Disclaimer: All Hunger Games characters and uses of the original sentences or paragraphs are the property of Suzanne Collins. I own nothing, nor do I plan on profiting from using her work. No copyright infringement is intended.
A/N: WARNING: I SUCK AT PEETA POV. It's true. I've been putting this off because I suck so much as just boy point of views in general. I'm just not as good, I guess. I also want to tell you a few things about my Peeta. Understand that (though I put this in the writing) that in Mockingjay I believe the attention problems Katniss and Finnick developed were result of PTSD from twice the amount of Hunger Games on their plate. Since in the original Mockingjay we only go to see bat-shit crazy Peeta, we didn't notice the way PTSD altered him. In my version Peeta becomes less like himself, by his composure and usually calm emotions, changing to a bi-polar issue. Of course, not really bi-polar. Just emotional. And not girly emotional, I'm talking about anger problems. Point: Peeta will seem different. (Finnick, too, though you see very little of him.)
Also, I know people are going to go all "WUT DAFUQ?" on me for the way I chose to do this. Because Peeta is too pure, right? In my mind, Peeta isn't actually all that pure, instead that is just how Katniss idolizes him. She holds him above her because she admires him and loves him; he's her childhood savior, her teenage sweetheart, her baby's daddy. While Peeta idolizes her in a different way; as in she's literally just different and he loves that. While we all know Katniss has the same and similar feelings/thoughts as normal girls and pregnant women (most of the time). And from this POV of Peeta you will see most of the time Peete is pure, but has normal thoughts/urges as any other human being.
Okay. Rant over. Thank you for reading. Sorry for typos. Reviews would be nice. I'm sorry for any disappointment. I wish I could do this better. -Taryn(:
These sentences are a mini-summary of what happened from the moment Peeta wakes after the arena to current time The Expecting Mockingjay. About a length of four-five months time wise.
"I'm sorry, Solider Mellark."
"We understand, Solider Mellark."
"I'm so sorry, Peeta."
"Please, calm down, Solider Mellark."
"Peeta! It'll be okay."
"Report to the detention hallway, Solider Mellark."
"Mellark! There is absolutely no fighting here!"
"Just wait," Prim says. "Keep your temper."
"It'll get better, Peeta."
"Trust me, I understand."
"Detention now, Solider Mellark!"
"That is the last straw! Out! Out of my war conference!"
"Solider Mellark! These are off limits hallways!"
"Detention. Hall. You!"
"We're sorry, Solider Mellark. Yes, yes. We do understand that.."
"Walk yourself to the elevator. No, don't turn around. Just go. You know where detention is."
"Solider Mellark, you're needed in Command."
"President Coin wishes to talk with you."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Mellark. If you won't come on your own we'll have to assist you."
"You've been suspended from your war duties, Soldier Mellark."
"Oh come on, Peeta, it could get worse."
"Everyone understands you're hurting.. still doesn't give you the right.."
"Boy, if you don't suck it up soon, you're going to miss out on everything."
"Just keep your temper. You'll get her back."
"Peeta! You have to help me."
"Annie who? You risked you life for some random victor? Our precious supplies? Other soldiers! Without my permission? … could have lost a whole hovercraft! …. all those lives on your hands!"
"Psst! Peeta, I snagged you something good to eat. Much better than detention food."
"You've been here how long?" Gale demands in disgust. "What kind of an idiot sleeps on the floor to make a point? Turn on the light. I'm not going to let your waste of space drag down everything we've worked for."
"How did you paint that?"
"Seriously, what do you not understand about not wasting supplies?"
"Soldier Mellark, you're free to go."
"Don't worry, Peeta," Prim whispers. "They're just upset you did something without them. I know you'll get her back for me."
"I bet she's waiting everyday for you," Finnick winks.
"Katniss?" Annie echos.
"I'm so sorry, Peeta."
"I understand that, Soldier Mellark. You're forgiven."
"Hey! Solider Mellark! You! Peeta!" Boggs shouts
"Guess what I finally got you un-suspended from," Haymitch rasps.
"Here's your Holo back, Solider Mellark."
End of summary.
We're sorry. We understand. You must be so lost.
I am so tired of hearing those words. People always reply to anything I say with similar phrases, over and over. If my temper grows short or I start to speak about her, everyone is always sorry. They understand my plight, too. Every single one of them apologizes and understands, but none of them can help.
And not only are they just wasting time by talking, all I want to do is ask them: "Do you, really?"
Do they know what's like to have the woman they love taken by the worst man on the earth? All of them have lost the meaning of their life? Don't they remember me saying I wouldn't go on living after the Quarter Quell if she was lost? Sure, I said no life back in District 12, but place and time makes no matter. I still failed her. So how do they understand the loss of the sun to their world? A girl they've had an insane crush on since five? Not just any woman or girl or sun of a world, but the Katniss Everdeen. Do they understand that? Are they sorry about her loss or just my pain? Is there no one out there who can help me?
No. They don't understand. None of them understand. Most of them probably aren't sorry, either. All of them already proved they can't help me. Though... I won't begrudge them on these realities. In fact, I appreciate all their feeble attempts of trying to comfort me. Even if most of them are appalled by my sense of despair and drowned underneath my surge of determination or argument.
