Title: The Flames Rose Higher
Warnings: See first chapter for warnings.
Notes: Thanks to anyone with the patience to still be reading this. Also, thanks to the people who favorited this story or put it on alert, and special thanks to vhs, Not Just A Reader - A Fangirl, Akage987 and NorthAmericanJaguar for reviewing!
Disclaimer: Suzanne Collins owns the Hunger Games trilogy. I am not Suzanne Collins.
The Flames Rose Higher
Chapter Eleven – Cinna
As soon as Katniss and Finnick stepped into the room, Cinna felt relief wash over him. They were alive, they were safe, they'd made it to 13 in one piece—something Cinna had doubted would happen, despite Fulvia Cardew's many empty reassurances.
His relief took on a nervous edge as he watched Katniss shake President Coin's hand. The President wasn't inclined to tolerate defiance and Katniss, despite everything, still had a defiant streak left in her. But for now Katniss just released the older woman's hand and studied her warily.
Then it was Finnick's turn to introduce himself to Coin. While he was shaking her hand, Katniss glanced around the room, perhaps searching for clues on why they'd been brought to 13. Cinna knew the exact moment she caught sight of him, because her face contorted oddly like it didn't know whether to smile or grimace. From this, he gathered that she was happy to see him but she knew his presence here meant makeover time, which meant she and Finnick would be doing some form of public speaking.
It's so much worse than that, Cinna thought to himself. He wanted so badly to take both victors by the hand and drag them as far away as possible from President Coin and the task she'd so thoughtlessly assigned to them. He wasn't sure what the punishment for that would be, but given what the heartless woman had had done to his prep team over a single, insignificant stolen slice of bread, he figured his only real option was to let Coin go through with her plans. Katniss would not appreciate him temporarily saving her from emotional pain if he was beaten senseless for it.
Once the introductions were over, Coin immediately got down to business and addressed the two victors: "As I'm sure you're both aware, Phase Two of the relocation plan resulted in Plutarch Heavensbee being taken into Capitol custody."
Finnick's expression was a mask of polite patience. Katniss's was a mixture of Get to the point and Is that a euphemism for 'He was captured and he's probably either dead or being tortured within an inch of his life as we speak'?
Finnick glanced at her briefly and then turned back to Coin. He cleared his throat quietly and said, "We're aware, yes."
Of course they were. Everyone was. Nearly everyone had seen the 'breaking news' about the supposed deaths of Maple and her entire family, and nearly everyone had seen that news quickly proven false. They'd seen Maple and her family rush to board the hovercraft and they'd seen Plutarch Heavensbee disembark it. They'd seen him put up a damn good fight with the Peacekeepers until the hovercraft had taken off and was out of sight, at which point Plutarch had surrendered.
The majority of the public had seen it, and somewhere in the Capitol someone had probably been killed for allowing that. Anyone who hadn't seen it on TV had heard about it from someone who had.
Cinna had witnessed it first hand, as had everyone else who was being relocated to District 13. Looking back, he still couldn't tell how much had been planned and how much had been spontaneous. They'd gotten to District 7, their last stop. The explosion had been set off; the reporters had rushed to the scene and proclaimed it a tragedy while Maple and her family made their way to the hovercraft in secret.
They should've been home free as long as they were careful, but something had gone wrong. They'd been seen, and Cinna still didn't know who or what was at fault.
Maybe it had been Coin's plan all along. Maybe Plutarch had gone rogue. Maybe there was a traitor in their midst. Maybe someone had made a mistake. Or maybe it was just a piece of really bad luck.
At the time, Cinna had thought it was the end and they were all done for. Any hope for revolution would die along with the Mockingjay; and Prim would never grow up to be one of Panem's best healer; and Annie would die screaming her head off, miles and miles and miles away from her lover; and Madge and Gale would never get to hold their newborn baby in their arms; and Katniss would have no one left but Haymitch and Peeta and that cat she pretended to hate.
Then Plutarch had pulled his stunt, and suddenly they'd been on their way to District 13 while he was undoubtedly dragged away to the Capitol to face the wrath of President Snow himself. Cinna could only imagine the horrors Plutarch had been subjected to in the last few weeks.
Coin's primary concern, however, was something else entirely. "His capture puts us in a dangerous position. He knows far more about the inner workings of the rebellion then almost any other living individual."
