How Rue Became the Mockingjay
She’s teamed up with the little girl instead of the boy who loves her.
And well, no one wants to watch that. Where’s the drama, the romance, the intrigue? Where’s the look in the boy’s eye as he watches the girl he loves die in their Arena, so like their own mentor?
The ratings are low and it’s no wonder. Peeta Mellark and Katniss Everdeen were supposed to be epic, and instead, Katniss has run off with that tiny little slip of a girl from Eleven and drops a Trackerjacker nest right on Peeta, killing off two of the Careers the bookies of the government had banked on the most. Now Katniss and the girl are hiding somewhere in the trees, and Peeta is hiding alone somewhere, wounded and with only days left, at best, before his cannon sounds.
Katniss Everdeen and the girl from Eleven are ruining their best-laid plans – the Capitol’s and the Rebels’.
So Caesar, they say. Announce the change.
Peeta lies still and waits patiently to die.
It’s what he came here to do, after all. Peeta Mellark was never meant to be a Victor.
He hears the announcement as well as anyone – two Victors can be crowned if both are from the same District – but he knows that he’s still not likely to live. Even with Katniss on his side, there’s wounded and there’s wounded, and Peeta is the latter. Still, he knows Katniss will come for him, and that’s enough to comfort him in his last days. If he could choose how to die for the Capitol, it would be with Katniss Everdeen at his side.
Of course, they knew that. It’s why they changed the rules. Peeta is dying and the crowds at home will cry and cry when he leaves the world in Katniss Everdeen’s arms, and Katniss will go out in a blaze of blood and vengeance when Cato and Clove take home the prize.
It’s genius. People will talk about these games for years.
There’s a soft, wet sound beside him as someone drops to their knees and begins to search through the mud, little hands and little knees pushing their way through the thick swamp. “Peeta?”
Peeta sighs. She came. “Well, don’t step on me.”
He opens his eyes and there’s a tiny, dark face right above him, staring into his face with such solemnity that she looks like the oldest person left in this Arena.
“I have to get you to Katniss,” Rue says softly. “She said it was my job.” Then Rue sighs. “I’m sorry I helped her get you with the trackerjackers.”
Peeta swallows. “It’s okay.”
He knows Katniss’ plan now. He’s counted the cannons, too.
Rue cleans his wounds with her water skin and rigs a pulley to a tree – Katniss must have taught her more quickly than Peeta had anticipated – and they use the play of his weight against the heft of a rock to shore him up into a tree just behind her.
Rue looks to the west and sings four long notes, and from the lowlight of the setting sun, Katniss sings them back.
“What do we do now?” Peeta asks Rue quietly, where they’re hidden together amongst the leaves. Rue is combing her fingers through his blond curls, making him more presentable for the cameras and for Katniss.
“We wait for Katniss,” Rue says simply, all trust and childhood. She’s quiet for a long time. “You really do love her, though. Don’t you?”
Rue smiles and sighs, just like all of the girls at home in the Capitol must be as they watch him getting primped for the return of his star-crossed lover. “I’m glad. I thought you did, but Katniss wasn’t sure. You should tell her, when she comes back.”
And Peeta thinks, she’ll know it. When I agree to let you kill me rather than kill you to bring her home safe, she’ll know.
Katniss runs into Foxface in the bushes on her way to the riverbank where Rue found Peeta.
“I know,” Katniss says softly. “I’m sorry. They don’t want you to win.” She blinks in the dark. “You could.”
There’s a long, quiet darkness that stretches between them and Katniss holds her hands far away from her bow, because she knows that Peeta will have understood why she sent him Rue. Foxface can kill her now, and it will be alright.
“You’re allies with that little girl,” Foxface says finally. “Her partner’s still alive, too.”
Foxface nods back. “I think I know where he is. I can go to him. Tell him where she is. That’s your plan, isn’t it?”
“He’s big,” Katniss warns her. “It’ll hurt.”
Foxface melts into the underbrush, a berry bush that’s so beautiful even in nighttime, its white blossoms closed against the chill and red berries glistening soft pink like a child’s tea party under the moonlight. A few deadly red buds shake loose from a branch. The rustle of a pack opening barely stirs the night.