The helplessness is what I hate most. To be healthy and level headed and to watch all these soldiers around me train, but not be used. It makes me wonder why I'm not doing more. There's gotta be something more I can do. Everyone would have me believe Katniss is waiting for me. That she's depending on me, somehow. Just like Prim is depending on me, and their mother, and Haymitch, and Finnick.. everyone seems to think I should be doing more.
And that's what I've been doing. These past few months have been of me, fighting to do more for her.
Despite the fact that most of the time I end up in detention, or I'm suspended from one thing and another, I'm still fighting. District 13's rules always come around to bite me in the side when everything I do that's entitles 'doing more' turns out to be breaking a law or two.
No, you can't go there. I'm sorry, President Coin has ordered this. You can't do that.. say that... mean that.. If I didn't know how much President Coin thinks me an annoyance, then I'd say all my slight temper slips in the last few months were for nothing, accomplished nothing. But they have, in the long run.
I started off my visit in District 13 with nothing. I was bed ridden, feeble and every rattling breath an agony. The doctors claimed that Finnick and I would be dead in hours. At that time I was ready to die. I would have welcomed death with arms wide open; waiting to greet Katniss, who I'd believed dead already. I remember the horrible pain of knowing she died. Worse than the venom searing through my veins, across my flesh, and tearing up the interior of my muscles, was the fact that I had failed Katniss, that I let her slip through my fingers. The knowledge left me aching in my chest, to the pit of my core, wondering how I could not have gone to her in time to help her. To pull her back up from the cliff, despite the mutts in my way.
And still, that pain, that knowing, was so much better than when Haymitch informed me Katniss was alive and captured by the Capitol. The only good thing about that added agony was that it was a healing pain. It wasn't the kind to drag me deeper to death, but the type of pain that makes you detain it.
For a month or two I'd struggled to my feet. I fought off the infections. The side effects of deteriorating muscles made me weaker than a child, but I threw myself through physical challenges recklessly. The amount of times I sprung my ankle is nothing compared to the amount of times I got detained for rule-breaking. Yet, all I could think is of where Katniss was. What they were doing to her. How she would be feeling. The pain she might be enduring, that would be nothing compared to mine.
And still to this day all I can do is try to remember her. Every night I would recall her face in my memories and touch it with my imaginary hand, caressing the edge of her jaw. At these times I would give into my despair. I just want her to know that I am coming. That for the past four months we haven't forgotten her. I want her to remember what I told her before we ever left that arena, because this is a time that matters. If she has no will to live, after the torture or the lies President Snow might tell her, then I want her to remember that I need her. That I love her too much to let go. That when she finds no will to live, I want her to draw the will from me; because I will want her to live, always.
And maybe I'm selfish. Maybe I'm the guy who wants his love to live in her own personal hell for the rest of her life, despite the agony it causes her. I've never been called a selfish person. I've never asked something from someone that's unbearable. I've always tried to give before I take, if I don't take at all. But this time, just this one time, in the most crucial time, I will be selfish.
Breakfast- 7:00, my arm tells me. I stare at the order. Somehow even in this miniscule way District 13 is more controlling than the Capitol. At least in District 12 I could decide when or when not to eat. I could choose whether I wanted to wear black pants or blue ones. Living in my house above the bakery I could spend my day baking or frosting or daydreaming... but here all I do is follow orders. At least, when I'm not finding some loop hole around them, to do more for her.
Most of the time it's orders, though. Eat your turnips at this time. Learn this, now. Study the history of nuclear weapons at noon. Prance around with guns and be taught to shoot one around two in the afternoon. Eat the gruel. Don't share. No painting. No, no, take that staircase. While you're at it, do a dance for me, too. And put on this ridiculous hat. Yes, that's it, make yourself look like a fool..
"I hate turnips," I sigh. I push the buttered vegetables around the bowl, boredly. Around me the room is full of loud, good-humored noise. I can't remember how long I've been sitting here; since seven, I suppose. It feels like longer.
Time always goes so slow here, without her. I close my eyes; remembering the past night of yet again, no sleep. I'm exhausted. When was the last time I slept? Nightmares of the Hunger Games are always there. The screaming birds following me as I throw myself through a forest of snakes... Katniss, just out of reach, slipping through my fingers.. losing her. And I have to wake without her in my arms, only to complete this pain.
All I do at night is wallow in my loss, and all day I fight to regain it. An exhausting cycle, bound to break me, I know... because while I do all this, I strive to be the same Peeta Mellark everyone has always known. At least, the sounds of the citizens around me makes me feel a little more like myself. Their laughter bringing me back among the humane. Making me feel a little less like the broken victor that all the other ones are. I can draw from their smiles to pull myself out of my slouch, fixing a smile of my own to my face. Just in time, too, because as I raise my eyes from the table, I spot Prim Everdeen entering the cafeteria.
At the sight of her, long blonde braid tucked behind an ear, cornflower blue eyes still bleary with sleep, my shoulders stiffen, as if I've been struck. Are the Everdeen girls the only two people I know who wear braids down their back? They must be, because seeing Prim looking just like Katniss, though their coloring is all off, it makes me sicker with my sadness. But no, I have to be Peeta. So I pull my lips wider, finding amusement by the thing that prowls after her every tiny step.
