Witnesses swarmed the site, Trojan and Panem alike.
Finnick, Marvel, and Deimas, and a score of others did not seem so badly affected by the blanket of gloom that overlay the Panem witnesses, who were predictably appalled at the sight of their precious land set afire. The Trojans were used to this, to a drier climate and forest fires, to tragedy. Peeta, their leader, representative, and increasingly their god, would not fail them. They all turned to him the moment he arrived. He stood to one side of the flames, face taunt and unreadable, peering into the great inferno as if he could see meanings within it. Wearing only his bands of kingship and a pristine white hip wrap, he looked all any one would want in a leader. Even Clove dimmed beside him.
"What caused this?" Peeta called, loud enough to carry. He turned to his advisers. "It is mid-winter!"
None had an answer save for Finnick, whom gestured toward a pale-faced Cinna.
"Well?" Clove dove in, narrowing her eyes at the man. "What of this do you know, Cinna?"
Cinna opened his mouth to respond, but he was cut off by a despairing cry.
"How could this happen! The labyrinth is supposed to protect us!"
Many echoed dismay in that way and worry etched across Peeta's face. "It's true," he murmured.
"Hush," Clove spat at him, then glared at the surrounding citizens. "Go! Find water! Put this to rest!"
Some stirred themselves to the task, and, when Cinna moved to do thus, Clove snatched him by an arm. "Tell me, in what manner has this fire come to be? Did you see anyone? A man... red-haired, perhaps?"
Cinna's mouth opened, then closed, and his eyes flickered uncertainly at the flames. "Katniss –"
"Katniss!" Clove seized upon the name. "She has done this?"
"What of Katniss?" Peeta jumped in, his face worried. "I can scarcely sense her."
Cinna deflated slightly. "You can't?" He cast another look to the fire. "Dario..."
"Dario?" said Marvel. "Our old house guard?"
Clove frowned. "I do not know any Dario," she said.
"I knew him," said Peeta, still confused. "Are you saying he did it? Or Katniss?"
"He.." Cinna once more turned to look –
Clove grabbed his face in her hand and ripped his gaze back to hers, such as she used to whenever talking to Twill. "Spit it out," she said. "Describe this Dario to me. Is he red-haired? Crippled?"
Clove threw her head back and cursed profusely. "I knew it! I knew it!"
"What? Knew what?" Peeta inquired, glancing over at his equally bewildered advisers.
"How could I have been so careless? Leaving you – Katniss! – open to any contact with them?" Clove shook her head and paced away from them to face the supernatural fire spreading near a mile or two across the meadows beside Panbank. "Peeta, you fool. All of you, fools! A cripple guard? Fools!"
"Is he not what he seems?" asked Finnick.
"He is all that he seems: devious and sly." She gestured to the fire. "He is an Enlightened."
"Enlightened?" Peeta asked, his voice strained. "In my household..." Through the bands Clove could sense his upset, a swell of betrayal, and, ludicrously, a onslaught of jealousy as scattered images of Katniss and Dario played throughout his mind, with vague ones of Prim and him as well. "How long.."
"She's betrayed you," Clove said, softly at first, then wheeling. "You see it don't you? Here you thought to fear Gale, her childhood lover, but her true lover has been under the same roof as you for months!"
Peeta shook his head, not believing a bit –
Clove tightened her fists and the band's influence.
As they stared at each other, Finnick laughed gruffly. "That's ridiculous. Dario –"
"Silence!" Clove snarled at him, and when Finnick dared to look affronted, she went on to narrow her eyes and point an accusing finger at him. "Is that jealousy in you, Finnick? Are you, too, her lover?"
Peeta looked to Finnick with disbelieving eyes. "Finnick..."
"What?" He was as unamused as Finnick got and angry, too. "Don't pull me into your games, woman."
"Look at him, growing defensive," murmured Clove to Peeta.
"She's insane, Peeta. I would never. I would never touch Katniss like that. She's... you know me."
Clove shook her head and said, "You know Katniss, too, Peeta. You know her betraying ways."
"Stop this at once," Finnick said sternly.
Deimas stepped forward and placed a hand on Peeta's shoulder, forcefully turning his king's gaze from Finnick's face. "This is not even the problem of the time, my prince," he said, calmly. "The fire..."
"...is no doubt Darius and Katniss' attempt to get at Peeta and I," said Clove.
"She's in there, now," Peeta spoke for the first time, seeming to reawaken, his eyes riveted on the flames. "I can sense her in there. It's faint, though. I don't understand how.. or why..."
Cinna nodded, the bobbing of his head ungracious. "She ran right in.. right in.."
"Why? In the fire? It will kill her," said Marvel, speaking as the others furrowed their brows.
Cinna looked uncertainly between them all. "Prim.."
"Prim is in there as well?" exclaimed Finnick. "What madness is this? They will burn!"
As they contemplated the impossibility of it all, Clove's mind spun with possibility.
Finally, she folded her lips together and rested a hand on Peeta's elbow. "I sense her now, too. She is in there. Darius as well..." She turned her eyes to him, the dark orbs flat and hard. "Kill them. End them."
For one horrible second Finnick, Marvel, Cinna, and Deimas stood and watched Peeta's face, waiting for him to refuse, anticipating the rip of his arm from her touch. Instead, the moments passed as Peeta stared unwaveringly into Clove's eyes. Then he tensed and nodded. "Aye. It is as you wish it, dove."
"Peeta!" Finnick cried in dismay. "This is Katniss we are talking of. She is a good woman!"
Peeta opened his mouth to respond, but Clove cut in. "Burning this land is good?"
"It was not her," said Cinna, but he choked halfway through the sentence, and Clove took a threatening step in his direction. "Katnis –" Coughing, hard and thin. "Sto – op.." He wilted onto his knees, clutching his throat, as his face changed from white to purple.
Deimas crouched at his side, concerned. "What is it? What ails you? Cinna? Is it the smoke?"
Cinna shook his head and reached out one hand to point an accusing finger at Clove.
"Witch!" he spat, slinging an arm around Cinna's shoulders. "Stop this! Do not kill this innocent man."
"Peeta," snapped Finnick, taking up a place at Cinna's side. "Peeta?" Peeta did not move. "Peeta!"
"Ignore him," said Clove, turning on her toes, as Cinna lowered himself closer to the ground. He was on his elbows now, his chest shaking and his entire body seizing, keening for air. "Do as I told you."
"Now? Within the flames?" he asked.
She touched his arm, felt the power flare there. "Wrap your gifts tight around you and it will be fine."
"All will be fine," he said, softly, and Clove beamed as she watched him disappear into the flames.
