Mockingjay: Broken Wings
By: Jamie Sommers
Chapter Twenty-Three: The Toasting
Third in the series of stories which begins with 74th Hunger Games Challenge: We Always Were, continues with Catching Fire: Rekindling (There are missing scenes for those of you that like rated M versions of things called Catching Fire: Rekindling Outtakes) and now the final story is being told.
Thank you to my betas, S your constantly making me think thus making this series of stories all the better, and other S, thank you for giving so much of your time and grammatical skills to me. A, I miss you.
Sorry for the delay folks, but I'm back now and feeling the Everlark mojo flow.
Previously: The rebels defeated Snow's Mutts, but not without casualties. Justus, Lavinia and many other were lost in battle. Peeta was still struggling with flashbacks, though not as often, memory loss and was nicked by one of the mutts during their escape from the tunnels. Johanna was taking her duties to watch over Maysilee in K/P's absence seriously and Effie Trinket was kicking ass and taking names.
And now...what you've been waiting for since April (hangs head in shame)...
Mockingjay: Broken Wings
Katniss' mind went back into survival mode, and staying put in the tunnel was not an option. "How long do you think we have before they realize we're still alive?"
"Not much time at all," Gale pressed against the bandage Effie had slapped on his neck. "It won't take Snow's men long to figure out some of us escaped."
"Let's get the hell out of here," Peeta looked to the rest of the group, his eyes landing on a trembling, Pollux. "Which way to the top?" The Avox pointed down the last tunnel they had to travel through in order to get back to the surface.
"Wait," Effie picked up her earpiece and placed it back in. "Hagar," the computer voice failed to answer her back. "Holo," she spoke, and her eyepiece slid down. "It's working. Follow me," she led the way through the dark corridor, and felt a tiny bit of relief when the Holo's projection showed a path clear of pods. "Pollux," she spoke over her shoulder in a hushed tone of voice, "any ideas as to which direction we should go?" The Avox attempted to walk in front of her, but Effie held her arm out, preventing him from heading their group. "I'd feel better if I took the lead," she tapped at her eyepiece. "I still have a working Holo." Pollux gave her a nod, and pointed straight ahead. Their group made their way quickly and as quietly as possible through the tunnel with the aid of Pollux and Effie's Holo. It took them less than ten minutes to reach the hatch that led them to ground level, and into a room behind a row of apartments.
"Get back," Peeta whispered quietly to the group as he stepped through the door first and found himself in a luxury apartment.
Katniss stepped into the room behind Peeta and instantly lifted a hand to silence them just as a half dressed woman came into view followed by a man munching on some sort of meat. They were both partially dressed, the woman in her undergarments and a silk robe. The man in nothing but a shiny pair of tight briefs and a wig. Katniss' arrow was flying through the air and punctured the woman in the heart as one of Peeta's blade shot out of his gauntlet and buried itself into the man's forehead. Quickly loading another arrow, Katniss moved carefully through a few of the other rooms with Peeta and Effie checking the rest of the residency. "Nothing," Katniss threw a glance in Peeta's direction after joining the rest of the group in the living room.
"Clear here," Peeta said of the kitchen and dining area.
"We're good," Effie stepped into the living area from one of the sleeping quarters.
"I wouldn't exactly say, 'we're good,'" Gale stepped over the dead woman's body like she was nothing more than a bump in the carpeting and sat on the edge of the sofa.
The sight of the dead Capitol couple, their thick, red blood pooling together, staining the plush multicolored carpeting, turned Effie's stomach. Not too long ago she could have been friendly with these people. She could have found herself sharing a cup of tea or a cocktail with them at some social event, and now they were dead simply for being in their home at the wrong time. It shouldn't have bothered her as much as it did, she herself had taken many lives since joining the rebellion, but to see Peeta, the boy that had apologized to each of his victims during the Games, kill an innocent without the slightest hint of remorse frightened her. On the surface Peeta appeared to be like his old self most of the time. Perhaps there was a bit of a hard edge to him now, but after all he had been through, Effie could no more blame him for that than she could for the sun rising. But now...seeing her sweet boy standing amidst the group of rebels, not batting an eye towards the dead couple in their midst, had Effie petrified for her son. She had gone to the Capitol terrified that Snow would take her boy from her, but now she could see that the president of Panem already stole a vital part of Peeta's essence, and Effie feared, regardless of the war's outcome, that he would never get it back.
The sound of Gale's voice snapped her out of her stupor, "Pardon me?"
"We can't stay here for long," Gale said.
"No, we'll have to think of someplace else to go," Effie agreed and snatched a woven throw draped over the back of a chaise and flung it atop of the deceased. Trying her best to keep her mind on the task at hand, Effie headed towards Gale to check his wound. "Let me take a look at this," she leaned over and examined the bandage that was already soaked through with blood and covered in grime on Gale's neck. Effie swallowed back the sickness that had been churning in her stomach since she arrived at the Capitol thinking to herself, 'You were right Haymitch. I was not cut out for this sort of life.' The blood dripping down Gale's neck brought the images of Lavinia and Justus' deaths to the forefront of her mind and she feared she could no longer keep up her brave front. "Katniss, I think this is your area of expertise. I'll check and see what type of medical supplies they have stocked." The restroom provided Effie with a safe haven, even if it was only for a few seconds. Facing herself in the mirror she tried not to cringe at the sight of blood splashed on her skin and clothes, but it was difficult to do since she was certain there were bits of her friends seeped into her clothing. Grabbing whatever supplies she thought would be helpful from the Capitol resident's medicine cabinet, she rejoined the rest to find Peeta passing out glasses of water to the group. Effie stared at the remainder of rebels left, wondering how they were going to get out of their current predicament, and declined Peeta's offer of water. "I shall drink something as soon as we get Gale taken care of." The truth was she didn't think she could stomach it.
Katniss worked quickly on Gale's wound, having nothing more than some white bandages and a bit of iodine to work with. "He needs stitches, but I don't have time to do that now." She wasn't even sure if she could do it.
"I'm fine," Gale swallowed a large gulp of water. "We need to come up with a plan before they barge through that door and kill us all."
"Mom? Any ideas?" Peeta stood at the end of the sofa Gale was sitting on. "Is there anywhere we can hide?"
"I'm not..." The entire day's events had taken a toll on her. She felt as though her body was about to shut down. "I don't know." Her fingers lifted to her lips and she noticed the tremble in her hand. "My word." The loss of so many people had to be pushed from her mind or Effie would lose her grip on reality.
"Why don't you take a minute, Effie?" Katniss stood from her crouching position next to Gale and reached for the remote to see if there was any news on their escape. "Peeta, we could use something to eat."
He nodded in response and suggested, "Why don't you help me out, mom? Let's see what we can find."
Following Peeta blindly towards the kitchen Effie watched his back as he began opening and closing the cupboards in search of much needed nourishment. "They were making breakfast," Peeta motioned with his chin towards the pan on the stove. "We can split that up, and there's some cans of..." From out of nowhere, Effie dropped her weapon to the ground and wrapped her arms around Peeta's waist in a tight embrace. "Hey, it's okay," Peeta held her in his arms. "We're going to get out of this."
"How?" It had been quite some time since Effie had felt cowardly. Even when she was undercover as Snow's right hand woman, she hadn't felt such fear. She held onto the boy she had loved, to the child she had never known she wanted, with such fierce passion her entire body quaked. "Peeta, I have no clue where we are going to go?"
"We'll figure it out," Peeta held onto her, hoping to bring her some sort of comfort. "Don't worry, mom. With my wife and my mother here, Snow and his men don't stand a chance."
"Yes..." Effie spoke absently, "your wife and mother..." She began thinking about everything Peeta could lose. He had spent his life in search of a mother's love and pining for Katniss from afar, and now that he had finally gotten it, he could lose it all. 'Well, isn't it a mother's job to provide for her child?' She asked herself. Told herself to, 'Take a breath, Effie Trinket and quit being a sniveling coward. Your son and his family are depending on you. They need you to find security in a city full of enemies. Oh, but how?' Her own personal feelings were quickly being pushed aside as more pressing matters came to light. Stepping out of Peeta's grasp, Effie began pacing back and forth. With each tiny step she took she could feel her mind being wound like a clock. "Where do we go?" She asked herself aloud. "You must go to the street. Yes, but everyone will know who we are if we go into the street," she began talking to herself, rambling nervously to no one in particular. "Good point...but you can disguise yourselves. There's enough makeup in that bathroom to make a clown blush. Okay, so we can disguise ourselves, but that still leaves the question as to where we go once we're out there?"
Effie ignored Peeta's attempt at joining in on her private conversation. "Where could we go?" She continued to work through their problems aloud. "Where do people normally go when they're disguised and need to hide?" She pursed her lips, quickly answering her own question. "To friends...family. But you don't have any family any longer. Nor do you have friends...tut tut, Effie Trinket. You do have friends, but they're all in the rebellion. Yes...rebels," Effie's pace came to a halt as she lifted her gaze to Peeta. "Hmmm?"
"We've got to figure out someplace to hide," Peeta was finally able to get a word in.
"Yes," Effie arched a brow in his direction. "A shelter with food...medication would be ideal..."
"If you can think of a place like that, count me in," Katniss stepped into the kitchen. "But I seriously doubt there's any place like that in the Capitol for some rebels to hideout."
Effie's shoulders picked up as her head snapped towards Katniss. "Say that again."
"I said, there's no place like that in the Capitol for rebels to hideout," Katniss repeated.
"Oh my goodness! Oh my word," Effie grabbed Katniss by the cheeks and planted a kiss on one then the other. "You are truly brilliant my darling girl. Truly!"
"What the hell did I say?" Katniss gave Peeta a strange look the second Effie ran from the kitchen to the living room.
"Finnick, we need to get you something to wear, and...makeup. Lot's of makeup," Effie grabbed his arm and dragged him to the bedroom door. "There are garments in that closet. Grab a change of clothes for the rest of the group. Quickly," she gently ordered him while he stood in place. "Time is of the essence my dear."
"Mom, what are you thinking?" Peeta stood in the doorway that separated the kitchen and living area.
"I'm thinking," she gave him a conniving grin. "I would like a restroom and a book about wine," Effie spoke the code they used to use in order to gain access to the rebel's secret meeting place in the Capitol.
