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• • • • • SECRETS AND BLOODSHED • • • • •

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Chapter Twenty-Three •

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[Katniss Everdeen]

"Katniss, how do you know him?" Prim asked, her interrogative expression is entirely new to me.

"He kept me company in my safe little place" I say, not looking anywhere except Peeta's eyes.

"Do you know he's wanted by the government?" he says, returning my horrid glare.

"I shouldn't be talking to you, but yes, I know he is. You can't turn him in, let him go Peeta" my voice was bleak, giving him the hint of menace through my eyes.

"Katniss, I'm not stealthy enough, sorry. Take care of Curtis while I'm in the dungeons" Conrad whispers looking down and looking at Cutis's perplexed wide eyes, very oblivious to what his father is about to embark on.

"Shush . . . You're not going to the dungeon." Then I turned to Peeta again. "Let him go" I sound like I'm threatening him.

I won't let Peeta. Conrad is a kind young man. And to think that I just stood on the podium babbling about undeserved comeuppance. So what does he deserve? Definitely not a punishment for protecting his child, but considering that Conrad is a child himself, he's not worth any kind of punishment. Then, I am reminded of myself, how I'm willing to sacrifice my own life for Prim and for my parents. I know how it is to lose the ones you love. I know how it's like, there's no way I'm going to let anyone experience that kind of feeling. Conrad is no different from me. I will do everything in the extent of my power to help him. I see no reason for him to be punished. I can't argue with him if he wanted to get away from Thirteen. The men don't have a choice. Joining the rebel army is compulsory, can't there be an exception just or him?

"I'm not going to turn him in, someone just wanted to see him. You can come to the armory if you want" Peeta says, without the gentleness and shyness, which I never heard before. Why can't I trust him again? The gush of insecurity returned to me, like we have just met. He seemed like a very different person right now. But who am I to care? I don't need him anyway. For the first time in such a long time, I'm in doubt of trusting him. I can't desipher the answer to my own unspoken questions. Every single detail of District Thirteen seemed like a mirage. Everything's completely unreal. I feel like I'm just caged in a never-ending nightmare, the steadfastness of everything here is the most complex detail I can't quite make of.

"Katniss, I'll go the hospital now. Promise me you'll go back to our Compartment" Prim says. And I can't help to think that Prim is growing a distance from me, each day, a mile farther away.

"Promise" I assured her with a smile. She then went on her way.

"I'll go with him to the armory" I say, keeping an impassive façade. Peeta turned to elevator while holding Conrad's arm. Conrad carried Curtis in his arms while we're being transported to the armory, Peeta didn't lose his grip on Conrad's arm and kept his eyes fixated on me. We reached the armory without the atmosphere around us changing.

"Beetee" Peeta started.

A wide-eyed man faced us holding, what I think, is a Communicuff that he gives to Peeta. "Conrad Murray" he started looking at the young blond boy. "Curtis?" he looked at the child, who immediately hid behind his father.

"What do you want from him?" I asked in a harsh tone.

He narrows his gaze as his big brown weary eyes meet with my dark ones. "Everdeen," he says with an unusual recognition in his tone. "You're Katniss Everdeen" Beetee, I think his name was, says without doubt then half-smirked with his cracked lips. He looks exactly what he is, a tech-geek with his big eyes with a pair of huge pair of glasses and the unmistakable ingenuousness filling his aura.

"What do you want from him?" I urged, ignoring his words.

He stands up and examines me from head to toe then immediately shifts his gape to Conrad and Curtis. "I don't need anything from him. It's more like 'what he wants from me'—or rather 'need' is a better description. I'm going to provide him with a small scale hovercraft so he could escape to Three."

"Why are you helping me?" Conrad asks.

"I would respectfully ask Soldier Mellark and Miss Everdeen to leave," he turned to Peeta and me. "but first, here" Beetee threw a new Communicuff to Peeta then to me again. He walks to his table of wiry and gadget-thingy I'm never familiar with. He grabs something and threw another Communicuff, but this time, to me. "Delly Cartwright's request just a few moments ago. She saw your little speech, which by the way, is more appealing than the other propos ever aired. You deserved it. I'm glad my hacking skills aren't wasted since something flame-blazed was just aired all over Panem. Good job" he says, his half-smirk turns to full.

