President Snow comes to see me. I am awakened by the overpowering scent of roses. When I open my eye, he is sitting on a chair against the wall of my quarters, a good five feet from my bed. It doesn’t matter, they have kept my arms strapped down since I tried fighting off the attendants and broke the cheekbone on one of them. I earned a slight reprieve, but then I began pulling out all the tubes and wires they had hooked up to me. I glance at the bag above my head and frown as it continues to drip a thick pale orange liquid into my arm. Against my will, I am being healed. Made strong. Kept alive.
I push against the restraints and Snow lets out a low chuckle. I turn my gaze, not toward him, but to the perfect white rose on his lapel. Katniss always said I had a weakness for beauty, but his rose is almost ugly in its perfection. There is no flaw to highlight its stunning beauty. Besides, the smell is making me sick.
“Good morning, Peeta,” Snow greets me. I don’t want to answer him. I know Katniss would turn her face to the wall, making no secret of her defiance.
But I am not Katniss.
“Morning,” I say through clenched teeth.
“You’re looking well,” Snow says as if this is some normal hospital visit. “It was touch and go there for a while given your level of dehydration and the internal injuries you sustained while disposing of the tribute from District Two.
I blanch inside. I am not sure I will be able to keep it together if he talks about Brutus’s demise at my hands. So I keep my eyes fixed on his rose.
“Peeta,” Snow clasps his hands in his lap. “While I can see you are angry, I believe your anger is misplaced.”
My eyes widen. Snow notices, so he continues to speak. “We are not in a position to help each other.”
My blond, blue-eyed appearance, along with my tendency to joke at my own expense, serves me well. Haymitch identified it as another of my few assets. Makes me easy to trust. My eyes narrow.
“I’m listening,” I say.
“There’s a good boy,” Snow stretches his puffy lips into a smile and my stomach rolls. He rises from the chair and presses a button on the wall. The head of the bed elevates until I am sitting upright.
Unfortunately, Snow doesn’t know enough, or more likely doesn’t care, to move the tubing so the needles in my veins twist shooting pain up my arms. “Perhaps I should have been dealing with you from the start.” Snow chuckles again.
“What exactly do you want?” I try to keep my voice neutral but little beads of sweat are forming on my forehead from the throbbing in my arms.
Snow crosses his arms, “I want to know the exact scope and sequence of the rebel plan.” My throat tightens. Rebel plan? What is he talking about? It was his hovercraft I saw and his arena exploding all around us.
“I don’t know what you are talking about.” I say.
Snow moves fast. Lunging forward, viper-quick, he twists the closest needle in my arm. I bite off the cry that escapes me. Blood blooms under my skin.
“You’re not in front of the cameras anymore, Peeta,” Snow hisses, twisting the needle again. “So, that guileless routine won’t work. What are the rebels planning and where is Katniss Everdeen?”
My heart thumps in panic at his words. Where is Katniss? And, why doesn’t Snow know the answer to that?”
“I trust we understand each other now?” Snow steps away from my bed. I keep my eyes closed. Sweat has made my shirt cling to my body and my arms feel like they are on fire. Snow is not a man to be taken lightly. He’s been trying for at least thirty minutes to get information out of me that I simply do not have. I nod. Tears of pain slip out from under my closed lids. Finally, I agreed to take a stance against the war if he would leave Katniss out of it. I am not entirely convinced that Snow doesn’t know where she is.
“Very good,” I am sure his expression is pleased. “I will go now to speak to Caesar about tomorrow night’s interview. It’s clear you need your rest.”
I wait until I hear the door close behind him. Slowly, I open my eyes to assess the damage. When Snow grew tired of twisting the intravenous needle, he would simply pull one out and jab it back in randomly. Now, my arms are marred by large purple bruises and dots of blood. I can barely flex my wrists.
I glance around my empty cell. There is one window, high up, that lets in light and air. Since I am tied to the bed, I have no way of knowing if the door is locked or not. What I do know is Snow is convinced that Katniss knew about these rebels he keeps going on about and nothing I said convinced him otherwise.
Perhaps he’s just a natural born skeptic; after all, he didn’t believe we were in love despite the fact that the rest of Panem did. Another tear slips down my face. I shake my head since I can’t wipe it off. To my surprise, it is followed by another and still another.
I finally have to admit I am scared.
I survived the Games and the Quell. More importantly, I have managed to help Katniss survive as well.
I’m not sure I can pull it off a third time.
The relief that floods through me when Portia walks into my cell actually makes me smile, despite my discomfort.
“Hello Peeta.” She smiles at me, but I can see the circles under her eyes and the sharp bones of her wrist.
“How are you?” We ask simultaneously then trill off in nervous laughter. Neither one of us answers the other’s inquiry. Portia loosens the straps that keep me to my bed and I flex my arms to get the blood flowing. The skin is peppered with scabs and bruises from President Snow’s visit. Portia looks away, ignoring it all.
“We have a big night to get you ready for.” She smiles at me when I sit up on the bed.
“Am I allowed to get up?” I ask her.
Before she can answer, the door to my quarters swings open. President Snow enters flanked by peacekeepers. Each of them with a gun trained on me.
