. She watches everyone too with those flinty eyes, and when she speaks she evokes almost instant compliance. This is a powerful woman...and something about her itches under my skin.
I don't trust her, and I don't trust District 13.
But what to do about it?
At the moment District 13 hold the power, they have us all on their turf, and their leaders are likely hoping to be the new Government of Panem should we succeed. Even if we were to fail at this point, they are keeping back enough resources, their nuclear weapons too, to be able to turtle up underground once more, leaving the rebelling Districts to their fates.
Just like last time.
Is that their game? Leaving behind enough to protect themselves in the case of failure? Or are they playing another hand.
I don't know, but I need to find out.
Laying in bed that night, Cato curled up behind me, one large hand resting protectively on my belly, I think over what I know, what I suspect and what I need to do. I need more information, information I won't gather by just my own eyes and ears. I need more than that.
"Where are the others now?" I ask Cato the next morning after he has gotten up and geared up in his proper soldier's attire, "The other Victors?"
"Our Victors?" he asks and I nod, "Let's see...Cash, Gloss and Enobaria are here of course, training to be soldiers. They know how to handle themselves sure enough. Beetee is down fashioning things for the Rebellion, innovation, weapons and such like. I think he has a few things for you when you go out there." He frowned at the thought and I bit back a smile. It was hard to stay mad and resentful at him when he was here with me all the time, protective, and when I had something else to think about and focus on.
"What about Wiress?" I ask, thinking about the slightly addled District 3 Victor.
"She's..." Cato shook his head, "She is in the long term care ward. They are looking after her but after the second Games..."
I nod, and he hurries on, not wanting to linger on the subject, "Sefir is training as well, Ria is in intelligence, she's the one who led the team who hacked the systems to get Lucan and Vittor access to the cells. Mags gave her the information and Ria did the rest. The two Morphling addicts, they are in long term care too. Peeta visits and managed to kick up enough of a fuss to make sure they got paints to occupy them."
It makes me smile, remembering Adria's and Theo's puppy-like adoration of Peeta.
"Johanna is in District 7 with Blight, the two of them are leading the Resistance there. They're having a tough fight of it in that District, but you know Johanna, she's not giving them anything."
I shiver for a moment, remembering that moment in the snow, the words, "Not long enough' and the flash of Gloss' dagger sinking into Blight. Then wild eyes as Johanna leapt out of a tree, taking out Katniss. The memory of that agony, the feeling of terrible failure makes my throat close up and I slowly breathe in.
Cato watches me, face guarded and unhappy.
"Go on," I murmur, forcing myself to relax, "Cecelia and Woof."
"Also back in their home District," Cato brushes his hand against the back of mine tentatively, "District 8 is ours apart from the sporadic airstrike. But even those are lessening. Cecelia is setting the District to rights again. Fells has been around and about, doing his thing, you know, healing." He snorts softly, "He's been training Katniss' sister, and Peeta, when he has the time for learning about fixing things."
"Prim?" I arch an eyebrow in surprise, "I knew she was interested in healing...and he does seem the type to enjoy teaching."
"Sigrin and Rilka are out in the Districts, their Districts, Enrid is here training, Seeder and Chaff are both in District 11, and of course Girl on Fire and Peeta are here..."
I nod, thoughts whirling, as I consider what he's told me.
"And of course Haymitch and Deccia are here." I add quietly, thoughtfully, "Have you seen her?"
"Deccia?" Cato nods, pulling a face, "She isn't responding well to being cooped up in a hospital bed. In fact she's madder than a cat in a bathtub. Haymitch goes in there now and again and the two of them shout at one another. It cheers her up."
"Is something...happening between them?" I ask a trifle hesitant about asking him. It is his sister after all, and while I've had my suspicions for months...
"It's the most functionally dysfunctional relationship I've ever seen but yeah..." Cato shakes his head, "Somehow they work. It's weird."
"What about Peeta...and Katniss?" I ask, again hesitant. This was an edgy topic. Cato has always been firmly in Peeta's camp about the relationship (and everything else for that matter), and his own relationship with Katniss could only be described as strained at best.
He slowly shakes his head, "She spends all her time with Hawthorne. I don't doubt that she does care about Peeta, but..."
"She doesn't love him..." I sigh sadly, "Poor Peeta."
"She doesn't deserve him," Cato growls firmly, folding his arms, "She never did..."
He hesitates then and walks over to brush his fingers softly against my cheek once more.
"I've been talking to Odair."
"You've been talking to Finnick?" I smile slightly, feeling more comfortable with him right at this moment than I have in days, "Should I be concerned?"