"You know," I say to Prim, "I'm sure if you just close the door after you leave the room, he'll stop following you down here."
She smiles up at me, then drops her face slightly to share that piece of sunshine with the cat that burhes up against her leg. Other people across the room turn to glance at Buttercup. I'm sure most of them know that the animal isn't suppose to be here, let alone in the food hall, but when any of them look up to meet my gaze, they turn away, knowing. Knowing that I'm willing to face the consequences for Prim. To fight it out with President Coin no matter what it's worth. Even for something as ridiculous as a cat. Anything I can do to make her happy, while I butt heads with the officials to get her sister back, is one more thing I'll do.
"I just hate leaving him locked in there all day," Prim tells me. She takes a seat on my right and the fur ball leaps up into her lap. Prim looks down at it with lavish affection."With mother working in the hospital all the time and me in training, it's just not fair to leave him in there all day."
As if agreeing to the claim, Buttercup lets out a small yowl. "I know the feeling," I say to both of them. With two fingers I stroke Buttercup's newly brushed fur from nose to tail and he turns his face into my palm, nose cold. "But I thought the whole reason Coin and I made the deal to move the Everdeen room on the uppermost floors was so that this fur ball could come and go as he pleases."
"That's different, though," argues Prim. I can see her eyes travel to the serving counter, as if it just occurred to her that she should get her breakfast, but I simply push my tray in front of her.
"How's running around outside compared to inside any different?" I ask her. "If I were him, I'd love to be outside. To get some fresh air would be nice. A delectable mouse or two. Maybe even a pretty feline to keep me company."
Prim laughs. The sound of it is like a sweet reward. Every time I make them laugh, is another piece of me renewed from the broken side. Only when I can make others happy do I realize the old Peeta Mellark thrives. "I just mean that it's not the same because down here he gets to be with me. Wouldn't you rather be with your family than all alone and free?" There is a moment of pause after she says that, the air becoming less mirth and more somber. Thoughtfully, she picks up the fork I had pushed away and takes a bite of the turnips. "I would," she says, quietly, finally.
And I know what she means. Maybe we're free here, in District 13, in some ways. The people of District 12 are free from starvation. The victors like Haymitch and Beetee and Finnick and me, we're free from the faking. All the children here are free from the Hunger Games as much as the adults are liberated from the Capitol's overbearing government. But I'd rather be chained to Katniss, to the floor, inside a cell, underneath the Capitol, than here and safe.
I'm surprised by what a mature thought that is from Prim. She's always surprising me with her growth. Especially in the course of the past few months. Katniss would be proud of her. All the nurses tell me Prim is going to be a famous doctor someday, if she keeps at her studies. Which only makes me encourage them every time I can, not only because it's a great thing, but it's a good pass time to keep her mind off of her missing sister. Only one of many things I've tried to throw at Prim to keep her distracted. Buttercup is on that list, too. He comes right after art lessons and before our weekly Haymitch pranks. I knew the moment I saw the cat wandering the ruins of District 12, covered in ashes, I needed him. Prim would need him. I have to make her forget my failure.
Because if I can distract anyone, it's Prim. Haymitch knows I failed. Gale blames me to some extent. Finnick and Beetee try to share the blame, but we all know I was the one who loved and cared most. I can't hide my failure when I'm with them, so it's to Prim I can.
Prim is eating away at my breakfast. I wonder where the others are. Finnick and Annie are no doubt together. They have been inseparable since the moment I brought Annie here, the two of them meeting in an entangled mess on the floor when they hugged. A beautiful, heart touching reunion that made my three day detention worth it. I only wish someone would deliver Katniss to me, but I know that's my job.
Buttercup nudges my fingers hanging off the ledge of the table top, begging to be pet. I oblige him. "You know," I say, and Prim raises her head, "do you think he's forgiven me for kidnapping him?"
"Oh, I'm sure he didn't get upset.. you only scared him."
"He could have blinded me!" I tease. "And besides, I scared him? It was Gale who put him in the game bag."
"Well that wasn't too nice," Prim relents, then shrugs. "You should have warned him first. Tried to tell him that you were going to take him back to me. He would have come to you."
Now, I can't help laughing. "So I should have just sat down and talked to the cat? That obvious? I should have known. Next time I see a wild mutt attacking me, too, I'll just pull out a chair and invite him into a nice chat about how I would like to live for about fifty more years." I pause to consider this, imagining the giant mutt spiders sitting with me and drinking coffee, having some biscuits on the side.
Prim gives my shoulder a feeble shove. "You know what I meant."
"Do I?" I smile cheekily.
Prim surrenders the argument after that, preferring the gruel on the tray rather than conversation. In her inattention toward the feline in her lap because of her eating, Buttercup rises and replaces himself in my lap. I wince when he kneads into my inner thigh, resisting the urge to push him away. If don't know any better, when he lays his face against his front paws he looks a bit smug. "Did you know cats smile?" I ask Prim.
"Yes," she says simply. As if it were obvious.
