A/N: Nothing to say.


Chapter Seventeen

I see now what I'd not known before. What had made hands flutter in aggravation within war sessions. What had gone through Gale like mountain wind, frustrated and bitter, at his defeat. What had pierced a heart as bleached as marble inside Coin's chest.

It is spirit.

District 10 is not a force that wants to be meddled with.

Our soldiers are admittedly passionate, but the men that patrol the make-shift wall about District 10 mean business. They will shoot without warning; they do not care who you are or why you've come. Capitol, rebel, District 13 citizen, friendly solider... none of that matters. There is no way in and no way out. Which makes Violet's orders to present myself as their Mockingjay and negotiate some sort of alliance a distant and impossible dream. They don't want me. I took two steps toward their flank, all dressed in Mockingjay finery with my bow and my make-up and they pointed the barrels of their guns at my chest.

Peeta came with me the second try. Then Finnick. There is nothing but hostility in the guards' eyes.

"We'll figure something out," Boggs promises on the fourth retreat.

"Soon," I say. Soon so I can go find my son. So I can be where I should be.

The chill of the days pass slow. Our star squad is little more than Peeta, Finnick, Boggs, a camera man, a director, and myself. Boggs says that Coin – his voice grows darker when he mentions the recently revealed 'murdered by the Capitol' President of District 13 – had come to District 3 with a handful more soldiers to add to our team, but they must have died in 'the hovercraft crash' as well.

Gale is back in District 12, doing something, helping Madge. Saving more lives in that desolate district, again. Whenever I think of him, I get a dull ache in my side, miss him in someway. What if he dies out there in his efforts? What if I do? Have our paths really diverged so much that we won't die going for and doing the same thing? I sigh, clutch the pain and lean over to glower at the sluggish shape of District 10 on the horizon.

When we first arrived it mystified me that we had not yet taken a hold of this poor district. A hovercraft took us to the edge of the large, wide-spread district and we walked for miles across slushy grass land where once cows and sheep wandered aimless. Men and women who once were breeders, milkers, butchers, and harmless ranchers now take on the pretense of soldiers. Children can be seen beyond the make-shift wall of stacked supplies, the ripped apart re-weaved mental gate that once was electric and belonged to the Capitol, and they are always carrying one thing to another place. Mud hiked up to knees. Clothes nothing more than rags.

District 10 holds, but they are certainly weakening...

...in the sense of clothes and bullets and medicine.

What they aren't lacking is spirit.

You would think a district who has been bullied by both sides for months on end would collapse already. They would forget why they stand out under the endless stars and through the frosted dawns without moving the point of their guns from the distant enemy. An enemy that is ominous and larger and more powerful. Why haven't they given in? Why is it that I can still see hope in their faces every time my companions and I back away?

What is it they are hoping for, if they do not wish to join the rebels and rid themselves of the Capitol?

I think over this question while the others trouble themselves over getting inside the central hub. We could overpower them, now, with all the troops that have been marched out at Violet's order, but she insists we want allies of them. If word got out that we slaughtered a district that defied the Capitol it would certainly not look well for her. Considering how hard she is working to pull strings in District 13 and win them over. Her orders are to make peace, make common cause.

So what is their cause?I wonder, miffed. How can it not be to destroy the Capitol and to kill Snow?

Peeta doesn't have much to say on the matter. Neither to me or to Boggs and the others. Everyday he urges another outing to the gates, all dressed up, the camera in the distance ready to capture an inspirational moment (but since Coin's death, Violet has not enforced any taping of me whatsoever). He is always the one to smile and wave at the soldiers. They scowl. I scowl. I'm the one to pull Peeta back to safety by the hand.

Every night he goes to bed looking thoughtful, and he pulls me close in our rugged tent, presses lips to my jaw. He does this every night, after the sun has gone down. The dusk turns to dark quickly this time of year and the moon rises, dropping silver light on the bustle of camp is.

My thoughts are usually too sad for sleep. I climb a around the mess that is camp, wrapped in blanket, walk passed others who walk the opposite way as me, who glance my way but merely press their lips together. Stone rings the outside of the town that all of the remaining population of District 10 has decided to hole up in. Honestly, it is a big town, probably their largest. At least two thousand live beyond the ugly wall, well spread. From where I stand, I can see the distant lights. Smoke rises heavy from somewhere deep within. The gray line slithering over the moon makes me shudder, remembering the day of my escape.

The gate is guarded. Soldiers see me, stare, stop and raise a gun. I'm too far away to be shot, but I want to shout out. To ask. Why? Have I wronged you? Do they know they are the reason I'm not at this very moment holding my son, or at least fighting to have it that way?

I stand and stare back.

Eventually, Finnick finds me, and he joins me in my silent vigil. "Share," he says and stoops to pull the blanket around his own, broader shoulders. Once his spine starts to ache, he coaxes me to sit on the ground, crossing our legs. Still. Very still.

"Johanna would have been shot by now," Finnick comments the fifth night.

"Probably. It's a good thing she did not pass her test."

"She never was one for evaluations."

