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The Soldier

Chapter Text

The minute Katniss stops smoldering, I begin to panic. I hardly hear Caesar asking what she is. I don’t really see him reaching out to touch her dress. All I see is Cinna sitting in the crowd, staring at his creation. When Caesar asks him to stand and take credit for what he’s done, my already rapid heartbeat speeds up. This is a dangerous move. Knowing what I do about how Katniss’ pin has become a symbol of rebellion, how, in the districts right now, there are uprisings occurring, I wonder if he knows what he’s done. He’s now in danger. It’s only a matter of time before President Snow realizes he has no choice but to do away with him. I’ve never been as close to Cinna as Katniss is, but I do like him and the thought of him being harmed because of something reckless he did worries me as much as I’m sure it worries her.

            The buzzer sounds and Katniss walks off stage, while I take her place. I keep my eyes off of her, not wanting to draw more attention to her. If anyone sees me staring at her, then they’ll stare at her too. Once I sit down in the chair beside Caesar, we begin our joking. This year it’s mostly about fires, feathers, and poultry, but my heart isn’t in what I’m saying. I’m distracted. I’m thinking up something to say, something that will win the audience over and it isn’t until Caesar finally directs the conversation towards Katniss and I that I finally figure it out.

            “So, Peeta, what was it like when, after all you’ve been through, you found out about the Quell?” he asks.

            “I was in shock,” I say. “I mean, one minute I’m seeing Katniss looking so beautiful in all these wedding gowns, and the next…” I trail off as though it’s too painful for me to go on, which, truly, it is. This is just yet another reminder that the both of us could end up dead.

            “You realized there was never going to be a wedding?” Caesar asks, his voice gentle.

            I hesitate, unsure of what to say next, knowing I can’t say what I truly want to, until the proper moment. Instead, I come up with something else, something just as promising as my other idea, though not quite, and say, glancing at the audience, before returning my gaze to my interviewer, “Caesar, do you think all our friends here can keep a secret?”

            It’s a ridiculous thing to ask. Not only is the entire audience watching me, but so is the entire country. There is no reason to ask for people to keep this a secret. It isn’t going to be one once I say it. Everyone in our world is going to hear it.

            Still, Caesar says, “I feel quite certain of it.”

            “We’re already married,” I say softly. The audience gasps in surprise. I glance towards the screen for a moment to see Katniss’ face, but the cameras are riveted on me.

            “But…how can that be?” he asks.

            “Oh, it’s not an official marriage. We didn’t go to the Justice Building or anything. But we have this marriage ritual in District Twelve. I don’t know what it’s like in the other districts. But there’s this thing we do,” I say before I describe the toasting.

            “Were your families there?” he asks when I’m finished.

            “No, we didn’t tell anyone. Not even Haymitch. And Katniss’ mother would never have approved. But you see, we knew if we were married in the Capitol, there wouldn’t be a toasting. And neither of us really wanted to wait any longer. So one day, we just did it. And to us, we’re more married than any piece of paper or big party could make us.” There are so many ways in which this could be true. I’m beginning to wonder if the people back in District 12 – the ones who know our love isn’t as genuine as I wish it was – are actually believing what I’m saying. A part of me hopes they are. It’d be nice to believe that someone outside of the Capitol truly thinks that we are in love.

            “So this was before the Quell?” Caesar asks.

            “Of course before the Quell. I’m sure we’d never have done it after we knew,” I say, truly starting to get upset. “But who could’ve seen it coming? No one. We went through the Games, we were victors, everyone seemed so thrilled to see us together, and then out of nowhere – I mean, how could we anticipate such a thing like that?”

            Caesar puts an arm around my shoulders as he says, “You couldn’t, Peeta. As you say, no one could’ve. But I have to confess, I’m glad you two had at least a few months of happiness together.” The crowd bursts into applause and this time when I glance at the screen, I see that the cameras have switched to Katniss. She’s smiling sadly. For the first time, I’m unsure if the misty look in her eyes is true or false.

            I pull myself out of my own thoughts, realizing the opportunity for my “big finish” so to speak has come and say, before the audience can be too happy, “I’m not glad. I wish we had waited until the whole thing was done officially.”

            “Surely even a brief time is better than no time?” Caesar says, sounding utterly shocked.

            “Maybe I’d think that, too, Caesar,” I say, my having gone from tragic to sour in an instant, “if it weren’t for the baby.”