Finnick took a step closer to her, "Effie, The Library has to be under surveillance since they discovered Carter Darlington's involvement in the rebellion."
"I'm certain it is," Effie turned to him. "But there's more than one entrance, Finnick."
"Holy cow," Peeta's eyes brightened up. "I remember that place...The Library. Do you think it's still safe?"
"There's only one way to find out," Effie headed towards the restroom to rid herself of splattered blood, intent on washing away not only the remains of the day, but her fear as well. "Now let's get a move on. Peeta, you get some food for everyone. Finnick, you're aware of what would be considered fashion in the Capitol. You're in charge of clothes." She faced Katniss, "You help Peeta with food and water. We'll all need to refuel. I'll get the makeup situated, and Gale," she turned to face him, "you and Pollux keep an eye and ear out. Watch the television for any news and if you hear the slightest stirring in the back room," the one they had entered through, "don't hesitate to shoot." With a brusque nod of her head, Effie repeated her earlier statement with more gusto, "Now let's get to work! Time is of the essence!"
Peeta and Katniss slapped together some sandwiches and handed out cans of soup and vegetables to each person. "Stick that away," Katniss tucked a can into Gale's pocket. "We'll need to stock up on whatever we can."
Everyone did their best slapdash job of applying makeup, hoping they'd blend in, but when it came time for Effie to prepare herself, they all worried. "How the hell are you going to walk around the Capitol with that weapon strapped to your back?" Gale asked her.
"The same way I walked around with it earlier, my dear." Effie flipped the backpack around to her front, and pulled the coat she was wearing over it, rubbing her hand at the base of the bulge. "I'm due in a few months."
"Now that's ingenious," Gale wrapped a thick scarf around his neck, and pulled his wig down. "How are we going to do this? Do we walk together or should we break off into pairs?"
Katniss peered through the window into the street. "I don't think it will matter if we stick together. Looks like everyone is in groups out there."
"We'll need to take precautions just the same," Effie put her hand through Gale's arm and motioned for Katniss to walk beside her. "It will be too dangerous for you and Peeta to walk together. Why don't you two split..."
"NO!" Katniss and Peeta spoke in unison.
"Oh my word," Effie clucked. "You'll be all of two yards apart. One group can follow the other."
"I love you, mom, but there's no way in hell I'm stepping two inches away from Katniss," Peeta said firmly.
"Peeta and I can travel with Pollux," Katniss suggested.
"Do either one of you know the way to the hideout?" Finnick asked Katniss and Peeta who both shook their heads. "Then either myself or Effie is going to have to travel with you."
"Everyone will know who they are if they're seen with you or Effie," Gale chimed in.
"They're going to know us no matter what," Katniss said dryly.
"You two do still look a bit like yourselves. Hmmm," Effie searched around the room with a determined stare, honing in on the perfect accessories for them. "Katniss, we need to get these lashes on you. Peeta, you wear this hat and these sunglasses." Effie tucked Peeta's blond hair into the hat. "If only he had more than one wig we could have used."
"He does," Gale's voice was aloof, "as long as you don't mind it being drenched with blood, you can still wear it, Peeta." Everyone's eyes darted toward the man lying beneath the throw, in the middle of the living room with the top of his head sticking out. He was wearing a purple wig with golden tips, and a dark brown streak down the center of it from the blood that had seeped out from the deadly wound Peeta had cause.
"I think I'll pass," Peeta threw a disconcerting glare in Gale's direction.
"I suppose this is as good as we can get," Effie adjusted Peeta's clothing then Katniss'. "I shall lead you two, and Finnick shall take Gale and Pollux." It was a huge risk taking to the street, but they had no choice. "Finnick, stay close."
"Not too close," Gale said as he scratched at the back of his neck. "It's bad enough we've got the three of you walking together," he said towards Effie's group. "I can't imagine our disguises will hold up if Finnick is seen with you too."
"This is our best chance," Effie said through pursed lips, tired of the negative attitude that seemed to come so naturally from Gale. "Now if you don't have something productive to add to the conversation, then I suggest you keep your thoughts to yourself." She turned her back to him and barked out her order. "Peeta. Katniss. Let's go. Finnick, count to ten before following us."
The streets were packed with people all heading in one direction. The ice cold wind was cutting through them like a sharp knife, which worked to their benefit. No one took notice of the pair of trios heading towards the same destination. They were all too focused on keeping the cold off of their skin and walked with their heads ducked down. Effie's eyes darted towards the establishment the late Carter Darlington owned which led to the rebel's hideout, but failed to point it out. Peacekeepers were standing guard with weapons in hand, and inside there were flashes of white uniformed guards no doubt searching for some clues that would lead to the rebellion's downfall. The mile long walk took longer than any of them cared for. The longer they were exposed to the public the greater the chance of being discovered. When Effie guided Katniss and Peeta towards the little shop she prayed would be their saving grace, she noticed someone staring at them. She was tempted to say something in casual conversation, but her voice would give her away just as much as her normal Capitol attire would have.
"You can find the same thing in this shop as you can at the others, but for half the price," Katniss spoke with an affected Capitol accent and once again they were ignored by the passersby.
The sound of a soft tinkle rang out as a woman with catlike features came to the front of the store. "May I help you?" She asked with a curious expression on her face and a hint of a purr to her voice.
"Tigris," Effie pleaded with her eyes for the woman's help and was pleased with the old woman's reaction.
"It's about time you got here," Tigris let out a throaty chuckle. "All of you have got everyone everywhere scrambling." The sound of the door's bell chimed once more. "I'll be right back to help you," Tigris took on a professional tone before greeting her customers.
"They're with us," Effie was relieved to see the rest of their group had made it to safety.
"Finnick?" Tigris stared curiously at the victor. "Well, what do you know. They just showed proof of your death on the news. They found your trident next to a burnt body."
"That was...a friend," Finnick said thickly.
"Come on. Let's get all of you to safety," Tigris led the group down a few stairs into a small room in the basement. "It's not much, but it's got heat, water and a bathroom."
Effie pulled her to the side and asked, "Tigris, the hideout. Has it been discovered?"
"No clue," the woman answered. "My guess is that they haven't come across it yet or they would have been knocking down my door. Then again," she gave her shoulder a shrug, "they could have a trap set for the rebels hoping they'd try to gain access to it."
"Either way," Peeta took a step towards Effie, "it's too much of a risk going there. Tigris is right, we've got all we need right here. No sense in putting ourselves in even more danger."
Though Effie didn't argue, she felt it was worth the risk, but first she had to take care of a few things. "Gale," she knew he had worked with Beetee on weapons and wondered if he had any suggestions as to getting her system back online. "Tell me what you know about my weapon." She huddled down and lay the pack on the ground in front of him.
"I know it hooks into your neurological system and has the ability to hack into the Capitol's computers and stuff."
"Yes, I know that, but tell me what I don't know." Effie listened in as Gale told her how to recharge the system, the best way to save energy, and how to activate the emergency beacon which worked off of its own power source.
"Shut the entire thing down and it should be fully functional within a couple of hours, but you'll be out a weapon if you do that unless you still have the guns Thirteen issued you."
Effie gave her head a shake. "No. I gave them to Lavinia and Justus."
"Then it's up to you, I guess." Gale pressed a few buttons on the pack. "If you choose to shut it down just hit these. If you don't want to take the risk, considering Finnick lost his trident, Pollux isn't carrying a weapon and all Katniss and I have are our bows, you may want to keep it on. In that instance it can take up to six hours to recharge."
A thought struck her. "We need to do a weapons check." She stopped Finnick and Pollux from spreading out fur blankets on the ground. "Peeta, do you have any idea how many of those little shooting blades you have left?"
"Not many. I can barely feel any weight in the lining of my uniform." Peeta called out, "Heat," the long knife blade that cut through one of the mutts with ease shot into the palm of his hand. "Well, that still works." He called out the order to put it back in.
"Have you tried using the gun that's built into it at all?" Gale asked.
Peeta's eyes lit up. "Not since we were in Two. Geez, I forgot all about that thing."
"Guns really aren't his area of expertise, but it's good to know you've got one in there," Katniss chimed in. "I've got about a dozen bows left." She searched through her quiver. "Three fire, six explosives and four regular."
"My bow only shoots regular arrows and I'm almost out," Gale counted what he had left. "Six."
Finnick said, "That's better than what I've got which isn't a damn thing."
Effie began her little pace. "This won't do at all. We need more if we're going to get to Snow's mansion." She eyed up her pack that was still lying on the floor. "I'm shutting it down." She eyed up the rest of the group. "In two hours I'll have a fully functioning weapon which means Hagar will be available to help."
"You mean the Peacekeeper?" Peeta asked with a curious brow. "Uh...isn't he dead?"
"That's what I call the voice that speaks to me," Effie answered absently, ignoring the concerned expressions on everyone, but Gale's faces. A plan began to form as she gave Gale's neck a glance. If she could only get to the hideout she'd be able to get everything they needed, plus a little insurance she had hidden within the jewelry box she kept in the rebel's hideout. 'Two hours,' she thought to herself. 'If Hagar comes back online then they'll be no stopping me from getting to Snow.'
"What's on your mind, Effie," Finnick asked quietly when everyone else went back to preparing their new hideout.
"Simply trying to formulate a plan to get much needed medications and weapons," she gave her lips a little purse. "Finnick," she whispered, "how would you feel about going on a little mission with me?"
"You mean the Peacekeeper?" Even Peeta recalled the man's demise. "Uh...isn't he dead?"
"That's what I call the voice that speaks to me," Effie said it as though it were the most normal thing in the world to hold conversations with voices in your head.
Katniss and Peeta exchanged strange looks with one another. "Is she okay?" Katniss mouthed to Peeta.
"I have no clue," he mouthed back.
"Knock it off," Gale snapped at them. "None of that, okay? It drives me insane not knowing what the hell you two are saying."
"Get over it," Katniss picked up one of the fur blankets and spread it out over the floor then headed to the sink to moisten some bandages. "Peeta, come here. Let me take a look at that scratch you got in the tunnel." He held his arm out and they both noticed how inflamed the area had become in such a short period of time. "We...uh...we need to keep it clean." She feared the worst when she saw that pus had already started to form within his small cut. "It'll be fine."
