"Give it up, sweetheart. You're not risking your life after we've done so much to protect it."
I glare at Haymitch. I've never hated him more than right now. I wish I could attack him, but that's a tad difficult, since Gale is holding me back. His arms, usually a refuge, have turned into a prison.
"I am not leaving Peeta at the mercy of President Snow," I shout, trying to keep my voice from shaking. "You know what they'll do to him!" Haymitch only shrugs, which means he doesn't have an argument. He knows the Capitol as well as I do, maybe better. So he must know that they're going to try their very hardest to find out where I am. And since Peeta and I are supposedly in love (actually, we're supposedly married and I'm pregnant), they think Peeta knows where I am. But he doesn't.
As usual, thoughts of Peeta bring up a tangle of confused emotions. Apprehension. Confusion. And, yes, something else, that I think might be love. I don't know, I've never been in love. But it's hard to think of Peeta when I'm with Gale. My emotions for the two of them cannot coexist together. This means that my time to choose between them is growing nearer.
There's Gale, who's been my best friend for years, who's taken care of my family when I couldn't. But then there's Peeta, warm, solid Peeta, who's given his life many times over to save mine. Guilt. That's something else I feel when I think of him. He's nearly died for me more times than I can count. I really do believe that he loves me. How betrayed he must feel, locked up somewhere where I can't get to him. They picked to save me over him.
Because I am the mockingjay. While I live, the rebellion lives. But for me to live, I have to agree to. I glare at Haymitch, my mouth already forming the words. "If you want to keep me alive, then you'll rescue Peeta."
"Katniss," says Gale warningly. "Don't."
"No!" I shout. "Don't, Gale. If you don't rescue Peeta, I'll find some way to kill myself. I will, you know I will-"
"No you won't," says Haymitch shrewdly. This puts me over the edge.
"Do you think those berries were a joke? I was ready to die. It shouldn't be too hard to find another way! I'll jump out of this ship. I'll starve. I'll stab myself with my knife at dinner. I nearly did it once, I'll do it again!" I scream. And I mean it. I'd rather die than live without Peeta, live with the guilt. Because it's my fault. It's my fault he's in this mess.
It started last year, at the end of the seventy fourth Hunger Games. Peeta and I were acting like we were in love, as per the instructions of Haymitch, our mentor and lifeline. But I didn't know that Peeta truly did love me. And, to our shock, they made an announcement that the rules were now changed. Two tributes could win, if they were from the same district. That rule was changed for us. Peeta and I. The star crossed lovers of District 12. So then I looked for Peeta until I found him, injured and half dead. I brought him back to health, and then we took down the remaining contestants. Then, when we were the only two left, the Gamemakers informed us that they'd lied. Only one could win. So now one of us was charged with killing the other. So I came up with a plan. I had a pouch full of nightlock, a poisonous berry that could kill you in seconds. Peeta and I had barely tossed them into our mouths when the frantic voice of Claudius Templesmith blared over the speakers, announcing the victors of District 12.
All I was thinking was that I wanted to outsmart the Gamemakers. And that I was not going to be responsible for the death of Peeta Mellark, the boy with the bread. But the Capitol was furious with me for making their Hunger Games a joke. President Snow himself came to my home and told me that I was in deep trouble, that he would kill me, and my whole family, not to mention Gale and Peeta.
Then I found out that at least three districts were in full scale rebellion. Because of my stunt with the berries, I was now the face of the uprising. They painted me onto banners and buildings, and President Snow didn't take too kindly to that. He manipulated the rules of the Quarter Quell, the seventy-fifth Hunger Games, so that the tributes would be drawn from "the pool of existing victors." I am the only living female victor of District 12, so I was automatically going back to the arena. Haymitch was chosen as the male victor, but Peeta volunteered to take his place, for the sole reason of getting me out alive, at the cost of his own life. He wasn't aware that I had vowed to keep him alive at the cost of my life.
But on the third day of the Hunger Games, one of the other tributes blew up the force field around the arena. I was picked up by Plutarch Heavensbee, Head Gamemaker and secret rebel. We are in a flying ship, on our way to District 13, which we had previously believed had been destroyed. Peeta was picked up by the Capitol.
