Summary: The day she turned eighteen, Katniss Everdeen signed the next eight years of her life away to the United States Marine Corps. She fought her way through basic training; even talked her way into sniper training, earning her a cushy job guarding government officials in a non-deployable battalion. This was until her country went to war in the Middle East. Much to her younger sister's dismay, she was placed into the 74th Battalion stationed in Fallujah, Iraq. Katniss soon finds that the small base is not only filled with Marines who want nothing more to see her crack, but a ghost from her past she never thought she'd see again. Present Day AU.
Thank you Chelzie for going back and betaing the first ten chapters of this story. You're amazing!
I don't own the Hunger Games.
Part One: Honor
Honor: Honor requires each Marine to exemplify the ultimate standard in ethical and moral conduct. Honor is many things; honor requires many things. A U.S. Marine must never lie, never cheat, never steal, but that is not enough. Much more is required. Each Marine must cling to an uncompromising code of personal integrity, accountable for his actions and holding others accountable for theirs. And, above all, honor mandates that a Marine never sully the reputation of his Corps.
Chapter 1 – The Arrival
I have never been on a plane for something other than work. Yeah, that's what we'll call it - work. I huff and unbuckle myself from the uncomfortable seat. We were somewhere over Turkey at this point and would be landing in Iraq in a few hours.
Most of my battalion was either asleep or doing their own thing, leaving me no one to talk to, though this was something I was familiar with.
I hurry to the bathroom and lock the door before turning on the water. I had vomited up my lunch somewhere above the Atlantic, and my dinner somewhere over the Mediterranean Sea. As I heave into the toilet, the only thing that comes up is my own saliva and some stomach acid. The floor smells faintly of urine, an odor I had become accustomed to living on base. It was nothing bad though, just confirmation that men were absolute slobs.
I pull Prim's picture out of my pant pocket. She was smiling, her blonde hair in two braids. "You'd think a bunch of snipers would have better aim, wouldn't you?" I smirk, kissing my sister's photograph. I sigh as I remember the day I decided to go to a deployable division; the day I broke her heart.
"No!" she shouted over and over. I had been in a non-deployable division protecting government officials for the last four years of my life. It was a cushy job; I was even on a first name basis with the President, but I knew it wouldn't last.
The Marines trained me as a sniper, something they would always need more of in Iraq and Afghanistan. I started feeling useless at my post, anxious, until I went into my commanding officer's office and demanded to be switched to a battalion that was going overseas.
"They have people over there that got the same training as you! Why do you have to go? Why are you leaving us?" she sobbed.
"Prim… I have to, it's my job!" I tried to explain, but this didn't seem to sink in. "My brothers and sisters are dying over there while I sit in DC guarding a door! Innocent lives, Primrose!" I stood up and looked to my mother, somehow expecting her to agree, to understand why I knew I had to go.
How could I ask this of her? Her husband was a POW in the Gulf War, only to be returned to us in a flag draped coffin. "I have to do this, for him," I said as I excused myself for the dinner table. They would understand some day that I wasn't running off to come back in a pine box draped in the stars and stripes, that I was fighting for them. Just as I always had.
I return to my seat to get some shut eye. It was easier to come by than I had originally thought and before I knew it, we were in sunny Fallujah, Iraq.
To say it was hot would be an understatement. I was clad only in a tan t-shirt and camouflage pants, but soaked with sweat the second I stepped off the plane.
"Welcome to Paradise, Sergeant!" I felt an arm around me, which I shied away from as always.
"Dammit Hawthorne, can't you behave for five minutes?" I exclaim as he grins.
"I'm sorry, I haven't seen my best friend in six months and you expect me to behave?"
Gale Hawthorne was my brother, though not biological. He and I had grown up together in our small mountain town in upstate Pennsylvania. Our fathers were Marines together and returned to us in the same manner when I was ten and he was eleven. After their deaths, we took on the burden of feeding our families, becoming hunting partners when his mother turned up pregnant and my mother tuned out for about six months.
After I turned eighteen, Gale and I walked to the recruiter's office together and signed our lives over to the United States Marine Corps. We went through basic training together and even sniper training, though one of us passed the test for counter sniper and one of us didn't.
He was still jealous.
"How's Prim? Still hating Washington?" He shrugs off his helmet and jacket. "Don't worry, I was off about ten minutes ago, but you're late as always," he says, shoving me playfully.
"Sorry, heavy traffic over Syria," I smirk, taking my bags, one over my shoulder and two in my hands. I wouldn't be able to see my weapon. "She misses Wilkes-Barre, but she's safer there. Mom even seems to be getting her shit together, went back to get her nursing degree." Gale goes for one of my bags, but I slap his hand away.
There were two stereotypes women had to fight in places like this. If you were too friendly with the men, you were a slut. Too standoffish, you were a dyke. Honestly, I'd rather them all think I was a lesbian over easy. In fact, the only man who had actually known me like that was Gale. We had tried dating when we were teenagers, but it felt so wrong to both of us. He was now with fellow Marine Johanna Mason, though she found herself in Afghanistan and he was stuck in Iraq. Skype was their only interaction.
Gale tugs on my braid a little as I walk ahead of him towards my room. "I thought they were going to give you the G.I. Jane treatment and cut it all off," he says passively, rubbing his hand over his own almost bald head.
I smile and laugh, maybe this wouldn't be so bad. "No, as long as I keep it under control, I can keep it. It also folds up so neatly under my helmet." I found the door labeled 'Staff Sergeant Katniss Everdeen' and threw it open. The room was furnished with a desk, a bed and a small wardrobe. My sheets were folded neatly on the bed. I only had a short time to ready my room for inspection. Then suddenly I remembered - that was my job now. Sure, someone who outranked me could always come in and give me a hard time, but I was now the babysitter for my battalion.