"I know what blood poisoning is, Katniss. Even if my mother isn't a healer," his eyes met hers.
"You said that to me in the first arena," she asked. "Real? Or not real?"
"Real," he reached his free hand out and trailed it down her cheek. "It'll be fine. We just need to keep it clean...like you said." But they both knew this was no ordinary scratch and how calamitous the poison, that was most likely flowing through his system, could be to him.
"Let me know if it starts to bother you," Katniss dabbed a bit of iodine on Peeta's cut and blew a soft breath against it.
"It's bothering me," Peeta spoke with a hint of disappointment in his voice. It had been bothering him since the mutt's tentacle had scraped across his skin, but he failed to say anything, not wanting to worry the rest of his group. Instead he threw himself into preparing for their escape and the adrenaline flowing through him from the day's events seemed to help keep him on task, but now that he was still...now that there was nothing for him to do but wait and worry, he could feel the results of the mutt's tiny nick, and knew it spelled disaster for everyone around him.
Katniss searched through their meager supply of first aid frantically, "We need to draw out the pus," finding only a few bandages. "Dammit. Dammit!" She fought to hide the terror in her eyes. "I thought these damn uniforms were supposed to protect us from tracker jackers!"
"It wasn't a tracker jacker, Katniss. It was some other sort of mutt with jacker venom." Peeta's eye began to twitch at the memory of being injected with poisonous serum while being hijacked. "Mom?" He hoped Effie would have a clue as to what to do. She had been there to help him when Snow tortured him. Surely she could figure something out now. "What did you do to counteract the..." A dysphoric sensation raged through him causing his head to spin and his extremities to tingle. Losing his footing Peeta tumbled backwards causing the back of his head to smack against a water pipe with a loud thunk.
"Wake up, Peeta," Johanna was shaking him through the bars of their cell. "Come on cinnamon buns, wake the hell up."
"Johanna?" Peeta's vision was blurred as he struggled to open his eyes. "My head," he ran his hand over the lump at the base of his skull."
"They hit you with one of those sticks they carry while they were dragging you back to your cell." She squinted and said, "Turn around and let me take a look at it."
Peeta could feel her fingers poking and prodding against his scalp finally touching the tender area. "Ouch! Geez, take it easy."
"Toughen up, crier," she smirked. "Sorry I'm not as good at this as your wife is, but you're just going to have to deal with it."
"That's because Katniss is a healer," Peeta said softly. "She doesn't think she is, but she's got her mother's gift. Granted she doesn't have Prim's bedside manner nor her stomach, but she knows what she's doing when it comes to wounds."
"Peeta?" Johanna tore a corner of her shirt off and dabbed at the blood that was still flowing from his head. "Do you remember her? Katniss?"
"Sure. Why wouldn't I?" He flinched when Johanna pushed a little too hard against his head wound. "She's my wife."
"He remembers?" A small voice asked from across the room.
"Seems like it," Johanna answered Annie.
"That's great, Peeta." Peeta had to squint to make out Annie sitting with her knees bent to her chest and her arms wrapped around them.
"Why do you guys sound so surprised?" He didn't quite understand their reaction to his memories of Katniss.
"Because you haven't known who she was for the past twelve hours," Johanna answered. "And before you forget again, I think you should tell us what you remember about her."
"What do you want to know?" He took the cloth Johanna had pressed against his scalp and held it in place. The warmth of his blood quickly seeped through the material causing his fingers to grow sticky.
"Anything you can remember," Annie said.
It took him a second to think of something to say. Katniss hated it when he talked about her, but he loved it. He loved to tell people about the little things they never got the opportunity to see. "She's amazing," he said wistfully. "She's been in love with me just as long as I've been with her, you know?" He remembered the day Katniss told him and how much her confession meant to him. "Her father used to come to the bakery to trade with my father and sometimes she'd come along. It was...I don't know...a few days...maybe a week before her dad died that they showed up at the backdoor..." he let out a little chuckle at the memory of her. "She was filthy. Dirt all over her clothes...twigs sticking out of her braid, but my God I thought she was the most beautiful thing in the world." He gave Annie a little smile. "Still do." He pulled away the piece of cloth which was now a piece of wet, dark, brown strip and tossed it to the side. "She had a crush on me. I didn't even know she knew who I was, but she did. She said she knew I followed her home back then and she wondered why I would do such a thing."
"When did she tell you that?" Johanna asked.
The corner of Peeta's mouth lifted in a tender grin. "On our wedding day."
"Peeta. Peeta," Katniss' voice was trembling. "Please wake up. Please."
"Katniss," he reached out a hand to her and cupped her cheek. "I was just talking to Johanna and Annie about you."
"My word," the sound of Effie's voice had Peeta searching through the darkness for her. "Effie?"
"I'm here, dear one," she knelt beside him and took his hand in hers. "You just lie still while we get you something to drink."
Peeta could hear Effie, Katniss and...someone else's harsh whispering, but couldn't make out what it was they were saying until Effie raised her voice and said, "I'm going and that's that. My weapon is almost fully charged so I shall have plenty of protection."
"Then I'm going too," Katniss snatched her bow and arrows from their spot against the wall next to Peeta. "I'll be back soon." She pressed a kiss to his temple. "Do me a favor and don't start talking to Johanna and Annie while I'm gone, okay? Try and keep it together," She gave his hand one last squeeze.
"Wait," Peeta tried to sit upright but his head felt like it weighed a hundred pounds. "Katniss?" His hands began to shake...his body felt like it was on fire and a bright glow began to surround Katniss. "Get her out of my sight," he practically growled his displeasure towards Effie, knowing what the glow meant and wanting to protect Katniss from his wrath.
"Go away," Katniss barked her order to those surrounding them. "Now."
"Don't touch me, Katniss." Peeta could feel the rage slowly building in his system and fought it with all his might.
"Do you think I'm actually going to listen to you?" She pulled him into her arms and held on for dear life. "You're going to get through this," she whispered softly against his ear. "You just have to take some deep breaths and think about what's real." Katniss began thinking of anything she could that would prevent the flashback that was about to rain down upon them. "We have a daughter named Maysilee. Real or not real?"
"Please leave me..." he forced his face to the side and looked past her.
"Think Peeta," she said forcefully. "Our daughter's name is Maysilee. Real or not?"
"Um..." he struggled to think of their child. "We can see her eyes now. They're blue."
"Whose eyes? Tell me," Katniss stroked the back of his head to the left of the bump he had gotten from his fall.
"Now we have to pick out a girl's name." Peeta got a thoughtful look on his face. "Hmmmm…Penelope?"
Katniss stuck her tongue out. "Blech. No way." She scratched the back of her ear then threaded her fingers through his hair. "How about Ivy?"
"I like that one. We'll keep that in the running. What do you think about Felicity?"
"I think you keep picking names that are too…prissy." Katniss bit the corner of her lip and suggested, "Daisy?"
He was starting to see a pattern to her names. "What about Naan?"
"I like that name."
Peeta let out a chuckle. "Are you serious?"
"Yeah. Why? What's wrong with Naan?"
"It's a type of bread." He ducked his head when she swatted at it. "Hey, you keep choosing landscaping, so I thought I'd try my hand at bread products. At least I didn't suggest Wheat." He laughed.
"Or Marble." She let out a little giggle.
"Banana nut." They both laughed.
"Okay, I'll stay away from landscaping and you stay away from bread." She looked into his eyes and said, "I have an idea, but I'm not sure how you'll feel about it."
"Tell me," he encouraged her.
"Maysilee," she said softly.
"Maysilee Mellark," Peeta said it quietly. "That has a nice ring to it." He loved the name. "I like it a lot, but…I'm kind of torn between that and the bread one."
"Naan?" She asked.
"No, banana nut." They both started to laugh against the other's skin. "Katniss, I love the name Maysilee. It's perfect."
"Maysilee Mellark," Peeta could see the tiny baby laying within its isolette behind closed eyes with tubes coming out of her and glow of lights from the machinery she was hooked up to. "She's so small. Her skin is almost translucent."
"Yes." Relief flooded through Katniss as Peeta spoke about their baby. "But she's strong and she's doing so much better now."
"Her eyes..." he opened his and held Katniss' gaze.
Katniss ran a hand softly down the side of Peeta's cheek and stared into the spitting image of her daughter. "She has your eyes."
"Real," Peeta felt the calm after the storm finally take hold of him. "Where are you going?" He recalled that she had mentioned leaving.
"Effie and I are going to..." Katniss did a quick scan of their surroundings for the woman. "Where the hell are Effie and Finnick?"
"Any word?" Since Effie's broken transmission came in, Haymitch had spent his day going between Beetee's computer room and the hospital.
"They're still waiting on the test results," Johanna stared at the little child that could fit in the palm of her hand, with concern.
"How long do these damn tests take?" Haymitch grumbled and took a seat next to Johanna "They sending out the kid's blood to the Capitol or something? Sheesh," he ran his hand down his chin.
"I have no friggin' clue, but it's getting on my last nerve." Johanna noticed the group of doctors and nurses talking amongst themselves through the glass partition that separated them. "I'm about ready to go out there and rip them a new one."
"There's Prim and Evelyn," Haymitch saw the pair quickly heading towards the decontamination chamber. "This doesn't look good," he said when noticing the expressions on their faces.
"Shit!" Johanna quickly mumbled and "Sorry kid," to a sleeping Maysilee.
"Well, here we go," Haymitch stood to greet Katniss' mother and sister. "What's the word?"
"She's got necrotizing enterocolitis," Evelyn said without beating around the bush. "They were able to give her medication for it right after she started feeding, but it's back."
"What the hell is necromize colo...whatever?" Johanna asked fearing the worst.
"The cells in the lining of her bowel are essentially deteriorating," Prim answered. "She responded well to the antibiotics to begin with, but she's no longer responding to it. Now the necrotizing enterocolitis is causing a section of her bowel to deteriorate and if they don't operate immediately she could die."
"Son of a bitch," Haymitch let out a low growl. "So when are you going in?"
"Now," Evelyn answered.
