Disclaimer: Everything that's not mine is quite simply not mine.
A/N: With that aside, I apologize if you liked the previous version of this better. I think this was a much needed change and explanation to boot. Angst is to be expected. Thanks for reading, sorry for typos. Reviews are updates and love. -Taryn(:
It was the same dream he always had.
Sunlight fell across the world his mind built around himself and the air tasted of sweetness there, within his haven of thought. The magnificent, glimmering sight of the Old Capitol sprawled out around him atop of the Training Center roof. Even if he knew it was a awful place full of despicable people there was nothing that could make Peeta's trained eyes immune to its beauty. If there was anything Peeta lived for, it was beauty.
She was there, too. In the dream world Peeta made with the wretched remaining pieces of his memory. The only superseding portions that stayed scarred and carved deeply into the side of his brain that was not tainted by his past hi-jacking. She was laying with her head in his lap, flowers twisted betwixt her fingers, manipulated into a crown wrought of greens and yellows and oranges.
Sometimes he recalled the feel of her thick, sloppy, silky strands of hair shifting between his fingers. Other times there was only the feeling of the infinitely warm sunlight soaking into his skin, heating his face, and she became warm, too. In Peeta's dreams she gets to be warm again. There is a pulsating beat, like the throb of a heart, reverberating off of her skin deeply kissed by the sun. The feelings washed over him in waves and spasms of lovingness.
She was warm, once, without dreaming. Peeta remembered that.
And in this reoccurring dream, where she lived and breathed, Peeta remembered the sound of her voice. Not the song she sang when they were children, but only just one fleeting, cloy handful of words that tore at his heart and mind and made him ache to his very bones. Raking through the very bone of his soul, until he was throbbing painfully along with the pulsations rolling off of her.
"I'll allow it," Katniss breathed.
It was all he ever wanted as a boy, ever since he became a five year old with a crush. This was the one moment she allowed it. Peeta could remembered feeling elated and recalled it every night in his dreams, this indescribable roll of emotions. He had thought that was it. The moment she might actually love him. And then again, he had felt that a hundred times beforehand within their first Games. Katniss was finally allowing it, truly, and allowed herself to be loved by him, accepted his affections without cringing in guilt. It was a step. A huge step, that the boy Peeta had thought would lead to more.
But long after he had become one of the star-crossed lovers of District 12 he realized this want and hope would never be true. There were the lies, the falsehoods on her part; she only pretended to love him. Then there was the rebellion. Everything went so, so wrong. They weren't supposed to go back into the Games. That step was supposed to lead them somewhere. Those kisses on the beach made her feel something deep within, he saw it in her smile so rarely shown in place of a scowl. All of it, the falseness and the Games and the rebellion, was a sick joke and he was only a boy with a crush up until the very bitter end, and at that point he was nothing more than the boy consumed with insanity.
Only Peeta could claim driven mad by love.
And yet, still, there was the reoccurring dream. No amount of trackerjacker venom could root it out of his memory. He had locked it tightly inside of himself at her allowance, and that was much stronger than the pull of insanity. Even after he lost himself to blackening rages and thought her mutt, he dreamed this dream.
"I'll allow it," she said again and Peeta wakes, jerked from sleep, gasping.
Tears on his cheeks burned treks across his flesh and he swiped them away. There was always people crying around him, and he hated the reminder of the unending grief. The memory of the dream left him feeling hallow, and when he thought of her voice, his stomach withered and compacted itself into a heavy ball.
He could not throw himself from the bed and to the bathroom sink fast enough, what little dinner he had managed last night retching itself there. Peeta's hands were shaking when he wiped his cold sweated brow and washed away the mess. Vaguely, stirred from the sight of the water swirling away bile, he remembered a great many years ago when his Hunger Games mentor Haymitch Abernathy, a paunchy, middle-aged man, had vomited and fell into it, and that Peeta had been the one to wash him up.