"You're afraid he'll crack," Finnick guessed.
"We have some people on the inside who've told us Snow has been doing everything in his power to extract information from Plutarch," Coin confirmed. "So far he's held his tongue."
"What does this have to do with us?"
"We need to rescue Plutarch before he gives up anything damaging," she said. Privately, Cinna thought she looked more annoyed with the ex-Head Gamemaker than worried about him. "And for that we need a distraction."
Katniss twitched like she was beginning to hate that last word, but the expression on her face remained stony even as she snarked, "Let me guess, you want to film me shopping for baby clothes—"
"We need something far more compelling than that," Coin said scornfully. "We need something even Snow himself couldn't turn away from."
"Like?" Katniss prompted.
Cinna met Katniss's eyes with an apologetic look and watched as realization slowly dawned on her face, watched as she put together the pieces. A distraction that could keep everyone, even Snow, glued to their screens. A distraction that required the presence of Finnick Odair and Katniss Everdeen, of all people. A distraction that involved the two of them getting a makeover and speaking to the public.
Cinna glanced at Finnick and could see he'd worked it out, too.
"Right," Finnick said with a hollow laugh. "What do you need us to say?"
It was unbearably quiet as Cinna and the prep team prepared the two victors for the cameras. Both Finnick and Katniss seemed to have shut down; they paid no attention as their eyebrows were plucked, their hair combed. The only thing Katniss seemed to take note of was the change in the prep team since she'd last seen them, how nervous they were now, how their hands occasionally shook and how their eyes darted everywhere. She noticed, but for the time being she didn't seem to care.
When they were done, Cinna looked them over. Finnick was dressed in regular pants and a regular shirt and overall he looked, for once, like a regular guy.
Katniss, on the other hand, was wearing a provocative red dress that was unnervingly at odds with the soft, girlish makeup on her face, the bow in her hair and especially the fake baby bump. And for once, she didn't look like a seductress, or a star-crossed lover, or even a victor; she looked like a young girl who'd played dress up with her mother's clothes and makeup…or a teenager who'd been forced into prostitution.
In other words, she looked like exactly who she was.
"You don't really have to say much, just play the part. Bring out the waterworks," Fulvia Cardew instructed her. "You're the victim here, and don't let them forget it."
But Katniss sat in her seat as she and Finnick explained what President Snow had demanded from them—from so many victors— and she did not cry. She sat there with Castor's camera trained on her and she did not look sad, or broken, or used.
She looked angry. She looked furious—eyebrows slanted down, eyes hard and resentful and glaring directly into the camera, mouth pressed in a thin line. She looked like she would gladly burn the whole world down around her and leave only herself standing.
Cinna wondered who her rage was directed at: President Snow, for selling her body against her will, for selling Peeta's? The people of the Capitol, for buying up nights and days with victors like they were venues to be rented or caterers to be hired for parties? The people of the districts, for believing the worst of her? President Coin, for making her sit down and admit all this on camera? All of the above?
The anger didn't fade even when the cameras turned their attention to Finnick, who told hair-raising, jaw-dropping tales of affairs and scandals and conspiracies. He spoke of adultery and fraud and murder, and of President Snow and poison.
Cinna glanced between the two victors. Katniss, with her fury. Finnick, with his secrets. And he knew Coin was right.
No one, not even President Snow, would be able to turn away from this.
Afterwards, Coin released the two victors and granted them a couple hours with their loved ones. ("Only a couple," she said sternly. "They have schedules to adhere to.") Finnick left immediately; Katniss lingered long enough to tell Cinna to meet her in the cafeteria when he was done putting away "that stupid dress and the makeup and those torture devices you call hair brushes."
So Cinna tidied everything up as quickly as possible and then went looking for Katniss; he found her sitting with the Mellarks at a table in the cafeteria. Upon glancing up and catching sight of Cinna standing in the doorway, she said something to her companions and went to join him.
"I'm going to see my family," she said. "Before they broadcast the—well, you know, the thing. Come with me?"
Her face tightened just a little when she said the thing, so he took her hand and gave it a squeeze, at the same time saying, "Of course."
She squeezed back and then pulled her hand from his grasp, which he'd been expecting, so it didn't bother him.