"Wait," Johanna held up a hand as though stopping them from removing the sickly infant. "What happens when you remove the dead stuff? Does it grow back? Do you sew it together and hope for the best? What?"
"They can put in fake one...like your liver," Haymitch answered as if he had first hand experience with the disease.
"How the hell do you know that?" Johanna snarled at him.
"That's what they had to do with me after I won the Games. Half my intestines were hanging out," he answered.
"That would be ideal," Evelyn ran a hand over the isolette, "but they don't have one that small, and I fear they won't be able to engineer one in time."
"This is bull," Johanna kicked the leg of the chair she had just been sitting in. "Why the hell can't Beetee come up with something?"
"He's working on trying to get back in touch with the rebels," Haymitch knew the answer.
"So pull him off of it and get him to build this friggin' intestine...bowel...whatever, so banana nut has a better chance," Johanna stood face to face with Haymitch. "I swear to God, Haymitch, you let this kid die because you want to get in touch with Effie Trinket and I'll kill you myself."
"Johanna," Evelyn's calm voice attempted to sooth Johanna's frazzled one. "What your suggesting is that Beetee forgo helping to save thousands of lives for Maysilee." She reached out and gave Johanna's arm a slight pat. "She's my granddaughter and even I know that's not a reasonable request. President Coin would never allow it."
"Then don't tell her," Johanna snapped. "Screw this. I'm going to talk to Volts, and you," she pointed at Haymitch, "you better come up with a damn good reason to give Katniss and Peeta as to why their kid died, because I sure as hell don't want to be the one to tell them that Beetee was too busy to save her life."
The four of them exchanged worried looks before Haymitch headed for the door. "Prim, you know what it is you need for this thing? Got a sample or something?"
"There are a few in stock if you need something for Beetee to work from," she answered.
"Then go get it kid. Johanna, go with her and take her down to Beetee when she finds it," Haymitch ordered. "How long can it take to make up some tiny tubing, right? Coin won't even notice," he directed his comment to Evelyn.
"Let's go Prim." Johanna leaned over the isolette and spoke to Maysilee. "You've got the blood of two victors flowing through you, so you better hang on, you hear me?" The baby was motionless. "Good girl. Come on Prim."
By the time Johanna and Prim reached the area Beetee was working in he had already had several models simulated on his computer screen. "Good. Good," he reached for the artificial bowel Prim held out to him and placed it under a scanner. "I'll just need to get a few...yes...yes this is perfect," he rambled to himself. "If I can somehow figure out how to...hmmm..." he studied the computer screen, ignoring those around him. "Prim," he finally looked away from the monitor, "how long do we have before the child is in surgery?"
"She's already being put under anesthesia.," Prim answered.
"Then we must hurry. I'll just need to pull up the little one's..." he began pressing different buttons on his computer's monitor and mumbling to himself then stopped short. "Oh, well...that's going to be a problem."
"I don't want to hear the word, 'problem' come out of your mouth, Volts," Johanna threatened him which seemed to be her best form of communication lately. "Just figure it out and get it done."
"You must understand, Johanna. The material we need to create the artificial bowel is under lock and key," Beetee gave them a disheartening look. "I'm afraid the only way I can manufacture it is if the President approves of our use of materials."
"Oh she'll approve it," Johanna grabbed Beetee by the arm and yanked him towards the exit. "Move it, Volts. We've got a date with Coin."
The lighting Cinna had created to illuminate the hallway leading to the Capitol hideout was no longer functioning, but lights were no longer needed for Effie Trinket to find her way in the dark. "Hagar?"
"Hello, Effie," the computer generated voice spoke to her and Effie breathed out a sigh of relief.
"It is quite lovely to hear your voice again, Hagar. I truly missed having you around to help me out of a tight spot."
"Your sentiment is not required for my aiding you in your mission," the computer spoke.
"Nonetheless, I felt the need to say it." Effie carefully looked down the dark corridor through her eyepiece. "Hagar can you determine our location?" Within seconds Effie could see what was lying ahead. "We're clear, Finnick. But please make certain that you stay close behind me."
"Effie, Peacekeepers are within fifty meters of..."
"Feet, Hagar. Feet."
"Peacekeepers are one-hundred-sixty-four point two feet through the wall to your west. Sixty-two...sixty...fifty-seven..."
"Are they able to detect us?" She held up a hand to stop Finnick from moving.
"I shall check their transmissions. They are communicating with one another, but there are no signs that they are aware of your presence."
"Then we shall move on," she motioned for Finnick to follow her.
"Effie?" Finnick cleared his throat. "Uh...who are you talking to?"
She tapped at her earpiece attached to the headband. "Hagar. He is quite a remarkable weapon."
"Again your sentiments..."
"Oh hush, Hagar," Effie gave her head a shake and her lips a purse. "Through there," she pointed to the door that led to the hideout.
"It appears to be empty and I do not detect any pods," Hagar said.
"I shall do a quick scan of the area.," Effie's eyepiece was already hard at work sweeping a laser beam over the still sealed room.
"The area is all clear, however, there is a Peacekeeper standing on the opposite side of the doorway leading to this area," Hagar warned.
"What is he doing?" Effie feared that they had been discovered and prepared herself for battle, gripping the butt of her long barreled rifle.
"He appears to be voiding his bladder of urine."
"Oh my," Effie's eyes widened. "Oh...well, I do believe that was a tad bit more information than needed," but it did provide her with an idea. "Finnick, I think I know how we can disguise ourselves and walk straight into President Snow's mansion."
"How's that?" Finnick asked.
Effie carefully opened the door leading to the hideout and gave the room a sweep with the nose of her gun. "Think about the entrance that leads from the Library to our hideout," she began gathering as many supplies as possible and placing them in the bag Gale gave to them. "What it is and who uses it."
"It's a bathroom," Finnick raised his brows when he caught on. "And most men don't go to the bathroom in groups."
"Precisely," Effie reached for the small music box and let it fall to the floor. "Wonderful," she picked up the tiny chip she had recorded while working for President Snow and tucked it into the palm of her gloved hand. "We'll need to return with these supplies first, but afterward we can swiftly take out a Peacekeeper while he's..." she recalled Hagar's terminology, "voiding his bladder of urine." Effie laid out her plan and waited for Finnick's reaction.
"I'm game," Finnick walked towards the diagrams on the wall. Various sketches and swatches of material were tacked up. "They really were gifted stylists."
The sight of Cinna and Portia's designs was the last thing Effie wanted to see. Memories of her fallen comrades still weighed heavily on her heart. The loss of Justus and Lavinia was still fresh, and even though it had been a while since losing Cinna and Portia, the pain it caused had yet to dull. "We must head back before Katniss decides to follow us in here and Peeta needs his..." she gave her head a little shake. "My word, I almost forgot it." She opened a box and took out five syringes. "Morphling. It won't be as good as that concoction Beetee and Prim created, but a little dose of this might help to keep Peeta's flashbacks from getting out of hand."
"When did you guys do all of this? Stock this room up with...sleeping bags? Tins of food?" Finnick knew there was one person and only one that would have been thinking ahead. "You knew Katniss and Peeta would eventually need these things."
With a slight cock of her head and a dastardly grin Effie Trinket said something she hadn't said in months, "An escort's work is never done."
"Effie? Is that you?"
Effie's eyes from side to side at the sound of Haymitch's voice. "Oh my word. Haymitch!"
"Geez woman, we've been worried sick out here. We thought you were dead."
"Finnick," she smiled brightly at the man. "It's Thirteen," she tapped at her earpiece. "We have communications."
"About damn time," Finnick stood with his hands on his hips. "What are they saying?"
"Haymitch, I must update you on what's been going on." Effie gave them a quickfire update, caught up with the rebel's plans, was given pertinent information from Beetee, and ended with, "There are only six of us left here to fight the battle. Finnick, Gale, Katniss, Peeta, Pollux and myself. I'm afraid we lost the rest."
"Son of a bi..."
"Manners, Haymitch. Manners," Effie scolded.
"Christ almighty! You're standing in a room that leads to an army of Snow's men and you're nagging me about my language. Geez."
"Well there's no need to get in a huff," Effie bristled. "Now tell me how Maysilee is doing? How is my darling granddaughter?"
"Not so good, Effie. Not so goo..."
"Effie," Hagar interrupted the transmission. "I'm afraid I needed to cut your communicate short. The Capitol surveillance systems are back online in our area and are able to detect foreign communications. I would highly recommend you return to your previous location in case they detected you."
Worrying about Maysilee the entire trip back to Tigris' basement, Effie was uncertain as to whether or not she'd inform Katniss and Peeta.
"He didn't say what was wrong with the baby, right?" Finnick asked quietly from behind her.
"Unfortunately Hagar had to cut it short." Effie chastised herself, "Why oh why didn't I ask about her at the start?"
"Effie," Finnick pulled her to the side before they entered Tigris' shop, "it won't do them any good to tell them. You don't know what's wrong with her and it's way too dangerous to open up a line of communications again, so if I were you, I'd keep it to myself."
Finnick had made an excellent point, but keeping information like this from Katniss and Peeta didn't sit well with Effie. "I suppose you're right, but still... I am terribly concerned, Finnick. Haymitch sounded terribly forlorn when he spoke of her."
"We'll figure out how to open up a line with them again, and when we do she'll be the first thing you ask about. Sound good?"
A curt nod was all Effie could muster in response. "Chin up, Effie Trinket," she spoke out loud to herself. "Shall we?"
Upon entering Tigris' basement, Effie noticed Gale sitting upright with his back against the wall, and the rest of their group asleep underneath the furs that Tigris provided them with. "How long have Peeta and Katniss been asleep?"
Gale gave the slumbering couple a quick glance. "About a half hour. We were getting worried. You guys have been gone for over an hour."
"We had much to gather," Effie took out one of the tubs filled with orange goop. "Apply a dab of this to your neck wound. It will be healed in no time."
"Thanks," Gale sniffed at the substance before putting it on. "Think it will help with the pain?"
"It should, but...hang on," Effie dug through the pack she carried and took out a bottle of turquoise pills. "It's pain reliever."
"Holy crap," Gale took the bottle from Effie's grasp. "Where did you get these?"