His eyes light up slightly and it makes my breath catch. That I can make him so happy just by responding to him, by bantering, by relaxing in his company...it shows how broken we are...and how much both of us want this to be better again.
"I thought you wanted me and dramaqueen Odair to get along," he teases back, a touch hesitantly, "He's still an absolute arse but..."
It makes me laugh and his eyes brighten even more as he echoes the grin, "The idea of you two in cahoots is terrifying."
"We are not in cahoots, there are no cahoots."
"Really, because it sounds awfully like..."
"If you say cahoots..."
I laugh and he beams in response.
So the next day I make my way to the Intelligence sector, followed by the curious eyes of District 13's residents. There I am let in, and seek out the one familiar face I knew I would find here.
She turns at my voice and her blue eyes light up. Instantly she leaves the glowing, complicated consol she had been using and envelopes me in her arms, holding me close.
"Sky," she pulls back just enough to kiss my forehead and cup my cheeks in her hands, "Look at you..." she takes in my now heavily swollen belly and the blue eyes soften, "I heard you were having a little girl? Is that right?"
I nod, always happy to talk about my pregnancy, and the miracle little life inside me, "Yes, a little girl."
"And do you have a name?" Ria grins slightly, "Finnick's been calling her Peanut."
"Finnick..." I groan but roll my eyes fondly; I can imagine him calling her that, "I chose Teesa. Teesa Clove DuGrey."
Ria's face shines for a moment and she enfolds me in her arms, and it's only then that I remember: Ria was one of the Mentors for District 5 during the 64th Hunger Games. She and Sefir mentored Teesa and the shy, stuttering Enbrin.
"That's a wonderful name," Ria says softly, drawing back and glancing toward a door nearby, "And speaking of Teesa actually there is someone I want you to meet..."
The doors slide open as we approach and I gasp as I see a slim female figure standing in front of a huge console, fingers flying across the keys.
For a moment the world shifts, and I see an almost identical young woman standing in front of the plant identification table in the Capitol Training centre.
"Teesa…" I breathe.
But Ria shakes her head and walks forward, "Sky, I would like to introduce you to someone properly. This is Lyrra."
The girl turns and again it's a shock because that is Teesa's face looking back at me, her nose, mouth, eyebrows all of it. Except…slightly different. This face is a little softer, the mouth more relaxed and the amber eyes have more green to them.
She isn't Teesa, but damn…she looks like her.
"Schuyler Cavendish," Lyrra walks forward, and stretches out her hand, her head tilted slightly, "Finally we meet…"
"Lyrra's been a tremendous asset to the Rebellion," Ria explains when I glance at her once more, "She has a knack for intel. And she's good with finding ways around technology."
"It served me well in District 5," Lyrra chuckles softly, "In 5 if a powerplant goes in to meltdown, you want to be able to fix it yes?"
"You also want to be able to set off the alarms whenever you wish too mm?" Ria teases, arching an eyebrow at me.
"That was one time!" Lyrra protests, and turns to me, "One time."
"One time you were caught." Ria corrects, "You were always far too clever to be caught again."
"Teesa and I figured it out together." The amber eyes return to me and I just stare back, completely flummoxed by this familiar stranger, "She did the planning, I made it work."
"I'm sorry…" I say quietly and Ria sighs, putting a hand on my shoulder, "I am…I'm so sorry about your sister…"
"I know." Lyrra closes her eyes, "I know that…now. At the time, watching the Games…I wanted to jump through that television screen and do something…Watching her die…it was the worst moment of my life…"
"I mean to stop it happening to anyone else," I say, meaning the words with my entire being, "If I can help it, there will never be another Hunger Games."
"Then you need to be careful," Lyrra nods to Ria who shuts the door to the room sealing us inside, "I have run every sweep I can of this room, there are bugs in here but their feed is looped or delayed to avoid suspicion. People get edgy if they don't have eyes in places they think they should."
"No one can hear us?" I ask, looking at Ria. I trust her, I have to trust her, I hate to let go of these foolish fears, my pain and resentment over the Quell. It is time to put it aside…for now at least.
"We can speak freely," Ria nods, and moves forward to join us, "But we must be quick about it. Sky, there is more at work here than just a Rebellion."
"Coin," I say and see Lyrra arch an eyebrow in surprise, "I'm right aren't I? She's plotting something."
"Good, you're watching," Ria nods, "The others buy into District 13's information because there is no reason to suspect them. They are our allies, our hosts, our fellow rebels. It's dangerous to question one another. When will it end?"
"And yet," I look between them, "To not question…to blindly trust. Is that not also dangerous."
