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The Soldier

Chapter Text

The light streaming in through my bedroom window is muted. It reminds me of the light that filtered through my curtains the morning of the reaping, but, unlike then, I'm already awake and I've been standing next to the window, waiting to watch Katniss leave for quite some time. I don't have to wait long. I see her walk out of her home and head towards her old house in the Seam only a half an hour after. However, unlike before, I am unable to see her crawl under the fence and head towards the woods. The Victor's Village is facing the opposite direction.

Today is Sunday and, from many days having looked out my bedroom window back at the bakery, I know that today is the day Katniss and Gale go hunting together in the woods. They kissed once and I don't think they have or will again, but that doesn't stop my jealousy. It should not surprise me that she would make sure she had a special time for just the both of them since they rarely see one another anymore, but I still wish that it was me she was meeting not him.

You already spend ample time with her, a voice reminds me. You have to spend nearly every waking moment with her so the country believes you're in love with her.

Except I am in love with her. It's actually her that has to be convincing. She has to make the country believe she's in love with me. I still don't know if she succeeded in that mission, but I don't want to worry about that right now. Right now, I want to do something that will take my mind off of Katniss, off of the Victory Tour, and off of what we had to do to keep ourselves safe from President Snow and his small group of personal assassins.

Drawing my curtains back around my windows, I throw on some warm comfortable clothes and head downstairs towards my baking kitchen. The cakes that I asked to be sent home with me are still sitting in the refrigerator and, since I have nothing better to do, I might as well examine them and try to copy the designs on them to the best of my ability. However, when I have the cakes out and am just about to make the batter, my motivation dies. Before I waste anymore ingredients, I put everything away again and head to my room for my paintings.

Today when I begin sketching out my drawing on the stretch of canvas, I find this isn't a depiction of the Games. It's Katniss in the woods. I realize quickly that it's the woods that were in the Games, but no one else would know that. It could be the woods here in District 12. When I finish the initial sketch and begin painting, I don't use the same colors that covered the trees in the arena. I conjure images of what the forest here looks like during the spring and use those instead. Before too long, the woods are not the ones I walked through in the arena. They're the ones I used to see outside my window every day when I got up in the morning back when I lived at the bakery. The image makes me smile.

By now, the sun is up and shining brightly through the window. The way it falls on my painting, makes the light streaming through trees in the picture three dimensional. For a few moments more, I stare at the image, fascinated by how it appears. Then I blink and bring myself back to reality. Today is Sunday and that also means I have to go have dinner with my family tonight. I'm not exactly eager to see them, but there are times I feel homesick. I miss my father. He was the one person who truly cared for me when no one else did and being away from him for so long, living alone in the Victor's Village, can be painful.

I leave my painting room, wash my hands, put on a jacket, some gloves, and boots, before I leave my house and head down the path towards town. I'm about halfway there when I spot Katniss. Though I'm glad to see her, I'm beginning to think more and more that her escapades to the woods aren't a good idea and this isn't only due to the fact I'm jealous of Gale. It isn't going to be long before the authority around here is changed and once it is, she'll be punished for going outside of the district's borders.

"Been hunting?" I ask as she approaches.

"Not really," she responds. I believe that. "Going to town?"

"Yes. I'm supposed to eat dinner with my family," I tell her.

"Well, I can at least walk you in," she responds. From the way she begins chewing on her lip and taking short breaths, I can tell she has something she wants to speak to me about and before I can ask what's wrong, she says, "Peeta, if I asked you to run away from the district with me, would you?"

The sentence stops me dead in my tracks. This question reveals everything. We didn't succeed. Snow didn't believe our love was genuine. It's because of this, I know beyond a doubt that she's serious, she means every word she said, but still I take her arm, making her stop as well. "Depends on why you're asking."

"President Snow wasn't convinced by me," she confirms. "There's an uprising in District Eight. We have to get out."