"How come you always know everything before I say it?" I ask. I'm used to Katniss who just stares blankly back at me when I say these things just to entertain the thoughts in my head, or in an attempt to make her smile. Prim always knows, though. Never tells me to shut up or rolls her eyes. It almost takes the fun out of it... though I don't know what makes me miss Katniss more than I already do. Prim acting like her sister or Prim not acting like her sister.
"You didn't get detention again, did you?" Prim asks in a small voice.
Surprised at the change of subject I raise my eyes from Buttercup. "No," I say. "Not this time."
"Which really has to be some kind of record," says Finnick, causing me to start and Prim's face to snap around toward the man. Same as ever, the handsome sex symbol from District 4 stands across from us, a bedraggled Annie between his arms as helps her settle in the bench on the opposite side of the table. "How long have you been holding up? Aside the Annie detention, three weeks now?"
"Four," I say. "Thanks to Gale."
"Gotta love that guy," says Finnick, all grin and gleaming blue-green eyes. It wasn't always that way. He used to be inattentive for hours on end. The muscles he didn't hasten to strengthen weighed down on him like a boulder, making him slouch, collapsing in random corridors, crying bitter tears of pain and loss. Nearly three days ago I got him his Annie back, and the effect it has had on him makes me regret nothing. Albeit that was my worst rule break. Stealing a hovercraft, spreading negative peer pressure by encouraging a few soldiers to accompany me, and I broke District 13's stretch of silence. If that wasn't a small victory, I don't know what is, and I would do all of it again without it, just to have the cheerful, lighthearted Finnick Odair back. Even just for the chance of meeting Annie Cresta, a sweet, fragile girl who most often or not is in some sort of recluse.
Thinking of her, remembering her Game from my childhood, I turn to her, and say, "Good morning."
"Hello," she says, and I see Finnick give her a loving squeeze around the waist. Proud of her because she managed that without shaking or hesitating. Like Buttercup, Annie has adapted a swell of gratitude toward me because I'm the one who pulled her free from the ashes and the pain of their lives.
Even the smile on Finnick's face seems to be grateful when directed at me, and I try to make mine seem easy-going, like it always used to be, but that doesn't seem possible. I don't feel like I deserve all the credit for her rescue. Gale with those others soldiers both he and I gathered were there, too. I only did the right thing. Just like tossing the burnt bread to the starving Katniss. I only did what any human being should. Why do people act as though I've done something worth repaying, let alone being called unpayable?
Also, what makes the smile impossible, is the irrational jealousy those two cause me to feel. It makes my eyes drop to my lap, hands slowly petting the purring Buttercup. In the quiet that follows, Finnick leaves to gather both his and Annie's breakfast and Prim engages frizzy haired, wide green eyed Annie into a short, sweet conversation.
I don't hear them, lost in my own thoughts. I hate feeling resentful toward them. Though I love to see them together, happy, healthy.. it has nothing to do with Finnick or Annie personally. It is just that they get to be together, and I get to return to a empty bed every night, into the empty Family Mellark room. Occupation of one. Me.
At these moments, when I see Finnick and Annie, or any other couple, I can feel the jealousy, the envy, the pain of missing her like a physical ache in my chest. Someone harshly strumming the strings of my heart, just to remind me of those times Katniss let me touch her; those last few days before the arena where she gave me the world and more.
They were times better than fantasy. I remember before our first Hunger Games when I would find myself dazing off in history, watching her from afar, trying to think of a way to talk to her. Even now I get a regretful, heavy ball of why didn't I just do it, recalling all those chances before this mess. Somehow though, 'this mess' is better than all the day dreams I had. The feel of her skin underneath my lips didn't feel like a cloud or the finest silk. The skin was hard, lean, not flawless. Her kissing wasn't as deep or meaningful as in the fantasy. It was rough and messy and hurried; like her. And the feel.. of her.. those brief minutes..
"Peeta?" I jerk from my thoughts at the sound of Prim's voice.
Buttercup is startled by my small jump and he angrily sinks in claws into my thighs. "Ack," I choke, hands flying back to my lap and pushing him off of my delicate bits. Of course the fur ball makes a scene, hissing and spitting, acting the victim as he leaps back into Prim's lap.
After sharing a dark look with the amber eyes of that creature, my eyes finally lift to the table, noticing that everyone is watching me. Prim says, a bit patently, "Your Holo is making noise."
"Oh, right," I say, hearing the sound for the first time. I've learned to block it out. I raise the face of the Holo to eye level to see the message there. "It's just a reminder for the usual morning meeting. At" –I check the painted schedule on my arm– "seven-thirty." I look to Finnick. "Are you coming today?"
"No," says Finnick. "I'm going to stay with Annie. Maybe go visit Beetee."
"Okay." I expected that. The last time Finnick went to Command was too long ago. It's the last thing I expect him to do now, especially since he got his Annie back.
For a few minutes more we eat and talk. Finnick feeding Annie in their display of overly cuteness, makes me feel a bit downtrodden. Katniss would never let me do that. Which only makes me miss the completely different quality of her that makes her stand out among the other girls. She wondered how I noticed her among the crowd, but how could I not?
As I wait for the time to pass, Prim tells me about what they're teaching her as a nurse. I encourage her to learn three new things today so she can tell me them tomorrow morning same time, same place. She tells me she'll get more than three.
