When I wake, there's darkness, the air feels dry and I think I can taste my own fear and confusion. I'm surrounded in it, closed in, and there's nothing else. I can't even see my hand when I hold it right in front of my face. I blink my eyes and squint more, trying to think. What's happened?
The doctor injected me with something from his syringe and that was all I knew as they wheeled me from the hovercraft into wherever I am now. Katniss is safe. I remember that much. They don't know where she is. Relief comes in, and I hold onto it.
Katniss is safe. She is okay. And I push myself up onto my hands and knees, tentatively reaching around, trying to reach for something in here, anything. It only takes me what I think is minutes to discover that this room contains me and nothing else. I can feel four walls, and I use one to help me stand up because my legs feel like jelly.
The room I'm in is small. If I had to guess, I would say it's a square, maybe six or seven feet on both sides. I hear a loud buzzing sound, then a door opens and closes. Footsteps come closer and closer, and I try to push myself back against the far wall, unsure if I want them to be coming for me or not, because who knows what they'll do.
But my door slides open and light floods in, so bright it hurts my eyes and I have to close them. I feel two people take a hold of me, one on each side, and they start dragging me out. "Where are you taking me? What's going on?" I ask them, and I really just want answers now that I remember what one of them said about me before I was knocked out: President Snow has plans for me.
What plans? Neither of the two men pulling me along say a word, and they take me in an elevator, which is also startlingly white and bright, and when the thing stops and the doors open, they both push me out, and I stumble until I slam into another Peacekeeper, whose hands latch on to my arms and force me to sit in a chair.
When I'm able to get my bearings I just have this one thought: where am I? Until a side door opens and in walks the scent of roses with a wide, bloody smile. Snow. He comes and sits scross from me, folding his legs and putting his hands on his knee, giving me that grin that makes ice run through my veins.
This is the man who prolongs the Hunger Games. This is the man who kills twenty-three children a year. This is the man who tried to end the girl I love's life. I've never felt more disgusted to be in the same room with anyone in my life.
And still, like we're old friends, he gives me his chilling grin. He nods at the Peacekeeper still holding me down, "You may go."
The iron grip on my arms lessens but doesn't disappear, and the man asks, "Are you certain, sir?"
"Oh, yes, quite. Our friend Mr. Mellark here won't do anything to harm me." Now he makes eye contact with me, and I know for a fact that there is no soul living inside of him.
Keeping my voice as affable as he is his, I say, "Well, I wouldn't be so sure about that." I think of everything he's put Katniss through, everything he's put me through. All the innocent deaths he is responsible for. I have killed. Brutus from District Two felt his last breath in my grasp, and there's nothing I can do to change it. He was going to kill me, would try to kill Katniss, and he killed Chaff. If I can kill him out of rage, I think I could possibly muster up some for President Snow.
But he just smiles at me continuously and waves off the Peacekeeper, telling me, "See, Peeta, we here are in a predicament. You and I both are, for the same reason. Katniss Everdeen." I remain silent. I want to know what he knows about her and what's going on. But I won't ask. I won't ask this man for a thing. "The rebel movement is in full swing now. It's not your fault, it's hers, but she stuck you in the cross fire. I guess that's the type of girl she is."
"Shut up," I grit out, because how dare he say anything bad about anyone, let alone Katniss?
He leans back, "My, my, keep a civil tongue, young man. The point is, the rebellion will lose eventually. Compare their numbers, their equipment, their experience to that of us here in the Capitol. They will lose."
"You don't know that," I tell him, before I can make myself shut up. Stop talking to the man, Peeta. Shut your mouth. Don't give him a thing. Don't give him even a small piece of you.
Now his smile just grows and takes on a new glint, "Oh, but they will lose. Miserably and hard, with many casualties. And even those in charge who don't die in combat, will be brought down and treated as an example in front of the entire nation. Do you care to guess how I make examples of traitors to Panem, Peeta?" Snow asks me, and I make myself stay remote as stone. Not even a blink, while I picture Gale being whipped, being made an example of.