            No one can hear Caesar’s reply due to the anguished cries of the audience and I don’t think it matters because the buzzer goes off only a few moments after I finish speaking. I return to my seat while Caesar tries to regain control of the crowd, but it’s a lost cause. When the anthem begins to play, it’s turned up so high I’m sure I’ll go deaf, but with the noise the audience is making, I’m thinking that it’s probably twice as loud as I’m currently hearing it. I take a shuddering breath and realize that tears are falling down my face. Silent tears, but tears nonetheless. They’re not entirely fake because I’m just now beginning to realize how utterly hopeless my thinking that Katniss and I could ever be happy together was. I should have known that this was all too good to be true. Even with her not loving me as I love her it was still too much to ask for. When I feel her hand close around mine, I hold hers without hesitation. Though I know it’s not, I can’t help thinking this may very well be the last time I ever get to feel her warm fingers entwined with mine.

As I stare at the screen, I notice that all of the other victors are joining hands as well. It’s a true act of rebellion and I wonder how dearly we’ll pay for this later. The cameras aren’t shut off in time to block out what we’ve done and by that time, the chaos has surged up to the stage. We’re practically pushed off, but I keep a hold of Katniss and guide her to the elevator. Finnick and Johanna try to get on our car, but they’re blocked by a Peacekeeper and I can’t say I’m too sorry about that because I need time to absorb the fact that this peace is over. Katniss and I are going into the arena tomorrow. This is still on my mind when we step out of the elevator, but I don’t allow myself to think about it for much longer before I place my hands on her shoulders, stare into her eyes and say, “There isn’t much time, so tell me. Is there anything I have to apologize for?” I can’t help remembering last year when she pushed me into a pot and my hands got all cut up because I fell in the shards. I’d rather that didn’t happen a second time.

“Nothing,” she says. We both know what I did was risky, but we also know that we’re not going to have to deal with the ramifications back at home. Katniss may have to if she survives this arena, but I won’t. I’m planning on dying, just as I was back before the first Games.

We wait for Effie, Haymitch, Portia, and Cinna to come back up, but it’s only Haymitch who steps off the elevator. He looks as harried as I felt when I was hurrying Katniss and myself to the elevators after my interview. “It’s madness out there. Everyone’s been sent home and they’ve canceled the recap of the interviews on television.”

The two of us run to the window. Far below us in the streets is what I think the closest the Capitol has come to having a riot on their hands in their own city. “What are they saying?” I ask, not turning my gaze away from the colorful crowd below. “Are they asking the president to stop the Games?” Everyone knows that won’t happen, but there is still hope in my heart that if enough people want that, then that is what the people will get.

“I don’t think they know themselves what to ask,” Haymitch responds. “The whole situation is unprecedented. Even the idea of opposing the Capitol’s agenda is a source of confusion for the people here. But there’s no way Snow would cancel the Games. You know that, right?”

I do. Of course I do. I was just hoping otherwise. That’s why I don’t talk. I keep my gaze focused on the crowd beneath us. I don’t want to think about Snow is going to do, but I’m one hundred percent sure, I’m not going to like it. None of us are.

“The others went home?” Katniss asks.

“They were ordered too,” Haymitch says. “I don’t know how much luck they’re having getting through the mob.”

“Then we’ll never see Effie again,” I say, finally turning away from the window. “You’ll give her out thanks.” It’s more of an order than a request, but I know that Haymitch won’t take offense. I’m sure he would have done this even if I hadn’t asked.

“More than that,” Katniss says, emphatically. “Really make it special. It’s Effie after all. Tell her how appreciative we are and how she was the best escort ever and tell her…tell her we send out love.”

For a while we just stand there in silence, none of us wanting to break it, knowing what lies beyond this moment. Haymitch is the one that breaks the silence. I think he’s the only one that understands the longer we delay the inevitable, the more it’s going to hurt when it comes. “I guess this is where we say our goodbyes as well.”

“Any last words of advice?” I ask.

“Stay alive,” Haymitch says, but it isn’t in his usual tone. It’s wavering. He gives us both a quick embrace I know that’s almost more than he can stand. A part of me is convinced that once he’s alone, he’ll be crying. “Go to bed. You need your rest.”

“You take care, Haymitch,” I say.

I’m heading back to my room and have just reached the hall when Haymitch’s voice stops us. “Katniss, when you’re in the arena,” he pauses as though he’s unsure how to continue.

“What?” she asks.

“You just remember who the enemy is,” Haymitch finishes. “That’s all. Now go on. Get out of here.” The quicker we leave, the sooner he can let his true feelings show. It’s easier to let them out, I know, so I follow Katniss to her room. I tell her I’m going to shower in my room, but she tells me not to and I don’t question it. I’m just as certain as she is that if our doors close, we’re not going to be able to spend the night together. The doors will lock and we won’t see one another until we’re in the arena later in the day.

