Dumisani Khnue spent May 8th, 1965 in a cell in the police station, where some overzealous officers broke his nose, his collarbone, and nearly all the tiny bones in his left hand.
The trial that followed a few weeks later was a mere formality. Any black man who admitted to raping a white woman should be grateful to receive such a dignity. Dumisami, strong, and brave, guilty of nothing but loving a woman whom it was illegal to even touch, malingered under his sentence of hard labor until a morning came when he did not stir, even when the guards pulled him off his bunk and kicked his stomach with their steel-toes boots.
Every night for the next four years, Maritjie Everdeen wept, while her tiny daughter, with clear grey eyes and dark olive skin, grew to look more and more like her father. The man who had lied and died to keep Marijtie out of jail, to protect the tiny fragment of a family he had.
A man she had loved more than her life itself.
Few white men in Cape Town wanted to marry a woman with a coloured daughter, but Katniss' mother was beautiful and she had no shortage of men who wished to share her bed. For the most part, she drove them away, but there were times when her loneliness was so deep it nearly drowned her, and her young daughter awoke in the morning to see the backs of men leaving through the side door of their tiny home.
From one of these unions came Prim, Katniss' delicate, blonde half-sister.
Their cold and distant grandparents, who had ignored Katniss and her constantly-working mother for years, doted on the child, providing her with the best of everything. She was sent to a private school in the city center, given fresh new clothes every season, and any toy that she could possibly want.
Their older grandchild, they treated as though she did not exist.
But despite her preferential treatment, Prim loved her sister with a devotion that Katniss herself did not really understand, but could do nothing but mirror. And every day after school, Katniss walked a mile and a half out of her way, so that Prim didn't have to walk back to their empty house alone.
The first time Katniss saw the blonde boy, she was eleven. He was with a group of friends playing rugby on the pitch outside of her sister's school. Katniss didn't even notice them, until a wild kick knocked the ball right into the side of Prim's face.
There was blood everywhere, and Katniss, who couldn't bear the sight of it, was certain Prim had to go to the hospital, that her nose would never stop bleeding. When the kicker ran over to retrieve his ball, she shoved him as hard as she could, desperate to do something for her sister, even if it was after the fact.
If she had been allowed to attend the same school as Prim, she would have been aware that the boy she shoved was Cato Vorster, a short-tempered bully whom it was best to avoid. But her school was poor, closer to their neighborhood, full of children whose skin looked like hers, and full of theft, drug deals, and worse. So she had no idea.
"What are you doin', you dof munt?" he shoved her backwards so violently that she tripped over her sister and sprawled on the ground. Prim was shaking in terror as Cato picked up her backpack and dumped the contents on the ground.
"Leave them alone," a voice said from behind him.
And then for a fragment of a second, Katniss saw a smaller, stockier boy, with curly blond hair and bright, kind, blue eyes. He glanced at her with serious concern, before staring unwaveringly into Cato's sneering face.
The taller boy laughed, "Mellark, less you need someone other than your mallie to knock you around, you should go."
Taking the momentary distraction to shove Prim's things back into her bag, Katniss stood and ran, dragging her sister behind her. She didn't look back. Get away, avoid attention, stay out. That was the way to be safe. It was always the way to be safe.
That night their mother looked at Prim's nose and said it was fine. Nothing broken. As though the sight her youngest daughter's blood was a catalyst, for the first time in a month Maritjie didn't go directly to bed after her shift at the hospital. Their tiny family played Parcheesi and each drank a bottle of Coke, a rare delicacy on the salary of a single mother.
When Katniss showed up at the schoolyard the next day, the boy named Mellark's right eye was swollen completely shut.
She stared at the dandelions creeping up through the cracks in the sidewalk.
"Dom pas?" the prissy blonde girl asked, tossing her hair and throwing quick, flirty glances at the rugby pitch. She was tall, and her teased hair was in a side ponytail that she flicked casually over her shoulder. With scornful eyes she glanced at her friends, who were preening themselves like peacocks.