Katniss's mother and sister, as well as the Hawthornes and Madge, were waiting for Katniss when they arrived at the Everdeen's designated living space. Prim was ecstatic to see her sister. She was beaming as she got up from the bed and gave her sister a hug, and she didn't stop beaming even when Katniss shrugged her off after a couple seconds—something Cinna rarely remembered her doing to her sister.
Her mother and the assembled Hawthornes (where was Gale?) didn't even try going for a hug, but Madge did. It was very brief, and Cinna was sure Katniss only allowed it because she still felt guilty for lying to Madge about being pregnant.
"Where's Gale?" Katniss asked after pulling back from Madge, who stiffened, pursed her lips and then answered, "He went on the mission to rescue Plutarch."
The subject was immediately dropped and small-talk was made for the next hour or so. Mrs. Everdeen's and Mrs. Hawthorne's jobs, Prim's and Rory's training, Vick's and Posy's classes, Madge's pregnancy. Katniss was mostly quiet throughout but eventually, after Hazelle shooed Vick and Posy away to go eat their lunch, she directed the conversation to the rebellion. She wanted to know how things were going in the districts, as she didn't hear much about them despite the weekly phone calls.
"Tense," Mrs. Everdeen replied.
"Violent," was Rory's answer.
"Are we making any progress?"
"Progress as in getting the districts to go against the Capitol, or progress as in defeating the Capitol's forces?" Cinna asked.
"3, 4, 5, 7, 10 and 11 are all fighting," Prim listed off. "8 is a little more reluctant after what happened last time, but they're coming around and so are 6 and 9."
"1 and 2?"
Hazelle sighed. "We're trying, but…" She shook her head helplessly. " In District Two, it's basically Lyme and a couple others versus Enobaria and the rest, most of whom are loyal to the Capitol, and in District One… Well, Cashmere and Gloss aren't on President Snow's side, but they don't seem too keen to go against him, either, and I doubt the others in 1 would be easy to sway in any case."
"They've always been fairly content with the way the Capitol run things," Katniss agreed. "It'd probably help to see we aren't fighting a losing battle." She paused. "Are we fighting a losing battle?"
"We've got 4 and 7 almost completely under our control and we're holding our ground in 3, 10 and 11, but in 5..." Cinna trailed off. He wondered how many of his former peers were dead, if the florist and his grandkids were okay, if the stray dog that used to hang around the butcher's was starving or if she'd died a long time ago.
There was a dispirited silence, which Madge broke after a minute or two by asking, "What about 12? I know you've been giving us weekly reports and all, but there's only so much you can say over the phone."
"It's…" Katniss searched for an appropriate word for a moment before settling on, "Tense and violent, like you said. People are trying. More people than I expected, especially in the Seam. But the Head Peacekeeper is out of control, there's a public execution every other day and you're lucky if you can walk to the town square and back without losing a limb."
The others looked as alarmed by this news as Cinna felt, which was to say a whole lot. Katniss glanced from face to face before hastily retracting, "Well, I say every other day but if you look at the big picture there's actually been a decrease in executions since Thread was killed?"
"Yeah, Gale mentioned he'd kicked the bucket. I wasn't sure if I should believe it, seemed too good to be true," Rory said, and Cinna couldn't help but think how messed up it was that they lived in a world where a fourteen year old boy could be so satisfied that someone was dead and no one scolded him because they all felt the same.
"You're being careful, right?" Mrs. Everdeen asked her daughter.
"Yes, Mother. I keep my gun with me whenever I leave the house. I even sleep with it under my pillow," she said, and she sounded sarcastic but Cinna wouldn't put it past her.
Before Mrs. Everdeen could do more than make a face at her daughter, someone knocked at the door which then opened to reveal a soldier—it was the shorn hair that tipped Cinna off, rather than the uniform that was just as gray as anyone else's outfit in this place—who informed them that the footage of Finnick and Katniss would be broadcast live to all of Panem in a few minutes while the rescue team infiltrated the Capitol.
"President Coin has said everyone is welcome to watch, it'll be playing in the cafeteria," she added. "Otherwise you're to return to your regular duties, and Mrs. Mellark, President Coin said she would like for you to—"
Katniss shot up from where she was seated on the bed, grabbed Cinna's wrist and dragged him along as she pushed past the soldier without a word. Cinna followed her without question as she wandered the hallways (gray walls, gray floor, District 13 was endlessly gray and Cinna hated it), opening doors and peering into rooms and then walking away, apparently unsatisfied with what she found in them, until at last she was.