(About a half hour before..)
Darius felt it first. A tug. Tiny, yet insistent.
Prim and him were standing to one side of the ash tree. She was turning on foot, trying with all her might to perfect what could never be perfected, and he was watching her with as much passiveness as he could. Just below his elbow, it felt like a pinch. An itch in his throat. Something that was there, near.
He turned his head, eyeing the meadowlands, as if he could find it.
He was not entirely sure what it was.
Prim was oblivious, her body straining to the left. In the fan on her hair, Darius saw the waning shine. He turned his face upward and watched as clouds accumulated, dark gray. Thresh? he thought lightly.
Run, was the answering thought to his. It was Annie's voice.
Something akin to terror settled within his stomach.
"Prim," he said, the word sounding strangled even to him, and he instinctively grabbed her shoulders.
It was only just in time.
The next instant Prim wailed as she felt something grab within her belly, and then both she and Darius were hauled forward, some ten feet, falling to their hands and knees, a weight pressing down on them.
A pair of shining black shoes appeared before Darius' bowed face.
"Darius, Primrose," said a male voice. "A pleasure."
Thresh, he thought, cried out, panicked, in need.
"Darius," Annie's voice sounded behind him and he attempted to rise and face it, but the weight only tripled on him. He heard Prim mewling in displeasure beside him, pushing desperately away from the dirt with her hands. "Don't struggle," said Annie, ghosting closer. "Don't struggle... Thresh, now?"
Thresh's deep voice resonated nearby. "There's no reason for this."
"What?" said the male voice, deeper. "You mean this?"
Prim's struggling froze. Everything about her froze, and Darius watched anxiously as she slowly began to shudder. Her arms gave out entirely and she kissed the ground, still shaking. She whimpered in pain.
"Stop!" he shouted, his own struggling renewed, despite Annie's warning. "Release her!"
"Darius," warned Thresh, but he was silenced by the male's delighted laughter.
"This is the replacement Hera, is it? This is the child you've been trying to hide from me?" The black shoes spun about with a loud sigh of amusement. "This is the island you've been hiding from me?"
"You have no place here," Thresh said very seriously. "The child is of no concern to you."
"But why ever not?" The man moved around the pair on the ground and came up between them, crouching. Darius felt his hand rest against his lower back. It was large and heavier than a boulder.
"Katniss," Prim whimpered, rocking away from the man's touch, crying.
"Hush," Darius breathed in return, but it was too late.
"Katniss!" the man echoed. "Oh, she is here? I would love to meet her. Where is she?"
Neither replied, not even Thresh, and the man hissed in displeasure. "If you do not tell me..."
The threat hung there, until his hand pressed down and Darius felt something of himself loosening. A deep set ache traveled through him, from the roots of his teeth to his lungs, and he began to shake.
Still, he did not say a word.
The ache turned to a impossible mixture of iciness and burning. He could not draw breath.
Prim sobbed dryly beside him.
Annie spoke out, her voice warbled. "Poseidon, you're hurting me. Stop using so much power."
The hand on Darius' back disappeared and with it the pressure that was keeping him bowed. He sat up, wheezing, and caught sight of the oh, so, mighty Poseidon in true as he rounded on the shaking Annie.
He wasn't much taller than Thresh, but unquestionably stronger, older. Perhaps forty, if you were exaggerating, and twenty-five if you were trying to insult him. A tuft of platinum blonde hair topped his pale, pale face, with blue, blue eyes, and his lips were an offsetting shade of strawberry pink.
But most notably, perhaps not physically, was that Darius could feel a string of power between Poseidon and Annie. It was painfully taunt, as it always was, and Annie was struggling to stay up-right, while meeting his stare. A tug a war issued from it, them, and it was always heavier on Poseidon's side.
Before Poseidon could get too into it with Annie, thankfully, Thresh stepped between them, bearing down on the older god with his massive dark frame. "You will return home this instant," he told him, sounding like a father talking to a misbehaving child, and Darius winced when Poseidon smirked.
"What are you gonna do, make me?"
Thresh did not answer. He continued to stare at him, and Poseidon's smile became one of victory.
"Nothing," he sang. "Poor little Thresh, too weak to face Annie and I. Does it pain you, my king?"
The 'my king' was used mockingly.
Annie sighed. "Poseidon, please. This once..."
"You used to like fun, don't you remember?" Poseidon said in return, stepping around Thresh to thread his arm through Annie's. The image of the two arm and arm brought back a lot of memories for Darius, of them before the Enlightened... before the power.. before Annie almost killed him and won.
Annie blinked at her feet, and Poseidon nestled that painfully bright blonde head against her thin shoulder. "Oh, I've come so far to meet him, Annie. Will I meet him today? I have found the island.."
Pain spread across Annie's face. "I did not wish for you to."
"Why not?" Poseidon said, his voice a fraction deeper.
The answer was a thought, and Darius picked it up in the web: Desperation has corrupted you.
Poseidon snorted. "If it's corrupted me, then it's corrupted you, too. We share, remember? You wanted my gift, and you have part of it, now, does it not please you as much as you thought it would?" When Annie did not answer, he tugged at her arm and said, "Oh, how clever you were befriending me first, my precious nymph. But I am cleverer, aren't I? Do you remember my finest moment? Huh?"
"This isn't necessary," Thresh sighed.
"Then get it over with," Poseidon taunted, as he always did. "Kill me."
Thresh looked to Annie in a despairing way, but stayed otherwise unmoved.
Prim finally dared to roll back into the sitting position and, instead of immediately running, snaked her arms around Darius' torso. He jolted in surprise, staring at her, then hesitantly wound his arms around her. He won't kill you, he murmured for her mind, and he knew she heard it when she stiffened.
He declined to say hurt, because all he could really promise was she would not die.
"Poseidon, please," Annie said again. "Please... be reasonable."
But if Annie begged it now, she's begged it a hundred time, and near all the rest of the Enlightened have, too. Poseidon did not care what they said; he was as unrestrained as he had been since Annie tried to topple him. He turned about, still clinging to Annie's arm, dragging her with, and smiled upon the reinforcements that Thresh had called to the meadow. All the Enlightened stood there, grimly.
Beetee stepped forward among them and met Poseidon's stare. "You can continue to play your games, Poseidon, and you can continue having your childish fits, lashing the sea all you wish, dragging Annie down with you and insulting us, just because you can, but this is not your land to play in. Not here."
"It's Clove's, right?" Poseidon replied, unperturbed by Beetee's accusations. He knows he's been troublesome to them. He revels in it. Paining them and having them chase after him and hang off all his actions seemed to be all he could do now that his old brethren were dead and gone. His eyes sparkled as he rested them on the distant rise of hills. "She's been busy building her couple's god well, huh?"