Before dawn, we pick ourselves up and find our tents. I fall beside Peeta and he bleary pulls be to him, without thought, uncaring of the way I initially stiffen. He is used to it. Used to me. And when I turn into his chest and find the smell of his neck familiar the way the forest smells, I know I'm used to him, too.

The sixth day is the sixth try. I can see them growing thinner. They fired a shot near Finnick's leg, purposely missing. A warning for us not to come back or next time, they will kill the faces of the rebellion. I believed that, this promise. So does Boggs and the paler faced Finnick when we arrive back to the others. Peeta does not.

"I think we should try again," he says, when I make to drop my bow. He grabs my shoulder and his eyes flicker around to the others. "Once more today."

"That would be suicide," Boggs says. "No. I call Violet and talk out a new plan. Peace isn't working."

Peeta glances over his shoulder at the district. "Once more," he insists, weaker.

"No," I say, finally, pushing away his hand. "This is a waste of time anyway. We have better things to do." I shove my bow back in its box and the director rushes forward with a cloth to wipe my face clear of the mask.

Peeta never turns back. "Okay."

"Okay."

Boggs goes off to the nearest tent and I can hear him make his call. Finnick whistles as he absently plays with a tie of string on his pants. My thoughts go unbidden to impatience and sadness and restlessness. I want the suit off. It's heavier than the Capitol Mockingjay's suit was, but that makes it somehow suffocating and worse. The cameraman offers his nearby tent for changing; I use it gratefully, tossing the suit into place by the bow when I reemerge.

Hungry, I mean to suggest the others join me to eat. Except all I find is Finnick, invested in the knot he is tying. I nudge his boot, while peering in Boggs' tent to see if he'd gone to argue. "Where's Peeta?"

"Uh." Finnick looks up, around, peers into camp behind his back. He is just shrugging when he turns back to me, and stills, his eyes focused behind my shoulder. "Found him."

I turn also, at the sound of a guard's shout.

"Hold! No further! We'll shoot!"

Peeta stops short of the wall some twenty feet. His hands are up in surrender. I move instantly to join him, but Finnick grabs my elbow and keeps me in place. You'll make it worse. "I don't mean any harm. Just want to talk," Peeta replies.

Boggs' curse sounds somewhere to my right.

"We don't need your words. Go back or we'll shoot!"

A second guard wanders next to the first and he glares brutally at Peeta. "I'll shoot." The gun is raised, cocked, positioned. I lurch, and there is suddenly another hand on my other elbow, Boggs' weight against mine. "Five.." counts the second. "Four.. three.."

"Peeta!" I cry. "You idiot. Listen to them!"

He waves me away. He's never done that to me before.

"I have.." Peeta pauses, considers. "I was sent here, with a body. Mr. March. Frier March."

Guard one turns to guard two. They meet raised eyebrows and both their guns falter. "How do you know that name?" calls the second, still hostile.

"I told you. I was sent with his body and was told he was to be buried here."

"You? Someone sent you with Frier?" calls the first, blatantly surprised.

"Yes."

I see out the corner of my eye that Boggs is shaking his head. The two guards share another look, step forward, and motion with their eyes for Peeta to approach. Something tightens in my stomach, my chest, my throat. He stands right next to them; they are speaking too quiet to hear. One laughs. Guard one escorts Peeta passed the gate, into District 10. Guard two straightens once more, gun pointed at us.

I take a step forward, harshly ripping myself from Finnick and Boggs. "Me, too," I say. "I'm with him!"

"No." Guard two fires three shots, each one cracking in nearby places around my body. I recoil on all sides and twist, still moving forward. Finnick lurches and drags me back. "No one gets in!"

"But –!"

Boggs silences me. We all retreat to his tent and slump into various places. I don't sit. I stand, rigid, arms hugging my stomach. Eyes on the tent flap. "We can't just let him go," I say.

"We have to," Boggs is sure. "This was his choice.. I didn't even think of that body.." Again, he is shaking his head.

"But they'll kill him," I say, the images right there in my head. "They'll surround him in there."

Finnick glances my way. "It'll be fine. They'll let him go. They would have just killed him outside the gate if they had any intention to do it at all. Why get blood all over the place they live? He's safer inside."

Hours pass. I can't tear myself away from the stones to do anything. Finnick brings me food. The cameraman films me and it irritates me, but not enough to break my focus. I'm listening for gunfire. Watching the guards and seeing if they will says anything about our man on the inside.

At noon I give up. I start demanding to see Peeta. From Boggs to the guards. "How do we know he's even still alive?" I ask, more than once. "I want proof!" The guards don't listen. Not until I lift my bow in one fluid moment, aim an explosive arrow at their faces and eyes and their precious pathetic wall. "I want proof!" I demand.

One of them disappears inside.

Three hours later, they return. Without Peeta. I raise my bow once more. It is them this time who lift surrendering hands. "We have your proof!" cries the one. "Lower your weapon!"

I narrow my eyes. Finnick rests a hand on my bicep. I take a step closer to the district. "Show me!"

"Nothing to show!" The guard holds two palms up to the sky, proof. "Only words!"