Snow continues, "I'm sure you have an idea. And guess who is at the very heart of the rebellion, who will be receiving the harshest of punishments we here in the Capitol can offer?" With the malicious glint in his eye, my heart starts beating ferociously and terror weighs down in my stomach, and I can tell he knows that I know, but he says it anyway, "Katniss Everdeen."
When he crosses his arms, I know he's just made me a deal, and he's waiting for an answer. If I do what he wants me to, he'll spare Katniss her punishment should the rebellion fail. Now, there is no question of what I have to do. Against my best wishes, against every part of my being saying to not trust this man, I swallow hard, and think of my one goal: keep Katniss alive.
Facts come to my attention: I don't know exactly what's going on here. I know that I'm not in the arena anymore. But it's clear that the Games aren't over. And just like in the other two Games, I'll do anything to protect her. Even if it means conspiring with this sorry, pathetic excuse for a man. My voice barely above a whisper, I ask, "What do you want?"
I think his smile gets impossibly bigger as he says, "I knew you would see it my way." But then he gets down to business, "A call for a cease-fire, from you. You will ask Katniss, reaching out to the rebels as a whole, for a halt in this ridiculous war."
Taking a few deep breaths, I think about what this means. Giving my apparent allegiance to Snow and the Capitol, I'm telling all of those worn down, depressed, angry people the idea that I want them to have to stay in their stagnant lives. Would Katniss want that, wherever she is? Stalling for time before I agree to it, I speak slowly, "And in return, you would give Katniss complete amenity for her … treason? Not a hair on her head will be touched if you bring her in?"
"When she is brought in, and yes, that is exactly what I am saying." He is quiet for a minute, surely expecting my immediate agreement, which I am about to give to him, when he adds on, "Do you need more incentive? Well, fine. I'll even offer immunity to that mentor of yours, though I have no idea why you would want to give it to him anyway."
"What? Why?" I ask, and I hate myself for me being so curious. I want to stop playing into him, but I can't.
He knows he has me now, and he tells me, "We haven't gotten much out of Johanna Mason – yet – but we have got named of those involved. Haymitch Abernathy doesn't give a damn about you or Katniss, Peeta. He tried to get her out, not because you asked him to and not because he cared about her, but because of the rebel movement. In fact, you were both kept in the dark because he feared Katniss couldn't handle the pressure."
So Haymitch was working for the rebels all along. I did have those inklings before. But the idea that Haymitch doesn't care for either Katniss or me at all, that he would have just sacrificed us without batting an eye gives me pause. I want to reassure myself that Snow is lying to me. But, thinking of Haymitch, I wouldn't put this all past him. Even so. "Katniss and Haymitch will not be punished for anything they do or have done." He narrows his eyes at me, and I add on, "I'll do whatever you want."
His smile is slowly spreading across his face, and I know I couldn't have done a more dangerous deal if he made me sign it in blood. "Excellent." He stands, "You'll be guest starring tonight on in interview with Caesar Flickerman, during which you will call for a cease-fire." Then he walks to me, turning my chair to face a screen in the corner of the room.
With the tap of his finger on a remote, it turns on and starts to play, "Watch," he tells me, "I understand you will protect her at any cost, and I understand you thought she was doing the same for you. But two days ago, she was the one who blew out the arena, knowing what could happen to you."
Confused, I want to ask him just what the heck he's talking about, but I don't. Instead, I just watch, as he skips to the end of the Games. I see Johanna nearly kill her trying to cut out her tracking device. Then I watch with my heart in my throat while Katniss stumbles around, trying to get to me. Calling my name. And then she does it. She wraps Beetee's wire around her arrow and shoots it into the force field, blowing it up, before the screen goes to black.
Snow's words are true. She did do it. But he's wrong as to why. And that tape won't convince me otherwise. I say nothing to him, and he just shuts off the television. "Be silent, be stoic. But you can't deny what you saw. Now, as a reward to you for being such a good boy today, I'll have a gift delivered here after I leave."
He walks to the door and gestures for me to remain seated, "You'll be staying in here until I direct my Peacekeepers to come get you for the interview tonight. Remember Peeta, cease-fire. And if you back out on this deal, the consequences will be disastrous. For you, and for Katniss."