"Yes," breathed Annie. "Her and Peeta... she has Artemis' gifts and he has Hades'..."
Dark suspicion snaked into Poseidon's blue, blue eyes. "Will they be stronger than us?"
"Does it matter?"
Something whipped up through Annie and she gave a sharp cry, before sagging into Poseidon's arm.
"Will they be stronger than Thresh?" Poseidon said, harsher that time.
"And this is what you have complained to me of? I am making messes that distract you from them?"
"Peeta and Clove?" Thresh said, shaking his head. "No. They are a problem, yes, but they dim behind your antics. Both are problems, but it must please you to know you are the bigger of the two."
"It does please me."
"As everything does."
Poseidon laughed, proving his point. "But do not deny it, you've obscured this place from me. Why?"
Thresh looked to the other Enlightened standing some feet back all around them. Rue caught his eyes and lowered her head, and so on it went... Delly, Gloss... Wiress, Haymitch.. he stopped on Annie.
Annie was staring up into Poseidon's face, their eyes locked.
Darius shuddered to feel their pull there.
"Ah," Poseidon finally breathed, releasing Annie's arm and stepping back. "It's just been for him, then."
"I do not wish it," Annie said, and her legs shook so badly she sank to the ground in one fluid move. "I do not wish it," she said, again and again. "I do not wish it." Her voice broke, beseeching it of him.
That's when Darius sensed another coming. He was the first to feel the mortal aura pushing its way into their midst. It was light, though, unassuming, slow, non-aggressive. Familiar. "Cinna," he sighed.
Primrose was on her feet in seconds, having spotted the man. She eyed Poseidon uncertainly and took a few steps in Cinna's direction, but even if she could have slunk her entire way out of the meadow, passed the surrendering Enlightened, Poseidon sensed, or at the very least heard, Cinna's approach.
"Who's that?" he said, instantly interested.
"Poseidon," Thresh warned.
(And in Darius' mind Thresh said much, much more than that.)
Prim took a few more steps toward Cinna, daring to turn her back on Poseidon. Darius moved between the two, just in case, and called out, very loudly, "Cinna! Run, go! There is danger. Send for –"
But before Cinna knew whom to send for, Poseidon reached out to Darius and shoved him. Instead of going down, Darius rolled expertly back to his feet, and with just the brush of his hands he set the grass afire. It burned rapidly, circling Poseidon's feet, and he watched it do so with a strange expression.
"You think this will hold me?" Poseidon asked, amused.
"If I make it," Darius replied, softly, and Thresh's voice in his mind whispered: now.
With the raise of his arms, the fire grew ten feet tall and spreading.
He felt Poseidon throw it back. It, being his own power. Thrown right in his face. It sent flames circling outward. Many jumped back from its reach. Darius stood ground, but watched with unease as the remains of the fire dripped down to the rest of the grass and began to spread beyond what he told it to.
Annie was on her knees, rocking, sobbing, saying over and over, "Please, stop, Poseidon. Please, stop."
As she always did.
Katniss stood before the wall of fire in the rosy glow cast by the flames. She stood only because Cinna had her by the shoulders, as she hauled in painfully deep breaths, having run all the way from the palace. Moments ago, she held her son in her arms and she spoke to Peeta's dead father. Now...
"What has happened here?" she breathed.
Cinna shook his head. "Prim.."
"She is in there?"
"Yes. Darius –"
She didn't wait for him to finish, but passed from his hands and to the flames, not knowing what she'd find on the other side.
Katniss stopped almost immediately upon entering, having found that though from the outside the fire seemed solid through and through, it was actually only a thick wall of it surrounding an otherwise open space of meadow. She stopped less so to gather herself and more so to grasp the situation around her.
There were certainly others; more than she thought to find. Some stood as motionless as the dead, and others circled a small gathering of figures. Darius was the first she spotted; he seemed to be a mere shimmer of himself, watching the flames march relentlessly forward. He was concentrating, his body shaking with the effort, trying to hold back the flames enough so that the wall remained from spreading, but also to contain another smaller version of the wall about a single person. It was failing.
The contained figure lashed out, sending flames and mere force of will at Darius, sending him to his knees. Katniss jerked forward then, meaning to help Darius rise, but another woman came forward and hauled him to his feet again. She was tall, long-legged, as red haired as he, with a face resembling a fox, and just as quickly as she had come forward did she dart away, circling, eyes rapt upon Darius.
Thresh and Annie were among those close to the contained – almost contained – figure. Thresh stood, brow brooding, his hands extended as though to help, but Katniss was not quite sure what he was doing. Annie was on her knees, crying, and she jerked every time the trapped person lashed out.
Prim, Prim, Prim, Katniss' thoughts raced, and she found the familiar blonde head held in the arms of a stranger. It was a man, an Enlightened god, slightly paunchy, chin lengthen blonde hair laced here and there with silver strands, and a short-cropped beard similarly speckled. The instant Katniss' eyes settled on him, his pale blue ones turned toward her and he put Prim down in the grass, nodding her forward.
Katniss came forward, rushing. She dropped to her knees next to Prim, despite the fact that having the man stand above her made her uneasy. Easily, she found her little sister's heartbeat. "Is she hurt?"
"Asleep," grunted the man. "I put her asleep."
Katniss tipped her face up to meet his stare. "Why?"
He shrugged, made as though to reply, but Rue suddenly appeared at his side and silenced him with a look. "Be nice," Rue told him and he smirked, momentarily, before turning entirely away and leaving.
"Rue," Katniss greeted her with relief. "What is happening?"
"A problem... that we hope to contain," said Rue, and she touched Primrose lightly. "Haymitch did not lie. He put her asleep with... well, that doesn't matter. We didn't want her caught in any cross-fire."
"Who is Darius fighting?"
Rue sighed. "Would it be too much to hope you'd leave here and take Prim with you?"
"This is.. if this a problem that endangers my people... this land... then I can't just.."
"There's nothing you can do, Katniss."
"How do you know?" Katniss challenged, rising to her knees. "Because I'm mortal?"
"It's a complicated problem that has no easy solution. We have been fighting with Poseidon for –"
"Yes, and he's dangerous."
Katniss turned her head and tried to discern the figure within the flames now, but could not quite do so.
"Thresh cannot best him?" Katniss asked.
"Why not? All of you combined cannot kill him?"
"We can, but it would be at a great loss."
"What do you mean?"
Rue sighed, the sound shuddering through her tiny body and sounding ten times her age. "Annie."