Looking at the ground, Katniss muttered that she didn't have to carry one, even while red stained her cheeks. She had expected that after fifteen years, she'd be used to this.
She still wasn't.
"Oh, it's you," the girl sneered, before looking at the group of players and smiling again. "Little princess Prim's kaffer bodyguard. I wish you would wait further away from the pitch," she sighed, "I'm busy trying to make an impression, not that you'd know anything about that."
Not even looking up, Katniss crossed the courtyard, hoping to get as far away from this awful girl while still staying near enough that Prim could find her easily. But it was impossible, there was nowhere to go. The tall blonde and her friends whispered loudly about her boring braid and plain clothes, until they hissed themselves into silence.
"Oh hi Peeta!" the tall girl said brightly, with just the perfect hint of flirtation. It was clear that whoever Peeta was, he was the person the girl had been working so hard to impress.
"'Lo Glim," the boy said, in a friendly but distracted voice. Katniss could hear footsteps coming closer to her across the gravel, and the gaggle of girls began to whisper frantically among themselves. She drew lines in the dirt with her foot, hoping they'd just go away, and trying to conjure up something calming to think instead. She focused on the hike on Table Mountain she had taken with Prim and her best friend Gale only last weekend.
The sound of a throat clearing behind her startled her from her reverie.
"Heita, uh, Katniss, is it?" the boy asked, with the slightest edge of shyness.
She looked up.
It was the same boy. Mellark. Or Peeta. She didn't know which one was his first name. Either way, it was him. The one who had gotten into a fight so she and Prim could get away. He had grown up, though. A lot. His awkward childhood huskiness had filled out into the beginnings of muscle, and the soft lines of his face had melted into sharper angles. But his eyes were still the same: bright and kind.
He was looking at her earnestly, as though he was expecting her to give him something, but she had no idea what. The only boy she knew how to talk to was Gale. She had known him since before being a boy mattered at all, but when being the only child at school who lived in a white neighborhood most definitely had. Gale had spoken to her when no one else would, certain that she was putting on airs. He was brave and didn't care what anyone else thought.
But Gale was nothing like this boy.
"Your sister sent me," he finally continued. It was only then that she realized he had expected her to respond somehow to his earlier statement. A simple "yeah" probably would have sufficed. "She's… in detention."
"What?! Why?" Katniss burst out, attempts to be unnoticed completely forgotten. She was frantic, Prim fretted when other people got in trouble, and cried if there was even the remotest chance she had upset anyone. She was never the sort of person who ended up in trouble at all, let alone in detention.
The boy looked sympathetic, "Well, I wasn't there myself, but I understand that she got in a fight with the history teacher about pass laws. I think, although I'm not certain, that your sister called the teacher a damn idiot in front of the whole class."
Katniss' mouth dropped open.
"They're holding detention in the art room today. She came in when I was leaving my last class in there. I guess she thought the team would be practicing when you showed up to meet her, and I could wave you down," he paused again, as though waiting for her to say something. "She was really worried that you'd send out a search party," he grinned, obviously trying to alleviate the awkwardness with a joke.
"You know my sister?" she asked suspiciously.
"We're in student government together. She's very political, your sister."
This was news.
Taking her blank look as meaning something other than surprise, the boy tried to explain. "I mean, I don't blame her. Having a sister like…"
"Like what?" Katniss barked at him.
The boy blanched even whiter, except for a tiny bit of red that flushed on the tip of his nose. In any other circumstance, he would have looked cute.
But Katniss knew what he was implying.
"What I mean to say is…" he started awkwardly.
"Save it. You don't know anything about my family, okay? Don't pretend you do."
"I didn't mean…" he tried again.
"Thank you for letting me know about, Prim," she said firmly. "But I think your team is waiting for you."
"I'm bringing home a history tutor today after school," Prim had told her that morning. "He'll walk me back to the house, so you don't have to meet us."
"No. It's not safe," Katniss had argued. "After what happened to Posy…"
Prim had fallen silent at that.
