Chapter 1: Hope's on a Frayed Rope
This story picks up in Mockingjay when Katniss, Homes, Messalla, Jackson, Leeg 1, Gale, Finnick, Peeta, and Cressida are underground in that storage closet resting for the night.
This chapter is inspired by "My Doe, Pt. 1" by The Matches.
I don't own The Hunger Games!
This picture is courtesy of completemadman.tumblr.com
I wake up in a sweat, my mind racing. I can see that Peeta and Gale are awake, but I know I'm better off being alone to deal with the tormenting memories of today's loss. I keep quiet, not wanting them to know I'm awake. They think I'm asleep, or rather still asleep. I wish I were, but the chilling image of Boggs' legs being blown off and his last words to me were suffocating me, and even when I woke up it was hard to catch my breath.
I lie awake, trying to focus my attention on anything but our losses today. I turn to Finnick. So far, he's the only one who's had even the slightest reprieve from this tormenting war. I know he deserves it after the years of prostitution and emotional hell to which the Capitol has subjected him, but I cannot help the jealousy and anger flooding my body right now.
We suffered, together. The agony of knowing Annie and Peeta were being tortured by the Capitol, purely as a means to break us. We experienced that. But I didn't get the break from that agony that he did. His Annie, his beautiful and mad Annie, came back still beautiful, mad, and sweet; but there. They had no doubts about their love or heart-aching longing, for they had each other again. But what did I get? My Peeta, so sweet, compassionate, and so in love with me was gone. How is that fair? This mutt, crushed with hatred, stands in front of me just waiting for the moment we're alone; waiting for the perfect moment to finish the job he started in his hospital room.
Peeta has many reasons to hate me. The pain I've caused him with our fake romance he thought was real is reason enough. But my Peeta could never hate me for that. No, my boy with the bread, who sacrificed himself time and time again for my well-being, could never hate me. Anger, resentment, disappointment, any emotion but hate.
A wave of shivers racks my body; I hear Boggs' last words, "Kill Peeta," echoing in my mind. This would be at least possible if I knew my Peeta was gone; if it weren't for the small moments of hope when, just barely I see the sparkle in his blue eyes that tells me he's there. I could never kill this mutt if there's even the slightest chance Peeta, my Peeta was still in there. I just wish there was a way I could know. A way I could…
"Katniss loves you," Gale's words snap my head back toward him and Peeta, quickly leaving my thoughts behind as reality grips me. I strain to hear their conversation. Eavesdropping is not something of which I'm proud, but I really feel it's necessary when other people are discussing your feelings. I can never seem to hear Peeta's responses, but Gale's words ring loud and clear. The way he's so sure about my feelings really pisses me off. Who does he think he is to talk about my feelings for me, when I don't even know how I feel! I'm so angry that I almost want to yell at him, but then I'd miss this conversation, which is getting more and more gripping by the word.
Gale recounts our years of friendship, his longing for more, and his realization of my love for Peeta. Although I'm angry, I can't help but notice the pain and conviction in his voice. It's stirring up all kinds of emotions in me, mostly worry; but also something else— some strange emotion that aches in my chest but makes a slight smile creep across my face.
Then Gale brings up our kiss. I'm drawn back to that day in the woods of 12 and the unexpected feel of his lips on mine. I was so surprised I barely even kissed him back. But then, when he was whipped, I kissed him and told him I loved him. I truly thought I did, but everything changed after the Quell. Before and during the Quell, I thought I loved Gale, but I never even began to figure out my feelings for Peeta.
I feel a pang in my chest as I think of those kisses with Peeta that weren't for cameras; the ones on the beach during the Quell that made me hungry for more, and the way he would hold me at night to keep the nightmares away, and when his heart stopped at the force field. At the memory, all the air is knocked out of my body and I make no effort to choke back my silent tears; as if the pain and heartache crashed into my body again, still as fresh as when he finally took another breath.
Maybe my kisses and affection towards Gale were out of obligation because he was in pain. And maybe, even though Peeta and I were forced to play the part of star-crossed lovers, my feelings weren't always forced. I know his were always real, and maybe I just never realized mine because I was too busy trying to save everyone. Maybe now, knowing I can't save everyone, I can give in to my feelings. Peeta, the boy with bread, no my boy with bread, will come back to me if it is the last thing I do. I silently thank Gale for being the best friend I could ever have, and helping me to realize this.
Before I go back to sleep, I turn once more to Peeta. A small glow illuminates his face, and as I gaze into his eyes, knowing he can't see me, I notice small tears welling up in his eyes. He makes no effort to wipe them away as he barely choked out, "Thank you," to Gale. Gale pats his back and says, "Welcome back, bread boy." I can't help but smile as I drift off to sleep; the hope from this conversation being enough to block out the losses of the previous day.
Chapter 2: A Canvas Only Paint Could Change
This is the same time-span as the previous chapter, but this is Peeta's POV.
This chapter is inspired by The Format's "A Mess to Be Made."
This picture is courtesy of completemadman.tumblr.com
No one trusts me to guard by myself—I don't blame them, I don't trust me either—but I do not trust Gale to guard with me. It has nothing to do with the hatred and jealousy swirling around his dark, but vivid eyes. No, it's not that he would kill me in a second if she told him to. No, it's not that. It's the wounded look on his face I see as he watches her; the look of defeat and loss drowning out the fight in his demeanor.
I watch him studiously. He never notices, never even glances away from her momentarily. If he would, he'd see my face with what I'm sure must be a rabid expression. I've got so many questions for him, but he won't even look at me. Always her. Katniss this; Katniss that. It's always about her. Can you stop looking at her for one god-damned second and at least acknowledge me?
His head flips around and his eyes meet mine with a quizzical look about them. I look at him, confused—wondering how he could have read my mind—before I realize I must have accidently blurted out that last thought. We sit there, having an awkward stand-off of sorts. I can tell we both want to say something, but every time I try to, I just fall mute. We play this game for what seems like hours, and then suddenly he speaks.
"She loves us both, you know?" He whispers. I don't know what to say, but luckily he has more to add. "I never wanted to believe it, but I knew it the moment the feast was announced in your first Games."
"Oh, yeah? Then why'd she leave me to be tortured after the Quell" I spit the words angrily at Gale, but I can't help it. I'm constantly waging a battle in my mind between myself and the hijacked-me. I know I care about her, somewhere in my heart I know that's real. But my mind just won't let me believe she cares about me the slightest. She won't even talk to me, which makes sense since I did try to kill her.
"She didn't, Peeta! Listen to me. This is the hardest realization I've had to make. So you owe it to me to listen, OK? Listen well," he says with such vigor that I feel assures of the truth behind whatever he plans to say, before I've even heard it. And so, I nod. I focus all my attention on him and his words.
"She loves me, but Katniss loves you," he pauses. I'm not supposed to say anything, but I have to.
"But Gale… You support her family, and you two have spent years hunting together. Years I never had. She never had to fake your relationship, never. I don't even have to ask 'real or not real' to know that you two had a closeness we never had, and that she was thinking of you when she was with me." My voice comes out in an embarrassingly small, wavering jumble of words.
Gale looks at me, so much pain in his eyes, as if my words have truly cut him. Deep. He sighs. "You don't see it.. I've been in love with her since before she was reaped. But, when I finally kissed her…" His words seem to get stuck in his throat, "I could tell she didn't love me, or at the very least was confused about her feelings. Then in 13 I knew it wholeheartedly. With you gone, even when we thought you were safe, she was more distraught than I'd ever seen her. She acted like my mother, after my father's accident," another sigh. "Peeta, no, she loves you. No matter how much she tries to convince herself otherwise, she will never have the feelings for me that she has for you."
"That's not true. You're just trying to make me feel better. Maybe she's confused, but in the end it's always been you that she'll pick. Always." With that, he moves closer and puts an arm on my shoulder. I flinch at the touch and he chuckles.
"I'm not mad anymore. I just don't want you to hurt her again. As much as I wish she could forget about you just to be safe from your episodes, I know being apart from you is causing her far too much pain to carry on for much longer." He reassuringly grips my shoulder and he begins to tell me everything—everything —from their years hunting, to their kiss, to their time in 13. As he tells me of her pain and suffering while I was gone, I can't help but shed a tear.
When he finishes speaking, I look into his eyes; all the hatred and jealousy has melted away, leaving behind a look of acceptance. I know in my head that I will fight anyone and anything—even my own mind—to get back to her. I vow to never hurt her again.
I barely get out a "Thank you," as my voice is cracking from inevitable tears. He pats my back and says, "Welcome back, bread boy." He then wakes up Finnick and Jackson for their shift as I drift off to sleep.
Chapter 3: Invasion
"The colorless words are burning our heels
as the bright lights of the city fade;
taking the chase to curb our fear
as the bloodless moon casts its face.
Ooh, something's not right.
I can feel it inside;
something's not right.
You would take the breath from my throat,
and you would take the cherished people that I hold."
"Invasion" - Eisley
This one is back to Katniss' POV.
completemadman.tumblr.com made this graphic, y'all!
I wake up to a voice almost inaudibly hissing, "Peeeeetttttaaaa… Gaaaallllleee…" I half-way chuckle thinking it must be Peeta having some strange nightmare, but his lips aren't moving. I glance around, and see that Jackson and Finnick hear it too. Our eyes lock and instantly we all know what's making that noise.
"Get up!" I frantically wake everyone and gather weapons. The others are waking up but it's much too slow for my liking. Here I am, hysterically picking up all of our supplies and throwing them into assorted packs, while they are taking their time waking from their slumbers as if we've got all the time in the world. I angrily start to wonder if I'm the only one who realizes what a dire situation this is.
"Mutts!" yells Jackson. I nod my assent and look at everyone, making sure they understand the urgency. With everyone awake, we quickly discuss strategy. There's not much time to work of specifics, but we'll make do with any plan we can think of, because after all, any plan is better than running around like chickens with our heads cut off. Maybe the thought of us all spewing blood, and slowing dying from exsanguination isn't the best thought right now.
"The must have found Boggs' body and realized none of ours were there," I say as I take Peeta's gun and swap the cartridge of blanks for some real ammunition before handing it to Pollux. Gale and I give our guns to Cressida and Castor, since we have our bows for protection. All the while, the mutts keep hissing their names. Everyone nods, realizing we've been lazy and should have started moving hours ago.