"Annie tried to best him, but he's clever. He was dying. His power was going to her. He improvised."
"A loophole. He made quick work... of making a new power source."
"Can't you simply destroy the power source?"
"You wish us to kill Annie?"
Katniss jerked around to look at Rue again. "Annie is his power source?"
"Annie is his power source, and he is hers. It is a doomed system. Kill one and the other dies."
"He will not be... subdued? You will not make a friend of him, then?"
"He will not befriend us. We are the rebels. The ones that have killed his brethren."
Katniss turned her head back to the action. It was becoming increasingly clear that Darius would not hold on much longer. The fox-faced woman was now supporting him entirely by an arm.
"What does he want?" Katniss asked, softly now.
"To make as much trouble as he can. To force our hands and make us kill him and one of our own."
"He wants to make a point. He wants us to know we are no better than he and his own. They fought and killed amongst themselves and he wants us to see that we are no less savage... that we are uncivilized."
Katniss thought of Clove then, of how Clove was willing to kill amongst their numbers, but declined to mention it. Instead, she said, "And Thresh won't... he refuses to do so? He will not harm Annie?"
"As of yet."
In union, Darius and Annie cried out. Darius collapsed into Foxface's shoulder, and with him the fire about Poseidon vanished, and the wall of fire surrounding the meadow flared ravenously outward.
Poseidon's grin was a gleam of white teeth in his pale face. He strut forward. Foxface paddled backward, dragging Darius with her, and the frantic look in her eyes drew another Enlightened forward.
The Enlightened was male, blonde, handsome, and clothed like a fine Greek soldier. He squared up to Poseidon and Annie called out a wordless warning, reaching out a hand. The man ignored her.
"Gloss is a bravado fool," Rue murmured, then she rose to her feet. "I must see to Darius."
Katniss watched Rue aid Foxface in dragging Darius aside. Another Enlightened joined them, a woman, and they all crouched around him. She felt a slight inclination to go to him, but Prim lying before her kept her in place. She pet her sister's hair back and watched anxiously as Poseidon, without even touching him, brought Gloss to his knees. Annie had begun shakily crawling toward them.
Thresh moved without Katniss registering it. It was as if he had not moved at all. One moment he was standing off a ways, and the next he had Poseidon in a hold; his arms wrapped around his chest and shoulders. The two large men grappled. Annie reached the weakened Gloss and pulled him behind her.
Rue streaked across the meadow to them, leaving Darius in Foxface's care.
A blonde woman resembling Gloss, too, came forward.
Rue placed two hands on Poseidon's arm that was not striking out at Thresh's face. Again, Katniss seemed to miss a moment in time. One moment Rue was reaching up and over at the man, and the next she was being backhanded by him, falling back several feet before she hit the ground.
Katniss drew in a sharp displeased breath, standing without meaning to.
The blonde woman was shouting, patting at Gloss' face.
Something touched Katniss' arm; warm, damp. She jerked back out of instinct, turning to realize that unbeknownst her the wall of fire had been drawing closer. A moment of unease touched her, until the flames completely crawled over her shoulders and she realized despite being immune Prim wasn't.
Awkwardly, she scooped Prim up in her arms and stumbled forward. She didn't want herself to be any closer to Poseidon, and even less so, Prim, but she decided he was of a lesser evil than standing aside and allowing Prim to be burned alive. With a suffocating heat pressing at her back, she maneuvered forward, but kept her feet moving toward where Darius lay, rather than where the others fought.
Rue was back on her feet, blood smearing her face. Thresh stepped in front of her and took a blow from Poseidon that threatened to off-seat him, but Thresh retaliated with an equal force. Poseidon's nose warbled and bled, and he laughed uproariously when Thresh stalled mid-air with the second hit because Annie howled along with Poseidon and clutched her own face. Katniss could see her blood from afar.
She felt helpless, stooping to her knees as Prim's weight became too much. Darius lay beside Prim unmoving – unbreathing – and something tight made it impossible to breathe. "Is he...?"
"He will recover," said Foxface. She didn't glance at him or Katniss. Her eyes were rapt on the fighting.
"Gloss will recover, too."
Katniss snapped her head back to see whom had spoken. It was a man, older, with the strangest spectacles that Katniss had ever seen perched on his nose. His eyes, however, behind them, were dark and intelligent and tugged at her. "Beetee," he greeted her, holding out a hand. She stared at it.
Shaking hands with gods, she thought. Once, I might not even have dreamed it.
She took his hand, momentarily. There was no proper shake, but he squeezed her palm kindly.
Haymitch came jogging over, sweating. His clothes were smoking in places, soot smeared along his exposed flesh. His hands were raw, newly healed, and he was scowling. "Beetee, we need you."
Beetee glanced back at Katniss, something in his face, but he nodded and followed Haymitch away.
Katniss watched them join the remaining Enlightened. Delly was with them, her arms outstretched and overhead, directed at the closing-in flames. They all stood in a similar position, working in union.
"Won't you help them?" Katniss asked of Foxface.
"The fire is.." Foxface glanced over at Katniss for the first time. "I have no influence there."
"What do you here?"
"I'm back up. I swoop in once it looks as though they'll fall." She gestured to the fighting.
Gloss was being dragged toward them by the blonde woman. Foxface rose in a movement that Katniss missed, and she raced forward, grabbing the large man's legs and laying him beside Darius and Prim.
"He will not wake," the blonde woman was fretting.
"He's died," Foxface said, none too gently. "It will take time before his god well un-does the damage."
"Is Darius dead?" Katniss murmured.
"No, he's stronger than you think. Gloss will heal eventually, his god well will just take time to do it."
"Poseidon is too damn strong," the woman sneered. "He doesn't even have a well! Just Annie –"
"Cashmere!" The blonde woman lifted her face. Delly was waving her over. "We need you!"
Indeed, it looked as though they did. Despite the combined efforts of the Enlightened the wall of fire was still advancing inch by inch forward. Cashmere pressed a kiss to Gloss' forehead and departed.
Katniss had nothing to do, but push a sweaty fringe of hair from her face and watch the fight.
Thresh and Rue danced about Poseidon. Annie was unmoving, still clutching her face and rocking.
"He takes all the healing power," murmured Foxface, and Katniss jumped to hear her, but the goddess continued on: "She feels all the pain that's dealt, so Thresh and Rue are at a loss of what to do."
"There is no way to contain him?"
"Cages do not hold gods."
"Trap him in a mortal body, like –"
"Even if Thresh knew how to do that, it would cut Annie off from the power, too."
"Would he not rather have her alive and free of torment, but powerless?"