What is he blathering about? What I did was something shameful, without regret though, but I don't feel the need for attention. Never in my life that I longed for attention. And what? Aired all over Panem? The Capitol even? Then it occurred to me, maybe if I peek out a little above ground, my head will be blown to bits immediately. I got myself into a mash of dangers and threats, which I could have prevented easily. Damn me for being so stupid and clumsy. I should be running for my life now. A gazillion Peacekeepers might be waiting with their biggest guns to execute me in one blow. But my safety is not a tinge of my concern. Prim and the people from Thirteen. How does this reflect my actions?

"Whatever it is that I said, I didn't mean it for turn out to be like that. In fact, what I said is not for the eyes of Panem, only the Capitol" I say in opposition. "I'm not planning to join . . ." I thought of what that thing is called. ". . . your propos. I'm no more than just a citizen"

"Darling sweetheart," I cringed at his revolting endearment "Can't you see what you just did?" both his eyebrows arched up. "You made District 1 and 4 join the rebellion. Just as immediate."

"That fast?" my face turned bewildered.

"The effects of television" he says, his face is like the triumph of catching a dragonfly in the meadow. "But you, most especially" he smiled again, but this time, his smile is more fatherly than a tech-geek who just accomplished victory in expanding the strength of the rebellion. "Thank you. May I request for a private conversation with Conrad and the little boy?"

"Sure" Peeta says very quickly.

Before turning for the door, I threw the Communicuff to Beetee, which he catches with ease. "Sorry, what I did is not for any reward" I turn for the door, all the while I was thinking of being as far away from Peeta as possible. I paced my steps and head to the elevator, with his stealthy pair of feet, he was able to catch up.

I pushed the elevator button, it doesn't open for at least ten beats when I walked in and he follows behind silently. It's a long wait until our reach our compartment floors. I inhaled oxygen full of unnatural air, not the natural air in the woods. I am reminded again that I'm not in District Twelve, that my woods has been bombed and disintegrated. It does no longer exist except maybe in my vague and fleeting memory. I was replaying in my head several dawn and noon of my hunting days. Some were about Gale and I but the most recent are me with this boy. How long could any of us withstand this sulking quietness? I could but not for another ten seconds. But I know what I want to do. Obey Delly because I owe her. Ignoring Peeta is not a quart of what needs to be paid.

"I'm not expecting for a response, but I know you can't cover your ears. I want to ask this so very badly" he pauses, holding his breath. "What am I to you?" Suddenly, I feel a searing urge to answer, but part of me retorts. Although I can sense that the impulse of want dominates my struggling retort. I bite my full bottom lip. My teeth almost sink into the flesh. How deep are we beneath the ground? Why is it taking so long to reach that floor? I taste a little pint of blood from my lip, it tasted rusty and repulsing but this bitter taste and pain is a good distraction from him.

Peeta stares at me with his scrunched eyebrows. I turn to face away. He reaches for my chin and I did nothing to ebb him away, but I wasn't looking into his deep blue eyes, as to repel from being lost entirely into him. His shadow took over the light of the elevator. I placed a hand on his warm skin and somehow I longed for it but I pressed it hard, pushing his weight to open a distance. He smelt of his own. He steps back.

With his thumb, he frees my bottom lip, revealing my bleeding wound. I pursed my lips to hide it somehow.

"What are you to me?" I spoke after what feels like a million of seconds. The question was directed to me more than to him.

"What are you thinking when you were standing there?" he asks, a question which doesn't have any relation to what I just said. He steps an inch closer.

For some stupid reason, I grin, shaking my head. "I don't know"

"You just helped fueling up a war and you don't know what you're thinking" he says somewhat awfully. "How long are you planning to keep this up?"

What? Fueling a rebellion or the silence?