"I want Gale and Peeta to be on the inside of this formation at all times. Is that clear?" I order to our squad. They nod. I'm not sure if they're actually targeting Gale and Peeta specifically or if this is just more of the psychological torment Snow promised he'd have for me. I'm not sure if they've grasped that concept, but I know I need to give them more credit than I usually do. They've proven their intelligence already, anyway. We unanimously agree on a route to hopefully get above ground, where Cressida swears she knows a safe-house. I go to open the door and the second I turn the handle I'm gagging.
"Masks on," Homes says in a stern voice after seeing my reaction. It doesn't matter; I already know it's not lethal. The artificial rose smell will harm no one physically, but Snow is a master of torture. He knows exactly what the scent does to me—instantly the suffocating fumes and nausea are enough to render me useless, but I see Peeta and will myself to fight.
I explain my reaction to everyone and they remove their masks, making me feel slightly embarrassed. We enter back into the sewage corridor with Messalla leading by Pollux and Castor's careful guidance. Peeta wants to hold up the back, but I won't let him; I know far too well what can happen when I let him leave my sight. And so, he walks behind Cressida and Homes and directly in front of me. Gale and Finnick quickly follow, with Jackson and Leeg 1 holding up the back.
A wave of paranoia invades my mind and body. Maybe it's the feeling of being trapped underground—in a mine of sorts—or maybe it's the fact that some vicious muttation is coming after us; specifically Gale, my best friend, and Peeta, my boy with bread—maybe more one day, if we ever get out of here. I can't help the way my mind is drawn back to the Quell, the night I shot an arrow at the force field; the night my Peeta was stolen from me. I can't shake that feeling again; the feeling of knowing I was about to lose someone I love. I knew it that night and I can feel it again. I just know something is not right.
To ease my mind, I look at the holo, trying to get a grip on our surroundings so I can maintain control of our, well my, squad since Boggs left the holo to me; making me the leader. Then out of nowhere, Finnick is yelling for me to stop. I was too busy glancing at the holo, noticing how close we are to a pod called "Meat Grinder," so I didn't notice it. Immediately I have an arrow ready to fire, but it's useless. I can already see three of Gale's lying obliterated against an impenetrable wall of light.
Messalla's face is frozen in a scream of terror that never reached his throat. In an instant, the flash brightens and melts his skin off his body, then liquefies his muscles and bones. Then the flash fades ever so slightly, and his remains disappear; evaporating into the light before it suddenly stops—like nothing ever happened. Where seconds before stood a man full of life, now lays nothing; just the smell of putrefied flesh and boiling skin. The scent threatens to gag us all as we sit still, stunned by what had happened.
"Can't help him. Can't! Can't!" Peeta says, almost losing control. I lock eyes with him before tentatively grabbing his hand for support, but I'm not sure if it were for his benefit or my own. He doesn't try to break away and I can feel his heartbeat start to slowdown. Then surprisingly he grips my hand. It's not threatening like he's trying to take control and pin me down to kill me; but rather reassuring, the kind of hold that only my Peeta is capable. I'd smile if it were any other situation.
Chapter 4: She Works on the Garden Alone
"It's only just my heart—
it's only just my veins
you've been swimming in so long;
slowly killing all this pain.
But it's only just the sun
that takes away the rain.
Suddenly I'm not as sad as yesterday."
"Just My Heart" - Quietdrive
completemadman.tumblr.com made the graphic.
Just as I let out the breath I've been holding, I hear the clang of bullets bouncing off the sewer walls. Instantly, I throw my body in front of Peeta's, with my bow loaded and ready to fire. I'm silently scolding myself for being stupid enough to think we would have a couple moments of peace to deal with Messalla's demise. I really need to stop being so naïve; Snow will never let us rest.
Everyone is shouting and shooting, but above all the noise I can still hear the hissing. The mutts must be below us because the hissing is loudest whenever I crouch down to seek cover. I have no way of truly determining where they are; and as we are currently stuck between a seemingly endless wall of peacekeepers and some ominous death trap they call the Meat Grinder, there's not much room to try to find them. However, I do know they are close—eerily close.
Suddenly the peace keepers start dropping like flies; left and right, all falling into streams of blood and gore. The entire horde seems to lie covered in blood. I feel a sliver of pride at our feat. The ten of us somehow managed to kill at least two-hundred peacekeepers. When I think we can finally try to make a plan, more peacekeepers are coming; they seem to come from the floor. Wait. Something is not right about this.
Then I realize it. Those aren't peacekeepers and we didn't kill the peacekeepers lying in a heap some fifty yards ahead of us. No. The mutts had arrived. These mutts were nothing like the mutts that ravaged Cato's body in my first Games. They may not have had the eyes of dead tributes, but they were definitely more sinister.
They're scaly, lanky human-like lizards. They crawl, reaching about three-feet tall, and have the musculature of people, which makes me almost certain they can walk/run on their hind legs. They almost look like people in freakish costumes—I could almost see this being a Capitol trend in the next few weeks if these mutts succeed in killing us all—but no human could whip around a 2-foot long, razor sharp tail to take down a dozen peacekeepers in one sweep. If that wasn't bad enough, I see one of the mutts come across an unlucky group of surviving peacekeepers from their first assault. Without taking a second thought, the mutt grasps onto a peacekeeper's head, pulls it back, and decapitates them with a single slice of it tongue; as if showing off its brutality.
We try to shoot them, but it seems that no matter how many bullets we sink into their flesh, they keep coming. The hundred-yard stretch between us is quickly getting smaller and smaller.
"Where's the pod, exactly?" asks Finnick, whom I can barely hear above the hissing and bullets.
"Right on the corner of that wall," I point to the only corridor on our left, that leads away from the mutts, "The inside corner. "
"All right. We'll just have to wing it," he says solemnly; knowing there's almost no way we'll get through without setting it off.
"Formation!" I yell, orderly, "We've got to move, NOW!" With Messalla gone, Finnick moves to keeping up the front to protect Castor and Pollux. Peeta stays in front of me, and Gale is directly behind me. Homes, Cressida, Jackson, and Leeg 1 all follow. "Hug the right side as much as possible," I sternly say.
Finnick crosses tentatively, making sure it's safe. After he makes it about 20 yards down the corridor, I let Castor and Pollux follow. I then urge Peeta and Gale to go without me as I shoot a couple of my explosive arrows at the ever-growing horde of mutts; now only seventy-yards away from us. I then cross with Cressida right on my heels. Homes scurries after and just as he gets with the rest of us, far enough away from the pod to be safe, Jackson and Leeg 1 run right into the pod.
"NO!" I scream, but it's too late. The ground beneath them drops away and they fall into the unknown depths of what must be the Meat Grinder. It takes a few seconds before we can hear a faint splat as they hit the bottoms of the pit. The mutts are rushing across, trying to follow us, but it seems to be no use. They can't just the gorge, and just fall helplessly into the trap. Hundreds of them must be in that pit before suddenly, the ceiling—covered in spikes—falls down and crashes into the pit. Again and again it chomps, like child chewing gum—only in a much more deadly fashion.
We continue down the corridor. Finnick leads with Castor and Pollux guiding him. Peeta, I, and Gale follow them, and Cressida and Homes follow us. For now, the hissing has stopped. I hold tightly onto Peeta's hand and grips mine back, just as tight.
We take advantage of this slight reprieve to stop for a little break. The eight of us hold ourselves up in a small alcove, keeping guard on all exposed sides. The second we stop moving, I rush to Peeta, wrapping my arms around him.
"I'm so sorry," I say, wanting to explain everything and tell him how I feel, but not even knowing where to begin. He shoots me a puzzled look in reply, but returns my hug.
"Katniss," he kisses the top of my head, and I practically melt. It's been months since I've gotten to really be around him—the real him— without cameras. I kiss his cheek and hold his face in my hands, my thumbs smoothing across his brow. He's got such a beautiful face; so full of love, kindness, and overall goodness, but also so masculine. I've never paid so much attention to it, until now. And now, that hunger for him, his kisses, his touch, him to hold me; it's all back.
I restrain myself and turn to Gale. I give him a quick embrace and thank him.
"For what?" He asks sincerely.
I look down and whisper, "I heard you two talking last night..." I pause, not sure how to tell him he's right. Will it break his heart even more?
"Y-you-You were right," I look at him. He won't meet my gaze.
"I'm so sorry, Gale. I never ever meant to hurt you," I say strongly and sincerely.
He finally looks at me. "I know," he says grimly. "It still hurts getting whipped even when you know the whip is coming down." He half-way chuckles, half-way cringes at the casual way he referenced his whipping and now his unrequited love.
I pat his shoulder and stand on my toes to whisper in his ear, "Do you think he's really coming back to me?" Maybe I shouldn't be asking him this, of all people, but Gale is and will always be my best friend.
"I don't know if he can, but I do know he'll try like hell. He really loves you, Catnip. Remember that." He spins me around and shoos me back to Peeta; I walk away smiling.
I cross the circle of us, back to Peeta and he welcomes me into his arms.
"I wish I could remember more..." he says disappointedly.
"What do you want to know?" I say, "I can try to help you." I smile and he nods.
"We slept together on the Victory Tour. Real or not real?"
"Real," I answer. "You'd hold me till we fell asleep and neither of us would have nightmares."
He looks both pleased and saddened by my answer.
I frown. You need to tell him how you feel.
"Peeta," I try to start my explanation, but the words won't come out. I sigh and think real hard. He laughs at the look on my face, and I can't help but smile.
"Gale was right… Everything he said was true. I-I-I do love you, Peeta. Real. Really real. I'm so sorry it took me this long to sa-"
He lips lock onto mine and I can't even finish my sentence. It's a short, but loving kiss; filled to the brim with longing, passion, and love. I can feel the love coming from both of us. And it's beautiful.
I can't wipe the smile off my face as I gaze into the endless blue oceans of his kind, gentle eyes; until the hissing begins again.
Chapter 5: We Hold This Ghost in Our Arms
For clarification, this goes from the middle of "She Works on the Garden Alone" to what will be the next chapter. This is Peeta's POV.