“Of course you can, Peeta,” Snow smiles. “Now.”
I remain sitting.
Snow doesn’t miss that and his eyes narrow. “As Portia said, Peeta, this is a big night. Remember what your goal is.”
“To tell the truth,” I say.
Snow shakes his head in dismay, “No. No. No. No, Peeta. Your goal is to make sure that Katniss Everdeen stays alive.”
I swallow the lump in my throat. How does Snow seem to know my every thought?
“I fail to see how her life is in danger” My voice is stronger than I feel. “I’ve told you everything I know, which isn’t much. You know that Katniss and I had no idea about this rebellion.”
Snow coughs delicately into a handkerchief. He is quick to tuck it into his pocket but I can still see the spots of blood on it.
“If only I believed you,” Snow comments to the ceiling. “That was always the problem with Ms. Everdeen. I could never buy into her all-consuming love for you.”
That makes two of us.
“But then,” Snow continues. “After her gut-wrenching reaction in the Quell when your heart stopped,” He spreads his hands wide. “I’m a believer.”
My brows draw together, “What does this have to do with believing me?”
“Ah, Peeta,” Snow sighs. “Once I saw just how much our Katniss loves you, it became very clear to me that the two of you would do or say anything to protect the other.”
I can feel my anger growing. “I told you I don’t know anything.” I enunciate each word. “And neither does Katniss.”
“Perhaps you’ll be more convincing on the big screen tonight,” Snow replies. “You better be.”
“Or?” I growl. My hands keep clenching into fists.
“It’s a shame you didn’t make the same pact with me that Ms. Everdeen did,” Snow smiles.
I blink, confused by all his double talk.
“I’ll make it simple, Peeta,” Snow’s voice is oily. “Katniss and I agreed to never lie to each other.” Snow turns and heads for the door. “Whereas you and I made no such deal.” He glances over his shoulder at me. “Pity.”
I stare at his retreating back for just a moment before I realize what he means. He lied.
He knows where Katniss has been all along.
I leap off the bed and charge at him before a current zaps through me and Snow is gone.
My hands are still stretched out to grab Snow even though I am lying on the floor. Portia’s holding my head in her lap but I can’t respond to her repeated cries of my name. My fingers spasm as the current works its way through my body. The shock I got in the arena was so powerful that I literally felt nothing even though it knocked out my heart. This is much worse; I can feel as the bolt travels through me.
“Peeta! Peeta! Are you alright?’ Portia is near hysteria. I grit my teeth and manage a small nod of my head. She glares up at the peacekeepers. “How do you expect him to go on Caesar’s show like this?”
The peacekeeper closest to us merely shrugs. I’d kick him but I can’t move my legs. Once they are convinced that I am only temporarily stunned, the peacekeepers file out, leaving me with my stylist.
Portia helps me sit up. She wants me to get back in bed but I shake my head.
“Where are the others?” I finally say.
Portia shakes her head, confused.
“Vibius, Sabina and Tatianus.”
“Oh,” Portia smiles at the names of my prep team. “We’re all here but they would only let me see you.”
“Are they treating you well?” I ask as I get up. The room rotates and I grab onto the bed to steady myself.
“Of course,” Portia says but her eyes skip away from me and, once again, I notice the circles under her eyes and how thin she has become. “Peeta,” her voice drops to a whisper. “You know tonight is your only chance.”
I glance over at her. “Then you better get to work.”
Caesar Flickerman is working the crowd before I come on stage. My hands keep shaking and I can feel the sweat running down my spine. I wouldn’t be this worked up if it hadn’t been for Snow’s final visit as I headed toward the stage.
“All set with what you are going to say, Peeta?” He falls in step alongside me.
“I told you,” I keep my eyes forward. “I am going to tell the truth.”
“Ah the truth,” Snow repeats. “Because the truth is really in everyone’s best interest?”
I stop and face him. “The truth will keep Katniss safe?” Snow raises his eyebrows at me.
“No, I will keep Katniss safe.” My gaze doesn’t waver from his. Not for one second.
“Except, I know where she is and you don’t,” Snow tilts his head. “Isn’t that right, Peeta? Your girl on fire vanished from you in a puff of smoke.”
I actually tremble with rage. It is just like Snow to throw that in my face. We didn’t want to be separated. But we did what was best for others, serving our alliance and all it did was put us both in jeopardy.
“What do you want, Snow?”
“Something mutually beneficial for both of us,” Snow doesn’t hesitate. “You will ask for a cease fire and I will let Katniss and your unborn child live,” Snow practically snorts with laughter at those words.
I can feel the lights from the stage warming my back. Around me and President Snow, various workers who make this broadcast possible pass by. No one pays us the slightest attention.
“Alright,” I say. “I will ask for the cease-fire, but I have your word no harm will come to her.”
“Of course, Peeta. Provided the rebels follow through and stop this ridiculous war. And that, naturally, depends on Katniss’s reaction to seeing you tonight.”
My eyebrows draw together. Something is off- Snow keeps tipping his hand, almost as if he knows too much.
I turn away from Snow and let the lights blind me as I join Caesar onstage.