With immense effort on my part I get all of them to laugh at least twice. Finnick loves to hear Annie laugh the most, so if I just get her going, he'll join in and Prim is quite easy to excite. I'm glad I still possess the quality to make people happy, if only momentarily. I savor the moments of happiness, knowing that the guilt of having them while Katniss sits in the hands of President Snow will arrive soon after.
Eventually I leave, bidding them all goodbyes. The people at the serving counter watch me with narrowed eyes when I walked past without a tray to return and only a small shrug to show. Either they think I'm smuggling food out, which is mondo illegal. Or they know I gave it away, which I'm not sure how illegal that is, but probably a lot. They are very strict about those sort of things. Actually, District 13 is strict about everything.
The way to Command isn't far. I use the stairs to get around District 13, usually, both because it takes less time and I've developed the habit thanks to the doctors ordering me to use them to regenerate my muscle mass. This time though, I find myself being lazy and in no rush to arrive at Command. I end up catching the elevator with another person already inside.
I don't pay them much attention while I busy myself to push the right button. They aren't anyone I recognize from District 12, but the girl keeps peeking at me out the corner of her eyes, so I smile. "Good morning," I say, as a general politeness.
"You, too!" she bursts, then reddens scarlet. A hand of hers raises to her face, covering her mouth, then her nails trailing over her lips. "I mean.. yeah. Hi."
"You're Peeta Mellark."
"Yes," I say, shifting. Two floors away from Command. "That's my name."
"Yeah, I know. I'm Nell. I work on the technical staff, or.. well I'm just a student. I-I'm from District Thirteen, by the way." Nell stumbles a couple more times. "Well I just.. it's nice to meet you. Though I didn't really imagine we'd meet on an elevator."
"Oh." I actually look at her, now. Curled, brown hair hangs between brown eyes, framing her pale heart-shaped face. Nell is barely tall enough to stand at my shoulders. Much shorter than Katniss. She couldn't be more than seventeen, nor more different in Katniss in both demeanor and looks. Girlish, squirmy, doe-eyed. From before the Victory Tour I got many girls like her from town who'd act flustered around me, and usually I'd just shrug it off, but it always made me feel bad. "I didn't really expect to meet you here, either."
Nell giggles. "You're funny."
That was funny? "Thanks."
Finally, the elevator doors open on my floor and I step out. To make up for any bad feelings she might adopt if I'm unkind, I turn to smile and wave at her before the doors close again. Nell returns it full force. And all I can think is of Katniss and how much I miss her. How she would have thrown herself at me, knocked me breathless with a stolen kiss, then pull away and act indifferent, as if she had not just kissed me. That's what I want my elevator rides to be like.
I continue down the hall to Command and I try to collect myself before I face the room full of Coin and her men. Voices can be heard half the hallway away from the open doorway and I watch other official people hurrying to the room, coming from the other direction. I pick up my pace, then pause at the threshold, a hand clutching the door-frame.
I can still remember my first time visiting here. I'd been kicked out for disruption. Demanding too much for something to be planned to get Katniss and Johanna back. President Coin didn't take kind to the boy who spoke too loud and too often. However over the last four months I've learned to be more practical, less quick to jump to argument. Command, on the other hand, is unchanged, the same high-tech war council room as before. Complete with computerized talking walls, electronic maps showing the troops movements in various districts, and a giant rectangular table with control panels.
No one notices me when I enter to take my seat next to Gale and Haymitch. They both look somber today. Gale is tapping his fingers against the table loudly, staring off toward the left, only sparing me a small glance when I smile at him. Haymitch nods at me. He looks different. I guess he's looked like this for a few months now, but he'll always look different to me. I remember him drunk. Here he is sober, with blood-shot eyes and so thin that the next gust of wind could carry him away. Good thing there's no wind in the underground District of 13, I guess. Though for the longest time I had hoped one would take him away, because of how betrayed I felt by him, not telling us in the first place about the rescue plan. The fact that his time in District 13 had been excruciating made me soften toward him, though, and when he was not deemed for public display, neither was I for my random bursts of emotion. In the end, I forgave him too easily.
The normal meeting is called. We start off listening to people report back about troops in this district or another. We hear about the loss of a hundred soldiers in District Seven thanks to the Peacekeepers who burned down the logging woods where District 13 had taken camp. There was a victory in District 10 recently, but unfortunately the rebels were driven out by a fierce counter attack. We have District 11 and 9, one agriculture and the other grain, and all we need is the livestock, District 10, to take a huge chunk of food reserves from the Capitol. They might have District 4, still, and the sea, but there is no mistaking that the effect of rebels obtaining District 9, 10, and 11 would be substantial.
I, as always, offer to get sent out somewhere, and I'm stared at, refused and then pushed to the side.
Gale suggests something about focusing more on the higher up districts, but another man of Coin's argues that it'll be best to take the lower ones, one by one, until we reach the Capitol. Haymitch guffaws in my ear that they are only doing it because Heavensbee had told them to go straight for the upper districts, and Coin is afraid that piece of intelligence was released to President Snow before the Heavensbee's execution last month. She doesn't want to be predictable.