"They had a master plan; wanted to tear us apart.
Nothing to hold—all hope; depleted.
Our demise has been completed now;
Nowhere left to go but down.
The flames of hell, they give me hope."
"Prevent This Tragedy" by Alkaline Trio
Real... or not real? Real or not real? Real or not real? …Real or not real?
I keep asking myself, again and again. No matter how much I try to concentrate on what's happening, I can never tell if this really is happening.
Did two people just give up their lives for us?
After the Quell, you'd think I'd be no stranger to this; victors risked and gave their lives for me to live. Mags and the Morphling from 6 threw their lives away for mine. That was real. But under these circumstances, I just don't know if this is reality.
I don't know if any of this is real.
For all I know, I could still be stuck in that room; the white, sterile room with a single bright light centered above my head. I could still be restrained to that pitiful excuse for a "bed," with an endless amount of tubes stuck in my body, pumping who knows what into my veins. Maybe I was never rescued by the rebels. Maybe, hopefully, I never tried to kill Katniss. The memory makes me hate myself.
How could I ever hurt her?
I momentarily cling to the hope that that never happened, until she snaps me into reality—and I am forced to realize that it did happen, just like Leeg 1 and Jackson did die for us—with words I've never thought I would ever hear her say.
"I'm so sorry," she says with sincerity written all over her face. What could she be sorry for? I mean, I've always wanted her to apologize for every time she hurt me, but I don't understand this. Why now?
All I know is that her arms are around me and I love her, so even if I don't understand what's going on, I will return that hug. And that I do. I don't know what to make of her random displays of affection, but I take advantage of it and kiss the top of her head. I expect her to pull away, realizing there are no cameras and that she doesn't need to pretend, but she doesn't.
No, she doesn't pull away; she moves closer. In a swift movement she's on her toes, planting a kiss on my cheek and continuously smoothing over my brow.
Is she comforting…me?
Then she's gone. Again. She just leaves without a word, leaving me confused and conflicted, but happy. She runs off to Gale and I feel a pang in my heart. She's always running to Gale. But Gale doesn't meet her gaze; he looks at me. It's strange. It's like he's trying to reassure me of something—of what he said earlier perhaps? I don't know. I just don't understand him, and that's what worries me most. He's unpredictable.
Gale finally looks at Katniss and they share a few words, then he practically shoves her back to me. I feel my entire body tense up. How dare her force her around like that! Then I see the smile on their faces and realize it was all in good fun. I'm relieved to say the least; I'm running out of chances with this team and something tells me that getting in a fist fight with Gale would not help my case whatsoever.
I embrace her wholeheartedly. I don't know why she's been so loving the past few days, but I don't want it to end. I feel that if I let her out of my sight the Capitol will take her away for good, and being that we're already on their turf, it wouldn't be all too difficult for them to take advantage of even a slight break of contact between us. I will never let you go.
My mind races through years of memories; years of loving her from afar, years of tripping over my tongue, failing to talk to her, years of stealing glances. I remember, before her father died, her face was so full of life and happiness. Then her laughter and smiles were replaced by hard work and determination to survive. As my mind drudges up memories more recent, I struggle to discern reality from the shiny, lucid false memories the Capitol created. I hate myself for believing them. I hate myself for hurting her. But above all else, I hate myself for not knowing. I have so many questions for her. So many questions.
"I wish I could remember more…" I look up at her. I don't think now is the best time for a round of 'real or not real,' but I just need to know one thing. If she answers just this one question, I'll be happy.
She looks at me with a clueless expression. "What do you want to know?" Her expression changes to a softer, more caring one. "I can try to help you."
It takes all of my courage to ask a question only she can answer. I mull over my decision a moment before asking. What if it wasn't real? I cringe slightly. Please be real. I take a deep breath.
"We slept together on the Victory Tour? Real or not real?"
The words fly out of my mouth and I see a slightly pained look on her face. I immediately regret it. So stupid. Never ask personal questions! My doctors always told me to try to stay away from the personal memories that I'm confused about. I wish I had listen.
"Real," she says almost flatly, "You'd hold me till we fell asleep and neither of us would have nightmares."
Her answer makes me smile, but then I remember that it never meant anything to her—or at least not what it meant to me. I was spending nights sleeping with the love of my life cradled in my arms; she was just finding a way to survive. I look back at her with pleading eyes. I need to know more. I need to know her motives now. Why has she been so…perfect? There are no cameras anymore, her pretending is only making me more confused.
Unless, she isn't pretending?
As I'm contemplating the impossible she starts to speak. She barely gets out my name before I look at her. She has the most peculiar look on her face; one I've seen plastered on my own so many times before. It's the expression you make when your heart tells you to speak your feelings, but your mind and tongue won't let you. I can't help but giggle at her. She sighs and smiles back at me.
"Gale was right… Everything he said was true. I-I-I do love you, Peeta. Real. Really real. I'm sorry it took me this long to sa-"
I don't even let her finish her sentence. I'm afraid this is a dream and I have no clue how long the peacefulness will last before a nightmare inevitably takes over. I pull her face closer to mine and lock her into a passionate kiss. Short and sweet. This one is different. It feels different. It feels real.
I open my eyes and find her smiling and gazing back into mine. This is real.I can't wipe the sappy grin off my face as I watch her watching me, until the hissing begins again.
We're off and running within seconds. We hadn't been resting for long so there was no time wasted in picking up our supplies. Cressida swears if we can get above ground, she knows a safe house. Pollux somehow conveys to Castor that he knows a way out from here. They guide Homes and we follow, never even turning to look back.
The hissing grows louder and louder, ever so slightly. They're gaining on us. I know it. I can sense them and the despicable way they keep repeating mine and Gale's names is starting to take a toll on Katniss. I can tell by the way her grip on my hand grows more and more urgent— more determined. She never lets go of my hand. Never. I stumble momentarily over my prosthetic, but she doesn't even loosen her grip. She won't leave me this time. That one truth amid all the confusion is the sole motivation that keeps me going.
The ladder to the manhole is in our sights. We're about thirty yards away from the ladder, and about twenty-five away from the horde of lizard mutts. No words are said, but we know we can't all make it up the ladder before they catch up to us.
We take off in a dead sprint toward the ladder. Pollux is first up because he knows how to open the hole. Then Gale, Katniss, and I follow. We can hear the mutts and know they're close. I hear Finnick and Homes shouting and endless sprays of bullets. Cressida pops her head up, tears further smearing her makeup. She looks to Pollux and just loses it.
Finnick is the last out, shaking a mutt off of his leg as he steps out of the sewer. Someone is screaming behind him.
"No one is coming," Gale says.
Katniss, ever stubborn, refuses to take his word for it and steps back toward the hole.
"Castor!" "Homes!" She yells, screaming for them to make it up.
Their cries of agony stop all at once and before I even have time to react, she hurls the holo into the sewer.
"Nightlock! Nightlock! Nightlock!" She throws the lid back on the entrance to the sewer form which we came, but it's not soon enough. The holo explodes and before she can cover it, we're covered in a light layer of what I'm certain to be Castor, Homes, and a few mutts—or what's left of them, anyway.
I then notice that we're not on the street. In 12, sewers open to the street. But here, it opens into a small room. Really a closet.
Without hesitation, Katniss opens the door. A Capitol women is standing right there; no doubt responding the all the noise she had just heard. Before she even gets to scream, Katniss lets an arrow fly. It slices right through the source of her impending scream, and as her body falls to the ground, we hear a slight gurgle as the air in her throat escapes through the arrow wound.
We waste no time and search the rest of the house for another guest. No one is there, so we go to the bedroom and raid her closet. Interestingly enough, there is a man's closet too. Cressida and Pollux, since they were Capitol citizens, help us choose our disguises. We choose looser clothing, so that we can hide our weapons underneath.
"Katniss," I barely choke out her name before she rushes to my side, her borrowed dress not even zipped yet.
"What's wrong, Peeta?" Her voice is soft and caring, like when she would talk about her father while we were working on her family's plant book. She takes my hand securely and places it on her chest, right over her heart.
"Was it r-" I start to ask but she cuts me off.
"Do you feel that beat?" She asks. I nod, not knowing where she's going with this.
"Peeta, this is real. Everything that happened today was real, especially what I told you." She looks at me with a pleasant smile; the type of which I can never get enough.
"Now tell me, did that beat increase? Did I start sweating or breathing abnormally?"
I shake my head, still confused where she's going with this conversation.
"Ok. Then you know I wasn't lying. When people lie, their heartbeats increase. I'm not lying, Peeta. This is real."
She leans forward for a quick embrace and I feel my body straighten up. I hug her back then stand up rather quickly.
"Cressida, where is that safe-house you mentioned?" I say, turning to face everyone who is lying lazily on the plenty of couches and chairs in what must be a parlor room. Even in the heat of a rebellion and war, these creatures still manage to have frivolous amounts of everything. I'm disgusted by all of this, more than I ever have been. I need to finish this mission, and soon.
"Uhm, well Pollux isn't sure where exactly we are, but we believe we're about eight blocks south of it right now," she says with a half-grin.
"Then let's go," I say with a tone of leadership. I don't know why, but I feel like I'm the only one right now who realizes we need to get somewhere safe.
Finnick looks at me for a moment before he opens his mouth to speak. When he does, the TV flicks on without anyone touching it. A flash a terror crosses everyone's face. They've found us. Oh, God. They've found us.
Cressida calms us by telling us that the TVs hear turn on by themselves. We all nod, pretending to understand, and turn our attention back to the broadcast. An overly peppy newswoman is giving a report about a boy that was killed for supposedly looking like I do.
"Maybe, we should put on some makeup so no one can tell who we are?" I hear Finnick mutter to Cressida. She nods and gets to work applying random goos and creams to our faces. When I think there's no way I can even tell who is who in our group, she nods to Pollux.
She opens the door and we all step out. Together, Pollux, Cressida, Finnick, Gale, Katniss, and I make our way through the Capitol streets. We keep our heads down and pay no mind to all the citizens moseying about the town. No one notices us and we manage to avoid any peacekeepers.
As we keep going, we get farther and farther away from the residential areas. Now, the streets are riddled with shops and stores, even an occasional open market—despite the heavy snow falling on the customers.
