Good Evening Everybody! I wanted to take this time to give a special thanks to my beta reader Katnissinme, if you look at a list of your favorite stories odds are she edits them. (Just so you understand how awesome she is.) I also wanted to thank my fabulous readers and everyone who comments. Comments are the fuel that keeps writers writing so I want to thank everyone who takes the time to help me keep writing!
I hope you all enjoy this chapter and look forward to reading your reviews!
I looked over the expanse of mountains as the sun set over the ocean on a perfect day. It had taken a little while to cultivate this feeling of peace that had felt impossible to attain just three short weeks ago. Back then I didn't think I would ever be able to take pleasure in the breeze on my face as I watched the sunset. I had thought I would be confined to the safe house, weighed down by my fears. I could never have imagined then the freedom I feel now.
The fear that had gripped us all in the days after the attack outside our home was still fresh in my memory. Before the attack, our naiveté was so great that we truly didn't feel that the strangers we had invited into our lives were going to be a credible threat. My fears revolved around Cato's retribution, Pro-slavery activist backlash, and consequences of a rebellion brewing in my home country. How wrong I had been. How wrong we all had been.
Our small-mindedness resulted in our inability to grasp the full scope of the danger that we faced in response to our actions. The celebrity Peeta and I shared as "America's favorite couple" was a greater risk to us than we could have imagined. Not to mention our obliviousness to the dark side of America, the Gang Societies. I just never thought that the people we tried to help would ever try to hurt us. I had clearly been wrong.
In my short year living in America I had thought the country's failure resulted from the absence of a balanced government and fair, binding laws. In reality, the country's failure came from the secret gang wars and the exploitation of the few illegal acts that existed in America. One would think that with a society built on profitalism, where society was set up so that every man had the opportunity to gain and trade freely, the few rules in place would actually be upheld. Apparently, asking citizens to not kill, not steal, not bribe and not trade weapons of mass destruction was too much of a burden to place on their shoulders. By allowing such open and free trade it pushed gangs into dealing with the dirtiest of crimes. I guess people will always find a way to cut corners in order to get ahead. Which is exactly what those three boys had planned to do.
The attack on our family in front of our home had been for one purpose only: greed. Three power-hungry Panem refugee Tomahawk gang members had decided to try to jump ahead in their rankings by bringing Prim and I to their gang leader. I could only assume that from there we would have been ransomed back to Peeta or a higher bidder. The kidnapping would have been met with approval because even though it is illegal it would have brought in money for the Tomahawk cause and the end would justify the means. In the minds of these criminals, the end would always justify the means. I shuddered to think about what would have happened if Zeyer hadn't come to help us.
I still don't understand the motives behind Zeyer's actions. From his confession to us, he himself is a Tomahawk, yet he came to our defense over those of his partners in crime, his fellow Tomahawks. Gale thought Zeyer did it to keep the balance of power. Apparently Zeyer is ranked higher than the three boys who attacked us and Gale felt Zeyer wanted to remain the higher rank. Finnick believed it was to keep the peace in the community. Damien felt that he did it to keep the Tomahawks anonymous and not reveal their leading officers to the Red Union. Out of all of us, only Rue felt he came to our defense because he thought it was the right thing to do.
I still didn't know what to believe. It seemed to me that Zeyer Pannone was a walking contradiction. He's a Panem refugee and a high-ranking gang member of a gang who came to our defense instead of his fellow gang members'. He had come willingly when we locked him in the strong room for questioning and had returned Prim to us unharmed before the attack. Even after all this, though, it was clear there were many important things this guy was hiding, and the mystery surrounding him still marked him as untrustworthy in my mind. After I spoke with the others it was clear that I wasn't the only one who felt that way about him, as was evidenced the night of the tribunal when everyone let his or her opinions be known.
I shivered involuntarily as I thought about that heated night. The night after the attack, the entire house had come together and formed our first family tribunal in an effort to hear out every stakeholder's opinion and come to some kind of clear direction or decision. The fear and the anger had been so palpable in the room that everyone I loved was on edge.