Which, of course, makes me offer to do the unpredictable and be anointed to lead a group of soldiers into a district in need. This time President Coin actually glances at me, purses her lips, then gives a curt shake of the head. "We already lost the girl," she barked, "I'm not letting Snow get another one."
"But I won't get caught!" I burst before I can remember my self control. Gale, who raised a composed, but serious and unamused eyebrow at me reminds me of the things we've discussed. You want her back, act like it. Be an adult, not some kid tugging at the back of the President's pants. You're not going to earn any respect like that. "I mean," I back paddle, "I won't get caught, because you're right. I'm staying right here, in nice and safe District Thirteen."
For the rest of the meeting I make a point of being silent. My thoughts wander to Katniss. No surprise there. I find my thoughts are horribly tangled sometimes, like now. When I'm at a huge conflict with myself. The doctors say that inattention is a common affect of post traumatic stress syndrome. Which sounds really seriously confusing, even when they told me most victors have it. Only we who were in the Games twice seem to be effected worse. Does Katniss have trouble focusing? I know Finnick does, and Beetee doesn't. Odds, I miss her.
It's nearing the end of the meeting, now. My fingers scratch useless shapes into the table, which causes Haymitch to send me annoyed looks, because of the obnoxious noise it makes. Someone is speaking about the current count of our population here in District 13. Something about higher birth rates.
Katniss asked me for a baby, I recall out of no where. I feel just as I did when she first asked; shocked, my stomach falling through my feet, a little dizzy and flushed. It was a real surprise when I heard those words escape her, while her lips traveled, hotly and sloppily up the side of my face. Me, hard pressed not to press anything hard against her, as we fled immediate danger. It had to have been the fever, I knew afterward, in some weird disappointment. I'd always imagined having kids, I wanted to be a dad, but not now, not in a world like this. Maybe beforehand, without war. Except now, I know what war is. And yet, I remember, too, the time Katniss whispered the words, "Our little girl," into my ear and how nice it had been to hear them.
Before the thoughts could get too ridiculously off topic, President Coin rises from her chair. That means I can go, too. Everyone begins to rise, when, all of a sudden, there is a loud up cry from a man on Coin's left. We look to him and he has a finger pointing urgently at a television screen at the far end of the room that airs the Capitol broadcast around the clock. I'm thinking I might be able to slip away when, reluctantly I turn my eyes toward the screen, trying to imagine how it could be of interest to me. It's always the same. War footage. Propaganda. Replaying the bombings of District 12. An ominous message from President Snow. So it's like I've fallen off the edge of the earth when I see it is Katniss on the screen.
Everyone is deathly still, when someone finally reaches for a panel on the table and flips on the volume. "It's so nice to have you here," Caesar Flickerman is saying, all dressed in an unappealing bright yellow. Eyelids glittering with each blink of his wide, familiar eyes.
Except I hardly hear or notice any of that. All I can do is look at the close up of Katniss. Or, at least, what looks to be Katniss.
Instantly I find myself pushing and weaving through the gathered people, walking around the edge of the table, to approach the screen. No one stops me, nor moves themselves. I wouldn't even notice if they did, all I can think is, Katniss. Mercifully, lightly, Katniss. Alive. She's alive. I'm elated, choking on the relief of knowing this for sure. There had been so much doubt. There had been many claims from rebels in District 3 or District 2 and some even reported sightings of her as far away as District 8. President Snow never confirmed that the Capitol revived her, only that same sentence he would say rolled in my mind.. "We pulled the cold, limp bodies of remaining victors Johanna Mason, Enorbaria Fetlock, and Katniss Everdeen from the water," …and it was never quite clear. Not as clear as the image of Katniss on the screen, smiling, cheeks flushed with life.
Once Caesar finishes a joking introduction the camera finally pans out, to take in both of their bodies and I choke on a bit of saliva. I search the screen twice. Scanning every last detail. Her face first; rounder than I remember. The strands of black hair curled against her ears, shining in the heavy, plentiful braid hanging over shoulders, the harsh lighting of the cameras making it shimmer. I ache to touch it, run my hands through it like in the arena, but when I embarrassingly find my hand reaching out and touching nothing but, cold, unfeeling glass, I rip it back.
She's gained weight, I think at first, tell myself. There is no way though that I can ignore the whispers and bellows passing around the room behind my back. Words like, pregnancy, or he wasn't lying, and four months. Hearing her and Caesar both confirm it makes my mind go numb.
"Katniss, it's in my understanding that this is your fourth month of pregnancy?" says Caesar.
Katniss shifts a little in her chair, pregnant belly straining against her clothes. I can't help the immediate way my eyes travel to her chest, noticing with a start how big they are. "Yes," Katniss says. And her voice makes me somehow, completely sidetracked from latter thoughts.
At this moment, all I can do is satisfy myself with the fact that she is alive. My eyes are unable to lift from her face, to consider anything protruding from her dress. A beautiful blue dress that brings out the slight cooler, colorful hues of her steely gray eyes. Or the freckles barely visible on her shoulders, tanner with the comparison. I know for sure that those freckles trail all the way to the lower section of her back, where I traced them into a star constellation without her knowing, in her sleep.