"A supply closet," he noted as she closed the door behind them. "Interesting choice."
She flipped the light switch while he poked through the contents of a large plastic container on the shelf nearest to him. "Art supply closet," he corrected, holding up a box of crayons. "Look, an entire rainbow of colors."
"Not something you usually come across around here, is it?" Katniss asked, smirking at him. "This place must be a nightmare come true for you."
Cinna put the crayons down and studied his best friend closely. "Close to it, yeah. But you didn't bring me here to talk about that."
Katniss's smile slipped. "I didn't bring you here to talk about anything. I just…"
"Wanted to get away?" he guessed.
"Yeah." She took a seat on one of the boxes lining the floor.
Cinna sat down beside her and followed her gaze to the paint cans on the bottom shelf across from them. Several minutes went by before he decided that if he didn't say something, they'd be sitting here staring at paint cans until someone found them and kicked them out.
"You don't want them to see it," he said. "The footage."
"Of course I don't. I don't want anyone here to see it. They don't need to see it," Katniss said angrily. "Coin's only letting them because she wants them to hate the Capitol more than they already do. It's all just one big show, the footage, Plutarch's capture, this stupid pregnancy—" She reached under her shirt and tore off the fake baby bump, throwing it to the ground at her feet.
"What will they do when the due date arrives?" Cinna wondered, staring at the fake bump. "Stillbirth?"
"They'll probably steal some poor mother's baby and force Peeta and I to raise it," she scoffed.
"I'm sure they wouldn't."
"They would," Cinna agreed with a sigh. "But they won't because they can't. You'd never agree to it. You'd shoot them first."
That made Katniss smile. "Fair enough."
She then asked for more details about the plan to rescue Plutarch. Cinna hadn't been at the briefing, but he told her what he knew: they had an Avox on the inside who had presumably already led the rescue team through maintenance tunnels and into the heart of the Capitol; the duration of the broadcast coincided with the most dangerous part of the mission—infiltrating President Snow's own mansion; by the time the broadcast finished, the rescue team would have to have made it back to the tunnels with Plutarch in their custody; and from there the Avox insider would lead them back to the surface and they would return to 13 in a hovercraft.
While he told Katniss all this, she rummaged through the box beside her, found some pipe cleaners and started twisting and turning them into different shapes. Her hand motions were clumsy and nervous, which wasn't like her, and Cinna could tell she was worried about Gale but knew better than to mention it.
Instead he changed the subject, talking about the situation in District 5 until his voice was almost hoarse. At first, Katniss looked startled that he'd brought it up without being prompted, but she didn't ask about it and she didn't offer empty reassurances. She just listened intently and handed him some pipe cleaners to mess around with when his hands started to shake.
Cinna tried to twist the pipe cleaners into the shape of a dog, to go along with the cat Katniss had made. Eventually he held up the finished product for her to inspect.
"What the hell is that supposed to be?" she asked, cutting off a laugh halfway through with a very forced cough.
He patted her back and told her what it was supposed to be.
She eyed it suspiciously. "That is not a dog."
"Sure it is. See, four legs, floppy ears, a tail—"
"That's not a tail. Those ears aren't floppy. And I only see three legs."
He threw his masterpiece at her. "You're so critical."
"I'm preparing you. Making pipe cleaner animals is a pretty cutthroat industry to go into, you know."
"Oh, I'm sure it is," he murmured, brushing her hair behind her ear so it wouldn't block his view of her smile. "Absolutely ruthless."
He left his palm on her cheek and she leaned into it, and suddenly there was something he had to know. He kept his eyes locked on hers as he spoke slowly, "When that soldier came in and said they were about to start the broadcast, your first instinct was to get away as quickly as possible." She just nodded warily, looking at him like she was wondering where he was going with this, and he only hesitated for a brief moment before asking, "Why was your second instinct to reach for me and take me with you?"
For a second she just sat there, frozen, with him holding both her face and her gaze, and then she pulled back as he knew she would. He let his hand fall to his side but kept his eyes on her.