"I just spoke with Beetee and he insisted that each of us take one prior to entering President Snow's mansion." Effie gave her eyes a bit of a roll. "Really, I have no clue why. I'm not feeling the least bit of discomfort."
"They're not pain relievers," Gale dumped a few out into the palm of his hand to confirm his suspicions. "And Beetee said we need to take them? You're sure?"
"Positive," Effie answered. "We were able to speak with Haymitch as well," she gave her earpiece a tap. "It seems that the rebels have yet to set a time frame for their final assault. Haymitch said it could be anywhere from a day to a week before they arrive at the Capitol which means..."
"It's up to us," Gale finished for her. "Here," he handed her a little pill. "You too Finnick." Gale popped one in his mouth and swallowed without water, hoping to God that it was just a precaution. "I'll keep first watch if you two want to get some sleep."
"I think I'll take you up on that offer," Finnick found a corner and pulled a blanket over his shoulders. "Wake me if you get tired."
"I shall sit up with him." Effie took a spot next to Gale and began going through the items she brought from the hideout. "Unfortunately we were unable to smuggle guns in there, but I do have a few knives. It's not much, but it is better than nothing at all."
"These are great," Gale didn't give a damn about the knives. His mind was too preoccupied with the possibility of what was to come. "Effie, did they say anything else? Like what it was they were going to do when they got here? How they were planning on invading?"
"No. Nothing. It seems that they are in a bit of a dilemma. They have lost many soldiers, and we are the only ones within the walls of the Capitol." She pulled out a package of white gauze bandages from her pack and secured it over Gale's wound. "It looks better already."
"I only wish I had something to help Peeta's wound," Effie sighed.
"Won't that orange stuff heal it?" Gale asked.
"My concern is that it will somehow seal in the venom from that horrific muttation." Effie had seen the extent of the tiny cut on Peeta's arm. "If there was only some way for us to suck that poison out of his bloodstream."
"I don't think he got too much in his system otherwise he would have been delusional right off the bat." Gale had no idea why he was trying to put Effie's mind at ease. He had to remind himself that she started off as the enemy, but it was difficult to do considering the woman had saved their lives. "Hey," he noticed the pill he had given her was still in the palm of her hand. "You need to take that."
"Oh, yes," she reached for a discarded cup with a few sips of water left in it sitting next to Gale and swallowed down the pill Beetee had insisted they all take. A slight taste of rust and something else metallic played across her tongue as the little bit of water quenched her thirst. Effie let out a tiny laugh which had Gale looking at her inquisitively.
"Something funny?" He asked.
"I was just thinking, how strange my life has become." She glanced at the now empty cup. "There was a time when I would have rather died than drink from an old cup filled with someone else's leftover beverage and now look at me."
"Why are you here?" Gale asked in a hushed tone wondering why the woman who had everything would risk it all. "Why are you fighting with the rebels?"
It was a question she had asked herself after joining the group. "Because Katniss and Peeta showed me that we were all equals, and we all deserve to live our lives to the fullest, not just Capitol residents." Effie broke one of the peanut butter crackers she had stashed in her pack in half and handed a piece to Gale. "I know it is difficult for you to understand the way they love one another, or the way I love Peeta, but it was that love that showed me what life was really about. Two people willing to risk everything they are for the other...I had never seen such a thing." She leaned back against the wall and closed her eyes for the briefest of moments. "I do believe that is why their story was so popular during the first Games. None of us out here could fathom giving your life for another no matter how much they meant to you." She rolled her head towards Gale and noticed the glare he threw at her. "We weren't raised like you were. Our upbringing consisted of learning how to belittle those below us in stature." She nibbled on her cracker. "Imagine if you will, being told your whole life long that the people in other districts were beneath you. That they were put upon this earth to be subservient to you. That they were nothing more than an extension of the machinery they operated."
"I'd never think of people that way."
Effie gave his leg a light pat. "Isn't it funny that you can say such a thing quite easily, yet you have treated me like a pariah since the moment we met? You don't know me, yet you've judged me by what you know...what you were taught. It is no different for me or anyone else from the Capitol. Except for one thing," Effie rested more comfortably against the wall. "I am willing to concede that we were, all of us, wrong. That I should not hate you because my government tells me to and you shouldn't hate me because I was brought up in a lavish lifestyle. None of that matters anymore. We are the same," she tugged on the sleeve of his rebel uniform that matched hers. "We are fighting for the same thing, and one day those people I used to call neighbors...friends... they too will see that you are no different then they are."
"Don't hold your breath," Gale said it through a scowl choosing that moment to change the topic of conversation. "Think he's gonna be okay?" He nodded towards Peeta.
"I wish I knew," Effie worried. "I brought back some morphling in the hopes that it may help to get him through his flashbacks. I should really give it to him," she made to stand up, but Gale stopped her.
"Let them sleep a little while more. Once we wake them we'll have to give them that pill."
Effie eyed up the bottle Gale was still holding onto. "What is it? You said it wasn't pain reliever, so tell me...what are we taking, Gale?"
Gale gripped the bottle tightly in his hand and released a breath. The rest of their group had fallen deep asleep. The woman that owned the shop had closed up for the night and wouldn't be heard from again until morning. Memories of the testing he and Beetee had done while in Thirteen went through Gale's mind. The loss of lives. The people that suffered. Gale had reasoned that they were holographic projections and death was a part of war, but now that he was in the midst of it, his greatest fears came to the surface. "I don't want to be responsible for the death of all these people," he spoke quietly to Effie. He had never intended on trusting her...especially her, but here he was pouring out the secrets he had sworn to keep. "These pills are preventative medication for a bomb I helped Beetee to create."
Katniss felt the warmth of Gale's hand shaking her shoulder and opened her eyes to find him kneeling to her side. "What...what's wrong? Do you need me to keep watch?" She struggled to sit up, but Peeta's arm draped over her waist had her pinned down.
"No," Gale held out a cup and a pill. "You need to take this."
"What is it?" She lifted her head and did her best to get into a position where she could swallow from the cup he was holding out.
"It's for the pain, my dear," Effie spoke from Peeta's side as she jostled him awake. "All of our muscles are aching, and we need to stay in tip top shape if we are to defeat Snow," Effie gave Gale a curt nod. "I also have a bit of morphling here," she held the syringe out. "It should help Peeta to combat his flashbacks."
"Effie," Katniss freed herself from beneath Peeta's arm and snatched the needle from her hand, "I don't know how to thank you for this." She began to shake Peeta awake. "Hey," she tickled his ear and his eyes flew opened. "We've got some medicine for you. Get up."
It didn't take long to dispense the medications Effie had brought back from the hideout, and Katniss and Peeta were relieved to hear that she had spoken with Thirteen. "How's the baby?" Peeta asked, his voice filled with concern.
"Did my mom say anything about her?" Katniss' question came right on its heels.
"No dear," Effie chose to answer Katniss. "She wasn't there when I spoke to Haymitch, but the next time we get in touch with them, I'll make certain to ask to speak with her in regards to Maysilee's well being."
"Sure," Katniss rested back on her haunches dejectedly.
"She's fine," Peeta gave her hand a little pat. "Come on, let's keep watch for a little while so these two can get some rest."
"Aren't you tired?" Katniss asked Peeta as they positioned themselves to see the entrance of their shelter.
Even a little dose of morphling could cause exhaustion, wiping a person out, and Peeta had to admit he did feel quite relaxed, but his mind was somehow sharp and crystal clear. "My body is a little tired, but my head is sort of reeling."
"Did that happen before when you took the morphling?" She asked.
"It usually calmed me down. I never took it after a flashback though so who knows how it will affect me now," Peeta lifted an arm and draped it over Katniss' shoulder. "Think they're asleep?" He asked of the rest of the group bedded down beneath fur throws.
"Probably," she was tempted to rest her head in the crook of his arm, but if she had she'd most certainly wind up like the rest of the group. "We should keep our voices down just in case."
"I don't think it'll matter much." They had all gone without a good night's sleep for quite some time. He and Katniss had barely had any since they left the first arena. "I'm kind of relieved that Effie was able to talk to Haymitch. Just wished he had given her an update on banana nut."
"Me too," the mention of their baby brought worries to the forefront of Katniss' mind. "Can we talk about something else?"
"We don't have to talk about anything at all." Peeta held her a little closer, clinging to the warmth her body was radiating.
They were silent for quite some time. The only noise in the room was the sound of deep breathing, a feminine sigh and the occasional drip of water from the rusty faucet. The tiny room they had been guided to was below the bustling streets of the Capitol and was no bigger than an alcove. Tigris had used it for storing old costumes from past Hunger Games and items she felt would come back in style one day. The cement walls were cold to the touch, the floor had a layer of dirt from years of neglect. To their left was the small staircase that led to the main storage area, and the entrance to the rebel's hideout. The staircase couldn't be seen with the naked eye, Tigris had it blocked off with old furniture, so even if her shop had been discovered as their hiding place, it would take a while for Peacekeepers to make their way in and the rebels would have plenty of warning.
"It's almost like the rebels knew we'd be here one day...at the Capitol," Katniss said quietly. "This shop...that hideout..." she lifted her face to Peeta. "Like this had all been planned out ahead of time."
"I told you," Peeta gave her shoulders a squeeze. "Didn't I tell you our lives had already been planned out?"
"Yeah. I guess so but..." Katniss sat straight up and stared at him. "Do you remember that? Telling me that?"
He gave it a moment's thought and answered, "Yeah. We were in our kitchen I think, and Gale's family had come over to visit." He met her stare with his own. "We were going to escape, but changed our minds at the last minute."
"Peeta," she inched closer to him and held his hands in her own. "What else do you remember?"
They stepped through the front door of their home with hands held and eyes locked. They had been in this room only a second ago, but it held a different feeling now. Represented something new in their lives and they could both feel it flow through them. They had signed all the paperwork binding them in a contract of marriage, but had yet to perform the one thing that no one ever felt married without in District Twelve.
"You ready?" Peeta asked her as he led her toward the fireplace.
"Yeah," Katniss answered with a hint of a nervous tremor in her voice.
