A/N: Oh my god.
I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so, so sorry X100000000 and infinity.
Oh god guys, I'm so, so sorry about neglecting this story! I've just had horrific writer's block with this. I'm still not completely back on track either. I understand if you guys hate me for leaving this since September, I can't apologize enough.
Disclaimer: I don't own the Hunger Games.
Chapter Twenty Three
Frustrated was an understatement.
She couldn't find anything.
Katniss sat at the oak desk, a variety of pages spread out around her. There were thousands of files on other slaves. She had found stuff out about Gale and Rory and Gloss but there was nothing on Peeta. Apart from the information that Madge had shown her already, obviously. But what use was a bunch of facts about his compound transfers and family deaths? She wanted to know more. Something deeper. Something with more meaning.
There had to be something!
"Is everything alright?" Madge stood in the doorway, a leather satchel hanging over her shoulder. "You've been in here for a while."
"I'm just doing some research. Personal stuff," Katniss muttered, lifting a giant pile of papers and peering underneath. She put the pages back down and looked up at the blonde girl with a sigh. "How's Prim?"
Madge chuckled. "Rory's looking after her. Well, more like she's looking after him. They've made a make-shift infirmary in a room on the second floor. It's actually quite impressive. That sister of yours knows a lot more than the rest of us. About medicine anyway, I might just move her up the ranks. Maybe make her our doctor or something. Is everything alright with you? You seem to be going through something pretty intense in here?"
"I'm trying to find out more about Peeta," Katniss murmured, yanking open a drawer in the desk and pulling everything out of it. "But I can't find anything. Sure, I can find loads of stuff about everyone else but there's nothing on Peeta."
Madge frowned, folding her arms. "I've already given you all we have on Peeta," she said. "Remember the file? I told you about his family and stuff?"
Katniss shook her head. "I know but there has to be more. There has to be more to him than just a bunch of facts about his family and medical history and punishment records. There has to be more somewhere." She pushed all the excess paper out of her way to clear a space on the desk and moved on to the cabinets behind her. "That just can't be it."
Madge's fingers clenched over the strap of the satchel, a crease forming between her eyebrows as she watched Katniss pull more paper out. "How . . . why do you insist so much that you don't have feelings for him?" she asked.
"What?" Katniss exclaimed, slamming a pile of paper onto the desk. "I'm his friend. Isn't that enough?"
"Not really," Madge replied. "Not when you're so adamant about finding out more about him . . . ?"
"Don't start Madge, I'm not in the mood. I've just spend the last two hours reading what the slaves have been going through over the past hundred years. They weren't just cruel to Peeta for his 'special' instablility, anyone who had a curious medical condition would be experimented on. It's disgusting, I can't imagine what they were put through," Katniss said. "How can people stand by and act like this is all justified? It's sick. We're sick."
"Not 'we'. Them," Madge corrected.
Katniss sighed, feeling mentally drained, and sat down behind the desk. Resting her chin on her joined hands, she moaned tiredly. "Did you know that years ago-and I'm talking years ago-there used to be a belief that men couldn't be raped or molested because it was believed that they enjoyed anything that's done to them if it's sexual? Who made that up? It's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard."
Madge shrugged, unable to answer.
"I also read in a book I found on the shelf over there about the dissapation of the male power that back in that same era, people expected women to be prostitutes more than they did men? Men were like these guys called 'pimps' who would be like a . . . salesman for the women. Advertising them to potential buyers and stuff," Katniss said. "It states in the book that the males started losing the battle of the sexes when less and less women subjected themselves to the seemingly 'common' practice of selling themselves and more men began doing it. It never clarified how or why more men started doing it but that's how it began. The roles slowly began to reverse, more and more women becoming pimps while more men became the prostitutes. Can you believe that?"
Madge was staring at her with an inquisitive gleam in her big blue eyes. "I can't," she said. "'The Rise and Fall of the Reign of Males' is a very meticulous piece of work, it leaves no stone unturned." Her frowned deepened. "Who wrote it again? I can't remember."
Katniss glanced across the room, back the shelf where she left the book. "Glimmer Sparkles from District 1," she answered. "I think she owns a prostitute service herself. I remember Jackson threatening Peeta with the name when they came to visit him for a routine inspection." She looked at Madge for the first time, as if only just noticing that she was there. "Was there something you wanted?" she asked sheepishly.
"Yeah," Madge said, shaking her head as if just remembering what she came for. "There's been development in the mind control case."
Straightening up in her seat, Katniss' heart sped up in her chest. "Really?" she asked. "What have you found?"
Taking a seat across from the desk, Madge sat down and moved the satchel around so it sat on her lap. "Beetee has been doing some excessive research in his spare time, you know, on the compound website?"
"The compound has a website?" Katniss frowned.