She did not reply to the question. Perhaps she did not know, or she knew and did not want to say it.
As Poseidon reached out, grasping Rue by her throat and pulling her off her feet, Katniss found herself standing again, desperately wishing she could do something. Thresh tore at the man's hold, and Annie keened, while Poseidon grinned. The heartless bastard, Katniss thought, anger thudding through her veins. Annie and Rue, the two most delicate beings she had laid eyes on, tormented before her eyes.
A range of shouting erupted at her back. She turned on her toes, expecting the fire to be closer.
It was, certainly, but that was not why the Enlightened were shouting warnings.
Just when she thought nothing could get worse, Peeta came stumbling out of the flames.
I looked over at Prim. She still lay deeply asleep, unaffected by the smoke gathering within the rapidly shirking circle of fire. Even I couldn't feel the heaviness of smoke in my lungs, and I doubted the Enlightened felt it. Peeta certainly didn't, as he quickly passed from flames to field and spotted me.
For one blessed moment I hoped he would be blue-eyed and helpful.
I reached out to him, actually, meaning to ask him to take Prim elsewhere.
I didn't think it relevant, the way Foxface got to her feet and backed away as he approached. I didn't really understand why the other Enlightened had been so dismayed to see him and had scrambled out of his path, abandoning their posts at the fire. I didn't understand until he was right in front of me and...
.. he hit me.
Enough to throw me off my feet and crack my head against the ground.
I pushed myself up on an elbow, half-lying on top of Darius and Gloss' legs, dizzy.
"Whore!" he shouted at me.
I could only blink up at him in surprise for a few moments, stunned. Then he reached for me again and something like survival kicked in and I rolled away, onto a side of Darius, getting to my knees.
I grabbed Peeta's wrist, to both pull myself to my feet and to force skin-contact.
Hug as close as the bands...
He hit me again; I fell to my knees, but pushed myself back up immediately.
My face throbbed as I looked up at him. "Peeta! Peeta, listen to me! This isn't you." I was trembling now, but I didn't want to admit it. "This isn't you. Whatever Clove told you... snap out of this!"
Another blow. This time he went for my mid-section. I screamed, not because I anticipated the pain or because he was hitting me – he would do many things that was not him, under Clove and the band's influence – but because of the baby. I screamed because of her and threw myself away from him for her, stumbling backward, closer to the original fight, but deftly avoiding any sort of damage.
It didn't matter that I was well away. He had other targets. The moment I tumbled out of reach, he rounded on the unconscious Darius. From his sheathe, Peeta drew a sword. I missed that, somehow, just like Thresh and Poseidon. Either he moved too fast or with too much magic. I missed the moment he drew it, but I didn't miss the glint of metal that swept in a vicious arc across Darius' throat.
Someone, another Enlightened, screamed. Whether in anger or fear, I couldn't tell.
I couldn't hear much over my own shouting.
Darius' body convulsed, blood spurting over him in a hot, sticky flood. No, no, no. Darius –!
Peeta stooped down, taking a firm grip on Darius' hair, dragging the cripple to his feet, and all I could do was cry, "No! No! Oh, gods, Peeta, no! Not Darius!" And I knew that somehow, someway, in time Darius would recover. He had to. He was immortal. His god well would heal him. And yet, there he was, being hacked at by the man I loved – no, the being who wore his form. Darius, who had always teased me and who defended me. Darius, who would do anything to earn a kiss. "Not Darius!"
I scrambled forward again, one tiny part of my mind knowing it was far too late to pull Peeta back to himself, but the larger part desperately believing that I could still make a difference… I scrambled forward just in time to see Peeta dash Darius to the ground again and bury his blade in his belly.
I stared in horror.
Peeta lifted the blood covered blade, lifted his eyes to me, and took one step forward.
I stared at him, knowing he was intent on killing me.
Hundreds of emotions hit me. Terror was a sweat on my skin. Underneath it was a sadness, a pity for him, and a hatred for Clove so strong I would become physically sick if I did not do something about it.
He spoke to me, raging: "Whore! I have always known this!"
Stepping back, I could not take my eyes from the sword in his hand.
Behind me, Rue was shouting and Poseidon was laughing.
"I have had enough of you and your treacherous, whorish ways!" Peeta screamed at me — gods, I had never heard him so loud, so raging... I could not wrap my head around the anger Clove instilled in him. "You have never been a wife to me," he continued. "You were a whore in your king's court, and –"
"I was a virgin when you took me, you know that!" I said, stung into speech.
He hit me again. "Whore's tricks for all I know. Who else have you taken behind my back? Marvel? Finnick? Cinna? Is Achates mine, or a hybrid of all the men you've had crawl between your legs?"
I clutched my stinging cheek. Annie was screaming, still, almost as if to shut out his loathsome words.
Oh, Seeder, what happened?
This day, oh gods. This day had turned into my own hell.
At that moment I finally wholeheartedly believed what Coriolanus had told me. With that knowledge, I think I would have provoked Peeta into a greater rage so that he would mercifully batter me to death, had not at that moment the situation exploded into a worse disaster than that which already gripped it.
Haymitch, out of no where, socked Peeta in the side of his face.
As he stumbled unsteadily, surprised by the blow, Cashmere and Delly grabbed Peeta's arms in a grip that pushed him to his knees. Beetee threw himself to my side. Foxface sank down beside Darius.
Haymitch ripped the sword from Peeta's hands and threw it an amazing distance.
Then there was Poseidon, smirking, standing in the midst of us all.
Thresh and Rue were just reaching the new gathering, aghast. Poseidon eyed Darius, then smiled down on the kneeling Peeta, who had started insanely throwing himself around, trying to escape his binds.
"See," he spoke, his voice rumblingly deep, like the crash of waves on cliffs. "You are no better."
I think I shouted. Or screamed. I am not sure. Perhaps I did both, but all I can remember in that instant a shrieking, impressive sound reverberated from my chest, shocking many into stunned silence and making Peeta sink momentarily to his haunches. Remember, Asterion said, stick it in hard and true.
I took a step forward.
Beetee grabbed at my wrist, but I ripped my hand away from his touch.
I took another step forward, everyone watching me strangely, wonderingly, not knowing what went on in my head, or why my eyes were fixed on Poseidon. Inside of me I got that strange sense again, of feeling an emotion that was not truly mine; but it was not from Peeta this time, for he wore the bands and they dulled his true connection to me. It was from Coriolanus. He was seething with victorious joy.
He knew what I would do – as he'd swore up and down to me I would do it, eventually, for him.
My right hand slipped into my robe, into the pocket that ran down its right seam.