Katniss kisses three fingers and holds them out, saluting the wickedly smart girl who, like herself, knows how she wants to die.
Watching in a silent hotel room, Chaff puts his hand on Haymitch’s shoulder. Cinna stands by the window, the ice in his glass clinking as his hand shakes. Cinna is the only man in the room who is not a Victor, and he’s the only one who remembers how to cry for these kids.
Finnick sits on the bed, his bronze head resting in one hand as he thinks. It’s hard to watch that girl from District Five making her way towards the drop point into the field where the brutal boy from Eleven reigns. They didn’t see it in the night – the cameras had been dedicated to Cato and Clove and their celebration of the new rule; it made even Finnick feel dirty – but there was only one reason Foxface would be going that way.
“So much for The Girl on Fire,” Cinna says softly.
On the videoscreen across the room, four notes ring proud over the treetops in the early-morning light and Katniss’ face breaks in relief. She sings them back, and Rue sings them again, and Katniss follows the sound like it’s leading her home.
“The Mockingjay,” Finnick says, raising his head. “Chaff, she’s the Mockingjay.”
“Katniss!” Rue whispers, her face breaking into a smile when the older girl slips through the braches into the nest Peeta and Rue have made in the tree. “I’m so happy you’re safe.” Her twiggy arms fling around Katniss’ shoulders and Katniss hugs her back, and Peeta thinks, it’s the right thing to do, isn’t it.
“Peeta needs medicine,” Rue informs her, looking worried. “His leg is really bad. I didn’t know what to do, so I just washed it. I’m not sure it helped. And he’s burning up.”
Katniss looks across the long expanse of the Arena towards the fields where Thresh waits, and where Foxface is slowly making her way. There have been no cannons in the night and the morning is clear and sunny.
She lays her palm against the side of Peeta’s face and he’s too hot, but she smiles and kisses him gently on the mouth anyway. “Don’t worry, Rue. I’m here now and we’ll get him fixed up.”
She hands Rue and Peeta each half a dried pear and shimmies down the tree to get more of the leaves for drawing out poisons. By the time she’s back up the tree, a silver parachute has fallen with fever pills in it.
“Look,” Rue says, sounding puzzled. “Chaff and Haymitch sent it together. I wonder why they did that. Did you know they’re friends? I wish – ” she pauses and looks sad.
“What do you wish, Rue?” Peeta asks softly, coaxing her along. He knows that she doesn’t understand yet what’s happening. Katniss does, though, and kisses his cheek. Thank you.
“I wish we could be friends when we’re old,” Rue whispers.
And that’s when Panem begins to stir.
Katniss and Rue fashion Rue’s ropes from the pulley system into a sort of stretcher for Peeta, and he’s just too heavy for Rue to carry for long, but they make it to a little cave about fifty yards downstream.
It’s frighteningly like playing house, after that. Rue tends to cuddle into Peeta like he’s her dad and her round eyes follow Katniss with something like worship, and it’s clear to all three that the sweeter they are together, the more parachutes will fall.
Katniss tells them both the story of how she got Prim her pet goat, and they get a small pot of hot broth. Rue insists on feeding it to Peeta because he needs it the most, and he lets her spoon it into his mouth as Katniss brushes her fingers through his blond curls and kisses his head. Peeta reads each kiss as I’m sorry.
Thank you; I’m sorry.
Then Peeta tells Rue the story of how he fell in love with Katniss. Rue’s eyes are huge and round and shine like it’s the best thing she’s ever heard and she’s enthralled, and Peeta measures the Capitol ratings going up and up and up in her eyes.
That night, Rue falls asleep between them like a small baby bird, her head pillowed on Katniss’ lap. Peeta’s eyes are bright and hot with fever again when he tucks his own blond head close to Katniss on the pretense of murmuring sweet nothings for the cameras to sigh over.
“We’re keeping her safe until Thresh comes,” Peeta whispered to Katniss, his hand resting on Rue’s tiny hip near his good leg.
Katniss nodded and pressed her lips to his hot forehead. “And then we’re going to let them win.”
Claudius Templesmith grins like a jackal. “The ratings when Katniss kills that little girl and her partner may be the highest the Games have ever seen.”
