A/N: Updates will continue to be slow for a little while, so I hope you are patient. Here's a take on Gale's involvement in Peeta's rescue. Hope you enjoy, and feel free to let me know what you think!
After Katniss broke down trying to film, it didn't take long for me to get to her. It's one of the reasons I've stuck so close. And I still screwed up, not telling her about that interview. It's hard to watch her so torn up over the baker boy, but when I tried to imagine how I'd react if it were her in Snow's grip ... just the thought destroyed me. I don't like to think she could feel that way about him, but those kisses in the Quarter Quell didn't leave much question. Besides, when she did kiss me, but it never felt like it should, like in my head. That doesn't change how I feel, though. I can't picture myself with anyone else. I don't want to.
None of that mattered when she collapsed, when Finnick filled everyone in on what I could hardly admit to myself - and Finnick explaining it didn't help any. I was beside her in two seconds. I tried to hold her up as she fell apart, but she pushed me away. I couldn't even be her rock, her support. In the end it was Haymitch that was able to comfort her and contain her until they shot that needle in her arm, taking her away from the pain. Then Finnick falls apart too. I figured I'd help get them down to Medical, but before we left Plutarch had already declared that the rebel promos were too necessary to the war effort to have our victors unable to film, and that it was time for a rescue mission. He told Boggs to get started with plans, and I had to jump in the conversation. I told them I wanted to go. Boggs gave me a nod and said to meet him in command. So once Haymitch and I got Katniss and Finnick down to medical, we went straight there.
In command, there was a small crowd gathered. Boggs explained the basics of the mission, the risks involved, and announced that they needed seven people for the mission, that no one would be assigned to the mission, and that it was volunteer only. They asked for volunteers to raise their hands and insistently I threw mine in the air. Haymitch did too, but Boggs ignored him. Thankfully, he didn't ignore me. I was number three or four called up to join the team.
I seethed when Plutarch discussed Katniss' breakdown as merely a setback to the promo plans. Moments like that remind me that he was a gamemaker, arranging 'entertaining' deaths for Capitol entertainment. I wanted to take a swing at him so bad - but I couldn't, of couse. Luckily Beetee appeared and the conversation detailing the rescue plans began. It was clear they had developed a lot of scenarios for rescues before, which came as a surprise. I had no idea we'd be moving so quickly once the decision was made. They went through the plan, but Boggs and Beetee were making small changes as they went, discussing details that I couldn't follow. I did learn that there were rebel insiders in the Capitol who would be called on to help, and the rescue was for more than just Peeta. They planned to rescue others as well. The intelligence suggested other victors were being held in the same underground prison as Peeta, and the plan was to rescue all of them.
One of the Capitol rebels was going to plant bombs in a facility miles away from the prison to serve as a distraction. The bombs were a version I'd seen working with Beetee; I knew they'd attract a lot of attention if they worked as designed, to cause very localized damage while sending a sort of shock wave out beyond the blast radius. There was a good deal of debate about additional diversions. Someone I didn't know asked, "Should Ms. Everdeen be sent to another district? We could use her as another diversion."
I couldn't hold my tongue. "No! She can't handle it now," I exploded in anger. In truth, I didn't think I could handle worrying about her safety during this mission. I didn't want her leaving the district unless I was there to keep her safe. Boggs gave me a warning look, but thankfully concurred that Katniss was too fragile to be sent anywhere right now.
After the briefing in command, Boggs led us with Beetee down to Special Defense to be outfitted. The rescue plan involved knockout gas and a power failure, which meant we would be wearing masks that filtered the air we would breathe, and also night-vision glasses, for the duration of the mission. Of course, we were also outfitted with guns and uniforms specific to the mission. Before I knew it we were headed to the hovercraft. Once we lifted out of the bunker, we were completely cut off from communication with district 13.
I still didn't enjoy these hovercraft trips. It felt too unnatural, and I didn't trust the flight technology. Birds were meant to fly, not people. Boggs fortunately provided a distraction, reviewing everyone's roles as we traversed the open countryside between district 13 and the Capitol. I focused on the plan, piecing together the components of the rescue in my head. I asked Boggs about the details, contingencies, anything I could think of. It felt like forever, buckled in to the uncomfortable seats on the hovercraft.
I was partnered with a tall muscular woman from district 13, Syla. Boggs and his partner Blackol would be in front, and we would follow them into the prison. Once inside, the group would split up to rescue as many prisoners as possible, in as short a time as possible.
The hovercraft landed on the roof of a building whose basement was somehow connected to the prison. One of the rebel insiders was waiting at a door on the roof to let us into the building undetected. However, we could only get so far before encountering Peacekeepers. We would have to make our way to the basement, through maintenance tunnels to reach the prison, which would be heavily guarded. The knockout gas was supposed to take care of the Peacekeepers in the prison itself, but first we'd have to make it through the first building.
We had the element of surprise on our side, at least, that was the idea. Syla and I provided cover as Boggs and Blackol took the lead working our way down through the building to the basement tunnels. Somehow we got through without setting off any alarms or otherwise attracting undue attention. We reached the tunnels faster than expected and had to wait it out until the time the insider rebels were supposed to have set off the knockout gas cartridges in the ventilation system of the prison. We waited anxiously in a tunnel not far from the prison, minutes ticking by far too slowly. My heart was pounding in my chest and though Syla was perfectly still as we waited, a wild look in her eye told me she was as amped about this as I was.