We approach a gate and a seemingly abandoned shop. Cressida pushes open and signals for us to follow. We do, like herded sheep, and then stop in our tracks at the front door.
Chapter 6: Between Silence and Violent Expression
"Haunted by my abandoned dreams
Tiny voices where would be screams
Now be still, it won't be long
We will be together in search of a new life
Striving as one in this world to find something pure
I'm missing you now
I'm quite sure
That I've finally found someone."
"Trembling" by Yellowcard
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.
Chapter 7: My Demons Reimburse
Title comes from "Hurt Me"- Aiden
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
I wake up to Peeta jostling me.
"What?" I croak groggily, a scowl creeping over my face. I was enjoying my sleep.
"We have to hide. Now," he says with urgency flooding his tone.
I stand up and glance around to what's left of our squad. Finnick stands next to the door to our hiding place; everyone else is huddling near the other end of the room, throwing pelts over themselves to attempt to hide.
I struggle against Peeta, refusing to move until I get answers. He opens his mouth to explain, but before he can I hear a shriek from upstairs.
"They're here. C'mon, Katniss. We need to hide!" This time it's Gale pulling me into the darkness with Cressida and Pollux, Peeta following. Finnick stays where he is.
"Finnick!" I yell. I can't lose him. Sometime during our torment in 13, we became good friends. Best friends really. He understands me in a way Gale couldn't and we share an experience I never could with Peeta. Losing Finnick would feel like losing a brother I never had. I had to protect him; not only for my own selfish reasons but for Annie and their son—I just knew they'd have a son, and he'd look just like Finnick. I can't let that child be a ghost of such an amazing man. No, Finnick is coming home.
"Shh!" He looks at me and gives me such a terrible death glare I can't help but comply. He doesn't offer any explanation and I know that I will just have to trust that he won't do anything stupid.
I finally stop resisting Gale and Peeta to move, but I refuse to hide under pelts like Cressida and Pollux.
"We're here to fight! I'm not going to cower down now," I say sternly. This is my fight after all. I am the one who started this rebellion with those berries so long ago. And it is my fault that almost all of our squad has perished on a "mission" I made up. It's my fault we're here; I will not hide from the consequences of my choices any longer. I will fight.
Peeta looks at me with those beautiful blue eyes I love so much. Only this time, he's not looking at me, but rather through me. He nods his head solemnly and picks up a gun. He straps it to his chest and takes my hand.
He tenderly kisses my wrist and whispers something to me. It's too quiet for me to make out and as I open my mouth to ask what he said, the shrieking comes to an end.
The screams end with a bang. A single gunshot and upstairs goes quiet. Complete silence settles around us like that black fog from the pod we encountered what seems like forever ago.
It last only mere moments before footsteps begin shuffling down the stairs. We're completely silent. The men, I'm assuming to be peacekeepers, yell strings of profanity as they experience difficulty finding us. The woman shrieking must have been Tigris. I can only hope that she didn't tell them about this room; but I never did trust her too much, so I wouldn't be surprised if she told them.
Finnick locks the door in haste and presses back against the wall. I make my way back across the rooms to retrieve my bow and arrows when suddenly I hear a loud buzzing noise and instantly, the door flies open—almost crushing Finnick as he hides behind it.
Peeta jumps in front of me, shielding me from the aim of the three peacekeepers' guns—that are now aimed at Peeta's chest, since he's the only one possessing a weapon.
My eyes look frantically to Finnick. He only has a single knife, there's no way he could take out all three peacekeepers before they shot Peeta or noticed him; so I do the only logical thing of which I can think.
I shove Peeta behind me, and back up; pushing him into the corner and using all my weight as leverage to keep him from reversing our positions.
"You can't take him!" I scream at the peacekeepers; their guns now trained at his head that sticks out above my own. I've never hated being short more than now. I want to shield him from anything and everything, but something are trivial as six inches in height difference are going to mean his death.
The man in the center, presumably the leader just laughs.
"You really thought that the three of you could make it to the president?"
Good, that means he only sees Gale, Peeta, and me. He doesn't know Finnick is there.
"We've got friends, you know," Gale says with a smirk. He momentarily diverts two of the men's attention. Finnick takes advantage of this.
He lunges forward with the stealth and grace of a practiced hunter and slits the third man's throat. The man on the other side of their leader drops his gun as he runs to his fallen comrade. Finnick is hidden again. They central peacekeeper, still with a finger on his gun, laughs again and points his gun back to Peeta's temple.
I hear the click, and pull us both down; shooting the man with Peeta's gun. At the same time Finnick's knife makes an appearance in the final peacekeeper's chest. The blood drips all the way over to Peeta and myself, lying on the ground a few yards away.
Only, it's not the peacekeeper's blood.
It takes me a few moments to realize it; what happened. Gale jumped in front of a bullet, but not a bullet that was aimed at me. Gale jumped in front of a bullet for Peeta. Gale sacrificed himself for Peeta. The weight of what happened threatens to suffocate me as I squirm out of Peeta's grasp and past the bodies of the peacekeepers that litter the ground and stain the—once beautiful—pelts a deep crimson.
"Gale!" I scream. I scream his name as I crawl to his blood soaked body, lying on the ground. My legs won't work and it seems to take a year to crawl those few feet to my best friend; my hunting partner; my brother.
"Cat-nip," he says hoarsely, reaching for my hand as I sit next to him. I reach his head in my lap and try to staunch the bleeding. A bullet skimmed his neck, right along the artery. He knew and I knew that there was almost no chance I could save him, but I was going to try like hell.
"Shh, don't talk." I say, putting my fingers to his lips. I rip off part of his shirt and put pressure on it as I press it to the wound. It quickly stains red from the blood that seems to be never ending. Cressida runs to try and find me a needle and thread for makeshift stitches.
"Just..stop," he says, coughing. "It's over. I know it is."
His words hit me, and I know he's right. My whole body feels as though it's been crushed; a giant boulder has landed right on top of me.
He must notice my expression, because her reaches up to touch my cheek; wiping away a tear I didn't know had fallen. Gale is dying, yet he's comforting me. What a great friend I am.
"Listen to me, Catnip."
I can't speak over fear of losing myself to hysterics, so I just nod.
"You're going to be OK, I promise you that. When I'm gone, you won't blame yourself, ok? Promise me you won't blame yourself."
The usual fire and resignation in his voice is gone; his plea is devoid of any and all emotion but desperation. It breaks my heart to hear the man I know to be strong, brave, and warm to be reduced to nothing more than a desperate man— albeit still as selflessly concerned about my well-being as ever.
"I can't, Gale," I say, sobs escaping. Now is not the time to lose it, I keep telling myself. It's all in vain. Gale is dying and most of me is going to die with him.
"As my dying wish, promise me you will move on. Promise me you'll kill Snow; end the Games; lead the rebellion; all that heroic shit..." he pauses. He grabs my hand again, and I can feel his hands getting colder and colder as his body is being drained of blood.
"And most importantly, promise me you and Mellark will be happy. Don't let me stop you. I didn't take a bullet for him so you would feel guilty. I did this. Not you." He kisses my hand and then lets go.
"Make my death mean something, Catnip."
I nod. My hand on his neck can barely make out his pulse.
"I promise, Gale."
I kiss his forehead and watch as the life fades from his eyes. The slow rise and fall of his chest becomes nonexistent, so I close his eyes.
He's gone, and I let myself give in to the hysterics.
I crumple into his chest, blood coating my hair and face, but I don't care. I sob and sob, incapable of making any coherent words but his name. After some time, I calm down physically, but emotionally I'm manic.
Years of friendship fly through my mind. I remember:
The first time he made me laugh—we'd been hunting together for weeks, but I'd never shown him anything but a scowl. Then one day he set off his own snare and managed to get himself hung upside-down by the ankle, 8-feet off the ground. I tied him down, after staring at him and laughing for a good while;
When Prim caught pneumonia and we didn't have the money for her medicine. Gale spent a solid two days hunting, with no rest, until he shot two bucks. He sold every scrap of meet and hide and even the antlers; all to buy the medicine for Prim. I've still never repaid him for that;
When I found out he volunteered for the mission to rescue Peeta. Gale had always been doing things like that; risking himself to help me, rarely with even a 'thank you' in return.
We'd both done things like that; risked our hides to help each other out every-so-often. That's what hunting partners did. We protected each other. Somewhere along the way, we became much more than that; more than friends. We became family.
My family, my Gale, is dead.
My brain starts to get fuzzy; an effect of stress to which I'm all too accustomed. I begin my inner-narrative, like usual:
My name is Katniss Everdeen.
I am seventeen-years-old.
I survived two Hunger Games.
My home was bombed.
I am in the Capitol.
I will kill President Snow…
I killed my best friend.
And then, there's just black.
Before anyone says Katniss didn't have a strong enough reaction to his death, wait until chapter 8 to tell me. If you read it, and still are unsatisfied with her reaction- do not hesitate to let me know.
Chapter 8: The Dull Sound of Sharp Math
"My hell comes from inside; comes from inside myself.
Why fight this?
Everyone's so afraid of their own lives—
If you could be anything you want,
I bet you'd be disappointed;
am I right?"
"Lives" by Modest Mouse
I wake up in the woods—more specifically the clearing in which Gale and I often meet. I look around, but he's not there. Instead, there's a note.
Meet me in the cabin.
I venture to the spot where I stash my bow and arrows and after securing my quiver around my shoulder, I head out—bow in hand. Along the way I see countless rabbits and squirrels; I take out three large rabbits with precise shots through their left eyes, and toss them in my game bag. I silently tread through the woods—not so much as a single twig snaps under my delicate steps—as I make my way to the cabin.
Mockingjays fill the canopy, staring at me expectantly. Without hesitation, I whistle the bittersweet four-note melody of my beloved but fallen ally. After a respectful pause, they repeat it back. Birds farther in the distance pick it up as well. As I hone in on the cabin, the simple melody has transformed; transformed into a full-blown symphony—the four-note call floating atop an alto countermelody, juxtaposed by a deeper harmony. Rue would love this.
I walk up to the cabin and open the door.
"I wandered across some deer this morning', Catnip," Gale says as I sit down beside him.