President Snow measures the four cameras on the Tributes: Cato and Clove are in broadcast now, giving the audience a good show – District Two is always good for that; if they win, both will make good courtesans; the fox-faced girl from District Five rarely sleeps, and she isn’t sleeping now, but rather making her way steadily towards the drop point; in the field, camouflaged by tall stalks, the big boy, Thresh, from Eleven, is asleep with one eye open. And in the cave, Katniss alone is awake, her eyes fixed on the cave door like she’s a sentry guarding the entrance to heaven, with the little girl’s head in her lap and Peeta’s blond curls dusting her shoulder.
He smiles thinly. “Let us hope.”
That night, Peacekeepers are dispatched to the border between District Eleven and District Twelve.
Near dawn, Snow orders Seneca Crane to turn on the rain.
It’s pouring when Foxface makes it to the field. She turns back only once towards the forest to let out a long call of four notes and lets them echo across the trees.
The rain dampens the sound, but she hears it – just barely – four notes echoing back from the west. Foxface smiles and heads into the stalks and the mud.
When Thresh catches her, she presses her palm to his mouth before he can crush her like a bug. “Just listen.”
She slings herself around on his back and presses the dull edge of her knife to his throat so it looks to all the cameras like she means to kill him. She presses her lips to his ear and whispers, “The couple from Twelve are guarding your partner. They’re in the West. You and your partner can win if you go get her.”
Thresh’s muscles are all tuned tight and he’s almost vibrating with power and suspicion in her arms. Foxface presses in closer, because she’s fifteen and about to die and there is no other time to feel this, and it isn’t about him and it isn’t about anything, she’s just trying to feel everything left in the world in her last five minutes alive.
“What about you?” Thresh asks in a low rumble that won’t carry over the rain.
Foxface opens her other palm at his side and shows him the three red berries. “I’ll eat these. You pretend to break my neck. I won’t feel any pain and you’ll still get sponsors.”
Thresh nods almost imperceptibly and feels the scrape of her blade against his throat. “How you know it ain’t a trick? How you know that girl ain’t gonna kill Rue and me?”
Foxface tightens her arms around his huge shoulders. “Didn’t your Mentor show you the tapes?”
And of course Chaff had shown Thresh the tapes, and he remembers – that girl from Twelve, she volunteered in the place of her little sister.
“Why you willin’ to help?” Thresh asks after a long pause, reaching one hand back and putting it on Foxface’s ankle. He’s not used to being gentle anymore.
“I have a little sister, too,” she says simply. “She’ll be twelve next year.”
“How will I find her?”
Foxface can’t help that she starts to cry. Even knowing that it’s coming and choosing it herself – the Capitol doesn’t get to kill her now, not really; and it will be peaceful and she’s doing the right thing – doesn’t make it any easier, and she’s grateful for the pouring rain. She presses her mouth into the side of Thresh’s dark, handsome face and hums the four notes of Rue’s song.
Then Thresh closes his eyes, nods, and twists, throwing her off his back. Her arm flails and she drops the berries into her mouth, and in a swallow she’s dead, with a twist of his hands her neck snaps, and Thresh is walking West.
Then he stops, and looks up at the sky. And the rain.
He looks at the yellow tops of the tallest stalks in the field, 34 perfect spirals of seeds and 55 petals; he’s been living off the seeds, mostly, since the Games began.
He looks back at the broken body he left in the mud, and he looks at the flowers.
He snaps two sunflower heads off the stalks and walks back to Foxface, kneels beside her. Her eyes are closed and he straightens her limbs as gently as he remembers how before placing the blooms over her eyes. “You tried to help that little girl.”
The crowds in Eleven and Five and the Capitol go crazy.
Peacekeepers are dispatched into the streets of the Capitol. There’s been a riot near one of the clubs.
Flower petals are raining in the street.
Back in the cave, Katniss and Peeta hear the cannon and watch Foxface’s last moments – flowers over her eyes – splay across the sky. Rue jerks awake and Peeta shushes her, letting her throw her little spindly arms around his neck.
“It’s not Thresh,” he murmurs softly, stroking her back. “It’s not Thresh, he’s okay.”
Rue falls asleep on Peeta’s chest and and Katniss reaches over to play with one of her braids.