I had been numb at the time, my fear so consuming that I had been unable to really process everything that was being discussed. Peeta had received severe burns and his system had still been adjusting itself, which caused him painful muscle spasms and severe fatigue. Every time his body would spasm it would bring tears to my eyes. It wasn't fair that someone whom I loved, someone who had done so many selfless things for others, should have to suffer like that.
Damien had gone first because it was his idea to call the meeting. His point of view had been met by a couple agreements, a few disagreements, and one or two bursts of outrage.
"Let's just turn him over to the cops and let them handle it. Best case – we just turned him over to his Red union enemy, if what he said about them controlling so much of the government is true, and worst case he's still out of our way and setting an example for the entire community," Damien had said bluntly to the entire group.
"While we're at it, let's send them all back to where they came from. We don't owe these people anything. We have all sacrificed plenty to give them this chance at a better life. They fucked it up and there are consequences. Let's kick them all out and maybe we can add in some new security measures and a real interview process BEFORE bringing back a few of them to live on our land."
"Damien, no offense but are you INSANE?" Rue countered, her sweet nature peeled back to reveal a strong and opinionated core I had not expected. "Three boys. Three stupid, scared, and misguided boys, should not trigger a decision to send over five hundred well-meaning refugees back to a life of suffering. We are all these people have now. They probably can't even go back to the displaced persons camps that were set up for them now that they've left. It's not like they knew what those boys were up to; most of them probably don't even know who those boys are. As for Zeyer, the guy rescued Katniss and Prim and while I agree it's weird and he's clearly hiding something, actions speak louder than words. We can't send him away just for keeping secrets. We'd be punishing him for helping us when he could have done nothing and we would never have bothered him."
"Rue, that's enough out of you. Your opinion doesn't hold too much weight after how we found you this morning. You're on extremely thin ice as it is. This entire attack could have been avoided if you hadn't decided to pick last night to stay out and find yourself a boyfriend," Thresh admonished with a quiet tone that accentuated his anger.
"You put everyone at risk by not returning home with Prim last night. The only reason those boys had the opportunity to attack Peeta and Katniss was because they ran out looking for both of you before the rest of us. So no, Damien is not insane. He was actually here and witnessed the immediate aftereffects of the attack those 'three stupid boys' pulled this morning. And where were you that entire time? Passed out drunk and half naked on a porch in the arms of someone who wouldn't even be here if Peeta and Katniss hadn't given him a chance."
Rue had tears of anger and embarrassment in her eyes and I could tell she was taken aback by the harsh words her brother had spoken to her. I had expected her to fight back but she remained stone still with her nostrils flared.
"We know we messed up last night, but it's not fair to place all the blame on us when so many factors went into this morning's attack. Our mistake definitely shouldn't render our opinions any less meaningful than anyone else's," Prim had replied to Thresh in Rue's defense.
She had been sitting on the floor in the corner of the safe house great room where the meeting was held and had remained quiet up until that point. She hadn't really spoken to me since the attack but it was clear that she was taking it especially hard. From what I had witnessed no one had actively blamed her for disappearing last night. What I found interesting, though, was that she still included herself in being partially responsible.
"You could make a strong argument for every person's opinion thus far, but there's no reason for us to turn on each other and start pointing fingers in the room." I hadn't seen it at the time but apparently at Prim's comment Johanna made some kind of face that caused Prim to snap. I definitely had not expected her severe mood swing.
"What? What Johanna? What was that for? Or would you like for me to start pointing fingers at the real reason I was out all night? Or how about the reason why we weren't prepared for the gang attack, or how strong the gangs were in the first place? It's really too bad that no one in our entire group had inside knowledge about the gangs, isn't it Johanna? If I found out that someone in our group had personal knowledge of the threats the gangs posed to our way of life I would have expected them to come forward months ago with that information, when we were making the decisions to let strangers into our land in the first place. In my mind, anyone who kept that information from the group would undoubtedly be responsible for any harm that may have come to the group at the hands of the gangs. Wouldn't you agree, Johanna?" Prim replied with acid in her voice.
