Cressida goes up to knock on the door, but it swings wide open. She walks in tentatively and after a few moments, comes back out and ushers us in.
"Tigris seems to be out for the time being," She says as we all enter the shop.
We nod and begin to walk around, rummaging through the racks of the outlandish clothing—if you can call this clothing—the mysterious storeowner must sell here, but by the amount of dust lining the cash register I presume that business is in decline.
There's a guy back in 12 who makes a lot of fur-lined clothes. He's always been pretty keen on me, I'm assuming it's because my clear shots through the eyes of my prey never ruins the pelt and he always has a perfect canvas to work on. Granted his stuff is nothing like this; the clothes here are ridiculous and completely impractical. Stan, the guy from home, would take any pelt we had and stitch it into a coat or hat or occasionally a vest, if some of the wealthier merchants wanted one specially made. His clothing wasn't particularly beautiful, but it was warm—so warm—and it made him happy.
Even when I came home from the Games and Thread had come, and everyone silently blamed me for everything going to hell in 12, he was still kind. He, like Darius, had a warm-hearted laugh that could fill a room. He, unlike Darius, had a family and never stepped in the way of peacekeepers or even slightly defied the Capitol. But in the end, he, like Darius, met an untimely end. Another laugh forever silenced; another death on my shoulders.
"Do you think Stan would enjoy this place?" I turn to Gale, holding up a fuzzy set of lingerie and visibly blushing.
"Maybe," is all he says. His expression is slightly calloused, trying not to be saddened by a reminder of just one of the many people we knew that is now lying in a pile of ash along the streets of our former home.
Peeta just stands there, watching us from a distance. He didn't know Stan. He didn't know most of the people Gale and I have mourned and will continue to mourn. I'm grateful that he lets me mourn them without him. Just like Peeta and I have lost people Gale will never know or understand why we're mourning; Peeta has no business joining Gale and I in the mental graveyard we have for 12.
I turn back to Gale and give him and embrace, which he hesitantly returns. I feel slightly guilty, knowing how painful it is for him to be around me; but I don't care. Right now, I need him. I need my hunting partner. I need my partner in crime as I mourn all of our fellow "criminals;" all our friends and lifelines that perished in the decimation of our district.
We stand there for a few moments; heads bowed down, foreheads pressed together, silently recounting years of memories of all the faces we'd see at the Hob. Telepathically saying the thank you's to all of the people that helped us from starving; apologizing for being unable to ever repay that debt. I hear Stan laughing, his son running around him, and Ripper throwing back shots with Haymitch. I see Darius teasing Gale, and I see Madge and her father eating strawberries under the beautiful dogwood tree in their front yard.
"Madge," I just barely choke out her name before a tear comes down my cheek.
"I know," Gale says, pulling me closer. "I cared about them all, too."
I look up at my best friend; the man he's become in the past year. He's nothing like the fierce, hardened boy I knew before the Games. He's softened, but at the same time grown angrier.
He clenched his fists as I noticed a single tear crash onto his cheek. I wipe the tear away and wrap my arms around him tighter than before. With my head in his chest and his in my hair, we cry for a few minutes; finally giving in the pain that will haunt us for our lifetime. It would take hours to shed a single tear for all that died because of me, but these few minutes will have to do.
Just as we pull apart, the bell rings, signaling the opening of the front door. Instinctively, we all hide; all of us but Cressida, who runs toward the feline-looking person walking through the door.
After some rather awkward introductions, I find myself being led down a mysterious corridor and down a rickety set of stairs to a cellar. We don't stop there though. Instead; Tigris, the shop owner and apparent rebel, walks to the wall and pushes on it. Out swings a door, leading to a small space, probably not even in the blueprints of her shop.
She ushers us in and confirms my suspicion.
"You should be safe here. This room is not even in the blueprints of my shop." She pauses and points to the corner opposite us.
"There's a tv over there. Keep up to date on the news. Lots of things are going on here in the Capitol. The other rebels are making headway into the city and refugees are fleeing to safer areas. There have already been a few small riots." She grins, and then looks to Finnick, covered in a worried expression.
"What if..." he pauses, looking around the room, "someone else comes? You just pressed on the wall and it opened. What would stop someone else from doing that?" He asks, genuinely concerned.
"There's a lock on the inside. I encourage you to use it. I'll knock before I come in, so you know it's me. This is safe, truly safe." Tigris says and shows us how to use the strange padlock-like device on the inside wall of the door.
"You all must be famished, so I'm going to head to the market and pick up some supper. I'll be back within the hour." She starts to exit our small room, but turns back to us once more.
"Try not to get caught. Just stay here. Ok?"
We all nod and she leaves. As I watch her slink up the stairs, I can't help but feel defenseless. We're here, in a secret room of the cellar of a fur-shop in the heart of the Capitol. We're on their turf, huntingthem and simultaneously being hunted ourselves. Why Cressida is so trusting of this woman, I have no clue; but I hope with all my heart that she is right. Because after all, this woman, Tigris, could singlehandedly kill us all with one word of our whereabouts; or be a crucial part in bringing down the Capitol.
And just like the Games we so much despise, in war and in all aspects of life, you can never really know who you can trust, until you entrust them with your life.
"Hey Katniss, you look like you've seen a ghost," Finnick jokes, patting my back and bringing me back from the deep-end of the ocean of thoughts in which I was trapped.
Peeta, too, is staring at me with a look of deep concern. I hear Gale and Cressida chatting with Pollux—is it really "with" when he's not chatting back?—and feel relieved that not everyone noticed by unease.
"Uh.. No, it's nothing. I just- I just don't know if I trust her as much as I should."
"I know. I don't either," Finnick says, shrugging his shoulders, "but she's our best shot right now. Better not to fret over things you can't change, eh?"