"Yeah, for the women to go onto if they were interested in purchasing a slave. So they can discover the compound's features, its routines, how the buying process works etc." Madge explained. "Anyway, there's a 'staff only' section on it and Beetee managed to hack his way into it. There was loads of intriguing things, I have to say, the major thing being that we've discovered is what was meant by 'mind control' on Peeta's file."
Katniss raised her eyebrows expectantly. She leaned forward attentively. "And?" she asked.
"Jackson and Harper have refined a variety of serums over the years, the majority of them being tested on Mr Mellark because of his condition. They were put together to target in the weakness in his brain and exploit the deficiency to use to their advantage. They've caused hallucinations and tried to force him into believing lies. Apparently it used to be very successful," Madge explained. "Not so much anymore."
"Why not anymore?" asked Katniss.
"Don't know, there just hasn't been any reports of successful experiments since he's been back in the Capitol," Madge replied. "According to Beetee anyway."
Katniss couldn't get the image of Jackson sticking needles into Peeta, causing hallucinations and wrecking his sanity. A fresh wave of rage washed over her and she had to clench her fists to internally force it the sudden onslot of resentment, came a feeling of debilitation. "Madge, what are we doing?"
Madge sat back, threading her fingers together and resting them on the satchel. "What do you mean 'what are we doing'?" she asked.
Katniss shrugged. "I mean, we're waiting for more rebels to arrive and there are people coming, I get that, but . . . what do we do once they arrive? How are we going to save Peeta and the other slaves? Bring down the Capitol? What's the plan?"
"We don't have strength in numbers right now, Katniss," Madge answered. "Only enough to be able to hold down the Justice Building. Once we have enough we'll be able to fight the Law Abiders, maybe take hold of this District then once this District is secure we'll work our way backwards to the Capitol. But we have to be paitent."
"But won't that take forever? There's 11 more Districts, Madge," Katniss replied. "Would we really be able to secure them all? Especially 1, 2 and 4? Would they be as co-operative? They worship the ground the women of the Capitol walk on!"
Madge laughed. "I wouldn't say worship," she said. "The new ones certainly don't worship them."
Katniss looked past Madge at the door. "New ones?" she inquired.
"Yeah, while you were in here doing your 'personal research' two more rebels arrived. Cato and Clove from District 2," Madge explained. "Clove brought an array of weapons with her and all, it's helped a great deal."
"Cato and Clove," Katniss said slowly, as if testing how the names sounded. "A couple?"
Madge nodded. "Mmm-hmm," she replied. "They managed to get here unharmed which is very impressive. You should meet them, since you're the leader and all. They did come here all the way from 2."
"I guess," Katniss muttered. Madge stood up and Katniss followed, trailing after her out into the Justice Building foyer.
A slim girl with raven hair sat on a step above a big boy with blond hair. She had a scowl knitted onto her features while she picked at someting in the blond kid's hair. "Stop complaining!" she snapped when he tried to swat her away.
"I thought you said they were unharmed," Katniss whispered to Madge.
The blonde girl shrugged. "They were," she said before calling, "Clove, is everything alright?"
"Yeah," Clove called back. "Cato just hit his head on the damn banister."
"Don't make it sound like I just decided to slam my head against the banister," Cato protested. "I tripped."
"Uh-huh, sure," Clove replied sarcastically. As Katniss and Madge approached, the raven haired girl looked up from her work and quirked an eyebrow at them. "Hey Mockingjay," she said. "How's things?"
"Um, good?" Katniss frowned. "W-why did you call me Mockingjay? My name's Katniss."
Cato peered up at her, looking slightly confused. "You are the Mockingjay," he said.
Katniss folded her arms. "I don't understand," she replied. Madge tsked through her teeth and opened her mouth to answer, only to be stopped when Clove took it upon herself to explain it. She didn't look up from her work of examinging the cut on Cato's head as she spoke, whether it was because she couldn't look at her or because she didn't want to, Katniss couldn't tell.
"Your boyfriend started it," she said. "When he was taken to the Capitol Compound, there had been a lot of press coverage, the usual Capitol crap, 'Oh my actual god, the slave rebel leader has been captured' and all that shit. Well, it seems that even when captured without escape, your boyfriend was still determined to get the message out."
"What did he do?" Katniss asked anxiously, not even caring that Clove had referred to Peeta as her boyfriend. She could correct her later.
"He ripped himself out of those two women's grip just at the door of the compound and threw a pin at the cameras, yelling 'the Mockingjay will save you'. The clip was broadcast live everywhere. I suppose it just became a trend to call you the Mockingjay," Clove shrugged.
Katniss frowned, still a bit lost. "What pin did he throw?" she asked.
"A Mockingjay pin," Cato answered. "It's become an image, like a symbol to show who's side you're on." He held out his wrist, revealing a small mark on the curve of it. Katniss and Madge leaned forward at the same time and squinted.
"Oh my god, that's a Mockingjay," Madge said. "Is that a tattoo?"