Posy was Gale's sister. They were the same age, both fourteen. A few months ago, she had been walking home from the corner store when a white man had pulled her into an alley and assaulted her. No one had stopped him, even though Posy had screamed so much that she couldn't talk for days afterwards.
Gale's impotent rage had been almost as painful to see as Posy herself. He had scoured the neighborhood looking for his sister's assailant. But he was gone. No white man needed a dom pas to travel in a neighborhood that wasn't his, but Gale was dark and menacing enough to be forbidden passage into the neighborhoods where such a man as his sister's assailant could easily hide. One look on his face and he was escorted to the nearest black neighborhood by the police, despite the fact that as a coloured person, he didn't even live there, a fact his ID clearly stated.
It went without saying that, barring actions that would get him imprisoned, there was nothing Gale could do, even if they had let him in.
"He's the captain of the rugby team, Katniss," Prim had insisted seriously, trying to understand the gravity of the situation but obviously missing the point. "I'm pretty certain if someone tried to touch me, he could rip him into three separate pieces."
"What if he tries to touch you, Prim?"
"Katniss, come on! He won't. We'll just walk home and meet you here."
But her sister had been unmoving. "No. Absolutely not. I don't trust this boy."
Prim had half-sighed, half-laughed. "Okay. Do what you want. I'm just sorry that you have to walk so far out of your way for me every day."
She had ruffled her sister's blonde hair with a grin, "Bokkie, I'd walk twice as far."
But now as she saw her sister crossing the schoolyard with the same blonde boy, Mellark or Peeta or something, Katniss felt like she might have been better off just waiting at home. He was even taller now, and his thick blonde hair was longer, falling in waves across his forehead. His shoulders were so broad that both Prim and Katniss could stand side-by-side and still fail to span them. He had the build of a seasoned rugger. Prim had not exaggerated when she had speculated that he could rip someone into pieces.
But his eyes were the same, bright and kind.
"Oh, it's you," she said brusquely, before Prim could even introduce him.
Prim shook her head and rolled her eyes, "Katniss, this is Peeta Mellark. Peeta, this is my sister, Katniss."
Katniss said nothing, and Peeta looked nervous, obviously still remembering their last interaction. The three of them walked to the Everdeens' neighborhood, conversation dominated by Prim, who ranted about the injustice of what her history teacher had mentioned in class that morning about the necessity for segregation within the government.
Surprisingly, Peeta seemed to agree with her on most points. Not just agree, but add ideas of his own from the perspective outside of an obviously biased girl with a coloured big sister. He was good at talking, eloquent even, and he seemed to really believe things that Katniss had been convinced no white person other than those within her immediate family had reason or need to ever really consider. She found herself wondering if maybe she had unfairly judged his statement three years ago. That maybe he was trying to say something kind, instead of cruel, but it just came out wrong.
"So why do even need history tutoring, Prim?" she demanded, interrupting them as well as her own sympathetic line of thought towards this boy. "It sounds like you know what's going on."
Prim fell silent and Peeta chuckled.
"Well come on, bokkie, you've got to tell me now, since it's clearly so hilarious."
"I maybe haven't really been in a lot of history classes," Prim admitted.
Katniss stopped walking completely. "What?" she asked coldly.
"Mrs. Coin said that I could only stay in class if I stopped arguing with her," Prim sighed. "And since that was never going to happen, I've spent every class for the past month in the library."
Ignoring the fact that her school didn't even have a library, Katniss shook her head angrily. "Prim, you want to be a doctor! How are you going to do that if you fail?"
"Well, that's where Peeta comes in then isn't' it?"
"The school is letting him tutor you when you are purposely missing classes?"
Peeta cleared his throat, "Well, they don't exactly know about it. To everyone in school, we're in the throes of a somewhat age-inappropriate relationship."
Katniss glared at him, "If you so much as even touch my…"
Prim giggled loudly. "Don't worry. There's no fear of that, trust me."
"Yeah, I uh… like someone else," Peeta looked at the ground, face red. "Someone… older."