I sigh and clasp my face in my hands, falling into a slump against the wall near Peeta and Finnick. Peeta comes and sits next to me, weaving my hair in and out of braids like he did on the roof the night before the Quell. This boy knows me too well. In moments he has me calmed down and sitting fully upright. Embarrassed, I look again to see if anyone else noticed. Phew! Gale and Cressida are still chatting and Pollux looks genuinely entertained, although the grief for his brother is still quite evident.
"Katniss," Peeta murmurs. I look up at him and find myself gazing into the endless ocean of blue that are his eyes. No, not oceans; his eyes are deeper than that. I'm gazing directly into a twinkling star—fierce and blue, but ultimately soft and completely mesmerizing.
"Do you want to hear some really good news?"
"Hmm… Well, it better be really good, 'cause I haven't seen that big of a smile on you in ages." I say, returning his smile.
Finnick clears his throat and I turn to look at him. His eyes are beaming with more happiness than even Peeta's. Oh my, this better be good.
"Annie and I…are expecting a baby!" He practically squeals and before I can even get up to hug him and properly congratulate him, Gale and Cressida are cheering.
Pollux is first to give him a hug and Cressida literally squeaks from joy. Gale gives him an affectionate pat on the back and volunteers for babysitting when we make it out of here.
In the midst of all this cheer and excitement, I'd almost completely forget we're at war. Peeta must recognize this because when I finally get back to reality; my senses are on full alert and my entire body tenses again.
"I told you it was good, didn't I?" He says between planting soft kisses atop my head.
Before I even reply, Finnick asks to talk to me alone. Peeta gives me a fake pout then practically shoos me away.
"What's wrong, Finnick?" I say rather bluntly. He should be the happiest man alive, what can possibly be wrong?
"I hate to break it to you, Mockingjay, but chances are not all of us will make it home…"
He's looking down, refusing to meet my gaze, so I look down as well and notice his hands. He stands in front of me; looking as whole as I've ever seen him, but what is in his hands tells me this is far from the truth. Clutched in Finnick's hand is a rope, and I know more than anyone here what that means. Finnick Odair is losing his mind.
I open my mouth to comfort him, but we know each other too well. The hell we went through when Annie and Peeta were in the Capitol, being tortured to get to us, brought us close on an emotional level.Almost as close as Gale and I, but in a different way. There is nothing I can say that can help ease his mind, because we both know he is right; and I could never lie to him without lying to myself.
"I just want you to do some things for me if I don't make it back to them." Finnick finally meets my eyes and grabs my hand.
"Katniss, if I don't make it back, I want you to promise me that you will be OK. Promise me that if you and Peeta make it out, you'll move on and be happy together. You two deserve that. And especially promise me that if you lose someone you love…" He takes a deep breath.
"Promise me that if Gale or Peeta or myself doesn't make it back, that you will be OK. You promise me right here and now that you will deal with anything that happens, and you will survive. Can you do that?"
"I can't promise you I'll ever be happy if I lose one of you, but I promise to try." I feel tears welling up in my eyes as the threat of losing one or all of them hits me. I could lose my boy with bread, my hunting partner, and my kinda/sorta brother at any moment.
"I'll take that," he chuckles dryly.
"There's something else I need you to promise me."
I nod expectantly. He places a letter into my palm and presses my fingers onto it, clasping it into my hands. I don't know what is in this letter, but I mentally vow to protect it with my life.
"That is a letter to Annie. I wrote it back in 13 before we left…" He frowns at the mention of her name.
"I need you to make sure she gets this letter if I can't make it back, Katniss. I need to know that if I die, she will be able to live without me. And-and," tears choke his frantic words, "without this letter, I don't think she will be able to. She's going to think I abandoned her without this letter."
He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes for a moment. I imagine right now he's seeing Annie—her perfect brown curls and the always innocent expression on her face. She may be a little crazy, but I honestly think she is the sanest person I know that's survived the Games. We're all broken, just in different ways.
"If I don't make it back, I already made Johanna promise to stay with her and take care of her until the baby comes. I don't want you to think I'm giving up on surviving this, but let's face it: the odds have not been in our favor. All the soldiers in our squad have been killed! Now it's you and I, two victors of the Hunger Games and consequently two of the biggest celebrities in Panem; Peeta, who may or may not try to kill you if he has an episode; Gale, who's… well, Gale; and Cressida and Pollux, and they aren't even trained with weapons at all!" He throws in hands in the air, desperation flooding his eyes.
"Shh. Shh. Finnick, it's ok! I promise, if you don't make it out, I will deliver this to Annie." I tuck the letter into a pocket of my jumpsuit and wrap my arms around him, patting his back soothingly.
"But I will do everything in my power to make sure you get home. Promise me that you'll do everything to make it home, ok? Please do not think you have to sacrifice yourself for me or any one of us if that situation ever presents itself."
He nods and we stand in that embrace for a few more seconds before both pulling away.
"Thanks, girl on fire." He says it with a wink and I actually laugh. Nice to have you back, Finnick.
My stomach then growls and everyone joins me in laughing. I don't even remember the last time I've seen Peeta laugh or Gale for that matter.
For the second time today, I've found myself forgetting where are; forgetting that we could all die; forgetting we're in war. If I weren't so hungry, I'd probably take advantage of this good mood to take a nap. A little rest without nightmares would be great.
But food comes before sleep, so I go to Peeta. He's leaning against the wall and without a word I hunker down next to him. He motions for me to rest my head on his stomach and lie down; reluctantly I do so. He continuously brushes strands of hair from my face and begins humming.
"I love you," is all I can say before his comforting takes full effect and I nod off into a dreamless sleep.