Pricks of warmth renewed behind his eyes at the thought of the tortured man. Haymitch had tried so hard to keep everything going, for the rebellion, for his pair of tributes... Peeta turned away from the sink more harshly than need be. He couldn't afford to fall into memories, and not ones so painful as remembering the day he saw all the hope fade from the old man's being.
Night was always a peaceful thing in District 12, the stars burning molten overhead and the summer air tinged by the meadow flowers, the aromatic scent of coal obsolete and gritty. Peeta walked along the road in front of his vandalized, trashed victor's house and his feet carried him unknowingly toward town, and to her place.
No one was out. Peeta felt relieved by this, because he hated the way they all looked at him. Either they pitied the man with thinning blonde hair and dual blue eyes or they feared him greatly. The worst was when he had been walking along the street and a woman, who remarkably resembled an old friend of his, long dead, attacked him verbally. She had that same flush of red in her pale cheeks as Delly always had, but instead of making her look innocent, it made the woman seem menacing.
"You dare to still walk here!" she shouted, and struck a fist against Peeta's broad, unsuspecting chest. "You murdering, heartless bastard! Where is your decency? This is where she lived and loved and you think you can just ghost about as if you didn't– deliver – the – final – blow!" Every last word harmonizing with a new punch on Peeta's torso, drawing a wince from the man.
He made no move to fight back. Peeta accepted her hate, and saw it shining in the wide, impossibly grievous blue eyes. Others stopped to point or stare or voice previously unspoken agreements.They all hate me, Peeta realized that day. Pity me, or fear me, every single one of them hates me underneath.
"I didn't..." Peeta had begun to reply, but was cut short by the blinding, stinging slap the woman dealt. He turned away from her, nursed the throbbing cheek and felt a glamor of himself sink away, a dark unrelenting blackness rising. He felt it taking over, the Capitol side of him, the poisoned, fractured memories flooding through his soul like ink seeps through paper.
He caught her hand roughly the next time she raised it. True fear roused in the woman's eyes and for one moment his other hand raised and everyone around them held their breath, waiting to see him strike her down. Peeta was about to knock the poor woman's teeth out but the sunlight outside caught in her suddenly watery eyes, her whimpering lips shocked him; he recalled another girl, blonde haired and blue eyed, whimpering, "What do you mean she's gone?" And Peeta threw the woman across the town street, Prim's sweet voice bringing the blackness inside to bay.
Peeta purposefully walked around that same spot, in front of the flower shop and the grocer, heading toward town square. There, he knew what he would find. He would get to see her face there. It wasn't the same thing as actually seeing her, witnessing all the beauty her face once upheld for him. Those steely gray eyes shutting out and fortifying not only herself but a rebellion. The set of her lips that made it look like she was always gritting them, or how her scowl made you feel her gaze straight to the pit of your heart. The lifeless statue set in the middle of District 12's town square of Katniss Everdeen bow raised in combat position, did nothing to make her justice.
Peeta traced the edge of the concrete base underneath her booted feet, then slumped, defeated, against it. Face in his hands and elbows braced against knees, he tried desperately to curl into a ball, morph himself into the mortar of the statue. Never wanting to leave her side. Not again, not like last time, he thought.
He remembered the last time. The pull of insanity stronger than her voice, as she shouted for him, for his help. Despite how hard she fought and killed the Peacekeepers got her. She screamed when they hit her, when they drove a knife between her ribs, toward her beating, pounding heart. There were only three Peacekeepers, though, and when Peeta finally broke free of his trance he raised his gun to shoot them all dead. And she twisted agonizingly in his arms when Peeta got to her, too late.