I’m restless during the night. I think I sleep a bit, but it’s definitely not much. By the time Cinna and Portia arrive at dawn and I know I must leave Katniss, I feel more tired than before and wish that I had only a few more hours to sleep, though I don’t think I’d be able to sleep anyway. Before Portia takes me away, I give Katniss a light kiss and say softly, “See you soon.” She responds with the same words.

Portia and I are heading to the roof to get on the hovercraft where we’ll ride to the arena, but we’re not even halfway there when Haymitch intercepts me. He startles the both of us and when he pulls me by my upper arm to the side away from Portia, I’m alarmed.

“What are you doing?” I hiss, wrenching my arm from his grip.

He doesn’t explain, he only holds out a locket and presses it into my palm. “She’s trying to protect you, you know, but you have to get her out of there. She is the one that has to live. You know that don’t you?”

I nod, remembering how he told me the same thing the night the Quell was announced.

“You need to give her this,” he continues. “When the time is right, give her this.” And before I can ask what it is he’s gone.

The ride to the arena is the same as it was last year. When I get on the hovercraft, a tracker is placed in my arm and when we’re nearing the place, the windows blackout. Portia and I don’t talk, but there really isn’t anything to be said. When we reach the Launch Room, I take a quick shower and run my fingers through my hair repeatedly.

While I wait for the announcement that I have to get ready for the launch, I sit down next to the suit I’ll be wearing in the arena – a blue jumpsuit with zippers up the front, a padded belt covered in purple plastic and a pair of nylon shoes with rubber soles – and take the locket Haymitch gave me from around my neck to inspect it. On the front is a mockingjay, Katniss’ symbol. The symbol of the rebellion. It makes sense that this is what would be on the front. Fiddling with it, I try to find the catch to open it. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if it’s a locket at all when I finally feel something on the side. I press down on it and the locket pops open. I open it further, so I can see what’s inside and when I do, I know exactly what Haymitch is trying to do with this.

There are pictures of Gale, Prim, and Katniss’ mother. They’re all smiling and laughing, something I’ve rarely seen any of them do.

Haymitch’s voice rings through my head again. When the time is right, give her this. He means when I think I can convince her she’s the one that has to go home, I need to show her this and remind her that there are people back at home that care about her and need her. No one needs me. Not really, but there are so many people who need Katniss. Truthfully, the entire country needs Katniss. She’s the only way this rebellion will work.

Portia helps me into my outfit and doesn’t say anything as she does so. However, once I’m all ready to go, she pulls me into a tight embrace. It’s so unlike her that it takes me several minutes to return it. She still doesn’t say anything, but she doesn’t have to. The way she’s shaking and the way her breath is shuddering says everything. She doesn’t want this. She has never wanted this. No one has. For the first time in my life, I feel as though I’m being held by a mother that loves me. Of course, Portia isn’t my mother and is far too young to be my mother, but that is the feeling I get and I don’t want to let go.

A voice tells me to prepare for the launch. I go into the circular tube. The last thing I hear Portia say before it closes around me is, “Remember who the enemy is, Peeta.” It’s the exact same thing Haymitch said to Katniss the night before and I can’t help wondering exactly who it is they mean.

I close my eyes, take several deep breaths and ready myself for the plate to rise, but it doesn’t. And it still doesn’t. I look at Portia, but she’s just as confused as I am. What’s going on? It’s then that the door bursts open and a small group of Peacekeepers rush into the room. Two hold her hands behind her back, while a third begins to beat her. I’m so horrified all I can do is watch in terror, wondering what this is for.

Then I remember Katniss’ smoldering dress and I know that she had a part in it. She had a part in all of our costumes. The Capitol knows she’s just as guilty as Cinna is. Fear shoots through me as I wonder what is happening to him. Most likely the same thing. Finally, she’s dragged away and almost instantly afterwards the plate begins to rise. I’m not even given the chance to see what kind of damage was done to her.

My fingers are still pressed against the glass when the first bit of wind tousles my hair. I straighten up and force my face into a mask of calm. I can’t let my fear show. I know what’s going to happen to her. Or at least I think I do and it’s not going to be good. However, all of that is pushed from my mind when the plate stops moving and I’m able to thoroughly glance around the arena. I try to look into the distance and see what is ahead of me, but I can’t. The sun is glaring off of the ground which is moving in waves around me.

Waves. My eyes widen in realization.

We’re surrounded by water.