“Do you think he is okay?” Peeta asks softly. “Cato and Clove are still out there.”
Four notes sound, distant, in a rich, low bass that rolls under the rain like faraway thunder.
Katniss kisses Peeta softly. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Thank you; I’m sorry. “Thresh is coming.”
Before he hits the edge of the forest on two strong legs running, Thresh receives a silver parachute. It’s his first one, and it’s filled with double-helix coils of hot, soft bread, fragrant with garlic and almost greasy with butter – real butter, from real cows, and he’d never had anything so wonderful before he got to the Capitol to train.
Thresh inclines his head and raises the parcel before looking straight out, right into the hearts of the viewers, and saying, “Thank you, District Five, for understanding. I’m not gonna let her die in vain.”
President Snow cracks a wineglass in his office and orders the Gamemakers to stage a Feast.
When they announce the Feast, Rue begs Katniss to let her go get Peeta’s medicine. Katniss refuses, point blank, and threatens to tie Rue to the wall with her own rope if she tries to leave, which gets a laugh out of Peeta and the viewers at home take it as a cue to laugh, too; look, she’s like a frustrated mother!
Peeta always did think quickly.
“But how will we get it?” Rue asks, her lower lip poking out dangerously, like she hadn’t been the one who set trackerjackers on Peeta in the first place.
Peeta smiles at her. “I have an idea.”
He beckons Katniss closer and whispers in her ear. Katniss’ eyes widen, narrow, and finally settle on a steely sort of sorry resolve. She nods and gently pushes her fingers through Peeta’s blond curls; thank you; I’m sorry.
“Rue,” she asks, “Was there a song you would sing in the fields to let everyone know it was time to eat?”
Rue’s eyes widen with understanding and she nods. “Yes! I’ll go sing it for Thresh – ”
“Oh, no, you don’t,” Katniss said, catching her around the waist. “You’ve got to stay here and take care of Peeta, right? You’re better at it than me. Teach me the song.”
Rue’s lower lip pokes out and her brow furrows. She leans in to Katniss and cups her hand over Katniss’ ear. “Peeta’s leg is really bad. What if he dies while you’re gone?”
Katniss tugs on the end of her braid. “Well, you won’t let him.”
Rue nods, uncertain, but she trusts Katniss. She trusts Katniss with her life, she’ll let Katniss trust her with Peeta. Rue is sure that they’re really in love. That Katniss loves Peeta now, too, and it isn’t just for the cameras. She isn’t really sure why they’re keeping her alive, but she’ll do whatever she can to thank them for it.
Maybe – maybe all four of them can win? If they’re the last ones left and they just refuse to kill each other, then they’d all have to win together.
And they can be friends when they’re old, like Chaff and Haymitch, and they can mentor their kids together. Rue doesn’t think she’ll be a very good mentor anyway. Most of the Tributes are older than she is, and anyway, all she’s done so far is not die. Not like Peeta, who fooled the Careers, or Katniss, who’s kept her and Peeta safe.
“So,” Katniss says, settling onto her haunches and counting out her arrows. “What’s the song?”
Rue grins at her. “It’s really easy.”
It is. It’s one note, long and happy and crowing, and it’s a good sound. Katniss thinks that if it’s the last one she ever makes, then that’s okay, because it’s a hopeful sound, but it’s piercing enough that Peeta and Rue will know that they need to take cover and protect each other until Thresh comes for them.
“Okay,” Katniss says. She kisses Peeta on the mouth and touches his blond curls, and she pats Rue’s soft hair. “I’ll be back.”
Peeta and Rue watch her go, and hope that she told the truth.
Finnick sends Thresh a huge horseman’s pick in a silver parachute, and the look on the boy’s face when he unwraps his gleaming weapon reminds him, with a pang that hits low and sour in his gut, of the look on his face – a famous moment that he’s been made to watch over and over – when he got his trident.
Near the Cornucopia, Clove and Cato wait.
After the rain, the forest has turned thicker and lusher and Katniss is buried in a world of green when she leaves her little cave. The tree trunk is slippery with mossy ooze when she begins to climb, and Katniss just hopes that the fungus on the bark isn’t toxic. She climbs to the top with her bow light on her shoulder, and she sings out their four-note melody.
