Hi everyone! I'm so overwhelmed by the great responses from this story. I'm having such a blast writing it…and look forward to any and all suggestions.
THIS CHAPTER CONTAINS MATURE CONTENT.
The Mockingbird Who Couldn't Fly
Of Thee I Sing
As long as I had him for support-I could face anything the capitol threw at me.
"How'd ya sleep, Haymitch?" A very tired man glared at me from over his sunglasses as we settled into the car for a quick trip to see one of the Memorial Fountains that had been built on the outskirts of the capitol. He was sober, that was a plus, but I could tell the day would be a long one if I kept goading him. Peeta's silent warning made me smile warmly at our mentor and apologize.
Haymitch snorted. "For you information…sweetheart…I slept just fine. Alone. In my own bed. Without any company." This statement would have to go unproved, as a very busy Effie had been unable to attend our unscheduled outing.
It was my turn to snort. Peeta elbowed me in the ribs and I fell silent. We rode in silence through the quiet streets of the still sleeping city, and I marveled at the lifestyle that allowed the citizens to wake up after the sun had risen. Back at Twelve, we were up before the sun, the miners to their mine shafts, and the merchants to their shops. Hunting was best in the early hours. With the rebuilding, and the mines still closed and very little shops open yet, our mornings were slightly later-but nothing like this.
In an awkward silence, since for some strange reason, Johanna and Gale were refusing to speak to one another…and Haymitch had dozed, I rested my head against Peeta's shoulder, nuzzling my face into his firm and muscular arm. Peeta shifted slightly, wrapping his arm around my shoulder and kissed my nose. "Don't fall asleep."
I shook my head and peered out the window as the surroundings rapidly changed. As the buildings thinned out, revealing a thick, lustrous forest around the outskirts of the city, my heart rate sped up. "No one told me about the trees."
Gale peered out the window, nodding in my direction. "Yes. They are one of the city's best kept secrets. I had the chance to hike through a portion of it. Not a lot of game, but it sure is peaceful."
I pressed my nose against the glass, and Peeta chuckled. "Let's see the memorial first…then you can run around the woods for a while." He flexed his bad leg. "I'll find myself a park bench, and you and Gale can roam." I made a face. Peeta didn't like when Gale and I did anything together…so this was not natural. His leg had been bothering him all morning, but the only reason I had found out was because it had taken him slightly longer to join me in the shower, and I had called him out on the limp.
"You need to make a doctor's appointment while we're here." Peeta dismissed my concern with a wave of his hand, and I frowned at him. If he was determined to suffer in silence, then I could do nothing for him.
We pulled up to a cheerful park, complete with swings, a slide, and a colorful jungle-gym. The lost little girl in me yearned to swing on the swings, to feel the breeze in my hair…but I restrained myself and helped Peeta out of the car. We walked to the memorial, and tears sprang to my eyes.
The fountain was small, maybe only 15 feet or so in length, with three jets of water bursting out of it. In the middle of the water, a platform had been built, and a beautiful stone likeness of Rue, with her eyes closed and her arms outstretched had been sculpted. She was surrounded by flowers at her feet, and a plaque had been placed at the edge of the pool. "For the young who died far too soon, may the odds always be in their favor."
Peeta let me stand silent for a while, rubbing my back while I cried for my fallen friend. No one had told me of the memorial being in her honor-but from the faces of my companions, they were just as startled as I was.
Johanna acted first and held up her hands in the District 12 salute that I had done after Rue's death. I copied her movement, and the two of us stood in silence, our arms outstretched. Finally, I lowered my arm and Johanna pulled me into a tight embrace.
Haymitch gruffly cleared his throat, clearly uncomfortable with the emotional stuff, and asked if we wanted to spend some time here…after all, Effie had given us the free afternoon. We had nowhere to be until the dinner with some of the other surviving Rebel leaders. I looked at the forest longingly, and sighed. Peeta smiled and kissed my forehead.
"Go on, Katniss. Run…be free for a while. Ease your heart and your mind." I nodded, and Peeta turned to Gale. "Keep her safe." His eyes narrowed as he stared at my friend, and Gale nodded.
I kissed my lover and followed Gale into the woods. We were silent as we hiked, the only sounds were the songs of the birds overhead.
Gale broke the silence first. "You're in love with him."
I laughed. "Is it that obvious?" He smiled wryly, and I laid a hand on his arm. "Oh Gale…you're my best friend. But you could never be more than that…we…we're too similar."
Gale's beautiful face turned into a frown. "You honestly don't think you could have been happy with me, Catnip?"