"Unfortunately, I don't have answers to your questions, sweet Prim, but maybe your gangster boyfriend who's currently locked up in the storage room could shed some light on the situation. From what I understand, that was the real reason you were out all night," Johanna snapped back.
"You don't know what the hell you're talking about, Johanna, considering that I got lost in the woods chasing after you! I wouldn't have made it back at all if Zeyer hadn't found me in the first place. You hadn't even cared enough to see if I had gotten back last night after you heard me calling after you!"
"Jo had every reason to run last night, Prim. There are some things you just don't understand. She was in no position to check after you or anyone else last night. She left in an act of self-preservation you can't blame her for that. It took half the night just to get her to calm down, all right? " Gale interjected, surprisingly calm for Gale.
"Like hell I can't blame her!" Prim shouted, tears appearing in her eyes.
"Alright, that's enough. Prim, you had the right idea in the beginning, let's not point fingers. We didn't come together to fight, we came together to make a collective decision based on what's best for the group. Our first priority is obviously all of our safety, which has currently been compromised, as we are all aware. So let's start coming up with answers to our problems instead of hashing them out, shall we?" As usual, Annie piped in as the voice of reason.
I was still too numb to contribute to the conversation but I was thankful for Annie stepping in. I was exhausted and I could tell Peeta was barely holding on next to me. His pain and fatigue were reflected clearly in his eyes as he looked at me. I ran my fingers gently over his face, feeling the need to soothe him in whatever way I could. I wanted the meeting to end quickly so I could take him back to our room to rest.
"Since technically I was in line to speak after Damien, I would like to review some of the options that are on the table before I give my opinion. There are both short-term and long-term solutions that need to be addressed, but considering the stress of today I suggest we attempt to handle the short-term problems only tonight. We have very few legitimate options given the size of our group and the refugee situation, but the main concern here, as Annie pointed out, is our continued safety. These are the options as I see them. Our first option would be to remain in the safe house on lock down until we have worked out how we are addressing the long-term solutions. Our second option is to expel all of the refugees who have recently been admitted and in a week or so continue with our regular lives. Third, we could all simply leave and attempt to make a new life. Lastly, we could implement a combination of our options. Those who are at the most risk could leave the estate for a brief period of time while those of us who are less at risk could attempt to establish a peaceful community."
"What are you suggesting, Finnick?"
"I'm suggesting the last option. We are all angry and we are all scared, but we can't forget that these people are our people. Most of them, I like to believe, are innocent people who just want to begin a new life. However, it is not worth putting our family at risk. Katniss, Peeta, I think of both of you as family. You have opened your hearts and your home to all of us when you had no reason to and you were repaid by being attacked on your own land. Peeta, you need rest and relaxation after your recent injuries. Let the rest of us take care of these problems in the meantime. You have done so much, you both deserve some time away. Take the van and take Hope and leave this behind for a while, you both deserve a vacation."
I was stunned at what Finnick had suggested. Leave home? I had to admit the idea of leaving all of our worries behind was enticing but I still had some reservations. Peeta would never be comfortable leaving our responsibility on others' shoulders, and how would we even be able to leave?
"Are you sure? Is it even safe? How would we leave?" I asked skeptically.
"If you keep the car on invisibility and don't travel toward any of the cities it would be safest for you to both disappear for a little while. As for the rest of us, we're nowhere near at risk the way America's favorite couple is. We will still be able to communicate through the secure monitors and consult you on all decisions. What does everyone else think?"
I listened as a few people agreed. Damien mumbled a, "Well, it's a start." I looked to Peeta to see what he thought about all of this.