"What I mean is the silence and your stupid retaliation" he answers my unspoken questions. "You're biting your lip, how childish can that get?"

I licked the oozing blood from my flesh as I kept my head down. "Not really childish, I'm never childish. You are."

He giggled a genuine one. Oh, how I missed that. "Delly said sorry. Little by little, recovering from her deranging state."

I pressed both my palms onto his chest and pushed strongly but he didn't move. When did I become so weak? I looked at him in his blue tantalizing eyes, fighting the loud thumping in my chest and fighting my weak state. As stupidly as it is I said words, not planning to escape my mouth. "My secrets, you know all of them. You stole them from my lips. I don't know how you did it but I trust all of it to you"

Before I could make another move, he holds both my feeble body and pressed them against the elevator wall as his lips came crashing into mine. I struggled and moved my head but he's very tenacious, like he has no plan of letting me move. He kisses deeper and more passionate. And by this point, I ask myself: Why am I not resisting?

He finally pulls away, catching the breaths he temporarily lost. I was panting along with him. The elevator door opened, and before I stepped out, I clenched my fists and threw the metal-like hand into his face. His feeble knees fail and falls but I did nothing to help him. I ignored Peeta, as if all his kisses, all his comfort are just mere garbage. I walked out, my mind and expression flooded with nothing but fume.

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Three weeks had passed since everything. Peeta's out of our compartment, the patches of bruises and the wounds are gone. I've seen him with Delly at the Canteen every day. I see him glance but turn away when I catch him, like those childish days in school. His face has healed from the bruise that I left it with. I quickly shifted to Delly. He's right, Delly's slowly returning to herself, not fully though. We never had spoken a word to each other since he kissed me against my will. Conrad and Curtis are already out of Thirteen and presumably in the cradle of Three, where he said his family is. Beetee says he's safe. I have no reason to not believe him. And I also told him my plans. He said he can do something about it. And Conrad's absence in the rebellion army might just endanger him. So, with my stubbornness and tenacity, I was able to save Conrad from the soldiers and at the same time have the chance to save my parents. I can't wait to see them again. No one can stop me now. Beetee says he can help me with using Conrad's name. I thanked him for it and tomorrow dawn, I have to leave Prim and my Aunts secretly so I can be transported to District 4 for the training before the invasion.

Going to Four isn't my choice. Beetee said that for every soldier, there will be an assigned district to train from, something to assure the victory of the rebellion in all the Districts without leaving an exception. Since District 4 just joined the rebellion, they need more soldiers for their army. I guess I'm going to be one of them.

"Katniss, want mine too?" Prim says as she studies me intently. I was just finished with my food, and it's obvious that I want more because I was staring at her plate. I immediately shake my head.

"I'm full, really. You eat it" I smiled at her. I feel guilty by not telling her. But I know she'll be alright here without me. I know she will because I told her a lot of times. I can have Peeta protect her but when can I say it to him? Will he forgive me after what I did to him? He's the only one I can trust to take care of Prim. But I'm not allowed to get near him, a rule somehow governing both Delly's wishes and my own. Lunch is over and I headed to the Kitchen, as to follow my schedule for the day. Prim and my Aunts head to the Hospital for theirs.

After I rinse the last of the dishes, a voice from the speakers looms out. "Katniss Everdeen, please be guided accordingly to your new schedule preceded before your printed schedule. As demanded by Soldier Cartwright."

What?

"Soldier Mellark will be accompanying you" the voice receded and my face is left with crunched eyebrows. Not him. Anyone but him. I've been trying to avoid him for the last three weeks, and they expect me

"Since that speech of yours, they swoon at you," Greasy Sae says as she dries the dishes. "Begging you to be on cameras again. That's not how I know you Katniss. They're thinking of the natural concept of an average citizen's thoughts, they say it's a good propo. But still better if the victors are included, they have a bigger impact to Panem."

I half-grinned and said "I'm not for the cameras"

"I miss the old lethal Katniss" she smiles, showing the weary line on her face. Me too. "You miss hunting?" I nodded. Then she alternates her gaze past me, over my shoulder. "He's here"

I dried my hand on the apron at my torso then took it off.