From the East, heading her way, it echoes back in Thresh’s low, dark, smooth tone.
Katniss sings out the happy trilling note -- go to the Feast! and waits.
Five long minutes later, the Mockingjay call comes again, moving away from her and towards the Cornucopia, and Katniss smiles.
Then a twig snaps beneath her tree. Someone whistles a tune that is dark and frightening, a song for the diamond mines that Twelve’s coal mines would never be. Marvel.
In the cave, Rue lays her head on Peeta’s chest. For as sick as he is, his heartbeat is strong and solid, and it makes Rue feel better.
“Tell me again about when you fell in love with Katniss,” she asks in a soft voice, and Peeta does. He closes his eyes and leans back against the wall of the cave, rubbing Rue’s back with the flow of his story.
He thinks she’s fallen asleep before her little voice pipes up again. “Peeta?”
“Do you think you and Katniss will get married?”
Peeta feels the pressure behind his eyes and nose like he’s going to cry and he can’t, he won’t give the Capitol that and he wants Katniss to be proud of him and he wants Rue to be happy and strong, not scared. She’d never agree to kill Katniss, not like Thresh will. Rue is too young to understand dying for the greater good. It’s not about saving Rue. It’s about saving everyone like Rue. That’s all Katniss knows how to do – she breaks the law for Posy and volunteered for Prim and she will let Thresh snap her neck for Rue.
“I don’t know,” he says, trying to sound cheerful. “Do you think she’d marry me?”
Rue nods, cuddling closer. “Will you invite me to your wedding someday?”
Peeta doesn’t trust his words. He nods and hopes she feels it.
Katniss doesn’t use her arrow on Marvel; by the time she’s incapacitated him, he’s too close for its range to do her any good. She kills him with a rock to his head, and it’s loud and bloody and terrible and there’s brain all over her shirt.
He got her with his knife, though. There’s a jagged hole in her stomach. The kind that kills slowly.
Katniss washes the gore from her clothing as best she can in the river before limping back to their cave, holding her front. Keeping her insides in.
Rue throws her arms around Katniss when the older girl returns, and Katniss winces, hoping that she doesn’t bleed.
Thresh and Rue didn’t have any sponsors before the Feast, but Finnick’s gift does exactly what it’s meant to do. The huge boy is graceful with the pick in his hand in a way that he’d never been without it, and he’d seen the cannon in the sky for Marvel, too. He knows that Cato and Clove are the last obstacles standing, unless the couple from Twelve have been fooling them all along, and he moves like he’s Achilles, invulnerable to all of their pithy blows.
Clove falls first, when the sharp end of the pick cleaves her chest open like a coconut. Her heart falls out of her ribs and onto the ground, and it’s an image that the Gamemakers know will be in recaps for as long as there are more Hunger Games.
Cato fights hard, tooth and nail and knife, slashing ribbons out of Thresh’s skin, but Thresh just keeps barreling forward towards the Cornucopia and the parcels it holds. He plucks up the yellow pack stenciled with “12” and slings it onto his broad back. Then, pick in hand, he swats Cato away like the other boy is a mosquito and he goes flying, his head bending back when he lands against the hard surface of the Cornucopia and he slips to the ground, bruised and battered and gone.
Thresh looks westward and sings out four low notes, and it feels like they should rumble the ground like an earthquake.
The point spread in the Capitol bars shows that 25% of the gamblers want Thresh to slay Katniss and Peeta and Rue and win by himself, this burly boy who shines with his horseman’s pick. 25% want Rue and Thresh to win, because there’s never been a Victor so young, and Finnick knows – Finnick knows why they want a twelve-year-old, and it makes him throw up all of his multicolored Capitol drinks. 25% want Katniss and Peeta to take it all, this beautiful epic love story that the Games haven’t seen before and both Katniss and Peeta are beautiful; it’s easy to love Peeta and it’s easy to want to be Katniss Everdeen.
But 25% of the viewers want all four Victors to win together, and that’s the quarter who worry President Snow.
Rue wakes up and looks to Katniss. She’s dozing, her head on Peeta’s shoulder, and Peeta’s got his fingers tangled with hers. It makes Rue smile, because she is in love with their love, just like all of the girls in the Capitol watching this at home. It will be so nice to be friends with them.