I search her eyes for any sign of hurt, any reflection of the agony of torture. There is nothing. Katniss looks healthy to the point of robustness. Her skin is glowing, flawless, in that full-body-polish way. She looks nothing like the Katniss I last saw. Feverish, half-starving, face covered in scratches. Or the sight of Enorbaria's body-weight and her own throwing her from the top of the cliff. Me, unable to allow it, to let her slip so easily from my fingers, from my life, damn it, as I threw my own self into the snakes. And even now, I remember the agony of their venom, frying my nerves, convulsing my muscles, shutting down my lungs. None of that worse than the pain of watching her fall. Thinking she'd been lost to me.
My fingers are on the television again, touching her lips. Someone behind me is shouting for me to get out of the way. If only I could kiss her, I think, ignoring them. Hold her. Talk to her. A baby, someone hisses to my left. Can you believe it? asks another. Is this some ploy to confuse us? All of them I try to block out until, my hand is slowly sliding down the length of the screen, pausing against the image of Katniss' stomach. The bulge. That is made by a baby. My baby? Our baby.
"Our little girl," Katniss whispers into my chest. Did she know? Was she afraid to tell me? Worried I would only be more determined to make her live and me die? The fact that I might of died, not knowing, is painful, but not nearly as bad as the regret I feel. Had this taken her by surprise once she'd woken up in the Capitol's hovercraft and not the rebels? I can't imagine the turmoil she'd felt. What have I done? I think momentarily. Now both mother and child must go through unimaginable torment. Trapped in the Capitol, who is only growing angrier at her by the second.
"It's getting stronger everyday, I can feel it kicking and moving around most of the time," Katniss says, shifting again. She fidgets when she lies, I know. She gets uncomfortable, and she forces eye contact.. just like she is now.. to Caesar. The smile on her face is like breaking plastic.
"Oh! That's just fantastic," Caesar enthuses. "Strong little thing, isn't it?"
At those words Katniss pales, lips parting slightly. A far off look comes to her eyes, but Caesar is quick to recover. Years of terrified tributes have paid off. "But of course, not too strong," says Caesar, grinning. "Can't have it bruising that adorable little bump of yours."
Adorable? My thoughts bounce from their words to the ones behind my back. "Adorable?" Katniss echoes me. Her hands are twisting awkwardly in her lap, but I only glimpse that before the camera zooms in closer so they're not noticeable. But I saw. I know all of this is forced. "I'm a whale."
"Nonsense! The moment I saw you I could hardly hold back a sigh of admiration. I'm sure the whole nation would agree," says Caesar. "Can't you just imagine Peeta fawning over her?" he asks, turning to the camera.
I feel a sliver of anger at that. My hand falls from the screen as a fist. You can't imagine anything that I would do, I think. I would go to Katniss, take her hands and beg her to forgive me, because I know it's the right thing to do. Though I am happy about the baby.. about how this could have happened, a miracle. A being half me and half Katniss.. wait, no. Katniss will be upset. I have to respect that.
"He would probably carry her around, don't you think?" joked Caesar. I hear Gale's furious voice behind me, because Flickerman has begun touching Katniss' baby bump. I try to block it out. All of them behind me, out, out. For now...
"I really don't know," say Katniss when asked about the trials of pregnancy. "I missed most of it."
"Missed?" inquires Caesar.
Katniss shrugs. In her eyes you can see she isn't participating much in the conversation, rather she is thinking of something else, far away. "I was unconscious for three months after the arena. I hit my head pretty hard, I guess."
"I'll say!" says Caesar. Then he goes to being sympathetic, continuing on the line of the inevitably coming parenthood. He expresses congratulations. Assures Katniss that everyone is so glad she didn't miscarry and that the Games gave him a right scare, but were so, so, so thrilling!
When the topic of war comes, she blows us all away. All cries of confusion, anger or accusations of falseness die to silence, listening intently to everything Katniss gets out. Most of it is a lie. It is obviously there, in the tremor of her hands. Other parts, though, I'm unsure. The talk about the result of war and the broken children raised by broken parents.. all of it is arresting. I'm suddenly remembering the newly burnt down forest in District 7. The rising birth rates, meaning new children to corrupt...
I wait for her to address me, or her family, or even just District 13. But she never does. There is no message that we get. Only this ceasefire, the understandings that her and Snow have reached. The understanding that she would like to live? All I know is that all too soon, Caesar Flickerman is signing them off. The Capitol anthem begins to play, the symbol of the Capitol replacing the image of them in the pale sitting array, and then someone mutes the television again.
No one speaks for a few moments, breathing, waiting it out. Every one of them pondering what they've just seen. I know I should turn. Face the others and all their questions. Except my feet can't seem to lift themselves from the ground, the image of Katniss' face tumbling through my mind like a slide show. Smiling. Frowning. Thinking. Gray eyes glinting in the beam of light that catches them.
Does she know I'm still coming? That I haven't forgotten her? That I'm doing more and more for her every day? That I still very, very selfishly want her to live?
Finally, it's Gale who speaks first. "This has to be some sort of trap," Gale says. I turn around to face the table of standing officials and they are all looking at him. "She would never. Even Peeta admitted that he lied around the pregnancy." He's speaking to President Coin now, eyes staring straight at her face, hard and insulted. "They're obviously just trying to confuse us and pull the sympathies of the district and Capitol citizens. The more adorable they think she is, the better."