"Do you really think it best for us to leave?" I whispered quietly to him while the others around us continued to talk. He nodded without breaking eye contact. Truth be told, the stress of the community had taken such a toll that I had wished we could somehow disappear from it all. The idea that just the three of us could take some time away from the problems surrounding us was almost too much to hope for. I couldn't believe how easily Peeta had agreed to leaving. He must have been just as anxious to leave this all behind as I was.
Peeta turned to look at Finnick. "We'll go."
Two days later we had established a short term plan of attack and were ready to leave. Finnick would take charge of a secondary review process while Damien and Thresh would interrogate Zeyer to release the names of all known gang members. If Zeyer was as high up in the gang society as we believed him to be, he would not only know his fellow gang members in the community but many of his enemies as well. It was still undecided how we would handle Zeyer by the time we left. Prim, Rue and Johanna were all banned from going to the community without another member of the group. Everyone decided that because of their past actions they would not be trusted to be in the community without supervision. After a little time, the girls begrudgingly agreed.
So we left. The first week was simply spent driving and resting. It was peaceful and much needed. Peeta had needed a lot of care due to his wounds and the van provided the perfect space for recuperation. We spent time as a family. We took thousands of pictures of Hope and recorded her laughter to send to the others. By the end of the week, Peeta was feeling well enough to make love to me again and I have to admit those were the times I was the most thankful for the van. The privacy was the greatest gift we had been given. We had settled into a perfect routine where we enjoyed all of our favorite things throughout the day.
"It's almost like a honeymoon." Peeta had said into my ear one night after we had made love. I had been lying naked on his chest while his fingers played with the loose strands of my hair.
I smiled against his chest as I thought about all that we had been through together and how we somehow managed to be better off than we were before. "A honeymoon, hmm? Do people usually take their children on their honeymoon?" I said teasingly as I looked over at the far side of the car where I knew Hope was in a deep slumber.
I felt his body shake as he chuckled. "I said almost," he replied teasingly. "Besides, one day, after things get settled and we sign that little piece of paper, after I announce to all of our friends and family how much I love you, after I undress you from a beautiful white gown and take the flowers out of your hair, after all of that, I will take you on a real honeymoon, just the two of us." Then he kissed me deeply and let all of the love we felt for each other wash over us.
I was jolted from my memory by the telltale crunching of Peeta's feet against the graveled path. I looked up at him as he came to sit down next to me.
"We woke up and wanted to see you," he said as he handed me our daughter. I gave her a kiss on the head as I took her into my arms. I shifted her over into my other arm so I could take Peeta's hand in mind. "What a beautiful sunset," he said quietly. "I'm sorry to say that it's one of the last ones we'll get to enjoy on our own."
I gave him a questioning look before he replied. "I just got off the secure phone with Finnick. He thinks that it is safe for us to come back if we're ready."
"Are you ready to go back?" I asked him cautiously. I had mixed feelings about returning home. I missed our friends and family, but this time together free from fear and stress was something I would never be ready to give up.
Peeta let out a small laugh. "I will never be ready to go back. This time with you has been…unbelievable," he said as he caressed his lips against my cheek.
"I was just thinking the same thing," I said before I kissed him lightly on the lips. "But…?" I prompted after we finished our kiss.
"But… it is probably for the best that we head back. Apparently a lot has changed in the community since we left."
"Really? Like what?"
"I'm not really sure, Finnick wouldn't tell me." He smiled at me.
"Ah, so he's using curiosity to bribe you back home," I said teasingly.
"That, and we only have about a week or so left of supplies. What do you say? Ready for home?" he asked as he cupped my cheek with the palm of his hand.
"No, but I'll probably get used to the idea once we run out of food," I laughed.
"Well, we have a few days before that happens and I happen to know the perfect way to pass the time on the drive back…" Peeta murmured just before he drew me in for a long deep kiss.
I had a feeling I would enjoy the drive back very much.
Stay tuned for the next chapter! Please remember to review and let me know how I'm doing! It's very much appreciated. Also please remember to follow and favorite!