Katniss died bravely. She did not weep. What she did do was kiss him, placed a bloody hand against his tear-stained cheek and made him promise something. Win. Katniss asked him to go on, march on, and win the rebellion. Let her lie cold in the earth and win this rebellion, at any cost, and use his words. His precious words that he learned to loathe so acutely. Peeta jumped to agree to it and told her over and over of everything they were going to do to end this war, after medics arrive. They were in the Old Capitol, though, within Capitol ranks and far from any rebel medics. They had lost Finnick already, and all the cameraman and Peeta had yet to see Gale anywhere since Katniss returned to him from the mansion, telling tales of how she "had to do it" and "we made a promise to each other to not let them take us alive"... all the while sobbing, leaving Peeta too stunned to react properly still so new to his hi-jacking.
Katniss told him that they weren't coming, that he had to win the rebellion on his own. Paint her face on banners and use your words, the thing she kept saying and saying, blurring lines in Peeta's head, until finally, she asked him something that he could most definitely not do.
"But I did," Peeta said aloud, the words muffled by the hands over his face. "But I did!" He was crying again. Each sob shaking its way up from his heaving stomach, through his ribcage and choking out of his throat, filling the night with the mourning of a five year old, remembering his crush.
Come the dawn Peeta had no choice but to rise and move. His face was haggard and many people out so early, opening shops or welcoming the sunlight, scattered at the sight of him walking down the street. Peeta ached, seeing one of the women at the newly built and owned bakery hurriedly stowing a child behind her back, as if Peeta would harm him. Had it come to that? People seeing him as a child murderer?
There was a car waiting idle in front of his victor house when he arrived. No doubt it was some government official, checking on him, making sure he had not done anything to worsen the state of the ravaged district. "Peeta!" they said upon entering the kitchen. He stared at the man, uncomprehending. "How are you?"
"The same," Peeta said.
"Well, that's to be expected. My name is Professor Greir, I was sent by President O'Donnell, he seemed concerned for you last we spoke." Professor Greir held out an aloof hand, that Peeta took cautiously.
"You're a doctor," Peeta said, accusingly. "I've had enough of doctors, I've already told him this. If he thinks..." his voice broke off, when he heard how it shook in rage. He took a deep breath, and tried again. "If he's worried about me, there is nothing to do. I'm fine, really. I can control my hi-jacking now, it's been twenty years, you know since it happened. And over a hundred different doctors. What makes you think that you can make any more difference than the others?"
Professor Greir let his hand drop between them, and then gathered his smile back into a serious expression. "It is well known, Mr. Mellark, that you were the person who destroyed District 13. Killed over hundreds of people originally from District 12 such as the famously known Everdeen mother and sister, as well as the Hawthorne cousins. You did not heed our pleas when we told you being here would not only develop the peoples hate for you but pose serious problems."
"Someone told you about that woman."
Greir nods, gray-blue eyes cool. "Yes. We were told about you and a citizens... disagreement. We also think it's of both yours and the peoples best interest if you were to leave District 12. Return to New Capitol, please. President Ferik is very fond of you. He considers you a brother, and he has numerous houses or rooms to spare–"
"He only likes me because I supported his rise in power," Peeta spat. "Because after I killed President Coin and Snow, I needed someone to raise to their levels. And Ferik was the only living victor left in this world besides me. I don't want to live with him, or inside his replacement Capitol, now get out!"
Reluctantly, the professor retreated and walked out of the house, but Peeta didn't hear his car start. Peeta knew that man would sit out there all night and maybe even longer, if not forever. And he punched a nearby wall, seething, and aching... wondering; when did I become nothing but anger?
A voice answered back to Peeta, almost immediately, from deep inside him; the day you killed Katniss Everdeen.
But she asked me to, Peeta fought angrily with himself. She was in pain.
No, the small, merciless voice inside him that sounded just like Prim and Rory and Annie, sometimes even Finnick said. No, you could have tried harder. You could have carried her away, somewhere else. Saved her. But you didn't, you dealt the final blow and rose a hateful man, burning and killing everything that reminded you of her...