Adorable? Breathtaking. No one says anything. We're all watching President Coin's face. She turns to me, eyes expectant. I'm stunted when the whole room pivots with her, every eye on me. Expectant.
"Is it possible?" Haymitch says from his place at the table.
My eyes find his. "Is what possible?"
"The baby!" Haymitch insists. "Is it possible you knocked sweetheart up?"
Everyone is watching, waiting, expectant. Gale's eyes are boring through my face, waiting for me to say that it's not true. That Katniss would never have sex with anyone, just like she always claimed. That his best friend hadn't betrayed him in someway, by lying for years, by discouraging his affections because of a belief such as this one..
"Maybe," I sort of breathe and cough at the same time.
Somehow I had thought that would keep people from comprehending the word or the meaning, but instead, they seem to understand immediately, throwing themselves into a frenzy. Haymitch breaks out into laughter, as if this could just make the cherry on top of his cake, while President Coin gives a curt, indifferent shake of her head. Gale is stone cold, the complete opposite of the replacement camera director for the dead Plutarch, he isn't Capitol, but he's still slightly enthused about the whole thing.
"What do you mean maybe?" Coin presses. Her voice isn't sharp or filled with malice, in fact, it's quite the opposite, more matter-of-fact than anything. "Is it possible for her to be pregnant or not?"
I can feel the heat rise in my face, giving me away more than my words could. The fact that they want me to flat out say I made love with Katniss is not only prying, but rude on both sides. I don't think Katniss would appreciate it, and I wouldn't want to betray her trust, but this is President Coin, and when she wants answers, she'll get them somehow. "Yes, it's completely possible," I say. Though it only happened once. How can a baby come from one time? How come I hadn't thought about this during the love making? Odds, I really am an idiot.
"Dismissed," Coin says flatly. "We'll talk about this at the next meeting." For a moment she hesitates, then says, "And we'll also discuss her words of treason, too."
"Treason?" I demand, hotly. "You think she said those words because she actually thought them?"
"I said dismissed, Soldier Mellark," Coin replies. "We will discuss it another time."
I'm about to go off in a damn of emotions when a girl, I had no noticed before, touches my shoulder. It's enough to distract me, while Coin and her men sweep out of the room. Slightly irritated that she got away without discussing the matter, I turn to the girl, without realizing it, that I'm about to vent all my anger on her. Haymitch, fortunately stops me, grasping my wrists, twisting it painfully.
"Get out of here," he snaps at the girl, who scampers at the sight of such an old, bitter, and ruined man. Haymitch lets me go once she's gone.
"Thanks," I say. I glance around, feeling embarrassed by the lack of control I have at times, while rubbing my wrist, saddened. Since when have I become this unstable creature?
"Don't thank me," says Haymitch. The old mentor to me looks over my face, all razor sharp precision, something so unlike him. "You're the idiot who knocked her up."
"You deny it?"
"Then you knocked her up."
"Well you did stick it in, didn't you?"
I rebuke at his brashness. "That's not even-"
"Then you knocked her up," Haymitch repeats, turning from me, end of discussion. "Tell me," Haymitch raises his voice as he trails toward the door, "was it worth it?"
I hurry to his side, realizing no one else was in the room anymore. "It's none of your business," I hiss to him, hoping this conversation isn't noted by all the other people outside, dispersing in the hallway. But I feel the wave of regret again, the need to apologize to Katniss. The sudden, overwhelming joy and love for the baby inside her–
"You son of a bitch," I hear as I step from Command into the hallway. Then, I feel a flaring, burning pain in my left jaw. Gale's left fist coming in for a second hit, when Haymitch catches it for me. Throwing the teenage boy away from me in an immense feat. Sprawling the furious Gale across the floor.
The punch caused to me to stagger, grasping the door frame for support, but I didn't completely kill over. When I try to speak or say anything, whether to express how shocked or sorry I am to Gale, it comes out as nothing but an intermingled groan. The blood wells up inside my mouth, slipping into the hand I grasp my face with. It hurts, but not as much as losing a leg or venom deteriorating my muscles does.
Since we are so close to Command, soldiers arrive to take Gale away, rather quickly. He's off to the detention hallway, no doubt. A place I'm more than familiar with. Everyone who stopped to watch the show, shakes their head when they see Gale being dragged away, until he pushes at the soldier's hands and tries to regain some dignity by walking stiffly on his own. With only a glance over his shoulders I now that whatever crossroad we may have found in the past five months has been sabotaged by this one thing.
Haymitch offers me a hand. "That looks.. hm, maybe we should get you to the hospital."
I nod. Better to see Prim and Mrs. Everdeen now rather than later. Awkward situation at its worst, Prim will actually know how babies are made and Mrs. Everdeen might get angry, though her anger will be easier to face than Gale's.
On the elevator ride down, I find myself thinking about Katniss. About what I just saw. How adorable she looked. How alive and healthy and breathing she is.
Yes, I think to myself, remembering Haymitch's question, it was worth it.
I'm selfish like that. And now they're both waiting for me, needing more from me; all that making no matter. I will find someway to shift earth and heaven if I must.