She stared at the wall over his shoulder for a solid minute before looking back at him and countering, "What were you arguing with Peeta about yesterday?"
He took a moment to weigh his options, and then he decided that the only way he could expect an honest answer from her was to give one himself.
"You," he said. Then he clarified, "My relationship with you."
He waited for her to tense, waited for her throw her walls up twice as high and twice as thick as before, but instead she just sighed, making a face like she was only marginally wishing she was somewhere else not having this conversation.
"Let me guess, Peeta said something along the lines of, 'I know it's none of my business but let me pry into your personal life and ask you invasive and embarrassing questions anyways,'" she said, but she sounded less annoyed with Peeta and more unbearably fond of him.
"I know you think you're joking, but that's a surprisingly accurate account of how the conversation began."
"I am not surprised," she informed him.
"No, I suppose you wouldn't be." After all, with perhaps the exception of Haymitch, there wasn't anybody in the world who knew Peeta Mellark like Katniss did, and it was true the other way around as well. It was a product of going through the Games together, and Cinna had accepted a long time ago that there were parts of Katniss he would never be able to understand the way Peeta did, or even at all.
But there were also parts of Katniss that Peeta would never be able to understand the way Cinna did, although it had taken the visit to Katniss's old house for Cinna to truly realize that. He'd spent the first nine years of his life in the Capitol, but for the next nine he'd gotten to know poverty in a way someone who'd always had enough to eat, regardless of the quality of the food, simply couldn't.
There was even a part—a part with razor-sharp edges that cut open the same wound over and over and over again—all three of them had in common: they understood how badly a parent could let their child down.
Cinna had never heard Peeta speak badly of his mother, but there were some things that couldn't be hidden. Things that showed in the way a person's mouth tightened when someone's name came up in conversation, or the way they flinched without meaning to when someone they should have trusted came too close.
Sometimes, there were just things written all over a person's face no matter how hard they tried to erase the words.
"Answer my question," Cinna said gently.
So Katniss did. "I don't know. It just is. It's just better when you're there than when you're not."
And somehow, that made perfect sense, and it was far more than he'd thought he'd get, so he said, "Okay," and, "Peeta wanted to know how I felt about you."
"What did you tell him?" she asked, and Cinna immediately replied, "The truth."
He couldn't imagine what else she needed to hear, because the way he felt about her, that was one of those things that couldn't be erased no matter how hard he tried—and he had tried. It was just one of the only things that never really disappeared from his face, and sometimes he thought about Katniss, just thought about the person she was and the ways she lived her life and the ways she didn't, and it occurred to him that maybe it never would.
"Why did you kiss me?" He had a feeling he already knew the answer, but he asked anyways.
Katniss lifted her chin. "I wanted to. Why did you run?"
"I didn't know your reason for kissing me was as simple as 'I wanted to'," he said easily, and when she rolled her eyes as if to say, You see, this is all your fault, he smiled because he couldn't not smile.
And when he kissed her, it was because he couldn't not do that, either. (Somewhere out there, in the sky or the very depths of the earth or maybe another universe entirely, Cinna's late grammar tutor from when he was seven was crying into a handkerchief lamenting the fact that she'd never quite trained him out of using double negatives in the privacy of his own thoughts.)
He kissed Katniss for what felt like hours, kissed her slowly and lazily like for all the time they'd lost, he knew they'd have time enough to more than make up for it.
And then he realized he didn't know that, couldn't know that, because they were in the middle of a rebellion and in however many hours Katniss would be headed back to District 12 where a person was more likely to come back from a trip to the butcher's with a missing eye than food to eat.
That was about the time their kisses became heated and their hands started wandering, and it was only when Cinna knocked over a container of chalk that it occurred to him they were in a supply closet.
He pulled back and was almost startled to find he was on top of Katniss.
"All right." Katniss sighed (rather dramatically, Cinna thought) as he untangled one hand from her hair and removed the other from the inside of her thigh. "What's the problem?"
"We're in a supply closet," he said, rolling off her and sitting up.
"So…" Cinna struggled to find a retort that didn't boil down to, It's not very romantic. "So, anybody could walk in at any moment."
But Katniss knew how his brain worked, and she knew what was really bothering him before the thought even fully formed in his mind.