And then he leaves. I don't know if I should feel good or bad about what I did, but either way, I do feel dirty. And a gift? What the heck does he mean, he's giving me a gift? I don't want… my thoughts trail off as the door opens and I don't know if I've ever been happier to see someone, excepting Katniss.
Because Portia is standing here, in the room, looking around, disoriented. A smile breaks out over my own face and I push myself up, running to her and banding my arms around her, but the second I touch her, she starts screaming, and slapping her arms around.
Immediately, I drop my arms "Portia, you're alive! You're…" Then my grin fades, "you're here."
And suddenly I am not so happy. Because her screams fade and she's crying, breaking down in sobs, her eyes squeezed shut, trying to ward me off. She is here, in Snow's custody, just as I am. Her golden dyed skin is strangely pale, and she's always been slender, but for… I'm guessing at least a week, she's been starving. A few pounds are already falling off of her, and her beautiful face is becoming hollowed out.
All because of me. Because she was my stylist. My breath catches and I want to join in with her crying, but I don't. As gently as I can, as if I was approaching a scared animal, I reach out, trying to catch her flailing hands. Hands that were always flawlessly done and manicured, but now have chipped polish and short nails. Keeping my voice quiet, I capture her hands in a gentle but firm hold, stopping her hitting.
"Portia. Open your eyes. It's okay. It's me, Peeta, and I would never, ever hurt you." With my words, her struggling stops but she still can't bring herself to stop crying or open her eyes. I rub my thumbs over the backs of her hands, speaking quietly, "Hey, you know, you look stunning even now. After all you've been though. Right now, as presentable as always."
The words I've told her before, only a week ago though it feels like a lifetime, ring through, and she peeps open an eye. Then both of them pop wide open, and there's this moment on her face, a moment of total elation before it crumples, and she throws her arms around my neck, holding on tight and burying her face in my shoulder, saying repeatedly, "It's you, it's really you."
Drawing my hand up and down her back, I feel my own tears drip out now, falling on her hair, and I feel like I'm going to be choked with emotion, "It's me. I'm here right now. It's okay."
And then we're both silent, just holding on, just… existing. Interrupting this momentary peace, I hear her voice, thick with tears, say, "They killed him. Cinna. They took him into interrogation the day Katniss blew up the arena, and he never came back."
I feel her start to shake again with tears and her words are broken when she says, "He loved me, Peeta, he did. He… we… they kept us in those dark rooms, right next to each other and he explained." She breaks off and her tears are fast and hard now, as they were before.
I want to stroke my hand down her waterfall of dark hair but I can't say anything to try to cheer her up. Look where we are. Look what happened to Cinna. What is there to comfort her with when there is no more comfort left to be had? The love of her life just died. It's commendable that she's holding up this well.
After a while, there's a brisk knocking on the door before it barges open and a Peacekeeper is there, holding one of the large, tall, clothing bags I associate with Portia. Immediately, I feel her stiffen as he walks closer, and I disengage myself from her, and step in front, blocking him from her view. He glares at us and throws the clothes over the back of the chair I was sitting on earlier, and he snarls, "Start getting ready."
And then he leaves, and Portia composes herself enough to ask, "Get ready for what?"
So I explain to her, about Caesar Flickerman, about trying to keep Katniss safe, about the cease-fire. While taking everything in, she nods, and breathes in deeply through her nose, and out her mouth, and giving me a look in the eye that makes me think of the woman I saw before the arena, "Well, then, let's make you pretty."
She starts with my hair, getting it brushed then curling it, then dabs on my makeup, covering up all the bruises there. I think she's glad they've brought her in to do this job. To distract her from what's going on, to make her remember better times. If that's the case, then I can dredge up a semblance of happiness, too. And then her fingers still as they comb through my hair, styling it to perfection.