"So you want me to shoot one for ya'?" I jab him in his ribs and we both chuckle.
It's no secret I'm a much better shot that he. He can trap them and I can target them; that's why we've always been such perfect partners. He wordlessly gets up, bow ready to shoot. I follow with equal silence as we stalk our prey; nothing needs to be spoken and sounds would only push away any nearby game.
Suddenly he stops and point to a nearby bush. I see it: a doe; at least 100-pounds. With utter silence and practiced finesse, I aim. My bow, held steady in my left palm, arrow already loaded, I wrap my three middle fingers of my right hand around the drawstring; my index right above the arrow and my two others just below. I pull back; my elbow pointed upward and my shoulder rotating circularly as I use my triceps to pull back the fifty-pounds of tension—a trick my father showed me to keep my shot fluid and relieve any tension in my stance. The arrow flies and hits its target—dead in the eye. After all, I never miss.
I look over my shoulder, expecting Gale's nod of approval, but again he's not there. Terrified, I call out to him.
"Gale!" My throat burns; the acrid taste of soot and the choking sensation of smoke overpower me.
The woods are burning. "Gale!" I yell, more frantically than before.
I sprint, ignoring the flame. I sprint toward his voice with all the speed and determination I can muster. I get close to his voice when suddenly I trip. I look around to see a bow on the ground—Gale's bow. I try to get back on my feet, but fall and clutch my ankle in anguish. It's sprained; I'm certain.
"How could you!"
I whip my head around—so fast my braid smacks across my face—to see Gale on the ground; an arrow in his gut.
"Gale! Who did this? Where are they!" I scream, the way I screamed when Rue was speared.
I crawl to him, but stop when he spit at me.
"You did this, you filthy, heartless, Capitol mutt!"
I stop, dead in my tracks.
"I loved you… and you murdered me." He pushed me, hard; I fly back and into the flames.
"Burn, you bitch!" He yells as my skin begins to boil and bubble from the heat.
"Katniss!" Someone calls out to me, but my trachea is burning too much for me to respond. I feel someone grasp me and press a wet rag to my forehead.
"Katniss, shhh…" The soothing, familiar voice says. All I see is fire and flames.
"You're OK. Please, Katniss, just wake up."
My eyes flip open and I see Peeta's blue ocean-like eyes gazing down at me as I crumple into his chest.
"It was just a nightmare," he says.
But it wasn't. I killed Gale when I dragged him on this faux-mission to assassinate Snow. I killed Gale, just like I killed Castor, Homes, Jackson—all of them and more. I don't deserve consoling.
But I don't say that; I just push away from Peeta without a word of explanation. He tries to fun after me, but Finnick pulls him back. They say something to me, but I don't care. I run full speed into the wall—my face making full contact with the cement, then I fall into a heap next to the wall. Again and again I bang my head into it.
I feel hands pull me from the wall, but it's not Peeta—I'd know those arms anywhere. I look up to see Pollux looking down on me with a sympathetic expression.
"Don't help me! I killed you brother," I sob.
He just shakes his head and lays me down on a pile of pelts.
"Katniss, we all knew you make up the mission. All of us. We followed you because we wanted to. You didn't kill any of us," Finnick pleads with me.
I cover my face with my hands and sob—I sob for the people I've killed in the Games; I sob for Rue; I sob for the old man in 11 who was shot; I sob for all of my neighbors and townsfolk from 12; I sob for Gale. I sob for everyone, even those whose names I'll never know. I refuse Peeta's comforting, ignore Finnick's reasoning, and remain blind to the sympathetic faces of Pollux and Cressida.
Finnick pulls my hands away from my face after some time, and tilts up my chin.
"Look at me," he says with a powerfully strong tone I've never before heard from him. "You made a promise to him, Katniss. What was that?"
"T-to not… blame myself," I choke out between hiccups.
"Exactly," he says as he grabs my shoulders and literally shakes some sense into me, "so you have to honor that. And right now, we need you to function." He locks eyes with me again. "If you can… please, just wait until we get back to 13 before you fall apart. Please. We need you, Katniss."
I nod and choke back the last of my tears. Finnick gives me a sad smile and pats my shoulder reassuringly before handing me back over to Peeta.
"I'm so sorry," he says before he wraps his arms around me. I don't want his comfort; I don't deserve it—but I need it to not fall apart, so I return the embrace and let him kiss my cheek. I might even slightly smile.
"What the hell happened?" I ask the whole room.
No one really knows for sure but Tigris is dead. It was her shrieking we heard, and she was the one who was shot earlier. Somehow, peacekeepers must have found out we were here or they somehow knew she was a rebel spy and knew we might come here. Either way, we need to move out of here pretty quickly. Finnick tells me it's only been about two hours since Gale was killed. As much as I'd like to stay here and mourn over the death of my best friend, I know we have to leave.
Finnick and Pollux raid the shop in search of food—we lost most of ours in the mutt attack yesterday. While Finnick and Pollux are upstairs, Cressida, Peeta, and I try to make a plan. We all agree that we can't go out in our big group of five; the five of us would look suspicious wandering the Capitol Square, even among all the other refugees. We also agree any sort of single-file maneuvers are suicide missions. After a good minute or two of silence, Peeta speaks up.
"What about pairs?"
"Peeta, there's five of us… We can't exactly split 5 in pairs." I reply, automatically dismissing his proposal.
"I know," he pauses and breaks eye contact before continuing, "that's why I thought you would go with Finnick, Cressida and Pollux would go together, and I'd…go by myself."
"Peeta, that's suicide! You barely even let us take you out of the handcuffs. You can't be out there by yourself! You'll get yourself killed!" I start crying again, just thinking about losing Peeta. I've already lost Gale. I can't lose Peeta too.
"Then what ideas do you have, Katniss?" Peeta insensitively retorts.
"W-what about F-Finnick by hims-self?" I say, still crying.
"What about me?" Finnick says as he and Pollux come bounding down the stairs hands full of canned food.
Peeta fills them in on his plan, then mentions my idea. Finnick mulls over it a minute before nodding.
"Peeta, I think she's right. I can go by myself." He meets my gaze, and must see the fear in my eyes.
"I mean, c'mon, if anyone spots me, I'll just charm the pants of them and mosey my way deeper into the Square."
Everyone chuckles, but I. Finnick notices.
"Katniss, it'll be all right…" he pauses, then taps the pocket in which I put that note he gave me, "and if it isn't, just make sure you give that to Annie."
"I promise," I say as I give him a hug.
Just a few months ago, I never thought I'd even talk to Finnick Odair. Then, when I did talk to him, I never thought we'd be friends. But now, Finnick is the brother I never had. It's a different relationship than Gale and I had; Finnick and I aren't closer, but our bond is just like that of siblings. Gale loved me, so obviously he didn't think of me as his sister.
Finnick hands us each a can of food. Once again, I get some of that delicious dried-plum and lamb stew. It's not as good cold as it was during my first Games, in the cave with Peeta; but it's still delicious. When we all finished our meals, it was silent. No one knew what to say as we awaited what would probably be our deaths.
Pollux clapped his hands together and we all looked at him. He looked at Finnick expectantly.
Finnick put out in front of us a basket of blackberries—Gale's favorite.
So tonight, I pay homage to my best friend, my fallen hunting partner. I eat his favorite treat and vow to finish the job we started; the rebellion he wanted with every fiber of his being. I can almost hear him with me now; his laugh filling the silence.
"To Gale," I say, offering up a handful of blackberries.
"To Gale!" They all shout back, mixtures of sadness and determination filling their faces.
I think that maybe, just maybe we can do this.
Chapter 9: The Hurricane I'll Never Outrun
The trek from Tigris' shop to Snow's mansion from Finnick's point of view
(part 1 of 2-3 chapter arc).
Title comes from "Hurricane" by the Hush Sound
We agree to sleep through the remaining hours of the night and storm the square in the morning. Cressida and Pollux quickly fall asleep in the makeshift beds they crafted out of the pelts strewn about our not-so-secret secret hideout. The lovebirds, Katniss and Peeta, are a bit more reluctant to curl up together; not that I blame Katniss anyway. Her best friend just died to save Peeta. Katniss is a creature of guilt. Hell, she wouldn’t have even helped Peeta if it hadn’t been for that fact that she owed him for the bread when they were little.
Peeta just doesn’t get it.
I do, though. I’ve seen her at her worst, when Peeta, Annie, and Johanna were captured. I helped her through that; we helped each other through that. I understand her in ways I can’t fathom. Sometimes, there’s no words that can be said; no sentiment that can help heal. Katniss wants space right now. She wants to grieve; she wants to shut down. She wants to die. She wants to join her hunting partner in a place where the game is always plentiful and the worries are far away. She doesn’t want to curl up to the person for whom he died. She doesn’t want to breathe in the scent of him—the boy she loves; she doesn’t want to hear his steady heartbeat that reminds her he’s alive. She doesn’t want to be constantly reminded that he’s a gift for which she paid a hefty price. She doesn’t want the reminder that Gale died because she loves Peeta. She doesn’t want that.
She’s a lot like Annie, though neither of them would see the resemblance.
I didn’t know Annie until she was reaped. I was 19 then, she was 17. Her frame was thing and lanky, but toned. She was a fighter; that much was obvious. I barely got to know the bright, bubbly young woman she used to—sometimes still is. My heart stopped the moment Elliot was beheaded and I heard her screams. They were childhood friends, best friends for almost their entire lives. Annie didn’t want to win with the knowledge that Elliot died saving her. I knew that, but I was too much like Peeta then. I took extra “clients” to gain her sponsors, though no one wanted to bet on her. She was mad then, truly mad. She just screamed with her hands clamped on her ears. Then the dam broke. She was impaled on something during the flood and desperately needed something for stitches. My extra clients paid off. I send her a needle and thread, and a note:
for me, and for Elliot.
She somehow mustered up the strength to sew herself up and to keep treading water until the last three cannons fired. She was carried off by hovercraft and I was there to meet her the second she got out of the doctors’ hold.
She didn’t want me. I saved her. I was a constant reminder of the Games, of Elliot—of everything terrible that had ever happened to her.
“If you weren’t here, I’d be dead… and happy with him.” That was the only coherent thing she said to me for months.