"That's not enough," I hiss, more than shout. They understand by the way I ready to release.

"Hold! Peeta says one thing, will you not hear it?"

I falter. "What?"

"Vincent." My bow lowers to the stones. Yes. That's proof enough. "Tell him that I want him to come back. Right now. Tell him that if he doesn't come back.." I don't finish. I simply toss aside my bow and stomp away and eat a late lunch. Finnick and Boggs and whoever else heard the one word do not mention or question it; they probably have no idea what it means, but wouldn't risk asking me in my dreadful mood.

I scowl at everything. Mostly the district. I ask Boggs to do something, to be ready for something, anything. He refuses. He has faith in whatever it is Peeta's doing in there. Others, too. Most of them. They're smiling at the way Peeta went straight through those gates in only a few sentences. Are proud, happy, glad. Perhaps, District 10 will be ours in a night.

I don't believe that. No one listens to me. They all hush me and put me off for a fretting lover. Don't care to hear what I say or share or purpose. It is the Capitol again, being pushed aside. I begin to label them Haymitch's. Not real friends, but people who will risk Peeta for the great good. In my books, that's not acceptable. Risk me. Not him. Rick me. Not my son. Risk me. Not my sister.

They have a different want in District 10 than us. I wonder about it again, wander back to the stones. I sit and watch the guards again. Boggs comes around to drape apologetic blankets over mine and Finnick's shoulders. Finnick abandons his after awhile and shrugs under mine; it's warmer, reassuring in the night, when shadows and darkness make you think of an arena far underneath the ground.

At moonhigh, I see the fire again.

I stare at it, wavering, a distant glow of orange.

I think of myself; the Girl on Fire. Which makes me think of Cinna, left behind in District 3. Cinna, who was with me during my worst in the white cell. White cell, brings Leon blindingly to the surface. I wonder if he's made it to District 12 yet. If Gale and Madge have come across him and his son. I shiver. I close my eyes and know that to be warm my father's hunting jacket is back in mine and Peeta's tent.

I fling my eyes back open.

A friend.

I could use a friend in this camp of Haymitch's.

I run to retrieve the jacket. Clattering through mud and grass and tripping over tents in the way, I seek the little curl of white paper I know will be in the left pocket of my father's coat. I fling myself to my knees, expecting to struggle with the clothing to get it out of the pack. But it comes in one tug.

My hand shoves into the pocket, fingers pulling free the note.

It is the same as I remember; a friend.

I return to Boggs' tent. I ask for the phone and he gives it up reluctantly. I dial, fumbling a little, and I press the device to my ear. I turn to watch the distant fire again, listening to the ring.

Once, twice... "Hello?"

And I freeze.

"Hello? Who is this? How did you get this number?"

A half remembered sharp stab awakens in my thigh, the floor embracing me, and the smell of lavender swelling in my nose, overcoming the junk food of the restaurant. "Leon?" asks the voice. "Is that you?"

The ghost of a warm hand presses into my cheek. "She'll recover soon enough, just give the antidote some time," says a whispering female voice close to my side. "Do me a favor and call Plutarch."

"Who is this?" I ask ruggedly, cautious.

An infinite pause on the other side of the line lets me know they weren't expecting my voice.

"Who was that woman?"

"A friend," Leon says numbly. "She's a friend."

"Katniss.." says the woman. I bite into the side of me cheek. There is a sigh, long and drawn out and tired. So very, very tired. "It is about time we met, isn't it? Properly introduced, I suppose. Tell me, did Leon tell you to call this number in order to get Peeta back?"

No. How does she know? How can she know I don't have Peeta, but not know that Leon had left me months ago? "Who are you?" I ask again, harder.

"My name isn't really important," she says. "Not anymore."

"That's not an answer."

"Rose. That's the name my mother gave me. Snow, is the name my husband gave me. But I like to be called Mrs. March, the name I earned for myself. Call me which you would like. But tell me, do you have the body of my step-son or not? Peeta says Frier was sent to you by my dearest Coriolanus."

Out of everything said, I grasp one, "You're in District Ten?"

"Where else? This is where Grier lived. Where the man I loved was born and lived to be The Victor. I might have grown up in the Capitol and I briefly visited for your sake, but this is where I belong." A pause, I gather my head. "You never told me. Do you have Frier's body?"

"Yes. In District Three. It'll take hours to get here after we call. Send Peeta out now, and I'll make sure it gets to you..." and I wait, wait for the wheels to turn, for me to grasp the pieces she has just lain in front of me.

Rose. Snow. March. Have you ever seen it Snow in March?

Suddenly, it clicks. "You're President Snow's wife."

"Was. I was his."

"Until.."

"Until I bore him an illegitimate daughter, he killed my lover, and I found peace in this district. Don't ask me for a life story, it is too long and too weary, especially at this hour. Peeta is sleeping underneath my roof tonight. We will meet you at the gates tomorrow, ten o'clock. Have Frier. Yes?"

I don't answer that. "Why? Why is District Ten turning rebels out? Are you behind that?"

There is only the long, high-pitched dial-tone for an answer.