"You're not like my patrons," she said calmly. "You don't have to prove anything to me, and you shouldn't have to prove anything to yourself, either. I've had patrons drag me into closets and tear off all my clothes before the door's even closed, and yes, I hated every minute of it, but I've also had patrons wine and dine me first and then lay me down on a bed covered in rose petals in a room full of lit candles. Trust me, it only made me want to stab them more."
She pushed herself up into a sitting position so she could look him directly in the eye again, and then reasoned, "It's just us, just you and me. The only way this could possibly be about those scumbags is if you make it about them."
Cinna leaned in and pressed a kiss her temple—a little kiss, a silent thank you, acknowledging that she was right. Then he pulled back a bit, and leaned in again to kiss her properly on the mouth—
She held him off with a hand on his chest. "You're right, though. Anyone could walk in at any moment. And…I want to see if Gale's back yet."
That soured the mood instantly. Cinna pushed to his feet and offered a hand to Katniss to help her up. "He probably is, we've been in here for a few hours."
"Let's check the hospital wing first," Katniss said as she put the fake baby bump back on. "Even if he's not hurt he'll probably want to stay with anyone else who got injured on the mission."
So they made their way to the hospital wing, ignoring the stares that followed Katniss the entire time—stares of pity, of horror, of disgust and, most disturbingly, of fascination—to find Gale sitting up on a bed, completely fine except for a shallow cut along his torso. Prim was expertly bandaging the wound as Madge stood to the side and watched with anxious and relieved eyes.
"Hey, Catnip," Gale said softly when he caught sight of Katniss.
Cinna studied the man carefully as Katniss returned the greeting and asked about her friend's wound. He looked sorry, Cinna decided. Not necessarily sorry for Katniss, as though he pitied her, just…sorry. For everything. He'd treated her horribly for the past couple years, but he'd had his reasons, and going by the only fraction of the big picture he'd had access to, they'd been valid ones.
"How'd the mission go?" Cinna asked.
Gale's mouth was set in a grim line. Madge wrung her hands. Prim shook her head sadly.
Not well, then.
"Plutarch's dead," Gale said bluntly. "We got him out of his cell without be seen but on our way back we were spotted by Peacekeepers patrolling the tunnels. He got shot in the crossfire, a bullet right through his brain. Our Avox guide was killed too."
"I thought the whole point of a guide was to avoid the Peacekeepers," Katniss said, frowning.
"They weren't taking their usual routes, apparently. I know what you're thinking," Gale added, before Katniss could speak. "But I don't think anyone gave the plan away. I don't think this was on purpose, not the way Plutarch's capture was."
"Because they were looking for someone. We ran right into the guy—he killed Mitchell and took his gun before the Peacekeepers even caught up. Then all hell broke loose, people were shooting left and right… We were lucky to get out alive. We wouldn't have, if not for Boggs and Jackson. Plutarch and our guide... Some of our soldiers… They weren't so lucky. Neither were a few of the Peacekeepers."
"And the guy they were looking for?" Katniss asked.
"He died, too." And then, to Cinna's surprise, Gale turned away from her and met his gaze. "Boggs knew who he was, though. Said the guy broke out of prison months ago—he must've been hiding out in the tunnels all that time."
Cinna didn't need to ask for a name; there was only one person who'd ever broken out of the Capitol's prison.
His father was dead.
Ten minutes later found him back in the supply closet with Katniss. He vaguely remembered her slipping her hand into his as she made their excuses to Gale and the others and then pulling him along behind her as they left the hospital wing. He'd followed her without a word, too busy trying to process what he'd just learned to ask where they were going.
She was asking him now if he wanted to be alone.
"No," he said immediately. "No, I want you here."
It's just better when you're there than when you're not, she'd said earlier, and he'd never understood that more perfectly than he did right then. It was just better when they were together than when they weren't—it was honestly that simple and he couldn't believe they'd taken so long to figure it out.
He also couldn't believe his father was dead.
"He wasn't really my father," Cinna murmured as he leaned back against the shelves. "I've spent more than half my life denying his very existence. He certainly doesn't deserve to be mourned by me now. What he did to my mother… What he did to you…"
"But before all that?" Katniss pressed, leaning against the shelves beside him, their fingers still intertwined. "Before all that, when you were a child, he was your father. You can mourn the man you thought he was. And I think you should, because it seems like you never have."