I know right now that Katniss is thinking the same thing. I just pray she doesn’t say it to Peeta; that boy can’t withstand another heartbreak from her.
But she doesn’t. Hesitantly she tucks herself into his embrace, her ear to his chest. She finally falls asleep to the lullaby of his heartbeat and breathing, reminding her that he’s here.
I smile then. She’s listening to me. She agreed to hold onto her sanity until we get out of here—and I know it’s hard for her, but she can do it. She will do it. She is doing it.
I wonder how Annie is doing right now. Does she know I’m alive? Does she think I abandoned her? Is Johanna taking care of her? Oh, god. Jo. Is she doing better? I saw her after her breakdown. She was terrible. In the eight years I’ve known her, she’s never been that broken.
Without even realizing I’d fallen asleep, I wake up the next morning to Peeta’s loud tromping around—Katniss wasn’t kidding she said he’s the loudest walker she’s ever met. I wipe the sleep from my eyes and reluctantly get up from my sleeping space.
Stretching and yawning, I turn to Katniss,
“So, whaddaya say we get this show on the road?”
She gives me a cross look, obviously annoyed by my easy-going mood—but I always feel it’s best to be positive. I’m usually the only one to think like this, but apparently Peeta shares that mindset.
“I thought we’d watch the nice sunrise first, if that’s all right with everyone,” he says, glancing around to everyone. “I used to go up the roof of the training center and watch it; it’s really gorgeous when the skyscrapers get painted in the seeping oranges and reds of the rising sun.”
Katniss still look unconvinced, but everyone else is nodding. Why miss this? It could be out last one after all.
Peeta takes her hand and leads us all to the roof of the shop. I don’t know when he snuck off to find it, but I’m glad he did. He wasn’t kidding. In all my years in the Capitol, I’ve never watched a sunrise. I didn’t think such natural beauty was possible here.
The sky above us is still a drape of midnight, but off in the horizon the beginning peaks of gold are spreading across. We sit up here in silence; the only noise between us is everyone’s collective breathing and the occasional faint din of people on the streets. After about 20 minutes, the sun is actually visible. The pristine, white training center that lies about three blocks to our left has transformed; no longer is it a blank, expressionless canvas. The building is now blanketed in a corona of rich reds, glistening golds, and pricks of lilac and magenta. It is easily the most beautiful thing I have ever seen here.
Without words, we make our way back into the shop and gather our things. The plan, as we decided last night, is to go out in pairs: Cressida and Pollux, Katniss and Peeta, then I will go by myself. We agreed that the best way to make it to the square is to all go different routes. It may make each group virtually defenseless, but it also will help keep suspicions to a minimum.
With all our things packed, Cressida and Pollux head out. I give them both hugs before they disappear into the mass of refugees. Katniss takes her bow and hides it under her large coat. Peeta, once again, grabs the gun and straps it to his back. When Peeta offers me a handshake, I decline. Instead, I grab his hand and pull into a—what I’m sure was painful—bear hug. When I pull away his eyes are gleaming up at me, with small tears welling up.
“If I never see you again, I just want to thank you, Odair. For everything.”
“Take care of her, Mellark,” I wink back at him.
He smirks, then turns to Katniss who is staring off into space.
“Come ‘ere, Fire Girl,” I call to her, snapping her back into the present. She looks at me for a moment, confused, before walking over.
Instantly, I drown her into a hug. I practically squeeze the air from her lungs, to the point where she’s coughing.
“Sorry,” I murmur into her hair. I pat the pocket in which to keeps my letter and smile. She returns it, but it’s more somber than anything else.
No words could really convey anything we really want to say to the other, and neither of us seem open to trying. So we just stand there, embracing each other; our heartbeats saying everything we need to know. Mine says “I love you,” “I’ll miss you,” “I need you,” “Take care of them,” “Don’t forget me.” She seems to say nothing but “Come back.”
We finally untangle and she and Peeta make their way to the door. They exit into the open streets, with nothing more than a few weapons and more determination than everyone else in this war combined. I only hope to see them again.
I wait a few minutes before entering the streets myself. I have a tentative route in mind, but I’m not too comfortable with it. I know that I know these streets better than most citizens, and am confident that I can maneuver through them without facing an impassable obstacle. What worries me are the people; I fear that if someone recognizes me, I may not be able to finagle him or her into allowing me to continue on my way. My face has been all over the news; but unlike usual, I’m a known rebel.
I try to shake these thoughts from my mind and keep moving. I turn left down an old alley and make my way toward the abandoned dock that lies at its end.
I shuffle around the old wooden fence that’s been there since before I was born and slowly walk under the musky overhang.
I ran here after my third appointment. Sahara Krulava was a trampy socialite; partying out on the town on her father’s dime. She looked innocent enough. I was new to this arrangement, and hadn’t yet learned how to guess what kind of a night I’d be in for, so she completely took me by surprise. She was into knife play, I later found out. She blind-folded me and led me to a butcher shop, one she’d rented out for the evening.
Hours later, she left me. Alone and bleeding, I ran away from there. I could smell the sea, so I ran towards it.
This abandoned dock on which I now sit; it had been the first haven I found here—the first place I found wherein I could be myself. Here, I was free; if only for a few minutes.
I sat down at the edge of the dock, with my feet in the water. It was cool and refreshing, and reminded me of home. And Annie.
Everything I do, I do for her; Annie and our child.
I formulate a plan; rack my brain for memories of other secret places and passageways. I’ve not been here in about 6 months, but it feels like years. For some reason, when your memories are most pivotal and crucial they seem to always be at the tip of your tongue; or pictures just beyond your retinas. They never quite come through for you.
I settle on a weaving path that will take me to Snow’s mansion, but almost completely avoid the Capitol square.
I stand up and bend over to pick up my weapon I carelessly laid to my left.
Before my hand touched the trident, I was frozen.
Behind my ear, I heard the sound of a gun’s safety being taken off and I knew there was no way I could get out of this one.
As I close my eyes, for what I’m sure will be the last time, I see Annie. I see her dark ringlets tangled around my chest and her big, doe eyes loving staring into mine. I whisper I love her, and take a breath.
Then it’s just silence.
Chapter 10: I'll Stay Lo
"But now I'm face-down, unspoken;
my chest ripped wide open.
From sunrise to nightfall
I need a place that I can hideout."
"Lo" – The Higher
(Part 2 of this 3 chapter story arc)
I hold my breath and wait.
The shot never comes.
Instead, I turn around to see a peacekeeper lying on the ground in his own blood and another only feet away from me—but there is something familiar about the latter.
The peacekeeper still alive had put down his weapon moments ago, as if to gain my trust. The look in the man's eyes is inviting, but questioning.
I had seen it before, but I'm not sure where.
"Finnick? It's me, Alistair," the man hesitantly speaks.
It takes me a moment, but I remember.
You're safe, Finnick. He's a fellow rebel, I think to myself while slowly exhaling the breath I forgot I'd been holding.
"Yeah," I say. It's not really a response but I'm too much in shock and confusion to really muster one anyway.
That same night I found this very dock was the night I met Alistair. Alistair was already a Capitol spy for the rebels; he only took a job as a peacekeeper to have closer ties to the government.
When he stumbled upon me, bleeding and trespassing on abandoned property in the wee hours of the morning, he didn't report me. No, Alistair actually scooped me up off the dock, took my almost lifeless body and helped—practically dragged—me back to the Training Center.
We didn't see each other for another four years or so, not until I officially joined the rebellion; not until my Annie—even though she wasn't really mine yet—lost herself in the Games.
Through those meetings, we became friends. Alistair was a lot like the other Victors, even though he was born and raised in the Capitol. He lost his family as collateral damage from one of Snow's "accidents" and from then on vowed himself loyal to the cause. He only managed to join from a time he saved Haymitch Abernathy from being arrested after he, in his belligerent stupor, broke his fist on a random bystander's nose. Alistair managed to convince the other peacekeepers called to the scene that Haymitch couldn't be arrested under Victor's Immunity, a law he made up on the spot.
Haymitch sobered up to find Alistair standing over him, sharing his hatred for Snow, the Games, everything Panem's government stood for.
But, I hadn't seen him since the annual meeting before the 74th Games. Because of Katniss and Peeta's obvious spark, the rebellion was gaining more force underground—no pun intended—and Haymitch felt it would be safest to forbid the Capitol spies from meetings, so as to prolong their covers for as long as possible.
Now Alistair stands in front of me, weaponless next to the dead body of another peacekeeper. The sight in front of me is so baffling, I think I must be somehow dreaming; I pinch my cheek, but nothing changes.
Minutes pass until I finally speak up and ask, "What the hell?"
"I thought you might come here eventually," Alistair says with a winning smile, lightly jabbing me in the ribs.
This was not the first time I had been to this dock since I discovered it, nor was it the first time since then that I've been here with Alistair. We used to meet here when I had down-time between appointments.
"Ahh, how well you know me," I reply.
I glance again to the peacekeeper on the floor.
"What the hell?"
"Oh that," Alistair starts nonchalantly. "He was gonna shoot you, but I snapped his neck before he got the chance."
I just nod, relieved and stressed by the sudden appearance of my new ally/old friend.
"Well, this kind of ruins my plan," I say after moments of silence.
"That's why I've got a new one," Alistair snaps back.
"Just trust me," he says with a wink.
Alistair pushes the other peacekeepers body into the water without so much as a word, which worries me. What's the plan? What are we going to do? How can I do this with him by my side?
It's not that I don't trust Alistair—I do wholeheartedly—but it's the feeling of attachment that scares me; it's the very same reason I volunteered to go on this trek by myself. Despite the callousness I showed in his Games, I have one terribly mortal weakness: I care too much, far too much.
Alistair sits down beside me and puts his arm on my shoulder.
"You're not in this alone, you know. We can and will win this, Finnick. Just let me help you. OK?"
"I can't exactly traipse through the city with a peacekeeper and not be noticed, now can I?" I retort, not meaning to sound as testy as I do.
"That's why you won't be traipsing," Alistair says with a chuckle. "You'll be 'under arrest' so it won't look suspicious," he uses air quotes to emphasize his point.
I just stare at him, wide-eyed and terrified.