I shamelessly lift up my shirt to apply more deodorant, which, in this environment is my best friend. I heard a whistle from outside. "Watch it, Cato," Gale hisses at the blond poking his head in my room. Instead of shying away, I threw off my top and put my hands on my hips.
"See something you've never seen before, Private?" I ask, my hands on my hips, "Or do you think it's appropriate to harass your Sergeant?" A crowd had gathered to see me stand there in my cargo pants and sports bra. Two were deadly looking girls - a blond with the name "Glimmer" and a short brunette with "Clove" on her breast. Next, a lanky looking male with "Marvel" on his tag, but my breath caught in my throat when I saw the last one. "Mellark," I mouth. I move to my bag and pull out a clean t-shirt.
"One shot, one kill. So you're the new sniper," Cato was trying to push his way in my room after seeing the tattoo on my shoulder.
"Counter sniper," Gale made a point of telling them. My eyes were focused on Mellark - where did I know that name?
He was about six feet tall, with ashy blonde hair that was getting just a little too long for regulation. His eyes were bright blue and boring into mine. Where did I know him from?
"Let's go," Cato finally says to his cronies, realizing he was getting nothing more from me. Glimmer, Clove and Marvel follow him without question, but Mellark's eyes linger on me before joining them.
"Ugh, PFC's, am I right?" Gale took off his jacket, his shirt stuck to him and I could smell the all too familiar aroma of sweaty man.
"Give them a bar, they take a mile…" I put the fitted sheet on my bed before going for the flat. "You should get washed up, Gale, I can handle myself from here," I say, earning a suspicious look. I flex my arm, showing the toned muscle that was covered by my olive skin. "I've got this. I'm just going to make my bed, grab something to eat, and get some sleep." I glance at the paper on my desk. "I have a meeting at command at eighteen hundred and I'm on guard duty from twenty three hundred to oh seven hundred."
"Sounds fun. You'll be with your Corporal; he'll show you the ropes. He's from Wilkes, just like us." I nod.
"What are the odds?" I ask, but Gale had already left.
I didn't have much, just my clothes and the laptop Prim made me buy before my deployment so we could Skype. Internet could be buggy in a place like this, but I had a good enough connection to e-mail Prim and let her know that I had landed safe.
I send my mother a quick message as well. They were moving to a home in Jacksonville, North Carolina, as per my contract I would be stationed there after my tour of duty in Iraq. Mom was having a hard time finding a job in Washington, but apparently found one after a few days of searching. The lease was up on the apartment in a few weeks. I couldn't believe I entrusted my flighty mother to find us a place in a city and state she has never lived in.
My stomach growls, but then I realize how absolutely disgusting I am. I was too nervous to bathe before I left the States, so I head for the bathroom with my tote containing two-in-one shampoo and conditioner, soap, and a razor. I had seven minutes to shower, but this was nothing new. In the Marines, you learn strategies to bathe faster. Two-in-one shampoo was the first step, the second was multi-tasking. Instead of standing there and winning mental arguments with people I'd likely never see again, I would wash my body while the conditioner soaked into my hair. I'd shave certain parts of me on certain days. Armpits every day, since that only took a few seconds; lower legs one day, upper legs the other. If I felt adventurous or abnormally disgusting, I'd tackle my groin on the third day. I wasn't expecting anyone important to be looking down there, so no harm in letting it go for a few days.
This time, I have a giant room with shower heads hanging from the ceiling all to myself. It was nothing fancy, so I let my mind wander to the familiar face from earlier.
"Mellark… Mellark…" I mouth his surname over and over, letting the water beat down on my head. Then it hit me - maybe the water beating down on my head helped, especially since it was almost as cold as that day in April.
At my father's funeral, I was handed a folded up flag and a medal of honor. My mother sobbed and held my confused sister, who just asked for her Daddy over and over again. We walked home from the cemetery in the cold April air. The second the door shut, my mother's brain switched off. No amount of pleading would bring her out of bed. She stopped going to work long enough that they fired her.
Prim and I were just kids, and soon enough, we were completely out of food. Out of desperation, I drug a bag of our old baby clothes to the flea market though no one was interested in well-worn baby clothes. Clumsy me, I dropped them in a puddle on the way home and left them there, feeling defeated.
Then I smelled it - the aroma of fresh baked bread. The bakery was known to throw out its fair share of edible goodies just because they sat on the shelf for a day or two. I could feed my family for at least a night from here. Unfortunately, in my weakened state, I dropped the trash can lid. The kindly baker's witch of a wife threw the back door open, yelling something about 'Seam trash'. The poorer part of Wilkes-Barre was called "the Seam"; it was a row of decrepit homes that I had lived in my whole life. The baker's wife swung at me with a rolling pin, cracking me on the cheek once before something called her back inside. I ran to their apple tree, clutching my face, my eyes finding the baker's youngest son. He was in my grade. Peeta.
He ran inside, not bothering to close the door. Before long, he came running out the door holding a brown paper bag which he threw to me. I looked inside – it contained rolls and bread. I mouthed a thank you, but he was already back inside. I closed the bag and took off for home.
The bruise on my cheek and the food seemed to awaken something in my mother. Soon, she had applied for government help and was seeing a psychologist.
I never really trusted her again.
And I never was able to thank the boy with the bread.
"Hell-o?" an attitude filled voice asks. I look up at the tiny brunette. "You've been here for a day, too early to start having breakdowns." I recognize her as Private Clove. I wipe my eyes, not realizing I had been crying. Wonderful.
"Sorry, just got a sad email from my baby sister. Surely you can relate to someone back home making this even harder." I shut off the water and squeezed out my hair, moving to the changing area without a word. Surely Cato would be the first she would tell; he's going to eat me alive.