Quietly, she says, "He was devastated when they brought me in. I've been here since the day after you went into the arena. Cinna… he was missing ever since he took Katniss to be brought up into the Games. When he heard me in the room next to him, he was so upset. He told me that all he had done, everything he had kept a secret from me, it was to protect me from ending up here. But I guess it didn't work." She finishes with a dry laugh, before I hear her break down again.
I reach up and take her hands in mine, and they tremble. I wish there was anything I could do to make her feel better, and she pushes on, her cries breaking her words up, "It's just… I keep thinking about how I treated him in his last few days, and how I wouldn't even talk to him and I haven't told him that I loved him in months and months and … and he did so much to try to protect me and all I ever did was throw it in his face. He died not knowing that I still loved him, knowing that I thought he didn't really love me."
Now I stand, because this is something I can comfort, and I look closely at her, putting my hand under her chin and getting her to look up at me through her watery eyes, "Hey, listen to me. Cinna knew what he was signing up for when you broke up with him. He understood you, and he understood why you did it, I think you can bet on that. But you know what you can take to the bank, any day of the week? He knew you loved him, Portia. Anyone could see it."
I hope after I've served President Snow's agenda, after he kills me, Katniss will know that I loved her. How could she not? But I still want someone to reinforce it, the way I am now to my best friend. She reaches up and takes my face in her hands, "Thank you, Peeta. I'm so sorry you're in the middle of all of this."
There's no way I can stop a laugh from rumbling through my chest, out of my mouth, "Me? You're sorry I'm in the middle of this?"
I think of every step of this insane journey, of both of the Hunger Games, the Victory Tour, the rebel army finding their feet and getting ranks, and how we're now both captured in Capitol custody. It's not funny at all. As in, it's the least "funny" situation I've ever been in. And it all just seems like it's some ridiculous, elaborate joke, and I just can't stop myself from this crazy laughter.
She looks so concerned for me, and I try to explain – well, as best I can, with my senseless thought process – "It's just… you're sorry to me… and I'm the one who pulled you into all of this, being in love with Katniss and all. I just it's so unfunny!"
I can tell she thinks I've gone temporarily insane, but she sits me down and continues doing her work with my hair until I finally manage to sober up. Then there's another pounding on the door, and a voice barks out, "Ten minutes!"
Portia looks at me and reaches for the clothes we've been provided with, and while I strip and she redresses me in a suit. I look at myself in the mirror, "I don't look nearly as good as I do in a Portia original."
"No," she agrees, and runs her hands over my shoulders and the suit, "But you still clean up well, regardless of who designed the fabric."
Another heart pounding knock, followed by the proclamation, "Five minutes!" Starts Portia's crying again. I wish I didn't know why. But I do, and I want to follow suit. But I guess she can tell, because she holds my face in her hands, "Don't. You'll ruin your makeup. Just let me do it for the both of us, please."
Looking me in the eye, she says, "Peeta… usually, I would tell you don't be a hero. I would tell you to look out for Peeta, because I couldn't stand seeing something happen to you. But here, now, it's all changed. Don't let what Cinna did or what Katniss is doing happen in vain. We… we probably won't ever see each other again, and no matter what happens, you'll always be my beautiful boy from District Twelve, and I'll always be your slightly overemotional stylist."
"No," I correct, "You'll always be my best friend. And the woman I love second most in this world."
She sniffles, "Same goes. Only, you know, you're a boy. No, you're a man now. Look at you." She pushes herself up on her tippy toes and brushes a kiss across my cheek, then repeats the move against my lips. It's not romantic but it's not platonic, because it means so much more than that.
When it ends, it's all I can do to wrap my arms around her and hold myself back from crying. Because she's right. This is probably the last time we'll ever see each other in this life, and it's not like when I thought I would die in the arena; it's both of our lives, on a speeding train, running toward our doom.
Then the Peacekeeper barges back in, and pulls her away from me. Her words ring with finality with her last word to me, "Goodbye."
"Goodbye, Portia." I say back, and then we're led through different doors.
The long awaited (kind of!) story is here! I love Mockingjay and I am really excited to start it. This story is going to be updated every 3 days, so... yeah. Sorry, first day of classes early in the morning. Not so eloquent at the moment.