Alistair laughs, and it's a bellowing laugh—one that almost makes me forget the severity of the situation; almost, but not quite. I haven't heard him laugh like this for years, not since the last time we visited the old tavern together. I miss that place; the only place other than the dock that made me feel as if I were still in 4.
"I haven't seen you so confused since I first let you go, boy," Alistair says still chuckling.
"No, I imagine you haven't," I say, with a sheepish smile.
I don't know where this is going, but I know I will trust this man with everything I am. Sometimes, I forget he's just as invested in the cause as I am. But right now, I will not forget that. There will be no trepidation from me; he wants this to succeed just as much as I do. Besides, if it should fail, at least I'll die with a friend by my side.
After years of forced sexual exploitation, the feel of handcuffs and other restraints no longer feel foreign or confining. I've grown accustomed to moving with them; well acquainted to the amount of space and the degrees of motion one can acquire in these contraptions. It's laughable, really, that I feel almost at an advantage in handcuffs. They may be a huge handicap to most, but to me they're almost a second skin.
"Snow requested you to be brought directly to him, if you were to be caught," Alistair starts.
I nod, intently listening to what he's going to say. Alistair, as kind and intriguing as he is, is a man of few words. So, I know that anything he has to say is something to which I should take heed.
"So that means, I can walk you directly through the heart of the Capitol and straight to his mansion. I've got no connection to the other rebels, so I don't think we'll raise any suspicions," he finishes, looking at me for feedback.
"What about other peacekeepers? Won't they want to be part of the glory?"
I honestly can't imagine that we'll be able to get to the mansion without gaining an abundance of peacekeepers trailing along, intent on gaining Snow's approval for sequestering the Most Wanted, Finnick Odair.
"I'll keep them at bay, don't worry," he says with an eerie certainty.
"Then, what are we waiting for? Let's get this show on the road," I say, nudging his shoulder with my elbow—since my hands are tied up.
"About damn time!"
We exchange a quick laugh and an awkward embrace before leaving the dock and heading directly toward the mansion.
It's only been a mere hour or so since I split from Katniss, Peeta, Cressida, and Pollux. The lack of news tells me that neither of them has made it there yet either, which I can only hope is a good sign.
For this to work, we need to be there at the same time. I think that's highly likely. Although I've been at a standstill for about an hour, I have a direct path there; they may be an hour ahead, but there path is not as simple.
For once in my life, it seems the odd may truly be in my favor.
Chapter 11: Conviction
The third and final installment of the Alistair + Finnick story arc.
This chapter is similar (but very different) to the actual book.
"I know the sky is falling—here we are, I'm empty.
I feel the world keep spinning; am I high? Save me."
"The Sky is Falling" - Aiden
We took a deliberately slow pace, being careful to make it look as though I were defeated and had given up. Alistair played the part well; wore a face of sheer determination and pride at apprehending the legendary—and now infamous—Finnick Odair. I feigned a struggle every once in a while to keep up the appearance of being captured and led to the slaughter; but really, I've been through things much worse than what the onlookers are anticipating. If I were really being led to prison and the inevitable slaughter that would await me—could still await me, for that matter—it would be a walk in the park compared to the atrocities to which I've been submitted.
Six blocks down, eight to go. I keep the mental countdown going in my mind; I find it's much better to focus on how close we are to ending this, than how far I am from safety.
Really though, I don't care too much for my safety. As long as Annie gets that letter, there's hope for her. Hope for them.
Hope is such a foreign word. Since the day we were born, we've been raised in a hopeless world and now—now that we're fighting for change and making great strides for revolution—it's all different. Hope exists, and I can only hope I live to see the outcome. Annie and our child will, I just hope to see it with them.
I hope that one day I can see our son or daughter swim past the buoys that keep us trapped in this nation, and boast about how much faster she or he did it than the other children. I hope that I'll get to celebrate his or her 12th birthday and there will no Reaping looming in the shadows, threatening to sadden the day. I hope my son or daughter will have the freedom to be anything and everything he or she wants to be, wherever he or she want to be. As children, we all joked about traveling Panem—seeing the spooky forests of 7, the majestic mountains of 2, even the looming prairies of 10 and 11—but I want my child to do so, without being on a tour to celebrate him or her murdering other children. I hope—desperately hope—for my son or daughter to know only of the Games through what we teach them, never from experience. I hope for that more than I hope to make it out of here and meet him or her. For that goal, that personal security, I would lay down my life assuredly.
"Ayo, Nicky boy?"
"Huh?" I'd been so lost in thought I hadn't noticed Alistair trying to get my attention. When I turn around to meet his gaze, his expression tells me he's been calling for me for a long while.
"Back from vacation, now?" He jokes, pointing at my head with the typical someone's-a-little-nuts-gesture.
"Yeah, yeah," I gruff.
"We're about a block away," he pauses. "But I have some bad news."
I look up at him expectantly, but say nothing.
"Peeta's been captured. I overheard another 'keep saying so about a block back. You were too zoned out to notice, so I thought I'd wait to break it to you until we stopped for a bit."
I could feel all the color draining from my face. Never once, in the entire time we've been here, have I actually thought about the possible mortality of that kid. I always just assumed he and Katniss would be fine. I guess, like so many other times, I was wrong.
"What?" I just don't believe it. How would he have been separated from Katniss? There's no way she would let him gallivant alone. He doesn't have any nightlock, either, and I know there's no way any Peacekeepers would have any mercy for him.
"Well, I don't know who got 'im. You see, there are other 'keeps like me, so he might be safe. If we see Diamarco, I'll ask. He's got a communicuff. He's always talking to the Rebels."
"How do we find him?" I ask seriously.
Alistair chuckles and looks at me conspiratorially. "You up for causing a scene?"
"I'm probably the best damn actor Panem's ever seen!" I guffaw. "How big we talkin'? Crowd of twenty or Breaking News across the nation?"
"Just wiggle out of your cuffs—which I know you can," he says, eyeing me cheekily, "then wait for my signal."
"To do what?"
"Punch me across the jaw, hard enough to make my lip bloodied. Then I'll call for reinforcements. Diamarco will answer. He's on my speed dial," he says nonchalantly.
I can't help but laugh. Luckily we're pretty isolated from the crowd of refugees—and citizens alike—or else I'd have surely blown our cover.
I sober from laughing long enough to look at Alistair and see how serious he is, and loose it again.
"Seriously?" I ask between bursts of thunderous laughter.
"Deadly," he smirks.
I nod and we begin walking again. We double back a few blocks while I slowly slip out of the cuffs. I cough to notify him that I'm out. We keep walking, maintaining a distance of four blocks from the mansion—to buy us more time to talk to Diamarco.
When we get closer to a large crowd, he signals by rubbing his shoulder. With his right arm occupied, I throw a jab to his right cheek and follow through. He bites his tongue hard from the initial impact and his bottom lip absorbs the shock of the follow through.
We then wrestle for dominance in a 100% staged manner. We roll around on the ground for a few rounds of superficial punches—to which we reacted dramatically and I have to force back laughter—before I submit and let him pin me down. As he puts the cuffs back on, he reaches into his pocket and dials for Diamarco. As Alistair predicted, he agrees to help "keep the peace."
Alistair remains sitting on back to ensure that I can't get up until Diamarco arrives, but when I do see his face he shoots me an award-winning smile.
Diamarco joins us in only about three minutes. He seems to just materialize out of nowhere, like some of the special effects in a Capitol-made supernatural film.
I'm surprised when I see him because I recognize him. I'd remember that face anywhere—but I've certainly never seen him here at the Capitol. His coffee-colored complexion and his slicked back, blue-black tresses are definitely remarkable. If he'd been a Victor, I'm sure we'd have a lot in common. Though I recognize him, I've never really talked to him. I've only seen him about a handful of times when I'd come to 3 to entertain some techno-genius that created something a little too powerful for Snow's liking. He's the head Peacekeeper there, at least he was last time I was there.
Alistair senses my trepidation and when he gets up, he bends down to whisper in my ear, "Came here to help more."
I microscopically nod, so that only he can tell.
Diamarco forcefully pulls me up and sternly yells some made up bullshit about underestimating Peacekeeper authority and learning a lesson. Although I know it's just talk, it does acutually sound very convincing. He tells the privy eyes of the crowd to dissipate and then he and Alistair both take one of my arms and we begin to walk back the way we came, toward the mansion.
As soon as we're far enough away, Alistair starts the conversation.
"Who got Peeta? Us or them?"
Diamarco looks down for a second before he replies, "Them at first. We got him back, though. But he freaked out. Had one of those episode things—or whatever you call 'em," he says looking at me. "He's safe, though we had to use a bit of force to knock him out. He'll be OK. No concussion or anything."
I nod and give my thanks.
"There's a lot more of us on your side than you think, kid," is all he says.
We don't talk anymore after that. We're solemnly quiet, mustering the inner strength to carry this out—and to possibly end our lives in the process. Diamarco receives a phone call; tells us it's about Cressida and Pollux—that they've arrived at the square—and promptly leaves.
"Now or never, eh?" I say to Alistair as the mansion comes into view.
When I look at his face, I don't see determination or fear; I see complete and utter disgust and turmoil.
"What's wrong, Ali?" I say as I direct my gaze to whatever he's seeing.
When I see it, I almost vomit.
There's an 8-foot tall chain-link fence around the yard of the mansion. Barbed-wire covers the top, daring anyone to try to climb it. Countless peacekeepers stand against it, also daring any brave soul to try, facing the crowd with their semi-automatic rifles aimed and loaded.
I feel my heart break when I see what they're guarding—or rather whom, I should say.
Hundreds of children, too young to even take out tesserae, are sitting on the lawn clinging to one another for warmth in the cool, wintery air. They're all under-dressed, as if they'd been taken from their house without warning.
I knew Snow was a coward and I knew the lives of children were meaningless to him, but I never thought he'd stoop this low.
Frozen, we stand our ground about fifty yards from the mansion. Alistair makes small talk with some nearby guards about how dumb the war is. In my head, I'm laughing hysterically at how dumb these guards are. It turns out Alistair is quite a gifted actor as well.
Eventually, he tells them he needs to take me directly to Snow. I play my part well, and pretend to be scared. The Peacekeepers, Alistair included, laugh at my terrified expression but tell him they can't let us through.