Then, with neither Darius or Prim awake to realize what went on, to hold me back from doing what Coriolanus had told me was destined, I half ran, half lunged at the broad expanse of Poseidon's body.
Mid-lunge I drew from my robe the knife; wickedly sharp, with its curiously twisted bone handle.
I felt Thresh's bruising hands on my side and Rue's attempt of grabbing my ankle. Even Peeta regained himself enough to know what I meant to do – his horrified face showed that plenty. Except, what he and all the others, aside Prim and Darius, didn't know was that I didn't need to aim for the heart.
Poseidon thought so. With what little time he had to react, he twisted away, giving me a shoulder.
I slapped my free hand onto this shoulder, and as Poseidon's head whipped about, his eyes both eager and startled, with my knifed hand I sank Coriolanus' blade to its hilt into the base of Poseidon's neck.
Everything stopped: the breathing of the watchers; the very movement of the fire; the sinking of the sun; the running of the deers in the forests above the Veiled Hills. Everything stopped to stare.
Then movement resumed:
Katniss, her face and eyes relieved and anxious all at once, stepped back, as if to avoid the sudden, vicious spurting of blood from Poseidon's neck. Poseidon twisted as he sank to the ground so that his eyes, his blue, blue eyes, never left Katniss' face. Annie cried out, reaching for Poseidon desperately.
People shoved around; Peeta was released to slump to the ground, Foxface was shaking her head vaguely, Beetee was muttering to another slight black-haired woman, Cashmere flinched forward –
But none moved as fast or as maliciously as did Poseidon.
He reached to the hilt protruding from the junction of his neck and shoulder and gripped it with both his hands. "Witch!" he hissed at Katniss, whom now stood two or three paces away. "You stupid –"
His voice caught.
"Stupid... bitch.. can't even aim..."
Thresh, who had grabbed at Poseidon's arm, suddenly went pale. "She's killed him," he murmured.
The other Enlightened went still when they, too, felt the knowledge of that.
Rue gave a ghastly cry and disappeared, running to Annie. Delly raced over to join her.
Blood was bubbling from Poseidon's mouth, and his chest was heaving in his desperate effort to breathe. "I should have killed her," he hissed at no one. "We should have let him kill her... now she..."
Before anyone could stop him, Poseidon's hands tightened about the hilt of the knife, and with a shriek of pure fury he pulled it forth. Blood spouted from the wound in his neck. Annie was brought forth, stretched between Rue and Delly, and she cried out at the sight of Poseidon's dying and moved forward on the feet of one that seemed drunk and tried to stanch the desperate blood flow with her fingers.
"It is just your neck," Annie said, her voice faint. "Your neck –"
"No," said Thresh, his eyes on Katniss, grim. "She has killed you both."
The others in the area looked at loss as of what to do. Rue had tears on her cheeks, and Peeta had gone limp on the ground, his gaze unable to leave the sight of the knife in Poseidon's clenched fist.
Katniss drew in a shaking breath and said, "No. Annie will live."
Thresh exploded in her direction. "Mortal fool! He is her power source, you have killed her!"
"No." Katniss turned her head to the wall of fire that had stopped moving, but that still stood where it was. "No..." A figure slipped through it and she shuddered. "She lives like me now. As Coriolanus'."
As with Seeder, when he had slipped into the goddess' place, so had he slipped into Poseidon's.
The figure approached; it was Asterion, and many drew back in unease, wary of the new being.
"Coriolanus," Poseidon said, his voice now horribly liquid. "He.." he touched the bands on Peeta's arms, looking to anyone, everyone. "Hide these, for Coriolanus is surely on his way." Then, with one frantic, desperate look into Annie's eyes, he pushed her away with his remaining strength. He swayed, his life blood pumping out of him, then caught his balance one final time. Long enough to say what he needed. "Think not to have bested me," he babbled to them all. "Think not to have bested us. Think..."
With a last sigh, Poseidon fell to the ground and died.
Asterion stopped just short of my side and smiled down on me. "Coriolanus is proud of you."
The words made me feel sick. Not because of the pregnancy, or anything nearly as natural, but because I could feel Coriolanus' elation anyway. I could feel his pride for me, pulsing underneath my very skin.
Annie might not feel it yet, because she has not been his power source for long – and who knows, maybe it will be different between them, seeing as he is now also her power source (for that was what Poseidon had been) – but I think they all to some measure knew Coriolanus' success, even if they did not know the nature of the knife, or why it was that Poseidon had asked of them to hide the bands.
Gladly, I would have taken the bands and fled and hidden them from every last god there was. But I knew I could not touch them, still, and that Clove would never willingly remove them...
Coriolanus, however, was another matter.
I felt his hands settle warmly and heavily on my shoulders from behind me. I felt his grin; I didn't have to turn to know he was standing there, that he was smiling madly, as if he'd just won himself the world.
"Well-met!" the man said, as the Enlightened all turned their gazes to him. There was a measure of anger to his voice that made my heart stutter. He rubbed at my collarbones, nicely, before he pulled me aside, into Asterion's hands, and stepped forward to smile falsely on the others. "Well-met, indeed."
"Coriolanus, don't," I said.
He went still, the smile on his face freezing into place. He did not turn away from the others.
"What was that, Katniss?"
"Leave them be."
"They need to understand –"
I lunged for Poseidon's body, grappling to get the wet knife from Poseidon's limp hand. As I straightened, I saw that more than half of the gods within the gathering had drawn back with unease.
Even Peeta started eying her uncertainly.
I pointed to him and turned back to Coriolanus. "Take your bands and be gone," I commanded, but, in order for my words to hold any threat, I pulled the flat of the blade to my own throat.
His smile was still frozen. "You wouldn't."
"Would you risk losing a power source?"
"I have Annie, now. Between her and I we have near enough to make a godwell. I don't need you."
Annie, whom stared uncertainly at him, shook her head vaguely, but did nothing more.
"Do you really know that much about the workings of power?" he asked cryptically.
I glanced helplessly at Darius' mutilated body; the blood was still everywhere, though his skin was mending. He was all I had to tell me of such things, and there he was, unreachable. No, I didn't know much about it. Nothing, really. I didn't even know how this knife worked. Would using it to kill myself make him his own power source? Would that work? Would that be disastrous or helpful to him?
Coriolanus' face was still neutral, and I could not read a drop of fear or hope, or anything at all in it.
I pulled the knife closer to my skin, winced, and said, "I know that without me, you lose this land."
Surprise flickered through his eyes, before he frowned sternly. "What makes you say that?"