Ria looks away, and I feel a small vicious stab of guilt. I have to let the Quell go! I can't let it colour everything.
"It is," Lyrra nods approvingly, "Good. You're sensible. It is smart to know when to question, and when to trust." She moves to her computer console and brings up an image, an image of an old pre-panem game called Chess, "Do you know what this is?"
"Chess," I answer, and I see her smile widen in approval, "Strategy game, used to mimic war tactics. Why?"
"In real war, there are more than two sides," Lyrra murmurs, not looking away from the screen, "Everyone has an agenda. But only one can succeed. So people align together to create a force, compatible agendas meshing to help each other succeed. But there must always be a head."
"Snow," Ria murmurs from my other side, and I glance at her, "He is the undisputed leader of the Capitol's regime, although Finnick is planning on dealing some damage to him, as are the others."
"As of this moment, Coin is the head of the Rebels," Lyrra turns to face me, "Because she is using Katniss, using Katniss, Cato, Peeta, all of them as a front, as a mask. The Districts would not follow her, they do not know her, they do not trust her. But they trust…"
"Katniss…" I breathe.
"Yes," Ria nods, "And you."
"Coin believes Katniss Everdeen, The Girl on Fire, The Mockingjay to be her biggest threat to attaining control over the Districts and Capitol. But she needs her to urge them on. Without Katniss, without you, Coin lacks the power to win."
"But…that will not always be the case." I say slowly, the picture being laid out before me coming to light slowly and surely.
"No," Lyrra leans in, "Should Katniss Everdeen die in the final push to the Capitol, or even in some of the final District fights…Coin would use her death as a rallying cry."
"She would be without a rival, and the rebels would win…" Ria murmurs, "It's a good plan."
I brace my hands on the console and breathe in deeply.
It's so much…more. So much worse than I imagined.
"I assume there are measures in place."
"Yes," Ria's voice is soft, but implacable, "Coin has prepared for many eventualities."
"So, what do we do?" I look at them both and Lyrra looks back, steady.
"Coin wishes to use you. But unlike Katniss she doesn't believe you are a threat."
"Because I'm not…"
"Bullshit," Ria scoffs, "You had the Capitol eating out of your hand, the Districts adore you. Katniss is the golden girl but you…you are real. They idolise her, they worship her, but you are real and true and good…and they…they haven't seen something like that in so long…She gives them hope…but you give them that future they want."
"You've been talking to Finnick." I murmur, "And Cato."
"They are right," Lyrra's voice is firm, no nonsense, "District 13 is dead, they don't live here, they exist. You need to show them life, love, passion, vivacity…"
"You are good with people," Ria agrees, "You need to show them…show them everything…"
"I need to make them feel," I look between them and I sigh, "Doesn't seem like it'll do much."
"Sometimes," Ria cups my cheeks, "Sometimes it's not the grand speeches, the striking poses, the glittering splendour that wins the day. Sometimes it's the little kindnesses, the small gestures of love and compassion that make the most impact."
"'My world is better for having had your daughter, your sister in it. And it's darker for not having her now.'" Lyrra says softly, and for a moment I stare at her before the words register and I recognise them.
I stare at her, feeling stunned, floored, almost frightened.
"We came into the world together," Lyrra continues and once again my heart stutters, "We were born barely five minutes apart. Every day for sixteen years we breathed the same air as we slept, shared the same thoughts, worked together, ate together…we barely spent more than an hour or two apart in all those years. But…then she was Reaped and…" Lyrra closed her eyes, "I would have Volunteered."
I try to remember Teesa's Reaping.
"I remember her just walking up to the stage…"
"I wasn't there." Lyrra's smile is sad, "I had some fever…I was delirious, coughing, vomiting, wheezing. Even the Capitol medical assessor admitted I was in no condition to be a Tribute. He thought it would be lucky if I lasted the night."
"But you did…"
"Yes," Lyrra looks at me, "I did, and when the fever broke and I returned to the world…my sister was already in the Capitol. I never even got to say goodbye."
I look at Ria in shock but the woman just sighs sadly, looking down. No…no…surely…
"I thought my heart would stop when the Bloodbath unfolded," Lyrra closes her eyes, "I couldn't see her in that maelstrom of deaths, but then the cameras began broadcasting her…and you." The amber eyes open once more, "I hated you. This….foolish girl. Saving a Career. Patching up a competitor. Crying over a silly girl who lit a fire…I hated that you made it harder for my sister to come home to me. But she kept helping you. And you kept helping her. Until you refused to align with her."