"I'm sure she's really… something," Katniss scoffed, feeling a sharp, unexpected twist in her stomach that seemed to come from nowhere.
"Oh, she is…" Peeta said wryly.
"So… what's your favorite subject in school?" Peeta asked he waited for the kettle to boil.
"Don't have one," Katniss muttered, "just trying to get through it."
"What are you working on there?"
"Trigonometry," she sighed angrily. Seeing his inquisitive expression, she continued, since she couldn't really escape without making things uncomfortable, "Second year I hardly had any maths classes cause of the strikes. I had maybe four weeks of geometry total. I don't understand it hardly at all, but they moved us all up a year because they had to."
There was a pregnant pause.
"Can I help?"
"Aren't you supposed to be helping my sister?"
Peeta laughed nervously and pulled out the chair next to her, "I don't think she needs my help anymore. She's brilliant. She managed to catch up on her own pretty quickly. I just showed her what to read and told her what will be on the exams. I'm exiled into the kitchen until she finishes reading, and then we're going to discuss whatever it is. I have a feeling she's going to make me look a right idiot."
"She is so bright, always has been," Katniss found herself gushing. "When she was a baby she just started speaking in whole sentences at so young. She basically trained herself to use the… oh… she would not like me telling you this."
"I'm her fake boyfriend, Katniss. I'm bound to find out these embarrassing details sooner or later. Bring out the awkward baby pictures, and let's just get it over with."
For the first time, Katniss found herself laughing outright at one of his jokes. The kettle whistled, and she jumped from the table, eager to make him his tea, to get away from the line of thought that had her giggling enthusiastically at something the boykie captain of a rugby team would say. Her hands flew as she busied herself with the kettle.
"No sugar, please," he said, directly behind her.
She spun herself around, slamming right into his arms and then disengaging herself immediately. He had felt so solid, warm, and inviting.
"Who doesn't like sugar?" she scoffed, trying to keep her heart from racing as she handed him a mug.
"Mad people, I suppose," he shrugged, grinning. "And trigonometry tutors. Come on, let me help you. It'll be good review for my own exams, anyway."
He looked at her so kind and earnest that she couldn't say no.
"Fine," she scowled, hoping he'd take the hint and withdraw his offer. But he didn't.
Quietly, they worked through the problems together. Katniss found herself focusing on his eyelashes as he wrote out the numbers on a piece of scrap paper. The fine strands were so light and gold as to be almost luminescent, catching the late sun that streamed in through their dingy window.
"Prim doesn't really have one, does she?" she asked nervously, trying not to focus on this boy who would not leave, even when he was no longer needed. Trying even harder not to focus on the fact that she didn't want him to go.
He raised his eyebrow, "Have what?"
Peeta shook his head, "Not that I know of." He stared at his spoon as he stirred his tea, then glanced up at her nervously.
Two weeks later, after confessing to a crush that had started long before Cato and the rugby ball, he kissed her for the first time.
She had looked at him in shock, and his face had immediately reddened with embarrassment. Before he could apologize, she ran past him and hid in her room.
He had tasted like cinnamon sugar, and she could taste him on her lips even when the actual kiss had been long past.
Seeing her at school the next day, Gale smirked and asked what it wasexactly that could make Katniss Everdeen smile for the entire day. He suggested she keep it up, as it vastly improved her appearance.
When Peeta arrived for the next tutoring session, awkward and apologetic, she was the one who kissed him.
She was on fire. Ever molecule in her body begged him to touch her, to pull her closer, even though nothing about this could last.
"This is against the law," she whispered into his mouth as he pulled her head to his. They were at the kitchen table, trigonometry completely forgotten as she straddled him on the vinyl chair.
"Haven't you been listening to your sister?" he chuckled, kissing down the line of her neck, "the law is bladdy wrong."
Prim was with her grandparents. She had been visiting them a lot more recently over the past few months.
Katniss wondered if this hadn't been her plan all along.
But it was working, because when she and Peeta found themselves twined around each other more tightly than they had ever been before in the small room that she and Prim shared, there was no one home to stop them.