Together they reached for the box of matches, striking one each, then placing the flame beneath the kindling. The stench of sulfur accosted both of them, but was quickly drowned out by the smell of burning wood. A warmth radiated from the fireplace where the kindling now burned hot and set the log ablaze. With their matches tossed onto the fire, Peeta reached for the loaf of bread his father had brought over earlier, and handed Katniss one end of it. The crunching of the crust flaked into bits of crumbs, dusting their clothing and their hands with it. Together they began reciting District Twelve's blessing for a new marriage,"May this fire..."
It had come back to Peeta, striking him like a gust of wind. "I remember marrying you."
The command center in District Thirteen was eerily quiet but for the hum of computers and the sound of fingers tapping against the side of a wooden object. President Coin was sitting at the end of the long table they held their meetings around staring at a computer panel. Worry creased her brow as she tucked some strands of glossy silver hair behind her ear and then all hell broke loose.
"You need to approve..." Johanna Mason entered dragging Beetee behind her.
"I'm picking up a signal," one of the men standing next to a computer terminal said simultaneously.
"Damn it, Johanna," Haymitch's voice bellowed from behind the group that had been in Beetee's area only minutes ago.
"Silence," Coin lifted her hand to stifle those around her, but Johanna wasn't having any of it.
"I said," Coin clipped, "be silent." Coin turned to face the man at the computer terminal. "Go ahead."
"Ma'am, I think we're picking up a signal from the rebels in the Capitol."
Plutarch, who had been sitting quietly to the side of the room going over some material for a new propos jumped to his feet and handed his little computer pad to Beetee. "He's right. Look."
"This is excellent news," Beetee broke away from Johanna and began punching away at the face of the little pad. "Yes...yes...this is Miss. Trinket's Hagar sending us a distress signal."
"Distress?" Haymitch asked.
"Are they in trouble?" Coin asked emotionless.
"Are they even alive?" Haymitch asked not hiding his concern for the rebels that had risked it all.
"Give me a moment," Beetee tapped a few buttons and handed Haymitch an earpiece. "This is linked directly into Effie's weapon."
"Put her on speaker," Coin ordered.
Haymitch threw Beetee a warning glare, but there was no need. The former tribute was already thinking three steps ahead. "I'm afraid she can only speak with one person at a time. That communications device was designed to..."
"Fine. Fine," Coin's nostrils flared slightly. "I want to know where they are and who is left."
"Effie?" Haymitch hadn't been this nervous since he was standing on the platform during his Games. "Is that you?"
"Oh my word. Haymitch!"
Haymitch gave the people around him a thumbs up, and spoke over their shouts of jubilation, "Geez woman, we've been worried sick out here. We thought you were dead."
"Finnick," Haymitch was relieved when he heard Effie talking to his friend, "It's Thirteen. We have communications."
"Listen," Haymitch tried to get her attention back, but Effie interrupted him mid sentence.
"Haymitch, I must update you on what's been going on."
"That's what we're all dying to find out."
"Haymitch, you must tell her to make it quick," Beetee warned.
"We don't have much time, Effie so just hit the highlights. Where are you?"
"We have made it to the rebel's hideout, if only temporarily, and are restocking supplies. Snow's men have planted themselves in Darlington's establishment, and no doubt they are tearing Plutarch's home apart, but we believe they have yet to locate the entrances to the rebel's sanctuary. I would bring the rest of the group here, but it's too deep under ground. If they trap us, we'll have nowhere to run."
"That's smart, Effie. Just get what you need and get the hell out of there. You've got someplace safe to hide, right?"
"Yes, there is someone that has risked her life by taking us in, and she has a perfect spot for us to rest."
Haymitch didn't have to ask who it was, he already knew there was only one other way for Effie and Finnick to gain access to their former meeting place. "So that puts you within a mile or two of Snow's mansion."
"Yes, and Finnick and I have come up with an idea of how to get in without being recognized."
"What's the plan?" If he knew Effie it was probably dangerous to no one but herself, and possibly Finnick since he was there with her.
"We plan on waiting for one of Snow's men to use the facilities within The Library, and knock him unconscious. Either Finnick or myself can wear the uniform, and claim that a prisoner has been captured."
"No!" Haymitch shot out. "No way in hell are you two doing that. It's way too dangerous, Effie." Most of Snow's Peacekeepers were large in stature so Haymitch knew that it would be Finnick dressed as the guard and Effie would be his prisoner. "He'll kill you the second he knows you've been caught."
"That is a risk that I must take," he could hear Effie's ire rising in her voice.
"Listen, the rebels are working out a plan to infiltrate the Capitol so you don't have to do this," Haymitch attempted to keep her from acting on her own. "Effie, promise me you're not going to take this into your own hands."
"I cannot make such a promise, but if you tell me of the rebel's plans then I may agree to postponing this for a little while."
Haymitch lifted his eyes to Coin, "What do we have in the works? You're sending people in, right?"
"We're currently grouping together soldiers from various districts, but there are too many wounded for us to strike at this time," Coin's answer was useless.
"We got a time table? Tomorrow? Next week? When?" Haymitch hounded the president.
"If I had that answer, I would be planning out our infiltration of the Capitol, but I can't predict how quickly it will take to get teams of medical personnel to the various districts."
"Haymitch?" The sound of Effie saying his name no longer grated on his nerves, but Coin's answers sure were. "What information have you?"
"Effie," Haymitch wasn't sure what to tell her, but he knew he had to come up with something. "Listen, we're still working out the details of the rebel's invasion on the Capitol. We're currently putting together a plan...gathering weapons...soldiers from other districts... We don't' know if we'll have it ready in a day or a week, but we are preparing to go in there and take Snow and his men out," Haymitch gave Coin a nod and she answered with one in return.
"Haymitch, I must speak with her," Beetee reached for the earpiece which Haymitch reluctantly gave over. "Effie, this is Beetee."
"Do you still have the emergency pack I gave to you?" His fingers were fiddling with the computer screen while he spoke with her, preventing the Capitol's surveillance detection.
"Yes, I do. It has come in handy."
"I'm assuming you have wounded?" Beetee asked.
"Yes, we do. Gale has been severely injured, but is holding strong."
"Good. Good. Gale is still with you." Beetee's eyes darted around the room then landed on the computer screen. "I have supplied you with medical grade pain relievers. Please make certain that all of you take at least one a week prior to entering Snow's compound. It will help with anything from a wooden sliver to a gunshot wound."
"Well...okay," Beetee could hear the hesitation in Effie's tone and chose to end his portion of the conversation before she began to ask questions. "Here, Haymitch," he handed the earpiece back.
"Effie, Beetee just said that Gale's still with you. Who else is alive?" Haymitch braced himself for the worst.
"There are only six of us left here to fight the battle. Finnick, Gale, Katniss, Peeta, Pollux and myself. I'm afraid we lost the rest."
There were too many deaths for Haymitch to calculate. "Son of a bi..."
"Manners, Haymitch. Manners," Effie scolded.
"Christ almighty!" His hand ran down his face, scraping at the day old fuzz on his chin. "You're standing in a room that leads to an army of Snow's men and you're nagging me about my language. Geez."
"Well there's no need to get in a huff," Effie bristled. "Now tell me how Maysilee is doing? How is my darling granddaughter?"
It was the question he had been dreading to answer, "Not so good, Effie. Not so good at all. I'm afraid..."
"They're gone," Beetee's fingers finally stopped moving. "Her system must have detected something I did not."
Everyone in the room was silent, all of them staring at Haymitch, waiting for him to give them an update as to who was dead and who was alive. "There's six left." He ignored the gasp from Prim and soldiered on. "Effie, Finnick, Gale, Katniss, Peeta and..." he swallowed, "Pollux. The rest were lost in battle."
"Oh no," Prim's tiny cry echoed through he room. "Regina's going to be heartbroken."
"It is a war, young lady," Coin glared towards Prim. "People die."
"You're a cold bitch, aren't you?" Johanna put a protective arm around Prim's shoulder. "People might die, but that doesn't mean it we don't have the right to grieve."
"Is that why you are here, Miss. Mason? To insult me?" Coin glared. "That could be considered an act of treason."
"So could this," she flipped Coin the middle finger, spitting out, "Sit and spin."
"That's enough, Johanna," Haymitch forced her hand down.
"Yes, that is enough." Coin waved at hand at the group, dismissing them. "If you'll excuse me. Beetee we have much work to do."
"Oh...yes...well...um..." Beetee stumbled over his words. "That's why we're here madam president."
"What Volts here is trying to tell you, oh so eloquently..." Johanna gave her head a disgusted shake.
"What Beetee is trying to ask," Haymitch shut Johanna up with a deadly glare, "is if we can get your approval on creating a medical device?"
"It's not so much a device as it is a piece of tubing," Beetee spouted out. "It's simple really, and won't take me very long at all."
"I'm sorry, but Beetee doesn't have time for anything other than war related issues," Coin ignored them by turning her back to them. "That's all. You're dismissed."
"Screw this!" Johanna stormed towards Coin but was stopped by two armed guards. "Their kid is gonna die if you don't approve this!"
"Who will die?" Haymitch could see from his spot the way Coin's lip twitched, almost like she had heard something pleasing.
"You guys need to leave," Haymitch nodded towards the door and grit his teeth together. "Now, Johanna."
"Fine," she stood nose to nose with Haymitch. "But you better convince her to do the right thing."
"Get out." Haymitch waited until Prim and Johanna had left before strolling towards Coin. "Katniss and Peeta's kid is pretty sick. She's in surgery right now, but she needs this tube thing Beetee was talking about to make sure she comes out of it all right. Sure, she's got a slim chance of surviving without it, but why take that chance when we can almost guarantee her making it through the surgery?"
"That child has survived much longer than any of us anticipated," Coin said without a hint of pity in her voice. "I'm sure she'll make it through just fine."
"Maybe," Haymitch scratched at his chin in thought. "Then again, maybe not. And I don't know about you, but the first thing Effie is going to tell Katniss and Peeta is that their kid is sick. Which means that they're going to figure out a way to get back in touch with us, and when they do..." Haymitch leaned against the side of the table and crossed his feet. "I'm just wondering how much the Mockingjay and the Jabberjay are gonna be willing to do for the rebellion if we just let their kid die." All eyes were now on Haymitch, including President Coin's. "Johanna can say she did all she could for the kid. Prim...her mother...hell, even I can say I did all I could, but poor Beetee here...what do you think he'll be able to say? 'I had the ability to save her life, but I was under orders to do...'" Haymitch asked in wonder, "What is it he's supposed to do? We already talked to the rebels in the Capitol, and you said you're all working on grouping soldiers together from other districts. So what is it here that's so pressing, Beetee couldn't take an hour away from?" Haymitch watched as Coin's back stiffened and the corner of her lip twitched.