"Because I can feel it," I said and meant it. As much as I sensed him and (dully) Peeta, also, did I feel the pulse of something within the land. It wasn't like Seeder's old feelings, but it was the same I'd felt within the stone circle when I'd danced that mating dance with Joanna, when I'd seen that stag man. "Without me," I said, holding his dark, dark eyes, "you lose whatever hold you have here in Panem."
He laughed, soft. "Katniss, Katniss... even if you believe that, I know you won't kill yourself." He gestured to Peeta. "Would you risk him? Without you, he, too, will suffer. He may even die. And let us not forget why you blindly ran here in the first place, mm?" He motioned to Primrose lying nearby. "If you die, certainly I might... regret it, but you leave her to who knows what fate. Your children, too."
Children, he said; meaning both my son and unborn daughter.
Suddenly, the knife was ten pounds heavier.
I licked my lips, contemplating.
"Katniss," Beetee started to say, but Coriolanus swung in his direction.
"Who are you?" Coriolanus demanded.
Beetee glanced to Thresh, who was sizing Coriolanus up, then answered, "The Enlightened Athena."
A thought struck me dumb, out of no where, for no other reason that Coriolanus turned his attention away from me and turned to face Beetee face on, giving me his shoulder just – just as Poseidon had given me his shoulder. The thought hit me like lightening: what if his own knife killed him?
Where would the power go, then?
Would it do nothing at all, like a loop hole, and merely give himself his own power again?
Or would it break the cycle?
Would it kill all parties involved – Coriolanus, Annie, and I?
"You think yourself so clever," said Coriolanus to Beetee. "You all think so.."
Thresh took a step forward, and respective Enlightened moved to back him up, while some others melted away – Haymitch, Rue, the slight black-haired woman that Beetee had been talking to – and Peeta maneuvered himself to stand and be near me. Asterion, however, saw this and snatched him up.
"Just protecting you," Asterion informed me when I looked on in uncertain concern.
More like protecting the boss' tool.
Peeta didn't try to fight Asterion, but stared balefully at me – more accurately, at the knife in my hand. He seemed transfixed on it; and not just because it was still being held at my throat. He'd been struck by the thing the moment Poseidon had pulled it from his throat, right where I'd stuck it. But why?
I might have said he were scared of it, or wary of me because of it, if it were not for his eyes.
They weren't quite blue, but there were slivers of azure wavering within the blackness.
He was fighting it, yet I didn't know why or how, or what gave him the strength to fight it now.
I was momentarily distracted by Peeta – not registering Coriolanus or Thresh's words with each other – and it wasn't until his eyes reflected red and orange within the light filtering through the flames, that the fire, unbeknownst me, had started advancing on our little gathering again as we babbled at each other.
"Coriolanus," I said, snapped really. "The fire."
He glanced at it, then frowned. "What of it?"
"It's not of my choice," he said, quite calmly and reasonably.
"Poseidon was manipulating it," I countered. "Once Darius fell, he took over – "
"No he didn't," Thresh intoned. "Poseidon didn't touch the flames."
"Then who –"
Beetee stepped in again and said, "I've been trying to ask you of it... why you were doing it."
"Influencing it," he said, seriously, and I momentarily stared at him, waiting for the smile.
"Once Darius fell, it latched itself onto you, on your anger and upset and power, you realize."
"I don't have power."
"Why, Katniss, don't lie to them," said Coriolanus. "You said so yourself, you are the land."
"But I'm –" I sputtered, momentarily caught between the men's gazes. "I didn't mean that."
Coriolanus gave a shrug that could have meant anything. "More or less."
I drew in a breath and focused on the problem at hand – the fire. I stared at it, and waited for it to continue to move, watching the fingers of the flames wither over each other like a litter of rolling puppies, but even though it seemed to be moving forward, I found it was, in fact, not anymore.
I thought for a moment that I wanted it gone, entirely, and watched it start to crumble in on itself –
But then I panicked and realized I didn't want to see who was gathered beyond, especially if it was Clove, and so, when I felt that emotion spike and expressed a wish for it to grow, it flared very high.
Asterion whistled approval, but he was the only one.
"Perhaps, we could make a friend of you," Thresh said to Coriolanus. "For Annie's sake."
Annie and Coriolanus turned to each other and held gazes – I watched her shudder.
I stepped between them, forced Coriolanus to look me in the eye, and said, "I have a deal for you."
"A deal?" he said, interested, suspicious, eyebrow raised. "You loathed the thought last we spoke."
"For you, yes."
"What is this deal?"
"A very good one."
"Better than the deal you presented to the Spartan king, I hope."
I pressed my lips together, trying not to scowl. "I won't consider you my enemy, if you free Peeta."
"Your enemy!" he said, amused. "You won't consider me an enemy. But, still, you offer no friendship."
"It is a good deal," I repeated, trying to look neutral.
"It is reasonable... worth considering, even. I do want my bands back."
"Then take them."
He overlooked Peeta, still locked in Asterion's arms. "Will he give up their power fully?"
"Is it necessary for him to surrender it?"
"It would help."
I looked at Peeta, hoping he'd jump in at any time and offer them up, but he just stared at the knife.
"Would you give up the band's power freely?" I asked him.
His eyes didn't even flicker to me until I turned to him and placed my hands on his shoulders. My face still stung slightly from his blows earlier, and I still remembered his rage – I was sheepish to admit that I was glad that a giant man like Asterion was holding onto him firmly – but I wouldn't risk not trying to hug as close as the bands just out of fear. Resting my hands – and because of that, the knife – beyond his line of vision caused him to focus on my face for once. He examined it closely, then frowned.
"Cato warned me of this," he said gravely.
I blinked, momentarily thrown off my whole deal with Coriolanus. He'd not talked of his oldest and closest adviser since the incident in the hut. Never so plainly or without warning. "What of Cato?"
"He told me about that knife."
"On the ship, just days after we left Mesopotamia."
It made no sense. I'd not even known of the Enlightened, then. "What did he say exactly?"
"That he saw you with it, that you had it.." His eyebrows creased. "I don't really remember. I laughed at him about it... but now... well now I see there was truth in what he said and I do not know what to –"
"I have only recently acquired it," I tried to reassure him.
"Stole it, you mean," Coriolanus corrected. "You and your similarly pyromaniac friend."
He gestured to Darius, and before Peeta's eyes could flicker to his barely recovered body, I clutched his face in my hands and forced him to hold my gaze. I said, "Will you surrender the bands to Coriolanus?"
"Do you want me to?" was his immediate response, a harsh bloom of blue bleeding into his irises.
I frowned. "This is not something I can force you to do." I am not Clove.