With a sudden motion, Katniss brazenly stripped off her top. It didn't matter if this was doomed from the start, that boys like him never stuck around, just left girls pregnant with more little coloured versions of themselves.
She wanted him too much to care what happened in the end.
Peeta gently pushed her away and stared at the ground, refusing to look.
"Don't you want me?" she hissed, voice bitter with regret. She sat heavily on the bed next to him and crossed her arms over her chest, feeling like a complete fool.
But when he looked up, it was obvious how very, very much he did.
"I want you to know I'm not doing this just to do it, Katniss."
He was going to do this again, she just knew it, "Peeta, don't. Don't even say it. You know how things are, how they're always going to be. We're kids fooling around, that's all that–"
"Katniss, I love you."
She bit the side of her cheek to mute the feeling of joy that swelled in her heart, despite herself. "Stop it."
He shook his head firmly. "I won't, because it's true."
"Don't expect me to say it back," she whispered, staring at the ground. His shoes were on top of hers in a pile. They were just shoes. Nothing made his any different from hers. They were just shoes, and they were given more rights than she was.
"I don't," he smiled sadly, catching her eye.
She kissed him to keep him from saying any more.
He was so nervous when their bodies came together that he trembled, his big hands shaking as he gently touched her face.
It stung when he entered her, and he didn't last long at all.
But afterwards, when he looked at her with such desperate adoration that her heart clenched, she abruptly felt terrified about how this would end for reasons that scared her even more than the grim possible future itself.
One night, Prim didn't come home, even when the "tutoring" session was long over. When Katniss called her grandmother, the woman was at first dismissive, and then terrified. Her granddaughter had visited earlier that evening, then left, saying she was going to visit "some blerrie coloured girl named Flower." Katniss hung up in the middle of the woman's tirade about how dangerous it was for a girl of Prim's "quality" to be visiting a coloured neighborhood.
She ran the entire two and a half kilometers to Gale's house, Peeta in tow, but when they arrived, Posy shook her head nervously, particularly uncomfortable at the sight of a large, white man.
"She's n-n-not here. I th-th-think she went to a rally over where the District Twelve m-m-meets the industrial district. I told G-G-Gale as soon as he–"
The sound of sirens cut her off.
Katniss ran, completely forgetting about Peeta.
The first person she saw in the mostly deserted industrial district was Rory, Gale's seventeen-year-old brother. He was leaning against the corrugated steel side of a warehouse, smoking reefer. Inside, a man was making an impassioned speech.
"Prim's at home," he blew smoke through his gaping front teeth. "Gale found her 'bout a half hour ago and pretty much drug her away. She's fine with him. Don't worry. Take your kêrel and go home. Things about to get fokin' messy. There's people spyin' on our meeting 'bout to get what's comin'."
She heaved huge gasping sighs and Peeta, who had been by her side the entire time, pulled her close to him and tried to calm her down. Prim was safe, that was all that mattered, but the fact remained that she was still in a doomed relationship with a boy whom it was illegal to even touch. After running through town like that, there was no question that someone had seen them both. They were on borrowed time. And the longer things lasted, the worse the ending would be for her, for him, and even for Prim.
There was only one way to protect them all, and that was what she had tried to do in the first place. Stay quiet, unnoticeable. Stay to herself.
From inside the long building, shots ran out. The crowd that had gathered began rushing the exits. Some were leaving the warehouse in terrified panic, headed to their homes to lock the doors (those that had doors) behind them, others were pulling handmade weapons from the folds of their clothing with grim delight.
"Let's get out of here," Peeta muttered, pulling Katniss by the hand, but not before she saw Rory pull a gun from the belt of his pants.
The shabby industrial neighborhood erupted in violence as they ran, hand in hand, looking for some shelter. Their way back to the coloured and white districts was blocked by the bulk of the violence, so they headed deeper into District Twelve, weaving through the maze of tiny roads in between shacks. They finally found something, an abandoned ramshackle warehouse. It was on the verge of collapse, but was also untouched by the fires that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. It was little other than a cave of safety against the chaos that surrounded them, but it was something, and Peeta broke down the door.