“Katniss,” Rue whispers, touching her face. “Katniss, Thresh is coming.”
It takes two days of hacking through the underbrush with his pick, but Thresh makes it to the cave with Peeta’s yellow parcel. Peeta begins to heal, but Katniss’ wound is crusting over with dark. The crowd at home is growing restless. Let them all win!
And then the muttations come.
They can hear them, moving through the woods in a pack, snarling and howling and –
Rue starts to cry. “Why can’t we just win together?”
Thresh tightens his arms around Rue. He doesn’t have the words to explain it. For a moment, he hates the couple from Twelve for doing this to a little girl, but then he remembers –
It’s not the couple from Twelve who are doing this.
“It’s the Capitol,” Thresh says calmly in his rich, low voice. His words are crystal clear and cut to the bone when they traverse the videoscreen wires. “The Capitol won’t let us all win and grow up and become adults together, Rue. The Capitol made Katniss choose between saving her own life and giving you one. And she picked you.”
Rue turns to Katniss with huge, watery eyes. “But you have to marry Peeta. He promised I could come to your wedding.”
Katniss kisses Rue on the forehead. “I’d rather you get to get married someday.”
She takes off her Mockingjay pin and affixes it to the front of Rue’s tunic, a tiny shining bright spot of gold.
Rue screams, a horrible sound like her throat is tearing open, and stomps her feet, and it’s suddenly so clear to everyone watching these games that Rue is a child, she’s a little girl who they sent to the forest to die, and why did they do that?
“It’s not fair!”
The snarling of the muttations is coming closer and Thresh’s eyes lock with Katniss and with Peeta as Rue rages and storms against his arms.
“I hate the Capitol!” she screams. “It’s not fair!”
“Rue,” Peeta says gently. He touches her hand and she falls limp, pushing Thresh away and crawling for Peeta. She curls against him again and listens to his heartbeat. “Rue, do you remember the story of how I met Katniss?”
Rue nods, exhausted by her own rage.
Peeta swallows and reaches for Katniss with his other arm. Katniss settles against his side, warm and relaxed. “Will you tell us the story?” he asks Rue. “Close your eyes and tell us the story of how Katniss and I fell in love.”
Katniss locks eyes with Thresh and waits for him to raise his horseman’s pick, but instead he opens the yellow parcel again and pulls out four juicy red nightlock berries. He holds them out for the cameras to see.
Rue takes a deep breath. “You told me that you fell in love with Katniss when it was your first day of school in District Twelve. But – well, but I think that you two fell in love with each other when you got in the Hunger Games. The Capitol tried to make you enemies, and tried to make you enemies with me, but instead – instead you fell in love, and you helped me, and they couldn’t stop you.”
“Keep your eyes closed, Rue,” Thresh says softly as Peeta takes the berries from his palm.
Peeta takes a deep breath and cups his hand over Katniss’ cheek, staring at her, taking in every detail for the first and last time. The gold flecks in her gray Seam eyes. The tiniest spray of freckles on her nose. He puts the red berries in his mouth and the burst of juice is sweet, but not as sweet as Katniss’ lips taking his own, her tongue in his mouth taking some of the sugary poison as Rue talks about moments neither of them remember: Katniss laughing at one of Peeta’s jokes when Haymitch sends them the same kind of broth again, Peeta’s blue eyes following every movement Katniss made as she tried to weave a mossy cover for their cave, the kisses they shared at night when they thought Rue was asleep between them.
Thresh pulls Rue away from their bodies and holds her, keeping one eye on the mouth of the cave in case the muttations arrive. Katniss curls closer to Peeta, the wound in her stomach ripping open and red blood flowing like a crushed rose over the dark of her tunic, and the last thing Katniss or Peeta do is smile against the other’s mouth.
The Arena is thunderous with silence when Thresh and Rue are retrieved by the Gamemakers. Thresh holds Rue on his hip and her dark head is turned into his shoulder. A golden Mockingjay gleams against the dark. Before they climb into the Hovercraft, they raise their faces as one and sing out four notes.
In every District,
in every Capitol bar and club and home and school and brothel and office,
four notes echo back.