"I won," Peeta whispered painfully, his eyes shut unbearably as he leaned into the wall. The fist he used to punch was pained, the bruises already begun to form along the rifts of his knuckles, but that seemed like just a pinch compared to the pain of knowing. For Peeta to know he won, at the expense of her death and everyone else's that he or she ever cared about and the reach of his insanity that drove him to do it was the worse agony anyone could have expelled unto him.
"I won, I won, I won," he repeated. Had to remind himself, to tell himself, that is real. "Real. Real. Real. The rebels won." The same rebels that Peeta built himself, from inside and out.
After he left Katniss' body in that random Old Capitol building, he went in search of President Snow and reached his mansion just as the parachutes killed the wall of children that had been placed in defense. The moment Peeta got passed the second explosion and the rebels began pouring into the City Circle, he had made it into the mansion. The walk between those front doors and to where President Snow was hiding he doesn't remember much, only shaking, driven by the satisfied and disgusted side of his brain at the thought that he killed her. The stinking mutt. And when he shot the guard surrounding President Snow, confessed to the old man what he had done, he watched that smug, triumph grin on his face twist upside down as he beat Snow's head repeatedly against the expensive, shiny marble floor.
Then he found the room where President Snow had been heading, a million buttons within reach, and big red ones that screamed, "don't touch!". The technicians there watched Peeta passively as he paced around the room, gun in hand and covered from head to toe in blood, until he turned to them and told them to destroy District 13. Why? Peeta couldn't remember anything but his hatred, at the world. Everything, he wanted it gone. And it was, in moments, at the press of a technicians finger.
What ensued that was nothing pretty. Starving soldiers and a long, cold winter, to follow their hot summer, and that put the previous District 12 winter to shame. Districts were at war with each other over supplies. Rebel soldiers ran out of food and weapons without District 13 and the Capitol Peacekeepers lost all supply flow when the fight the day Katniss Everdeen died burned the Old Capitol to ashes and crumbling skyscrapers.
How Peeta survived he'd never truly know. Most of the past was a blur, anyway. Only seeing Prim that last time, right before the final battle of the war came to Peeta; when he had to tell Prim he'd killed Katniss, that she died because he couldn't – wouldn't – go to her at first, then arrived too late, delivered the final blow. He recalled the look in her eyes when he also told her he killed her mother, in District 13, that Rory and Vick and Posy and Mrs. Hawthorne were similarly murdered. Along with everyone else she'd ever known, because she had the off chance of arriving in the Old Capitol that awful day as a nurse and living in result of that.
Victor Ferik O'Donnell, of District 1, to the sixty-third Hunger Game at age seventeen came to Peeta after that battle. One of the only other victors still alive, not killed by rebels or by the Capitol, or plainly just from the past year of war hardships. Peeta supported him because he asked, because after that final battle where the rebels took out the only thriving camp of Capitol citizens and Peacekeepers Peeta had nothing else to live or die for. He was half gone when he saw Katniss die, and became a completely empty shell the day he watched a man kill sweet, innocent healer Prim as she labored away throughout a battlefield of dying men. Hope, love, beauty, became a lie and President O'Donnell was Peeta's voice, his soul, his numb purpose.
"Real," Peeta said one more time, pushing himself off the wall, tired of remembering. The constant swirl of day to day memories left him exhausted, and that was almost enough to keep him going, knowing that if he exhausted himself this way that he would get to sleep and dream of her.
The next morning Professor Greir was still outside. Peeta went to stand by the window and saw the man had sprawled himself awkwardly about the backseats. He looked uncomfortable in his suit attire and only an arm to rest his head against, so uncomfortable that Peeta pityingly rapped his knuckles across the glass to wake him and motion to Greir to follow him inside.
He made some cheese buns, her favorite, and he attempted to smile at the man who greedily ate his portion. "You should go home," Peeta conveyed, sighing.
"I can't. Not until you leave, Mr. Mellark. You seem to forget that even though the Hunger Games are gone forever, our dear President O'Donnell is still a Career. He gives orders rather severely, if you remember correctly."
"Greir Thomas," the professor supplied.