Inside, Katniss fell back against the far wall, put her head in her hands and tried to hold herself together. She was a disheveled mess. As they had escaped the riot, her tee shirt had gotten torn. It hung off her shoulder, ripped down the neck. Peeta wrapped her in his arms and leaned his forehead against hers.
"It's okay. We're safe. Prim's safe" he sighed, his breath sour with fear. He seemed more shaken by the fact that she was so upset than the fact that industrial grounds were burning around them. But he hadn't seen what she saw on a regular basis. He was safe behind the walls and dom pas laws. No one told him what jobs he couldn't have and places he couldn't go to eat or buy food. He wasn't offending anyone by merely existing in a place where it was deemed she shouldn't. If something went wrong, his government would protect him.
Unless, of course, what was wrong was him wanting to marry a girl who wasn't white.
She never cried. There was no reason. She had dealt with this injustice all her life. It didn't matter, she had accepted it a long time ago. Acceptance was the only way to survive. At least it had been, until the way things were started to really threaten the people she cared about. People who would be safe if they didn't decide to involve themselves with her. To take her side. She hadn't asked for this. She hadn't even asked to be born. But she had been, and everyone around her was stained by her existence.
"You know, we've never been out in public together," Peeta tried to joke. "I think this might actually be our first date. Little much on the candlelight, I think. We really should complain to the management."
His attempt at humor broke her. Her sobs began and then increased in volume, until he had to press her against the corrugated steel in order to keep her from falling over. He muttered soft comforting things that she could barely understand over the strangled sound of her weeping.
"We can't do this!" she cried out, trying to push him away, growing frantic in her hysteria. "Not anymore! You see how it is. We have no future, Peeta. Nothing! I am going to ruin your life."
Peeta gently but firmly grasped her flailing wrists and pinned them above her, trying to calm her down. "Katniss, not now, okay?" he murmured almost inaudibly. "Just relax, you need to relax. We can talk about this when we're safe. But this is not on you. You are perfect, okay? I love you."
"NO!" she wailed, trying to push him away and pull her to him all at the same time. He needed to go. Just leave her alone. But he wouldn't. He held her up, solid as a rock but softly, gently, as though she might break otherwise, as she struggled hysterically against him.
"Get off her, maafoedi," a familiar voice behind them snarled threateningly.
"Go to hell," Peeta gruffly shouted without even turning. He pulled Katniss tighter to himself in a protective gesture.
As he did, his body went stiff, and he made a choked noise. Coming out of her hysterical fog, Katniss lifted her head to try to understand what was going on.
It was Gale.
Katniss saw the flames flicker in his grey eyes as his face loomed close to Peeta's. He was insane with rage, and she didn't understand. What could possibly be wrong? Gale had never even seen Peeta before. He didn't know him at all.
Then he stepped back, yanking hard to pull out the long knife he had thrust in Peeta's side.
The blond boy slid to the ground.
"You think you can just do this?" he spat in fury. "Have your way with our girls when they don't want you? Like they're not people? Well you can't! We won'tlet you." His dark skin shone in the light from the fires that flickered from the door. "They're not worthless. You're foking worthless."
She slid down the wall, eyes wide, completely unsure of what had happened.
"Run Katniss, quick. I'll take care of him. You don't have to worry. Prim's safe and now so are you."
The ground was dusty. Fragments of broken glass cut into her fingers as she crawled to Peeta's side.
"Gale… what have you done?" she whispered raggedly. Something slammed against the side of the warehouse outside and there was a shattering sound.
The rage drained out of Gale's face, replaced by horrified realization.
"He… he was hurting you…"
Katniss shook her head, lips curling in fury, "He was keeping me safe!"
Gale fell back against the wall, shaking his head frantically. "No… I… I was doing the right thing. I didn't… I thought…" he sputtered helplessly. The knife fell out of his hand and thudded in the dirt.