"You may go," Coin said through grit teeth towards Beetee.
"I'll need certain materials," He gathered up Plutarch's computer and handed it to Coin. "If you could just punch in the security codes here, I'd have access to everything I need."
It took but a moment for Beetee and Plutarch to follow Haymitch out of the Command Center and into the elevator, but in that moment, Haymitch knew he had struck a nerve with Coin. "Beetee," he turned the man to face him. "What the hell does she have you working on?"
"You remember our wedding? Like just the wedding or the toasting too?" Katniss couldn't believe her ears.
"I remember all of it," Peeta sat back against the wall and patted the spot next to him. "If I remember correctly, you were pretty angry about the actual ceremony." He gathered her in his arms. "Something about it being like a business transaction instead of a wedding."
A small huff of laughter escaped from Katniss. "Mayor Undersee couldn't seem to rush through signing those papers fast enough."
"Yeah, that was pretty quick." Peeta thought back to Katniss' reaction to signing one of the documents. "You were hesitant to take my name."
"Only for a second," Katniss sat slightly up in defense. "Trust me, I've reconsidered my position on the whole Mrs. Mellark name."
Peeta brushed his nose against her ear and whispered into it, "Mrs. Mellark."
"Don't you dare start that," She pushed him gently away with a grin. "There are people here."
"No one's watching," he leaned in and placed a soft kiss on her slightly parted lips. "Mmm. Haven't had one of those for a little while."
"If you want another one, then you'll tell me what else you remember," Katniss held a warning tone in her voice. "Do you remember the toasting, Peeta?"
"Yeah," he pulled her into his lap, draping one arm over her thighs and secured the other around her back. "I remember our toasting."
Katniss broke the first small piece of bread off, Peeta the second. They each put their half of the bread down next to the fireplace, holding onto the small bite of soft white flesh from the center of the loaf.
He lifted his piece to her mouth, she to his and each chewed on the symbol of life in their district.
"Should we say something?" Peeta wanted to so badly. He wanted to tell her everything he was feeling inside.
"I..." Katniss ducked her head down. "I'm not good at saying something, Peeta."
"Follow your heart, Katniss." He held her hands in his and studied her face. "There are times when I think I'm living a life I don't deserve, and I'm not talking about this house or the money." His eyes darted to the flickering flames then back to Katniss'. "I'm talking about you. I really have no idea what I did in my life to deserve you, but whatever it is, I promise I'll keep trying to do it." A tender smile played upon Katniss' lips and Peeta's heart felt like it was about to explode with emotion. "Maybe the universe thinks we deserve some happiness after everything we went through in our lives? Or maybe this is going to be the start of another adventure? And trust me, I think being married to you is going to be an adventure to say the least. All I know is..." he studied the floor between them then lifted his face to hers, "...I've been in love with you my entire life. I watched you grow up...grew up alongside of you, and I always felt like I knew you. Like you and I had some sort of unspoken bond and that one day...one day you'd catch me watching you and realize exactly how much you loved me too. That you'd pull me under that fence with you and take me into the woods...show me a whole new world that I had never known existed. I used to lie in bed at night and fantasize about that day." His finger began tracing the lines on her palm. "I'd stare out the window at night and pretend that your dad would take me with you two on his hunting trips, and when you went into the woods by yourself after he died, I wanted to go too. I wanted to go in there and protect you from whatever harm might be hiding in the forbidden forest." He let out a small laugh. "I think we both know you probably would have had to protect me out there, but still..." He smiled into her eyes and was rewarded with one in return. "All I ever wanted to do was take care of you Katniss. To love you." Her hand lifted and cupped his cheek. Peeta pressed her palm into his lips and rested his cheek against her hand. "You can't ever leave me, okay? I don't think I'd be able to live without you." His eyes had filled with tears when he asked, "okay?"
"Okay," she whispered.
"I want to tell you how much I love you, Katniss. To tell you how much I'm feeling right now, but..." he wiped the back of his hand across his eyes, "...I don't know how. Kind of a shocker, huh?"
"I think you're doing just fine," she ran both her hands through the hair above his ears and cradled his face.
"It's supposed to be better than fine. This is your wedding day. I'm supposed to tell you that my heart is so full of love right now it feels like it's spilling over. That the thought of spending one day away from you is so painful I can't even fathom it. I'm supposed to tell you...to make you see..." only she had the ability to make him go tongue tied when it really mattered. "I want you to see the way I love you."
"I do and I love it. I love the way you love me. The way you see me. No one has ever seen me the way you do. Not even me."
"That's because I've been watching you for years," he said with a bashful smile. "I'm sorry about that, by the way."
"Wha...why?" She had no clue why he'd apologize for such a thing.
"I hadn't started off planning on just watching you." It was time to confess all of his secrets to her. "I had planned on talking to you. In fact I used to tell myself every single day that today was the day. Obviously that didn't work out too well." He grinned. "I wasn't very brave when it came to you. I wanted to be, but I wasn't."
"Peeta, you joined the Careers to save my life. I'd say that was pretty brave."
"I'm not talking about that." He bounced her hand in his own. "I'm talking about when we were kids," he paused. "I should have done more for you. I should have told you...showed you how I felt."
"I knew," she admitted to him and watched as his expression changed to one of question. "I've always known, Peeta," she said timidly.
He began to shake his head causing the hair that was dangling on his forehead to sway. "But...but how? I never said anything."
"You didn't have to." She inched closer to him and tried to figure out how to tell him her innermost secrets. "On the first day of school I sang the Valley Song and all I can remember is a pair of bright blue eyes staring at me and the toothpaste stained shirt you were wearing." She ignored the shocked expression on Peeta's face and continued. "My dad," she cleared her throat when it began to constrict and tried again. "My dad taught me how to track game by starting with the road that led from the Seam into Town Square." Katniss told Peeta how her father had begun her hunting lessons. "By the time the first day of school came around I had already been tracking footprints for a year. I really didn't pay attention to the ones that went in and out of the square until I noticed the footprints that followed my path every day and ended at the edge of the Seam. Sometimes they stopped at bushes...trees... I would look at them when I went to meet my dad after he was done with work." Katniss lifted her eyes to Peeta's. "The footprints traveled in the direction of the bakery."
Peeta let out a little gasp. "You knew I followed you?"
Katniss nodded. "I didn't say anything because I thought you were going to be like the rest of the merchant's kids and make fun of me or something, but then I'd notice you watching me in school. They way you'd peek over the top of your book when you thought I wasn't looking," she lifted the corner of her lips in a gentle smile. "Or how you'd always look away if I faced your direction." She tilted her head to the side and asked him what she had been dying to ask since they were children, "Why didn't you talk to me, Peeta?"
There were a million reasons why, but only one held the truth. "I was afraid you would turn me away. That you'd think I was silly or something and break my heart." He threaded his fingers through hers. "For some reason I thought it would be better living my life with the hope that you'd love me too one day, and not the reality that you'd reject me."
She had no clue if she would have turned him away or not when she was younger, until she thought of the things her father had said to her. "When we were eleven my dad and I went to the bakery to trade with your dad, and you opened the door," she smiled and told him about the day she stood with her back to the bakery wall and her father pulling twigs from her braid.
"So you were just standing there the whole time?" Peeta's brows shot up as he let out a little chuckle.
"My God, Katniss. I was doing the same exact thing inside." Peeta lifted her hand and kissed the back of it. "When I saw you standing at the door with your dad, I thought I was going to faint. I didn't think you'd be there, and there you were." He got a far off look in his eyes. "I don't think I have ever seen anything so beautiful in my life. You had dirt all over your boots and pants...you were wearing one braid and it was all messy," he ducked his head down and blushed a little. "I thought you looked so grown up with your hair like that. It sort of did something for me." They both let out a little laugh. "But I couldn't seem to get out a coherent sentence. I kept calling your dad, sir Everdeen." Peeta smiled at the memory. "I hadn't done that for years, and when I went back inside my dad saw me standing with my back against the wall and tried to convince me to talk to you."
"My dad did the same thing," Katniss smiled. "Naturally, I refused."
"Of course you did." Peeta wasn't surprised. Katniss would never be the first to admit she had feelings for anyone. It made her feel vulnerable and weak. "I heard you though...when you finally walked over to the door. I heard you say hi to my dad. When he came back inside he said, 'Peeta, I think that young lady was disappointed that you didn't come back to the door.' I didn't believe him for one minute though. I mean...this was Katniss Everdeen he was talking about. There was no way she'd ever give me the time of day."
"My dad insisted that I tell him why I started acting like a...girl," she let out a small giggle.
"I remember seeing you and your dad when pops and I were dumping out the boxes." Peeta stared into the fire recalling how breathtaking Katniss had looked across the road. "I could barely breathe when I saw you standing there. I always wondered what you two were laughing at...what you were talking about."
Katniss trailed a finger down the side of his face and traced his jawline. "You," she said tenderly. "We were talking about you, and how I refused to get married."
He held her gaze and said with a glint of humor, "How's that going for you, Mrs. Mellark?"
The sound of her new name rolling off of his tongue shot a surge of adoration through her. "Mrs. Mellark," her tone was airy. She rested back on her haunches and took in the man before her. Thought of her father's words on that day and said, "It was you all along, and somehow he knew it."
Peeta wondered what she was talking about, but sat still. Quietly waiting for her to continue.
"When my dad and I got home that day he told me that I'd meet someone in my life...someone that would see more than just a girl from the Seam. He made me promise not to push that boy out of my life, but I didn't know who he was talking about, so I asked him if he knew who it was and...and..." Now that she thought about that day, she had to wonder if her father knew he wouldn't be around much longer. "He told me, 'he'll be the one worth fighting for. The one that will fight for you.' I never knew why he was acting so funny that day. Like he had to tell me or it would be too late. Like he knew he was running out of time. Like...like he had to get it through my head that there was more to life than just survival and existing." She closed her eyes as Peeta's hand skimmed the side of her cheek. "For some reason I think my dad knew you loved me." Her eyes flew opened when she heard Peeta begin to choke. "Are you okay?"