"Mr. Thomas," Peeta said, composed. He leaned across the counter between them and looked the man earnestly into the eyes. "There is nothing that will get me out of District 12. Register that. Understand that. And accept it. I want to be here, this was my home before all of... before the rebellion and the Hunger Games interfered with my life and it still is. I just want.."
"Closure?" Mr. Thomas supplied, the patent tone of a doctor very evident.
Peeta narrowed his eyes. "Yes. Closure, I guess."
Mr. Thomas shifted, raking a hand through his clumpy brown hair peppered with salt. "Would it make any difference if I told you that something special is waiting for you there?"
"Nothing is special to me."
"This is," Mr. Thomas insisted. "We have been able to recover an amazing amount of technology and inventions from District 3, thankfully spared of the bombs. They had a storage unit for artifacts that the Old Capitol considered illy made or broken prototypes that were heading no where."
Peeta gives him a lingering, inquiring look. "Again, why would I find this special?"
"Because, Mr. Mellark, I believe that we've discovered the means of tweaking a prototype that has the potential to make things... better."
"This sounds more like a relief effort," Peeta sighed. "Wouldn't it be better to discuss this with.. with the President?"
Professor Greir's face changed drastically from cool and pleading to seclusive. "Honest now. Did you choose Ferik O'Donnell for president because of his compassion or his determination?"
Peeta gave his head a bewildered, uncaring shake. "I chose him because he wanted it."
"So determination, then."
"What does it matter!" Peeta exclaimed. "Panem needed a President and I gave it one. I ended the war and the rebels won. What more do you and him want from me?"
There was a wavering look in the man's face and Peeta recognized the pity there, and something more, something akin to care. A thing he had not seen on anyone's face in such a long, long time. "Peeta, I'm doing this for you."
"Why? I don't even know who you are, Mr. Thomas," Peeta said, uncertain about the sudden first name basis.
"Does that really matter? Can't I do this out of the kindness of my heart, as a doctor sworn to heal?"
"You admit it, that you're a doctor?"
Mr. Thomas gave off a startling burst of laughter. "Yes, Peeta, I am a doctor. I have been a doctor for many, many years. But I am more a scientist now, which brings me back to why I have come..."
"But you said you came because Ferik wanted me out of District 12. Are you lying now or just lied then? Because if we're lying to each other, I don't want to play this gam–"
"Peeta," Mr. Thomas interrupted, sharply, but voice not unkind. "I came here on the pretense of Ferik's order, but really I have come to offer much, much more. Will you only hear me out? Will you please, attempt to trust me? Do you think you can do that? Trust someone again?"
Peeta swallowed the words bubbling in the pit of his stomach with difficulty, because already he mistrusted the man, but instead of rejecting him immediately, he watched the man reach slowly forward until the hand Peeta had limp on the counter was clenched into his. The grip of the man's hand was almost tight enough to rival the strength of the grasp Katniss had on his hand as he slid the knife quietly across her throat.
"Yes," Peeta murmured, eyes downcasted. "For a little while, maybe."
Mr. Thomas smiled. "Good. Very good." Peeta felt him give his fingers a reassuring squeeze. "They told me you were recovering nicely, but I see they did not exaggerate. Moody, yes, but you always seem to resort to gentleness in the end. It's your inner nature burrowing through, Peeta, know that. You're a good person, trust me."
Peeta willed for those words to be true, but as he stared down at their hands, he could only remember the look of death in her wide steely gray eyes. "I'm listening."
"Oh, yes." Mr. Thomas cleared his throat momentarily, then continued, "As I was saying these are matters far too high of education for you to interpret. I'm to understand you were only schooled until your sixteenth year? Yes, not nearly enough education to understand half of what I want to tell you. No offense intended. It was not your fault that the victors received no extra teaching afterward their winning, that is entirely the fault of the Old Capitol. I only mean to say what I am telling you next will be put into the most simple terms that I know of."