He opened his mouth, closed it... then screwed his eyes shut. I hugged my palms closer to his cheeks.
"Clove is panicking," he breathed, then seemed to sag a little in Asterion's arms.
"I've been gone too long... she can feel the band's influence loosening."
"That is good," said Coriolanus. "Come, surrender it to me."
For a moment I considered the eager look on Coriolanus' face to be worth wariness.
Then I comforted myself with a worse thought.
Peeta started to nod and straightened. I let my hands fall from his face and Asterion released him.
I shadowed his steps toward Coriolanus. As Peeta got closer to him, the further away the rest of the Enlightened leaned, but they did not actually move to step away or go as far as flee the scene.
They wanted to see. It was of interest, this, and all the rest of the exchanges.
I rested a hand on Peeta's back as he stood before Coriolanus, for support, as the older man and god placed his hands reverently on the first band of Peeta's bicep. Coriolanus muttered something in a language I did not know – I had a feeling I'd heard Darius use the language before, though – and his fingers traced out the symbol of the twisted rose on the gold. "Peeta," he began, then spoke again.
When Peeta replied, it was in the same language I did not know.
Similarly, they continued the exchange, from one band to the next.
As Coriolanus pulled each off, I felt Peeta's back relax more and more against my hand.
I got more and more tightly wound as the bands transferred from Peeta's limbs to Coriolanus'.
It was only when the last band was off and the last word was said that I tensed up and struck.
Coriolanus was fast though. Really, really fast. He deflected my hand, nearly throwing me off my feet if it were not for Peeta, who caught at my opposite arm and ripped me back to my feet. I jumped right into the attack again, thrusting for his abdomen, instead of his chest, as I'd originally gone for.
This time, however, he and Asterion knew perfectly well that I was on the offensive.
Asterion went for me from behind, but, thankfully, with Peeta somewhat restored, though perhaps a little hazy and guilt ridden, he knew enough to protect me, so he turned to ward off that threat.
For how long – well, probably not long at all.
I lashed out at Coriolanus with the knife for a third time, in nearly the same minute as the first attempts.
This one caught a little of his palm as he snatched my wrist. He was angry, now. Very angry and very different looking with those magnificent golden bands on. He twisted my hand hard enough for me to feel – hear – the bones break, as if they were as thin and hollow as a bird's, and, instead of channeling my pain into a scream or useless withering, I took the knife in my other hand and struck at him again.
I cut his shoulder, shallowly.
I felt something like electricity prickle along my flesh, up my arm, flare wonderfully around my wrist.
The pain stopped – my wrist turned and twisted and tilted at all the right angles –
It wasn't a bad thing... it was a very, very good thing.
And by the look in Coriolanus' eyes, he thought the exact opposite. He thrust me away from him.
I sort of just bounced off of Peeta and Asterion, then stumbled sideways. I stared at the blood on the knife, then looked to Coriolanus' shoulder. It wasn't healing – not the way I'd seen Peeta's body heal when he'd been minimally harmed. Others, the Enlightened, drew away further, and some, this time, actually did dissipate. The ones that remained watched, but made no moves to ally with anyone.
"You think to kill me?" Coriolanus said, mocking. "You think to overstep your place, mortal girl?"
"Katniss," Peeta said, strained, just as Asterion pinned him to the ground.
I turned back and forth, caught, then I hissed in surrender. "Go, then! You have what you wanted."
"The knife," he said, holding out his hand, expectant.
I curled my fingers around it tightly and tucked it back into my robe. "It's mine now."
"Are you in the place to be making claims –"
His words cut off sharply, when he saw the way the flames flared and drew closer. Coriolanus eyed the wall of fire, now only five feet off from the entire group, as large as it was, and became solemn.
"Perhaps, you are," he concluded.
"Nothing is stopping you from dissipating," I countered. I could only hurt them if they stayed put.
Which is hard to do, to get a god to stay in one place for a substantial amount of time.
Not to mention, to get the fire strong enough to counteract any sort of healing or blocking means.
He, too, saw the complications of our mutual threats, nodded to me, then was gone.
Asterion released Peeta and similarly departed.
Those Enlightened left were apprehensive. Rue crouched beside Darius' body, next to Foxface, and said to me, "He'll return when he can." Then, as a group, the three left, and Thresh to remained alone.
He offered a hand to Peeta, whom took it after a slight hesitation. There was a heavy look between the two as they stood there, hand in hand, staring, until Thresh smiled, and said, "You have been cleansed."
"So it seems," replied Peeta.
"Let me know if you have a change of heart toward your beloved partner in crime. I'm willing to make a friend of you, Peeta," he said, very seriously. "I see no reason that you should be punished for her."
And, without waiting for a response of any sort, Thresh departed.
Prim groaned, stirring for the first time throughout the entire event.
Katniss, eyes flickering from flames to her sister, said, "Is Clove waiting beyond?"
"I can't –" Katniss tried to think of what to say. For a moment she thought she'd rather just sink onto her heels and curl in a ball and sleep for an eternity, but then she thought further about it, and she probed at the fire wall. She didn't need to drop it. She knew once she let it go, it'd burn out and she would never be able to recreate what Darius had made it to be; she could only influence it. There would be no protection from Clove if she let it go. Yet she could not simply stay encased in the flames forever, could she? Of course not. She stooped to Prim and pet her brow to comfort her; all the while she marveled at the remaining energy across her skin and at the perfect motions of her once-broken wrist.
Peeta was standing stiffly and stoically aside. "Katniss.." he began, but seemed at loss of words.
"No, you don't." He sank to his knees beside the sisters, reaching a hand out toward them, but then stopped only half way there, looking mournfully at the two. "The poison... it's gone... all of it.. thank –"
"Don't thank me, Peeta. I do not wish to be thanked."
"It is not enough to thank you," he agreed.
She looked up at him, stalled there, and saw that his face was like nothing she had seen. In his eyes, she could see the difference. She could see that brightness in him she had only seen a handful of times; it was vulnerable and child-like and, yet, with more compassionate than anyone she'd ever known. It was a huge change from the man he was mere minutes ago, jealous and raging and cutting Darius open.
Peeta smiled, thinly. The cast of the firelight on him was soft. "Can we name her Keleos?"
It took Katniss a whole minute to register what he was saying. The first thing she grasped was that he'd used a Greek word for flaming, and she looked worriedly at the fire, but then she realized he was talking about their daughter, in relation to naming her, a thing she'd told him to do previously.
"Keleos," Katniss repeated. Then said, "Flaming," in the Panem language – which was rapidly becoming her dominate one. "I like it." She reached out to Peeta's extended hand,took it, and squeezed.