Finally the tunnel flickered into darkness. We pulled down the night vision glasses and gas masks, Boggs gave the signal and we moved out. Working our way as quickly as possible through the tunnels, dispatching any workers who stray across our path, Boggs led us onward. We passed through several rooms of silent machinery, but I didn't even know when we entered the prison, until we found guards lying prone across the floor. Soon the group split up, Syla leading me down the narrow hallway. The stale plastic smell of the gas mask filled my lungs.
With the power out, the cell doors were easily unlocked from the outside. Syla was already at one of the doors, pulling it open. Though the knockout gas should have taken care of any inhabitants, I entered the cell on full alert. All I found was a crumpled body so battered and bruised that it looked more like a corpse than a Victor. I pulled the too-light body up over my shoulder, quickly surveying the room again before returning to the hall. There was confusion as we rejoined the group, as I frantically tried to identify the other unconscious bodies in tow. I knew whoever I had, it wasn't Peeta; the legs swinging limply off my shoulder were clearly a woman's, though little about the crumpled form had registered as feminine. Another soldier carried a second limp form, also obviously not Peeta. I was panicked that we hadn't found him, that he wasn't there after all, until Blackol turned up, hauling a larger body across his shoulders. "Is it him?" I asked in a whispered voice. In the unfamiliar images of the night-vision glasses, I peered into the face crushed against Blackol's shoulder. I needed us to save Peeta. I needed to know we had him.
Just as it registered that the body was definitely Peeta, Syla gave me a shove. She and Boggs were back from a final check and Boggs was waving everyone back towards the tunnels. As we hurried out of the poisoned hallways of the prison, I could scarcely believe what was happening. Could it really have been so easy? Blindly I followed the soldier in front of me, all my senses heightened by the danger I felt around us. We were barreling our way through a room of heavy equipment, still silent, when Boggs called out to take cover. I jerked myself behind the closest machinery, protecting the body I carried, and saw Syla crouched across from me. Shots ring out and in a flash she was gone, rushing forward out of sight to help Boggs. In a moment the guns had gone silent and we were on the move again. The tunnels were lit only by dim flashing bulbs, which must have been on some back-up system or generator. I was just coming around a corner of intersecting tunnels beyond the bounds of the prison when I heard the clicks and an explosion to my left. Instinctively I turned away, crouching down and looking for some kind of cover. The body I'd been carrying slumped off my shoulders in front of me. The stabbing pain hit me just after the metallic whirring that followed the explosion. The image of our own bombs, set as a distraction, pulsed through my mind with the pain. My back and shoulder felt torn to shreds, reminding me of the whipping back in 12. My ears were ringing and I realized I still hadn't moved. Then someone was pulling me up, hoisting the body onto their shoulders, pulling the gun in my hand back up into position. Turning my head, I saw Syla's intense gaze. I knew we had to keep moving. With a grunt, I nodded to her and we pushed forward through the tunnel. The pain wasn't so bad, or maybe the adrenaline and shock were blocking the worst of it, but we kept moving. I couldn't waste time or energy worrying about the state of the rescue squad; instead I focused everything I had on moving forward and keeping my weapon at the ready. Ahead, more gunfire. At the sight of peacekeeper uniforms, I was shooting. Ahead I saw Boggs. I followed his lead, working with him to cover our path out as the others hauled the prisoners past. We tracked after our group through another series of tunnels, up through the first building, back out onto the roof. As often as possible I scanned to check for Blackol and the body of Peeta Mellark. We'd scarcely hauled the bodies on board before we were in the air. I stood, gripping the edge of a seat tightly as I focused on the slumped form of the baker boy. We had him.
A medic checked over the prisoners, who despite all appearances were alive and presumably in better shape that their appearance suggested, before turning to the soldiers. When he got to me, I gestured to my back and arm, which stung hotly. He looked me over, then sent me to the empty seat I'd been standing over. Without any explanations, he pulled a needle from his kit and injected something into me, which soon dulled the throbbing in my arm and back, though heat still seemed to pour from the wounds into my body.
Even now, anxiously staring across the interior of the transport, I wonder what is still in store for us. Has the Capitol seen our hovercraft? Have they sent anything after us? I wait for some new attack, but nothing comes our way.
The hovercraft jerks to a stop in the familiar hangar of District 13 and the tension over a possible attack disperses. I practically collapse in my seat, a combination of exhaustion, pain and relief. Medical teams await us, we're quickly pulled off the hovercraft. The prisoners are still under the control of knockout gas, or maybe additional drugs given by the medic, I can't be sure. Despite my protests, I'm forced into a wheelchair and am wheeled down to medical by one of the medics. I'm hardly aware of my surroundings, but soon a doctor is looking me over. Apparently whatever is buried in my back and arm has blistered the tissue around the wounds. A part of me longs for the care of Mrs. Everdeen and the snowcoat, though surely the medical center here has better treatments. Whenever the doctor or another medic touches the metal implanted into me or the wounded skin around it, I moan in pain. The doctor works to remove the metal projectiles from my body. I clench my jaw, sweat dripping off me in a cold sweat.