"How good of you," Peeta said, no true spite to his words.
Mr. Thomas leaned forward across the counter until Peeta was forced to meet his intent gaze. "How would you like to change what you did?" Peeta moved to shake his head, disbelieving, uncomprehending but the professor held tight to his hand. "Now I know that you won't believe it, and that this is hard for you to contemplate, let alone grasp, but what would you say if I told you that you could go back to a time when you were only sixteen? To a time when you could do it all over again?"
"Is this some sort of joke?"
"A cruel one to play, no?" Peeta ripped his hand from the man, but Mr. Thomas picked up at a vehement rate, "Peeta, do not mistake my words for lies. I know it's hard to trust. After what you've been through? Who can blame you? But trust me when I tell you, that I've found a way to do just what I've asked!"
Peeta loathed himself for the sudden uproar of hope that flared inside of him. Was this why he ended up the way he had, because he just hoped too damn much? Because he followed anyone who could display a pretty word or two, that set in motion a nice idealistic idea? Yes. Her name was Katniss Everdeen. "How?" Peeta asked with his back turned to the professor, rigid from head to toe. He could only hope for so much... and he was scared of betrayal... was knocked breathless at the thought that this really was some sick joke.
"Technology. Science. Miracles."
Peeta shook his head, slowly, back and forth. "I don't believe in miracles."
"Then don't, believe in the cold hard facts if you would prefer. But I need you. You need me. This technology is faulty at best and must have a lot of set backs, a lot of ulterior consequences. To mess with time, using the speed of light itself, it can either collapse the whole existence and essences of time, or reverse it as I do hope to do. The worst? I kill everyone, because I ruin the matter of time, meaning everything would inexplicably occur all in one motion, nothing separating it, history on top of history, virtually creating a black hole in the space continuum and beyond."
"And... the best?"
"That with a lot of miracles? I would be able to transport you into the past. Hopefully all of you, don't want to leave pieces behind. It is beyond even me what will survive the travel, whether spirit or body are the only thing possible to transport. Maybe it'll only kill you. Maybe it'll kill a lot of people, or ruin the past, or create some odd alternate universe... all I wish to do is two things, really."
Peeta finally turned around. "What things?"
"One, to help you. I pity you and I hurt for you, not only as a doctor, but as a man who watched you from the very beginning. Long before the berry trick, but from the very moment you stepped onto that reaping stage, a boy of sixteen, shaken, nervous... you were both so innocent then. Even her.." Peeta flinched at the voicing of her existence so the man hurried along and said, "Two, to help myself."
Peeta didn't care enough to ask him why, or what exactly the man had to change in his past, only the fact that he actually, fleetingly let himself believe this could happen registered. "When can this happen?"
"As soon as you are in the New Capitol, and we have prepped the whole process to both you and my team. Does this mean you will come?"
"Do you really think there's a chance.. that I could change things? That sh-she.. Katniss," Peeta had difficulty saying the name, "would be alive in the past?"
"Well, she was the first time around, wasn't she!" Mr. Thomas grinned, and the skin around his blue-gray eyes crinkled, kind of like Peeta's father's eyes used to. "We have not set the date in which we travel, but I promise that it'll be long before that one insignificant mistake you made years ago."
"Twenty," Peeta supplied, voice thick. "It's been twenty years, I'm thirty-seven."
"You'll be young again, soon enough."
Peeta could hardly dare to trust in that new promise. Promises became poisonous in the past twenty years. He made Katniss a promise once, two actually. The first one had been easy enough – to win – and the second one broke him mentally, emotionally and physically, but he did it. Why? Because he was a foolish five year old with a crush, and the only man in the world who could literally be driven insane by love.
On the train ride headed out of District 12 and toward the New Capitol, Peeta couldn't help but momentarily think that he'd gotten on the train because of love. Because of her. Because of the steps that they should have taken. Peeta was determined that the next time around, if the insane plan or miracle or technology worked, he would make sure he did it right.