"You're right, I haven't," he admitted. "But—"
"Don't think about what he deserves. This is isn't about him, this is about you, and you deserve closure."
So he sat down on the floor, pulling Katniss down beside him, and she held his hand as he remembered the man who used to carry Cinna around on his shoulders during the Spring Carnival so he could see the performers better—and finally let that man go.
Hours later, a soldier found them and announced that if Katniss wished to return to District 12, she would have to be in the hangar ready to go in thirty minutes—President Coin's orders.
"President Coin's orders," Katniss grumbled after the soldier had left. "Maybe I should stay here rather than take my chances going anywhere in a hovercraft under her orders. Don't want to end up like Plutarch."
Plutarch. Cinna had completely forgotten about him, too busy grieving his estranged father, and now he felt terrible. He'd often disagreed with Plutarch's point of view, especially where right and wrong were concerned, but the former Head Gamemaker had been something of a friend and he was dead.
Katniss must've been reading his mind or something, because she nudged him with her elbow and said, "Don't beat yourself up over it. It feels like he's been dead for months already. I forgot about him for a while, too, and I'm not the one whose father just died."
"Still." Cinna sighed. "He would've survived if my father hadn't been down there."
"Maybe," she allowed. "But that's Gaius Mannox's fault, not yours."
"I know." And the funny thing was, he really did. He knew it wasn't his fault and he did not blame himself.
They dropped in on the Everdeens again so Katniss could say goodbye. There was no time to visit the Hawthornes so Katniss just told her mother and sister to pass on her farewells. However, when they made their way to the hangar they found Gale there talking to Finnick.
"What are you doing here?"
"I'm coming with you," Gale replied.
Katniss frowned at him. "But what about Madge and the baby?"
"They'll be here when I get back," he said with a shrug of his shoulders.
"We're in the middle of a rebellion," she hissed. "Has is not occurred to you that, oh, I don't know, you might not come back?"
"It has." His shoulders were straight now, his expression solemn. "But if I don't, then at least I know I died trying to make the world a better place for my kid."
"You can do that here."
Gale shook his head at that argument. "That rescue attempt was probably the only real action I've seen since I got here. Most of the time they just send me out to make sure the area is safe for them to film Maple giving speeches or stabbing things or just standing there looking pretty in her Mockingjay suit."
Cinna wondered vaguely if he should be offended by Gale's obvious scorn, because he'd worked on that suit for weeks, but then he decided he didn't particularly care.
"And you're sure whatever difference you can make is worth the possibility of your child growing up without a father?" he asked Gale.
It was an honest question, not an insult, and Gale seemed to recognize that because rather than snap back he simply said, "Yes."
Katniss' face clearly said, This is complete and utter bullshit, but there was no time to protest, Boggs was gesturing for them to board the hovercraft.
Gale nodded once at Cinna and went over to Boggs. Finnick, who'd been silent throughout the entire exchange but had looked just as skeptical of Gale's reasoning as Cinna felt, clapped Cinna on the shoulder and asked him to keep an eye on Annie and Mags for him, following Gale's lead as soon as Cinna agreed to his request.
Cinna immediately turned his full attention to Katniss, who stared back at him.
"Be careful," he told her, because what else could he say? Well— "And thank you. For everything."
"Don't thank me," she murmured, stepping into the hug he offered her. "You would've done the same for me. You did do the same for me."
He just nodded, face buried in her hair.
"But just to be clear…" She pulled back and raised an eyebrow at him. "Next time, if you mention any more garbage about the atmosphere not being romantic enough or whatever the hell else, I will punch you."
She said next time like she was hoping there would be a lot of next times, and he wasn't sure exactly what this thing between them was but he knew he was hoping for the same. So he smiled, couldn't stop smiling even when she snuck a kiss in when no one was looking, even when she stepped into the hovercraft and it took off, carrying her far away from him, back into a warzone.
He didn't stop smiling even then, because he didn't know how long it would be until he once again had something to smile about.
Author's Note: So, chapter 12 isn't even close to finished, but I aim to have it done by April 6th. Hopefully. And then after that the only thing left will be the epilogue.
Next time: a long overdue talk with Gale, a talk with Peeta, something terrible and something wonderful.