"What?" a word with a hiss and a scowl, it was the first word I said to him in three weeks.

"Delly wants to speak to you. She's in the Recreational Center" he says plainly. "Come with me"

We reached the Recreational Center. It was a big room with plants and trees. Birds and butterflies are flying about, like the scene in my Meadow. The birds sing rhythms but these birds aren't Mockingjays. Then Peeta walks into a path with dandelions and yellow tulips leading to where Delly Cartwright's bench where she's painting, very keen on her strokes, like she never stepped in the Hunger Games arena. There're two canvases, apparently the other one is Peeta's. "Delly," Peeta called her attention as she quickly place the brush down.

"Hi, Katniss" she smiled like the smile she offered me in the Justice Building, as if she never caused me a bruise, like she was never deranged. Returning to the old Delly Cartwright but with her stomach turning into a noticeable bulge. "How are you today?"

"I'm fine" I think it's not enough to say, so I add some more words, trying to sound nice, which I know I'm not good at. "What are you painting?"

"Uhm, flowers and butterflies. They're not that good though" she smiles and picks up her brush. She dabs the furred tip to the color yellow and touched the canvas with her very steady hands. Millions of people are dead and the protector is here painting flowers. 'The protector' a cheesy name that they gave Delly, the symbol of the rebellion. People eat that crap. They say the citizens need something to believe in. And this is one way to build up their faith in each other. In my case, I'm not eating that gimmick. Of course it's not her who thought of that gimmick, some genius did and it doesn't seem to be enough to make all the citizens of Panem fall for it. Beetee said that District Two hasn't joined the rebellion.

"Really? Why don't I believe that? Let me see" I smiled and looked at her painting. It wasn't bad. In fact, it's beautiful, like how Peeta's painting would look except for some uneven lines and different shading styles. "Wow, I don't know you're this good"

Peeta sits on the bench, adjacent to his canvas. I stole a quick glimpse at him and turned to Delly again. "Peeta's painting the sunset. His favorite ambiance."

I look at Peeta's painting. It was that last sunset I was being reminded of. For some incomprehensible cause, I thought it was that same sunset. There is a really big tree, which I think is a fire tree and sitting on it are two silhouettes of a girl and a boy looking at the orange setting sun. The sun's last peeks of ray are reflected on the lake. I hum, recalling Goodnight Sun, Hello Sun.

"Playing with the fire tree's silhouette . . . The sun is waving before it slept . . ." I sing to her, she stops and stares at me, recognizing the song.

"Oh, I know that!" she says like a child being offered a candy. "Little children running home, to safety they go . . . One, two, three, who's the last to flee? . . . Four, five, no worries, we'll suffice . . ." she sang as I did, she placed the brush down to clap her hands to imitate the playful melody. Peeta just watches us with brief glances from his canvas.

"What's that called?" she asked, I realize now that all traces of her deranging are completely gone.

"It's Goodbye Sun, Hello Sun" I say. "My father used to sing it to me and Prim"

"I love that song when I was a child. Peeta taught me that a long time ago" she says excitingly.

"Really?" I turn to him. Peeta seemed dumbfounded as he stares blankly into his painting. He puts the brush down and looks at me.

"How d'you know that song, Peeta?" Delly asks.

"Some stupid reason . . ." he scoffed but continued. "I heard you sang it during an afternoon playtime in school. I memorized every line instantly" he breaks his gaze and resumes painting. I didn't know why I frown at what he said but I manage to regain my proper composure.

"So, why do you want to speak to me?" I diverted the subject of the little chat. Her face suddenly falls.

"I wanted to say sorry" Delly says with undoubted remorse. "How do I make it up to you?"