"By 'we' do you mean just you and me? No. Who else would be going?" I ask. Why I ever thought for a moment that it would be just her and I escaping into the wild is beyond me. Though we're friends we're not more than that, though I'd like to be. And she loves her family more than she loves anyone else in the world. Even if she ever does love me, she'll never love me as much as she loves Prim.

"My family," she says, unsurprisingly. "Yours, if they want to come. Haymitch, maybe."

The last two surprise me. I'd have thought she would have mentioned someone else. So I mention him instead, "What about Gale?"

"I don't know," she responds. "He might have other plans."

Smiling ruefully, I shake my head. "I bet he does," I say. He wouldn't run off into the wild with her. As much as Gale cares for her, he'd want to stay in District 12 and start an uprising like the one Katniss claims is happening in Eight. He wouldn't want to give up and hide. He isn't that kind of person. He would much rather fight. "Sure, Katniss," I add at the last second. "I'll go."

"You will?"

"Yeah," I say. "But I don't think for a minute you will."

She pulls her arm away from me, scowling. "Then you don't know me," she hisses. "Be ready. It could be at any time." As she stars walking back down the path, me following slowly behind, I think of a way to explain to her why I said what I did. She wouldn't leave because, in the end, she would realize that her mother and sister as well as Gale's siblings are not accustomed to the wild. Even if Katniss and Gale took care of us as well as they possibly could, we would still be captured and killed or tortured. The two of them are silent hunters. They know how to move through a forest without making a sound, but the rest of us – me in particular with my prosthetic leg – wouldn't be as quiet. Anyone looking for us would find us all too soon. Katniss is too smart to not realize this before she pulled us all into the woods.

"Katniss," I finally say. She slows. "Katniss, hold up." She kicks a bit of ice, blackened from the coal that has settled on every surface in District 12. She stops, waiting for me. "I really will go with you, if you want me to," I assure her. "I just think we better talk it through with Haymitch. Make sure we won't be making things worse for everyone." I'm just thinking that he could tell her what I was just contemplating if she doesn't figure it out herself when I hear a whistling, then the sound of something slapping against something else. "What's that?"

As Katniss is lifting her, listening as I am, I realize what it is.

It's the sound of a whip.

Something tells me that I don't want to go any farther into town. I want to turn back. Go home. Forget what I've heard and push it to the back of my mind. However, at the same time, I'm certain that if I do this, something even more terrible will happen, so I say, "Come on."

The square is packed. I can't see anything. I go over to the sweetshop and pull myself up onto the crates to see above the people. I'm about to squint in an attempt to better see what's happening, but I don't have to. It's all too clear to me what's happening. In the center of the circle of people, I see Gale tied to a pole with a turkey nailed above him. He's unconscious, only held up by the bindings on his wrist. His back is covered in blood as is the whip in the hand of a man I've never seen before.

I know I can't let Katniss see this, so before she is up on the box with me, I'm pushing her back down, blocking her way, "Get down. Get out of here!" My voice is whisper, but it's full of panic and desperation. I know she's not going to listen to me, but I have to at least try to get her out of here, so I can stop this and she doesn't have to see what's happened. I know she'll learn of it soon enough, but I don't want her to see this. I don't know what it would do to her if she did. Probably break her already fragile heart.

"What?" she asks, trying to push past me.

"Go home, Katniss!" I say, my anxiety beginning to creep into my voice. "I'll be there in a minute, I swear!"

She doesn't listen. She does exactly what I was praying she wouldn't. She pulls away from me and begins shoving her way through the crowd towards the center. I follow her, hearing every voice that warns her to go home, to go back because her appearance won't help him. I try to grab her arm to yank her away, but by the time I finally have a clear shot at doing so, I'm too late. She's reached the center of the square and can see clearly what is happening. However, I can tell from the look on her face she doesn't fully understand what is going on, until the man raises the whip again. Then her eyes widen and I know beyond a doubt that this day is not going to end well. I'm not going to be dining with my family. I'm not going to be going home tonight. Something bad is about to happen and I'm going to be caught in the center of it all whether I want to be or not.