And I have no idea where he is now, only that they're trying to break him for information. But he doesn't know anything. And even if he did, I know he wouldn't betray us. But the meat of the matter is that I am not going to live here, in relative comfort and safety, while the Capitol tortures Peeta for information. No. I refuse to do that. Because even though I don't know if I love Peeta, I know I care about him. The boy with the bread is essential to my survival. I will not lose him to President Snow, the sadistic leader of Panem, who smells of blood and roses.
Since that thought leaves me with a sick feeling in my stomach, I have only one choice: to go after Peeta myself. As we get closer to District 13, I begin to form a plan. The moment we land, I'll blackmail the pilot of this ship into taking me back to the Capitol. If he refuses, I'll knock him out and fly the stupid thing myself.
I'll need some help, though. I dismiss Gale as an option. He hates that Peeta is in love with me. Gale probably thinks Peeta is permanently out of the picture. No, I can't ask him.
My mind immediately goes to Finnick Odair, my fellow tribute and survivor. Yes, he's obnoxious and arrogant and about a thousand less flattering adjectives, but he'll understand. He had to leave someone behind, too: his lover, a mad girl named Annie. She won the Games a few years back, and was never the same.
I know he wants to go back for her, but Haymitch and Plutarch Heavensbee won't let him. Even though I cringe at the thought of being alone with Finnick for an extended period of time, he's my best bet. Still, I sit in my room, trying to think of anyone else who would help. I can't think of anyone, though, and soon my thoughts of Peeta drive me down the hall to Finnick's room.
He answers after one knock. His bronze hair is messy, and he looks nearly as bad as he did when they picked him up from the arena. "Ah, Katniss," he says, surveying me with his green eyes.
"I need to talk to you," I say in a businesslike tone. "I have a proposition."
Finnick raises his eyebrows, but he opens the door so I can go in. I step into the small sitting room. He steers me to a chair and sits across from me.
"I'm listening," he says. I take a deep breath, reminding myself that he shouldn't take too much convincing. Even so, Peeta was always the one who was good with words. Not me.
"I want to save Peeta," I blurt out. The corners of Finnick's mouth lift, as though trying not to laugh. This irritates me. Here I am, talking about someone's life, and he's got the nerve to laugh! Yelling at him won't help anything, though, so I keep my temper in check.
"You want to save Peeta. And you need my help," he says, examining his reflection in a stray spoon. "Just one question: what makes you think I'll help you?"
I keep my voice cool as I reply. "Because if you help me save Peeta, I'll help you save Annie."
Finnick freezes. Bam, I think. That was the cinch, the one thing that would get him to agree. In a way, it's almost cruel to bring up Annie, because he's so clearly miserable about her.
After a long time, he sighs. "Fine. I'll help you. Have you told your male friend about this plan?"
Leave it to Finnick to say something like that. Sometimes I wonder if he knows how conflicted I am over Peeta and Gale. It certainly seems like it, because he brings it up whenever possible.
"No," I say. "He won't come. He'd probably tell Haymitch."
Finnick nods. "Naturally. So, what's the plan?"
I am explaining the plan when someone knocks on the door. He opens the door to find Gale standing in front of it. "Hey, Finnick," says Gale. "I was just looking for… oh, hey there, Catnip. I was just looking for you," Gale informs me.
"Well, you found me," I say, forcing a smile. "What is it?"
"I don't know if I can say…" Gale trails off, looking pointedly at Finnick.
"Oh, go ahead," I say.
"I know you're going after Peeta. No, don't deny it," Gale says as I open my mouth to do just that. "I know you, Katniss. I just wanted to tell you that I'm coming with you."
I exchange a look with Finnick, and he shrugs. "I don't care. It's up to you, Catnip."
"I thought you hate Peeta," I say to Gale.
"I don't hate him. That's the problem. But it doesn't matter. I'm coming. Someone has to look after you."
"You know I'm coming as well, right?" asks. Finnick. "It'll be the three of us. We're going after Annie as well as Peeta."
"We leave tomorrow," I tell him. And I feel much better. We have a plan.
I am going to save Peeta Mellark, the boy with the bread.
A/N: REVIEW REVIEW REVIEW. Make my day. Be honest, but PLEASE be tactful.