She ignored him, instead trying to roll Peeta onto his back. He was trembling, blood spilling out of the ragged wound in his stomach as she laid his head in her lap.
"You know, for a first date, this is pretty awful," he murmured, reaching up to push a hair out of her face. "You still look beautiful, though. Flames suit you."
"Go get an ambulance," Katniss hissed across the room at Gale. "Tell them he's white. I don't care what else you tell them, but get help NOW!"
He paused for only a moment before he ran.
Peeta shuddered in her arms and his eyelids fluttered closed. Katniss shook him violently.
"Stay with me!" she nearly screamed.
His eyelids flew open and he quietly coughed out something that she couldn't quite make out.
She pushed his sweat-soaked hair off of his trembling forehead and babbled about trigonometry, Prim's new shoes, anything and everything that she could possibly think of, but his skin grew colder and colder and his trembling grew worse. The shattering sound earlier had been a homemade fire bomb. Since then, there had been more, and the building was beginning to burn around them.
"Katniss…" he whispered weakly, interrupting her. "You need to run. This building is going to collapse soon."
She ignored him and kept talking, telling him about the day that she and Prim had found an abandoned kitten in the gutter and tried to give it a bath when they brought it home. He slowly lifted his hand and covered her mouth.
"You have to go," he insisted.
Katniss shook her head, "Then I'll bring you with me."
"We both know you can't."
"Then we'll wait for Gale and the ambulance. He'll be back. I know he will. He didn't… he didn't mean it," she closed her throat around the sobs that threatened to choke her again.
"Katniss… if he comes, he comes. But you need to be safe. Please, just go. For me."
"I'm not leaving you."
With a burst of strength, he pushed her as hard as he could, sending her sliding across the floor.
"Go now!" His eyes were wild, mad, and tears made thick lines through the smudged dirt on his pale cheeks.
But Katniss crawled across the dirt and lay her head on his chest.
"If I do, promise me that you'll stay awake. Promise me!"
"I promise," he chuckled faintly, "you have to pass trigonometry, after all. I just couldn't live with myself otherwise."
She was halfway to the exit when the entry wall collapsed. The building groaned and twisted around itself.
There was no way out.
"What was that noise?" Peeta asked as she kneeled next to him. His lips were turning blue and the pool of blood on the ground looked large enough to swim in.
"It's nothing," she smiled down at him, stroking his forehead before she lay by his side and wrapped her arms around him, "just the ambulance coming."
He was so far gone, he believed her, nuzzling into her side with the little energy he had.
"Katniss?" he asked, as the heat around them grew.
There was a long pause.
"You love me, don't you? You never say… but… I swear it's real."
She closed her eyes against the tears.
Gale was too late. Trying to bring an ambulance to the center of a shanty-town was difficult under the best of circumstances, and nearly impossible in a riot. When he finally arrived, there was nothing but the charred husk of a building. The police found their bodies, wrapped around each other like victims from the explosion of Vesuvius.
With the knowledge that he had become that which he most despised, a destroyer of innocent lives, Gale Hawthorne turned himself in.
No coloured man who admitted to killing a white man could expect an easy sentence.
He was sent to Pollsmore Prison in May of 1982. The papers were surprised he hadn't been executed.
There was a man there. A man with a violent past and a fervent a desire for freedom. A man who also felt that the blood of innocents stained his own hands. He found Gale one day in a black despair, full of rage over the great injustice that had led him to destroy his own life, and the terrible guilt over his own actions. They spoke, for a time, about the tangled good intentions that had led them both to their own imprisonment.
Gale swore that if he were ever released, nothing in the world would stop him from destroying the white men who led him to this place. The man smiled sadly and told him that his r esentment was like a glass of poison that he drank himself as he waited for his enemy to die. That the only way to a new South Africa was forgiveness from every man, to every man.
For there was much for all to forgive.
Eight years later, when the man, Nelson Mandela, was released from prison, Gale Hawthorne felt something akin to hope for the first time in his life.