"Uh...yeah," his cheeks were flushed. "I...um...I think I know why your dad knew I loved you." Peeta drew a little circle around the top of her arm. "I asked your dad if I could marry you when I was six and told him that I'd take care of you and love you forever."
A hand flew to Katniss' mouth in order to stifle the laugh. "When you...were six?"
"Yup," Peeta admitted sheepishly. "And once a month or so I'd meet him at the door and he'd ask, 'How's life, Peeta?' and I'd answer, 'It would be a lot better if I knew my future wife didn't have any suitors.'" Katniss let out a laugh as Peeta hid his eyes in embarrassment. "And your dad would always say the same thing, 'No one's come asking for her hand in marriage yet, Peeta.' Then he'd say, 'Talk to her yet?' and I'd say, 'no' and he'd say, 'Well, can't have a good marriage if you don't know how to communicate with each other.' And then I'd go inside and think about how I could strike up a conversation with you."
"Oh, Peeta," Katniss hung her head down between them then lifted her face to his. "How long did that go on?"
"Till right before he died," Peeta said sadly. "He was a really good man."
"Yes," Katniss agreed and suddenly missed her father more than words could express. "That day you answered the door at the bakery, my dad and I sang a song while we walked home." The words were pretty to her as an eleven year old child, but as a woman who just got married, their true meaning sunk in. She opened her mouth intending to share some of the lyrics with Peeta and found herself singing the sweet melody instead. "In a cold world, it's a warm place, one you know you're supposed to be. A million moments full of sweet relief when the right one comes along. Every single broken heart, will lead you to the truth. You think you know what you're looking for, till what you're looking finds you. It's so easy. Nothing to it. Though you may not believe me now, but I promise honey you'll find love when the right one comes along. All that changes is only everything. When the right one comes along."
Peeta got up on his knees and pulled her closer to him, "You may not be good at saying something, Katniss, but you sure know how to get the message across in a way that makes my skin tingle." he brushed his nose against hers and whispered close to her lips, "That was the most beautiful I love you I've ever heard."
"I've loved you my whole life, Peeta Mellark. I was just too stubborn to recognize it."
"Katniss," he closed his eyes and reveled in the feel of her skin beneath his palms and the love in her admission. "Your father was right. I'll fight for you till my dying breath."
"Till death do us part, right?" She asked with hope filled eyes.
"No," Peeta shook his head. "Even death won't stop me from loving you." He brushed his lips against hers, but refrained from kissing her, "I'll love you till the end of time."
"Till the end of time," she vowed in return.
"Can I kiss my bride now?" He wanted to more than anything.
She was about to say yes until she remembered what she pulled out of her bag. "I have something for you." Katniss pulled the locket and the mockingjay pin out of her pocket and placed it next to the bread in front of the fireplace. "I know we can't wear wedding rings yet, but…" She held the locket in her hand. "This belonged to Haymitch's grandfather." She showed it to Peeta. "It's a locket."
Peeta looked at the piece of jewelry and studied the deep gold engraving of a bird. "That's not a mockingjay."
"No. It's a jabberjay." She ran her finger over the bird. "It reminds me of you."
Peeta let out a little laugh and said, "I remind you of a Capitol muttation?"
"Yes…no…" Katniss shook her head. "This isn't coming out right." She took a deep breath. "Jabberjays were known for their ability to use words…like you. When I think of the things you said during the Games…the things you told people to save my life…" She picked up her mockingjay pin. "The only reason the mockingjay exists is because of the jabberjay. That's you…I'm only alive because of you. So yes…you remind me of a Capitol muttation," she smiled. "One that refused to do their bidding." She placed the mockingjay against the engraving of the jabberjay and gave it a twist. The bird's wings aligned perfectly until she turned the pin, then they looked as though they were holding onto one another in flight. The latch on the locket clicked open and a photo appeared.
"Who are they?" Peeta looked at the old image inside of it.
"I think they're Haymitch's grandparents. I was going to take the picture out, but…" Katniss shrugged and said, "They belong in there. It's like…like this locket…this pin…they're more than just pieces of jewelry."
"They're symbols of the love those two shared," Peeta gave her a gentle smile.
"I knew that when I gave this to you and you put our pictures in here…" Katniss lifted her eyes to his. "It would be forever. We'd go on even after our deaths."
Peeta looked at the image of Haymitch's grandparents and said, "Like them."
"Yes." She closed the locket and put her pin down. She took a deep breath and placed the gold chain around his neck. "When you wear this…no matter where I am…you'll know that my love will always stay with you."
Peeta squeezed the locket in the palm of his hand. He wished he had something to give to her in return. He looked down and picked up her mockingjay pin, "I know someone else gave this to you, but…it has new meaning now." He fastened it to her shirt. "When you wear this…no matter where I am…you'll know that my love will always stay with you…always."
Katniss placed her hand around the pin and gave it a little squeeze before looking up at Peeta. "I love you, Peeta."
"I love you too, Katniss." There was just one more thing to say. Peeta smiled at her and proclaimed, "I now pronounce you my wife."
Katniss returned his loving gaze and said, "I now pronounce you my husband." They both let out a little breath, their fingers were doing dances with each others before Katniss said to him, "Peeta. Please kiss your bride."
"You already knew that I had asked your father to marry you when I told you that story?" Peeta watched her sheepish nod. "Why didn't you say anything?"
"You never told me the full story during our toasting, and if I told you that I already knew, you would have starting asking me questions...and I would have had to tell you about the toasting and..." she tilted her chin downwards in order to hide herself from his stare. "I didn't want you to feel pressure about our being married. I didn't want you to think that I was angling for a proposal or...or a wedding or..."
"Hey. Hey," he lifted her face to his. "It's okay. We both agreed that I needed to remember that day on my own."
"So you're not mad at me?"
"Why would I be mad? Because you were worried about me?" Peeta brushed his thumb along the side of her full lips. "Katniss, you did what you thought was best for me, and I appreciate that." He placed a soft, lingering kiss against her lips. "Thank you very much Mrs. Mellark."
"Mrs. Mellark," she playfully glared at him and he answered with a wag of his brows and another kiss.
"Okay, you need to get off of my lap and stop kissing me," Peeta released a breath through his nostrils. "There's people around."
"Sure, now you get all worried that someone might see us." She took a spot next to him and let out a loud yawn.
"Why don't you get some sleep? I can keep watch for another hour or so before Finnick's shift starts," Peeta offered.
"I don't think I can." Katniss was exhausted but once she closed her eyes, she was certain that her mind would start running a mile a minute. Trying to answer questions about the war and their situation that there were no answers to. "Too much to think about."
"Come on," Peeta guided her back to the spot they had been sleeping and tucked her under the thick blanket of fur. "Tell me, what makes you happy, Katniss?"
"You and banana nut," she trailed a hand down his cheek then tucked it under the covers, anxiously awaiting the soothing sound of Peeta's voice as he spun one of his tales.
"Close your eyes," he waited until she followed his orders and knelt over her. "We're home, Katniss. The war is over. There's peace in all the districts and my mom is probably running the nation."
Katniss let out a hint of laughter. "I think I could actually rest easily in a nation with Effie Trinket as president."
"Me too," Peeta brushed his nose against hers. "Close your eyes." He watched her lids slowly drift close. "Our families...friends...they've all returned to Twelve with us. There's still a lot of work to be done, but we're not worried. We'll all pull together and do what we have to." Peeta didn't want to think of the wreckage their district was in, so he thought of someplace pretty and unscathed. "We've got a cradle in our bedroom for banana nut to sleep in even though her room is finished. We're not quite ready to let her out of our sight yet." He began imagining a world where their baby was healthy and they were happy. "She has the loudest cry, and she cries over everything," he saw the grin on Katniss' lips and smiled. "And boy can she eat. She's like her mother that way. A bottomless pit." From the corner of his eye he saw Gale stand up and make his way to the wall where they sat while keeping watch. "She's happy though. And chubby. Her cheeks are rosy and her little arms and legs have tiny rolls in them. One night, we decide it's time to put her in the crib. We tuck her into her bed, and we laugh at how tiny she is sleeping in the oak tree I painted for her. You tell me that we'll take her there. That we'll tell her stories of how we fell in love beneath the tree." He could see Katniss relaxing and her lips slowly going slack. "I'll tell her how mesmerized I was every time you showed up underneath that tree to meet me for lunch. It was such a cold winter, but neither one of us cared. We had each other to keep us warm." At the sound of Katniss' even breathing, Peeta placed a kiss against her forehead and took a spot next to Gale. "Didn't mean to wake you."
"I never fell asleep," Gale said flatly.
Peeta wondered how much Gale had heard, how much the man had listened to. "Guess privacy was never really something Katniss and I had much of."
"Nope," Gale slid his feet on the floor bringing his knees to his chest. "I thought for a long time that she'd finally come to grips with reality, and figure out that you were wrong for her." He let out a pathetic chuckle. "She was pregnant with your baby and I was still trying to convince her that she loved me and not you."
"She does love you, Gale," Peeta knew it wasn't much, but he could see the pain in the man's face and wanted to help to ease it.
"Not like she loves you." Gale turned to face him. "When I saw her kissing you during the Quell...I wanted it to be me. I wanted to be the one in the arena with her. I wanted to be the one she loved, and I thought...maybe...maybe I still had a shot. You see, the Katniss I knew lived for one reason only. Survival." Peeta remained quiet, giving Gale all the time he needed. "I kept telling myself that she'd make her choice. That she would choose the one that she needed to survive. Thing is, Peeta...I thought that would be me. But it's not." Gale paused. "It's you. She needs you to survive, and not because she can't get game without you, cause we all know you suck at hunting," Peeta and Gale both chuckled. "But because she can't live without you. She might be able to exist without you, but not for long." Gale held Peeta's stare with his own. "She needs you to survive just as much as you need her. She'd die if she ever lost you, Peeta."
Katniss' eyes opened at the sound of Peeta's response, "That's what I'm afraid of."
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