I shook my head and stopped walking, turning him to face me. "Gale…" I put my hand on his heart, comforted by the strong heartbeat. I had to somehow convince him that we weren't right. "We're too much the same. We share the same fire…I don't need any more fire. I need peace-I need the dandelion in the spring, not the raging inferno. I love you…that I can confirm is true. But like a brother-my best friend. You know more about me than I know about myself."
He shook his head. "You're wrong you know."
Shrugging I removed my hand from his chest. "That may be. But I'm happy. Besides…you're not in love with me. You're in love with the idea that we could have been something had this all turned out differently. It's the same way I look at Peeta. Besides…I thought you told me you had feelings for Johanna."
Gale made a face. "She's not interested in me."
"She would be if you showed her more interest. She sees the way you look at me…why would she be interested? You're a handsome man, Gale…but your personality can be downright lousy." I grinned at my friend. "So if you just work on that…she'll fall in love with you."
He grinned back at me and I stretched up onto my tiptoes, pressing a kiss into his cheek. His arms snaked around my waist, and I let him hold me for a moment before stepping away. "I don't want to lose you, Gale. Not when I so recently got you back into my heart. Don't ruin our friendship."
Gale sighed, but he let me step away. "You'll always be the one, Katniss. I hope you can live with that." I couldn't tell if he was joking or not. But then, he surprised me again. "How about a race like old times? I'll even give you the traditional three second head start." I grinned, my legs tightening with anticipation. I hadn't been able to run in a while. With a tweak to his nose, I took off at a run. Gale laughed, and I could hear him following me…his much longer stride easily catching up to mine. The three second head start never worked out for me.
We tumbled into the grass, wrestling with one another, each vying for the upper hand. I was careful with my movements, not wanting to encourage any improper behavior, and soon, I was had the upper hand, Gale's arm pinned behind his back, my knee pressing into his spine. "Give?"
Gale shook his head, his voice muffled by the grass his face was currently pressed in. "Never." He managed to flex his legs enough to buck me off of him, and I lay, stunned, on my back…too surprised to defend myself. He had me pinned in only a second, his much larger hands holding both my wrists still, his knee pinning my hips. We stared at each other for a moment, his dark gray eyes unreadable. I knew that our friendly banter and play was about to get dangerous. With all the strength I could manage, I sprang from his grasp and took off towards a tree that looked climbable. He missed me by inches as I leapt into the branches, my body singing at the freedoms I was allowing myself. I hadn't run in so long…but everything felt right. My laughter echoed off the trees as Gale pursued me through the branches. Higher and higher we climbed…until finally I reached the top, my head poking through the top branches.
The sight before me made my breath catch, and Gale joined me, his breathing heavy. "It's beautiful…isn't it?"
The capitol was laid out before us…its inhabitants just starting to wake up. Sunlight glinted off the colorful roofs, and I had to shade my eyes to absorb every detail. "It's…phenomenal."
Gale grinned. "See? Not all of the capitol is terrible." He looked down. "Come on…we better get back. We've spent long enough in the woods. I'm sure Peeta will come looking…and I don't want him hurting his leg."
Slowly, we returned to the park, and Peeta grinned at me from where he sat with Johanna. "Did you two have fun?"
I shared a smile with Gale and nodded. "I once again beat Gale in speed and climbing skills. I think he needs an ego boost." Johanna made a face.
"A larger ego is hardly the last thing he needs." Gale returned her rude gesture, and led us to our waiting car.
"Peeta I'm jealous of you. Katniss here wouldn't stop singing your praises. You've obviously managed to tame the girl on fire."
Peeta shook his head and wrapped his arm around me. "Nope. I still get burned sometimes. There's no taming her. You either learn to survive her fire, or you get burned trying." Laughing, we all piled into the car, and drove back towards the Manor. Haymitch pointed out various buildings…and I whispered to Gale that we should probably stop to see Tigris. He nodded his agreement and made a note to set up a good time. The streets grew busier, and our car slowed to a crawl, the driver ensuring that no pedestrians were struck by our shiny vehicle. From my view at the window, I saw the colorful people of the capitol, and returned their smiles and waves.
But then, I saw something…only a flash of something, and it made me gasp. "Stop the car!"
I didn't wait to see if the driver listened. I was out of the door while the vehicle was still rolling, and sprinting after the citizen I had just seen. In a sea of blues, reds, greens, yellows, and pinks, it was easy to spot the thin figure dressed all in black. I tracked him for a minute and then lost him as the crowd grew heavier.
"Is that the Mockingjay? It is! Look! It's Katniss!" I groaned as a slew of people converged on me, asking for autographs and pictures, and my mystery person in black was lost. Gale caught up to me first and led me back to the car, his body radiating with anger.