"I'm not asking for an apology." I reached for her paint-stained hand and squeezed it to reassure her. "Please don't be upset"

Delly looks at her stomach and touches it gently with her other hand. "I promise I'll take good care of Gale's child. I know I must be so young to have a baby but it's his last wish. Gale really loves you." Peeta's attention was drawn to our little talk as I catch him glance our direction. "If it wasn't for him, I'm dead right now. He saved me from being killed by the other tributes and saved me from myself. I owe him. You don't owe me, Katniss." I sighed and looked at a bird flying from a tree to another, it chirped one high pitched tune before it reached the other tree. Delly grabs both of my shoulders and pulled me near her, she positioned her mouth to my ear. Her soft breaths are touching my skin. "I finally understood you and Peeta. You don't need to feel guilty about being with him. And forget everything that I've said. I'm really sorry."

We pulled apart and I was looking into her sorrowful pale blue eyes once again. "Don't be."

"It was against the rules of the Capitol to make contact with the Avoxes but we did, we communicated with them in written. They really miss you. They serve at the training center. We didn't give them much trouble, Effie and Haymitch did though. We helped them and promised them that they won't have to be slaves any longer. It was the reason Gale was very eager to get home as soon as possible. He killed all the Career Tributes and the other innocent ones just to make sure that one of us gets to go home in one piece. Then it came the time when it was just three of us. As expected, Gale easily snared the last of the tributes and it came down to him and me. We lasted two or more weeks like that, dodging flames, thunders and floods" she closes her eyes, enduring the slightest painful memory of being part of the Hunger Games. I know she's not finished with what she has to say but I didn't demand on it. I can't let her relive the most unbearable era of her young life. She grabbed my hand and squeezed it strongly. Her hand is colder than ice and trembling. "He asked me for this favor—to give you this piece of him, safely—and tell you about your parents." She clasps my hand tighter and closes her eyes tightly, making my bones feel like little twigs breaking but I didn't flinch once.

I placed my free hand on her back and embraced her. She buried her face in my neck and started sobbing. "Hey, don't cry." I whispered.

"Delly," Peeta sat beside her. "You need to rest" he turned to me. "We'll leave for a while, will you be alright?"

I nod. She stands up weakly then Peeta accompanies her out the Recreational Center. Not very long after, he returns to where I am, finishing his painting. He sat there, focused only on his art, and not glancing my direction. Should I talk?

From a small distance, I grabbed a dandelion and stare at it for a long time. Remembering what my father does, I imitated him with what little memory that I have. I blew softly the flower and the small seeds started to dance in the air in a rhythmic manner, like feathers wavering into uncertainty. He seemed to be a bit distracted by what I did and glances at me. After a millennium of silence, for which I wish we have not got accustomed to, he speaks. "Done," one word that was meant for himself rather than my ears.

"Can I see?" I say, my ill throat is rough-like rocks.

"Sure," for the first time in how many million hours, he flashes his gentle and sweet smile with that little tinge of shyness, my favorite. I looked at his painting and saw that it was even more marvelous and breathtaking as it was earlier.

"What I was thinking is . . . I was hungry with what you have to offer for me" I say suddenly, referring to his question that I should have answered as immediate, but too cowardly to. I was only looking in his painting, my vision stuck on the boy sitting on one of the fire tree's thick limbs. He looks at me, not changing his impassive face.

"I'm sorry for kissing you against your will." I shouldn't have. I say nothing but he kept on anticipating with my response, a few beats later, he gives up and parts his soft pink lips. "I'm angry at you though"

"What?" my eyebrow twitches.

"I saw Conrad's name is still registered on the list of Rebel Soldiers. And from what I know, he's left Thirteen and has gone out of this District's punishment." He eyes me conspicuously. "Why do I have the feeling that he'll be joining the army after all, his ghost maybe?" he says sarcastically. "I assume that it has something to do with your parents. What are you planning to do?"

"You know what . . ."

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I re-updated Ch-22 for inconsistencies, grammar and such.

Thank you so much for reading! I love, love, love you so much for reading this. Thank you so much to the Faves, Alerts and Reviews. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Appreciation overload here . . .

So, how is it? Still plain and bland? . . . Let me through our head, tell me what you think. THANK YOU AGAIN!

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• • • • • ~ FanFiction by: MsDayDream ~ • • • • •

09/08/12 •

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