Then, to my astounding and theirs, about a hundred parachutes fall from the sky. Instantaneously, I recognize them as the kind in which sponsors send their gifts during the Games.
Realizing the same thing I did seconds ago, Alistair grabs me and we rush closer to the fence. The peacekeepers train their guns on me, but after a minute or so of no activity and Alistair's convincing, they lower their weapons. We watch in horror as the unsuspecting, innocent children open their parachutes. The smiles on their faces wipe away quickly and turn to extreme terror as they—and we—hear the beeping of the device.
Alistair throws himself in front of me as we back away from the fence. Just as we get about five yards back, half of the parachutes explode. My face contorts in aguish as my body collapses upon itself. As the bombs explode, a giant wave of fire sweeps over the fence causing some peacekeepers and onlookers to be engulfed in flames; a few accidentally fire their weapons.
One stray bullet makes contact with Alistair's chest as he protectively pushes me farther behind him.
"Ali!" I yell, not caring if it blows our cover.
I hold him in my lap as the life quickly starts to fade from his eyes. His uniform is soaked in blood and I can see it already pooling on the ground. The wound looks as though it's nicked his aorta— fatally. There's nothing I can do; he knows this and so do I. But I can't get myself to do anything but hold him, my dear old friend.
"K-Katniss," he hisses.
I turn down to look at him and see him pointing to someone doused in flames. I see the fur coat and make the connection he'd already made. I wonder how he knew, but there's no time to ask.
I look at him with pleading eyes; not wanting to leave him but wanting to help Katniss, too.
"GO!" he shouts, with all the energy he has left.
I choke back tears as I watch him take his last breath and I close his eyelids.
"Rest in peace, guarded by the sea," I solemnly say as I kiss his forehead.
In the madness and craze of the bombs seconds ago, peacekeepers are completely confused and paying no attention to me as I run toward Katniss—who's now completely covered in flames. I'm only a couple feet away from her when I see the District 13 Medics arrive on the scene. I quickly spot Prim as I'm starting to push Katniss into a nearby snowdrift.
"Prim!" I call out to her with all the volume I can muster as I choked on the smoke.
She recognizes me immediately and rushes over once she sees what I'm doing.
"Is that—" she gets out before sobs overtake her.
"Help me, please," I plead as I desperately try to move her flailing body into the snow to extinguish the flames.
She nods and begins helping push Katniss onto the ground so we can roll her the last few inches to the bank.
Just as we get her covered in snow, the other half of the parachutes go off.
"MOM!" Prim shrieks as not only the remaining children, but the medics are enveloped in an inferno much more intense than the former.
Chapter 12: With No Problems
Haymitch is privy to some important knowledge. Oh, and Katniss wallows around for a bit.
"You don't want to hurt me,
But see how deep the bullet lies.
Unaware that I'm tearing you asunder.
There is thunder in our hearts, baby.
So much hate for the ones we love?
Tell me, we both matter, don't we?"
"Running Up That Hill" - Placebo.
Yeah, I don't like the original of that song at all, but that's what was stuck in my head while writing this.
And the pretty little picture below this is courtesy of completemadman.tumblr.com :)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It seeps in from every orifice and into every pore.
Angry nerves fire signals demanding attention from my unconscious brain. The air is too cold; the sheets to stale; the pillow too flat. Most importantly, the morphling is too weak.
My eyes open. Well, eye, I should note. Only the left opens, and it won’t focus fully.
I squint; I blink repetitively; I clench it closed with all my might and open it slowly—but nothing lifts the haze from my vision. Everything is gray and blurry. The furniture has no lines, just diffused edges—like digitally edited photographs of print ads. Abstract. I find it frustrating, naturally.
Peeta would call it artistic; ever the optimist.
Oh God. Peeta. Where is Peeta?
I try to turn my head, attempt to ignore the pain. I succeed in craning my neck no more than five inches. It’s hell. The movement is minute, insignificant really; but it’s enough.
I have no skin. Not really, anyway. It’s not mine. It can’t be.
It’s yellow and pink; criss-crossing textures and tones. Gone is the olive color from my father and my woods, replaced by mutilated flesh.
Where am I?
I try to scream, but it’s no use. My voice doesn’t work; my throat too dry and my vocal chords weak from lack of use.
I can’t move my arms or legs. I’m paralyzed. By fear or injury, I don’t know.
The best I can manage is a slight whimper. I just hope this room is monitored. I need answers. I need Peeta. I need my little duck.
I need morphling.
“You in there, Sweetheart?”
If there’s a God, He’s laughing at me. Cursing me for my sins; the deaths I’ve caused. Maybe I’m already in hell.
I blink once for “yes,” and whimper again.
“I’m going to get a nurse. You’re not supposed to be conscious.”
He leaves, like always. He always runs away when I need desperately for him to stay and fill me in.
He doesn’t return. Instead, a nurse walks in my room.
“I know you have questions, Ms. Everdeen, but we can’t help you yet. You need to recover more. Any information could be overwhelming for you right now, but you needn’t worry. You’ll be fine soon,” the thirty-something woman says calculatedly.
I hate her, I’ve decided. How dare she pretend to know what’s best for me? She may be a nurse—a medical professional—but I’m Katniss Everdeen, co-Victor of the 74th Hunger Games, symbol of the rebellion, survivor of the 3rd Quarter Quell; physical matters are of little importance to me—but keeping me in the dark about anything is never the best idea.
I never responded, and apparently she isn’t keen on patience. Maybe she just doesn’t care.
She sticks the plunger in my arm. For a few seconds, the pain melts away and bliss follows.
Then it’s just blackness.
I wake again, only this time with much less pain.
He’s there again, his nose deep in a steaming mug of coffee. The sobriety is still a little big on him, but he’s growing into it I guess. Not trusting my voice, I clear my throat.
“Had enough beauty rest, Sweetheart?”
“’s gon’ on?” My vocal chords stretch uncomfortably from lack of use. Nevertheless, he seems to understand.
“I can’t tell you anything about anyone else yet. I will let you know it’s been a week since you damn well almost burned yourself alive,” Haymitch almost growls.
Under the anger, I can hear the concern. The silent, “I couldn’t deal with it if you’d died,” that neither of us will ever say, but always know.
“Peeta?” I ask, but my eyes beg for information.
His eyes dart away from mine and I can feel my heart crashing in on itself.
“Please, Haymitch! Be useful for once in your life and tell me something! Anything!”
At the sound of my tears, he gets up and walks to the door. I hear the handle turn and the swoosh of it opening. His footsteps leading out the door seem more hollow than usual.
“He ain’t dead yet, Sweetheart,” he says without looking back and shuts the door.
I haven’t felt this confused since I first learned of Peeta’s hijacking. I don’t understand Haymitch’s behavior, and being that there’s no one around to give me answers, I doubt I ever will.
There’s no clock to use to keep track of time. Seconds feel like hours—hell, for what I know, they very well may be. Hours, days, weeks. I lie on my back and watch the dust fall from the ceiling. I bite my nails. Flavius would be outraged; Effie would have my head. Cinna would be understanding.
Sleep eludes me. I’m “fed” by IV, not trusted to feed myself. I probably wouldn’t anyway. My feelings are nonexistent anymore; my body completely numb. Completely numb, except for the occasional twist of agony in my chest when I think of him.
Peeta, oh Peeta.
You promised me always. You promised forever. But where are you now that I’m slowly dying from the inside out; my soul and mind evaporating? Gone already is my sanity, though it may have left me ages ago.
The lights go out again. It must be night. I’ve grown accustomed to the darkness; the fade to black, it suits me well. The lights are harsh on my transparent “skin.” I don’t blame anyone for choosing not to visit me. I probably wouldn’t let Prim. Haymitch probably knows that; that’s why she hasn’t come, right?
Prim, my little duck, she must be safe. Right? Haymitch would have told me. I won’t ask next he comes.
I’m still a coward. (Though I know it’s irrational to even worry over Prim; she was safe in 13 the whole time.)
Haymitch slinks back into my room while the lights are out. His footing is almost as quiet as mine. More comparable to Gale’s; soft but heavy and deliberate. Haymitch would have taken to Gale as part of our strange little family one day, I reckon. If only they had the chance. Gale could have used an uncle-type figure in his life.
“Katniss, you listen to me. Listen well, ya hear?”
His whisper is brusque. His lips are practically inside my ear; he’s far too close. His stubble coarsely drags across the raw skin of my cheek. I cry out, softly.
“Mk,” I mumble.
“The gist of it is... well, Peeta had a bad episode when you two were separated. He was captured by rebels, but didn’t understand that. Even after he was sedated and came back to consciousness, we couldn’t calm him down. You’ve been out of commission and he’s been too rabid to be around you. Coin has taken to keeping the boy around her like a lapdog every day, since I last visited you 10 days ago,” he whispers frantically.
Tears well up in my eyes at the guilt I feel. My Peeta. Oh, God, my Peeta.
“Shh,” he commands. I nod.
“I started sharing a compartment with him to try to help with the night terrors. Last night, I heard him laughing maniacally in his sleep. Before I could wake him, he said something, Katniss.”
“What?” I ask, though I’m terrified of the answer.
“Coin is going to kill you, Katniss. Not just you, but all of the Victors, except for Peeta. She’s going to reestablish Snow’s reign, but under new names.”
Like a bullet, I shoot up. I clasp at the loose robe I’m wearing and attempt to stand. My knees are shaky at best and the feeling leaves me dizzy as a drunkard. Haymitch helps me stay upright, for which I’m very grateful.
“Who can we trust?” I ask after regaining my bearings.
“The other Victors, Plutarch, Effie, Paylor from 8, and a doctor in the Capitol. He can help Peeta.”
“How do we take care of Coin?” I ask as we exit my hospital room.
He doesn’t answer right away. Instead, we sneak quietly through 13. After a few minutes, I realize we’re headed to my old compartment with Johanna. Though I’d love to see her, I wish I were going to see Prim.
As we approach the compartment, he answers me finally.
“The plan is already in motion, Sweetheart,” he says with a smile that I can’t help but return.
I'm so sorry for never updating! I just got really busy with having a life, balancing an AP class, having a job, and other really stupid things that have gotten in the way.