"More like a brand," Cato replied. "Hurt like a bitch."
Clove turned her around on the step and moved her hair out of the way, exposing the nape of her neck. There was the exact same Mockingjay, in the exact same pose, burned into her skin. "Where did you get that done?" Katniss asked.
"District 9. There's a hideout where rebels can seek shelter without being caught by the law abiders," Clove answered. "The only catch is that you have to be willing to brand yourself with the Mockingjay to show you're not a spy."
Madge shook her head. "That's so stupid, what if you'd gotten caught by abiders? If they had saw that there would have been no denying who's side you were on!"
"We were already screwed Undersee so don't give me that bullshit," Clove snapped. "They would have taken a blood sample and knew we're from 2. So shut your trap. I want people to know who's side I'm on. Don't like it, I don't care." Madge shut her mouth and glowered at her angrily. Katniss couldn't help thinking that Cato and Clove-Clove in particular-were exactly the sort of people they needed on their side. She regarded the two carefully. So, where they friends? Relatives maybe, like Cashmere and Gloss?
Prim came out of a room upstairs and called down to them, "Cato, do you want to come up to infirmary so I can check that cut on your head?" she asked.
"No, I'm fine!" Cato called back.
Clove rolled her eyes and slapped him. "Don't be an idiot," she hissed. She called up to Prim, "Yes, he'll be up in a minute!" She stood up and yanked Cato up with her. "Go. My picking at it won't help it any and for all we know you've concussed yourself you glumsy gorilla. God, you're lucky you're mine and no-one else's, they couldn't handle you."
"Says you," Cato scoffed. He leaned down and kissed her before doing what she told him to and running up the stairs to the makeshift infirmary.
Oh, that was it.
"Boyfriend?" Madge asked.
Clove looked down on them from the couple of steps height she had over them. "Fiancee," she answered. Katniss felt her heart swell in her chest. Fiancee, wow. They were betrothed. They were going to get married. "We were supposed to get married in the fall. I doubt that's going to happen anymore."
"Don't give up hope," Katniss found herself saying. "If we win this thing, you'll be able to get married. You just might have to postpone it for a bit." She had never been clear on how engagement worked between slaves and slave owners. Ancient tradition used to be that there was a ring or bracelet or some form of jewelery to show people that a person was engaged but Clove's hands were completely bare. "How does engagement work?"
"It shouldn't," Madge answered. "It's illegal to get engaged to your slave, or any slave for that matter."
Clove shrugged. "Well, it did for us. Cato made me this and asked me to marry him." She pulled her shirt sleeve up to show them a small piece of rope tied around her wrist. "We were going to elope somehow. It's not much but it's from him so I'll keep it until the day I die." She let her sleeve fall back over the rope bracelet. Many women would turn their nose up at the simple piece of rope as a bracelet, perferring jewels or necklaces or rings but Katniss thought it was beautiful. It's not about the price of the item to everyone else, it's about the worth to the individual. "What about you and your boyfriend? You must have been in love to give you the courage to start all this."
Katniss shook her head. "No, he's a friend."
"Friend?" Clove asked slowly. She didn't look convinced.
"Yes," Katniss confirmed. "Friend. That's all."
"She's the queen of denial," Madge said.
"No I'm not!" Katniss exclaimed, horrified. "God, he wasn't my boyfriend." She suddenly realized that they had started referring to Peeta as 'he'. It was like they ddin't want to say his name anymore in case it unsettled the peace of things. "Peeta is a close friend of mine, we weren't together. I care about him a lot, that's it, okay?" She climbed up the stairs, weaving around Clove, to go to the infirmary to check on Prim.
When she reached the top of the stairs, Clove said something to Madge that made her pause. "She's in love with him," she said.
"I know," Madge replied. "I just wish she wasn't so scared of it." Katniss was about to turn around and yell at them that for the thousanth time, Peeta and her were just friends, when they said something else. "How were you able to tell?" Madge asked Clove.
"The way she said his name," Clove shrugged. "She said it so carefully, like she believed it had to be pronounced so carefully and perfectly that people understood just how important he is. To her in particular."
Katniss pulled up short. What? How did she say his name? Pee-ta. That's all she had said. Peeta. Peeeetaa. Peeta. Peeta Mellark. There weren't that many ways to say it. Okay, if people were going to start judging her feelings for him just by the way she said his name, she was going to have to start saying it differently. Maybe put on an accent or something.
She paused outside the door of the infirmary, wondering what was happening to him right this minute. Did he suffer for his actions outside the Capitol Compound? Katniss knew that the likelihood was that he probably had. Jackson and Harper weren't the sort to be leanent. Especially over giving the rebellion's new leader an image.
The message had worried her though.
'The Mockingjay will save you.'
Because, the truth was, Katniss didn't think she could save anyone.
No-one at all.
A/N: I feel the need to say I'm sorry again. I really am guys, I'm really, really sorry.