"What were you thinking? You could have been hurt!"
Peeta shot him a look, and cupped my face with his hands as we started driving again. "What did you see, Katniss?"
I took a deep breath. "A thin man…wearing all black. I only saw his face for a second. I would know it anywhere. We have to find him. Peeta, I saw Cinna!"
Johanna swore. "I can't do this…Gale…" Gale sighed, but nodded. Johanna grabbed my hand, and forced me to look at her. "Katniss…what I'm about to tell you is top secret. You weren't supposed to find out. Not yet. Not like this." She took a deep breath. "Cinna is alive."
"She's still out? You're an idiot, Johanna."
"Why am I an idiot, Gale? I told her what you all have been too cowardly to tell her! Katniss is my best friend. She protected me when no one else would, she stood up for me, and she helped me. I think it's time I return the favor."
"Because she was so close to the old Cinna…he wanted her to remember him as he was…not what he has become."
"Oh that's a load of bullshit. Peeta…back me up here…Cinna is still Cinna. Right? You went through the same thing. Cinna is a fool for thinking she won't love him anymore. It's Katniss we're talking about here…The girl who carried a fucking torch for him and Peeta…" Johanna's angry voice trailed away as I opened my eyes. "Oh Katniss…sweetie…I'm so sorry."
We were in my bedroom at the Manor, and Peeta, Gale, Johanna, Paylor, and Haymitch were all hovering over me. "What happened?"
Peeta kissed my cold hand. "Johanna told you Cinna was alive. And you kind of just passed out. We thought you were dead for a second…you turned whiter than a ghost." He smiled softly. "Scared at least ten years off my life. You've been out for almost three hours."
I sat up and Gale handed me a glass of water. I looked at Peeta. "Did you know?"
Peeta shook his head. "No. I was just as surprised as you were…minus the fainting part." He glared at Johanna. "Someone here needs to learn some tact."
Johanna sneered at Peeta. "At least she knows."
I held up my hand. "Not really. Clarify?"
Haymitch sat down at the edge of the bed. "Cinna was hijacked." I frowned. "But, like Peeta…he's making remarkable strides in remembering. However…he didn't want you to see him. Not yet."
My heart broke. My friend…my stylist…my hero…he was too ashamed to see me? Gale must have read my mind because he shook his head. "No no…Katniss don't think that. Cinna had it a lot worse than Peeta did. We got to Peeta before the real damage was done. When we found Cinna, he was a shell. Barely alive…his mind filled with real and altered memories. He was more animal than human, trapped in his cell. He attacked the soldier who tried to pull him out…and we had to sedate him for a long time before we deemed he was safe to start rehab. He's at the stage now, where Peeta was when we brought him to Thirteen. He doesn't see you as a threat, he never really has, that's one part that we're mystified on…but he still has problems sorting through the shiny parts. He didn't want you to see him so broken, because you had lost enough…he didn't want you to carry the burden of his hijacking as well."
Peeta shook his head. "She should have been told. Katniss needed him." He squeezed my hand. "Can we see him?"
Johanna shook her head. "We made him a promise, Peeta."
Peeta narrowed his eyes. "Let me rephrase this. Either we see Cinna, or the entire tour is off, and I take Katniss home where she can sort through this new bit of trauma delivered once again by the capitol."
Paylor sighed. "I'll see what I can do." She turned to leave, "Katniss…we thought we were protecting you. I've cancelled tonight's dinner. I want you to get some rest." I turned away from her and faced the wall. Tears streamed down my face while Peeta got rid of everyone else.
When all was quiet, and there was no one left but Peeta and myself, he crawled into bed with me and hugged me while fresh tears spilled. When my tears had drained themselves, and I was just too exhausted to cry anymore, Peeta got up and helped me dress into my nightclothes. He joined me in his boxers and once again covered us with the quilt.
"Is there anything I can do?"
I thought a moment, my eyes searching his beautiful face. How had I become so lucky to have such an amazing man love me? "I'll make you a deal."
Peeta groaned. "I don't like the sound of this already."
A smile made its way to my lips. "Buy me three hours of time so I can go find him."
"What? Why not?"
Peeta sighed. "Because Katniss. I love you, and I agree, you need to see him. But it's not safe for you to sneak off to the capitol alone. You know that as well as I do. Plus…you wouldn't even know where to start. How about we wait to see what Paylor's answer is…and then formulate a plan?" He kissed my eyes shut. "I have a doctor's appointment tomorrow for my leg. I made it while you were dead to the world."
I sighed and snuggled deeper into his warmth. "Fine. You have a deal." He should have known I never followed orders. This would just have to be done around him. The doctor's appointment would buy me the time I needed.