"I…" I begin but she holds up a hand.
"I thought you were scheming. I was waiting every second for you to turn on everyone, to break this foolish pretense of loving everyone. But it never came. So I waited for my sister to turn on you…to end your life as she could have so many, many times. But she never did. Even when it came to the end, you fed her, and she left you alive…and then she died."
"For months I hated you, hated you for living when she died. I hated Cato for being the one you chose. I hated Peeta for gathering those wretched Nightlock berries. I hated Katniss for…well being there. Being alive. For not knowing her name. Calling her Foxface. But I hated you the most. Because you'd let her die…because I'd had to watch her die. And then you came to 5."
"'Teesa was one of the smartest people I've ever had the fortune to meet. She was clever, brave and knew exactly what her strengths were, and how to use them for her best advantage. But she wasn't only a competitor, she was my friend.'" She begins to quote and my words echo back through time, until I can almost see that muddy square, the solemn amber eyes of Lyrra, the tears pricking my eyes, my throat clenching.
"'She made me laugh, she made me cry and she made the Games better just by being in them. She was there for me when I needed her most, and I never wanted to see her hurt.'" Ria continues, her voice soft, but firm.
"'There isn't a day that goes by when I don't think about her, and wish I could ask her advice. My world is better for having had your daughter, your sister in it. And it's darker for not having her now.'" Lyrra finishes, and then she smiles slightly, "I couldn't forget those words, your face when you said them, and I suddenly realised I…I didn't hate you anymore. I didn't hate any of you. I couldn't. It was gone…I'd let it go. Because when you said those words…you meant them Sky. They weren't just platitudes."
"You loved her. And you'd lost her as surely as I had." Lyrra moved forward, her face alight with something, "And in that moment you won me. You won my allegiance, my loyalty. I follow you Schuyler Cavendish, Schuyler DuGrey, Lady of the Lake. I don't follow Katniss, or Coin, or Cato or any of those other brutes out there. I follow you."
"As do I." Ria says, and places her hand in mine, "As do we all. District 5 is yours."
"But it's only the beginning." Lyrra licks her lips anxiously, "We have so much to do. You have so much to do..."
I stare at them both, scared, terrified, but also….calm.
It is time to stop running, to stop hiding from what I have to do. For some reason this has come to me, this information, this power, this choice.
I could walk away, refuse to do anything, let things fall as they may.
Or I could step up…and be the Lady of the Lake that Finnick had always known me to be.
"What do I need to do?" I say softly and smile as Ria hugs me tight.
"I want a team," I say to Coin in the next briefing, facing her across the table, and I see her eyebrow arch, "If I'm going to be any help to our cause then I need people behind me that I can trust. We need to go out into the Districts and restore morale."
"Just who do you want?" Coin asks leaning back in her chair, "And I'll let you know if I can spare them."
"I need Finnick, I need Peeta," I say firmly, these two I cannot negotiate on. While they wage a war with their guns and their bombs I have to win hearts and minds. Peeta is the most talented man I know with words, he's charming and sweet and people instantly adore him, and Finnick, well…he has his own charm, his own lure, "I need Sefir and Gloss," Soldiers, loyal to me first, they'll watch my back, "I need Cato."
Coin considers, while Finnick, Peeta and Cato stare at me, "And if I refuse?"
"Then I will simply sit back, and wait to give birth," I keep my gaze locked on hers, "Because clearly…you don't need me."
Something flickers in those slate eyes and then she nods, "Very well, they are yours. Anything else m'lady?" she says the title mockingly and her fellows chuckle softly.
"Yes." I say and again their attention locks on me, "I will be part of the final assault on the Capitol. Whenever it may be. I will be in a hovercraft, waiting ready to be a part of it. I want to be there when this ends."
Coin smirks, victorious, "You have my promise."
"One final thing," I lean over the table, "I want more time outside. I am stifled in here, I cannot breathe. I will stay close, only into the forests a little way. I need to be outside."
"You may go with Soldier Everdeen and Hawthorne when they go hunting. You will leave with them and return with them, but what you do in between is up to you. Is that all?"
"Yes," I nod, bowing my head, "Thank you President."
The meeting continues on around me while Peeta leans in toward me, Cato stepping in on the other side.
"What was all that about?" he asks softly.
I look up and I meet Haymitch's grey eyes across the table. They are assessing, sharp, and when he meets my gaze he simply quirks his lips in a smirk and lifts a hand in an imaginary toast.
"That...was the opening gambit." I murmur, remembering Lyrra's chessboard with a wry smile, and then...Snow's cryptic words to me, "True games...never end."