It could have been the rays of the morning sun creeping over the horizon that woke her, the thin streams of light shifting through the curtains draped across the window. It could have been the heavy snoring of her sister in the next room, a deep, throaty baritone that belonged to a man with a drinking problem, not a 14 year old girl. It could have been the call of birds – possibly mockingjays at this time of year – that indicated that the night was close to over. But in all likelihood, it was the knowledge that after today her life would never be the same that was the reason she was roused so sharply from her sleep.
Katniss Everdeen rolled out bed, glancing at the clock that confirmed that at least she was ahead of schedule. She was used to waking early on weekdays, had done so for as long as she could remember. It was for no real reason, other than to enjoy the peace and quiet that only seemed to inhabit the District in those first few hours of the day. After that, any solitude was almost impossible. The streets, the fields, the quarries, every building in her village – in the whole District, really - came to life, for everyone had a job to do and a time to do it by. And at the end of the day, people didn't stay in their homes. They socialized, they ate meals together, they enjoyed the luxuries bestowed upon them for their allegiance.
District 2 may not be the Capitol, but it was the closest thing to it.
She had always taken those early mornings to herself, for she knew there was no other time where she could be alone, to calm her mind and settle her thoughts before she ventured out to school. She needed that time, because the things she thought really weren't suitable to be thought of, nor were they things she would ever dream of speaking aloud.
But now her education was over, and it was her duty to become an asset to Panem. And those thoughts that seemed to invade her every day were even more unwelcome and unsuitable. Because a future Peacekeeper had no right to ever disagree with the Capitol's actions and decisions.
It shouldn't have surprised her that, upon graduation, she was assigned the one vocation she'd never wanted. She would have preferred anything to being a Peacekeeper, for she knew it would take her away from her family, and her village and from her District. But Gale had been given the same vocation not two years before, and they were similar in so many ways that it had almost been a given. A part of her had still hoped though - wished for something that didn't lend itself to violence or retribution or punishment.
But The Capitol had other plans for Katniss Everdeen.
She knew how it worked. The Capitol took a keen interest in the teenagers of District 2, and as a result, the head Military minds kept an eye on every student who exhibited the behavior they were looking for. And although no-one was ever exactly sure of what The Capitol deemed relevant to being a Peacekeeper, she had been resigned that her fate would be the same as Gale's. It only confirmed the inevitable when, the day after her final Reaping, she'd been given her papers and been advised to report to The Mountain the following week.
Katniss didn't know anyone else very well who had been assigned Peacekeeper status. The few friends she had were going to be on their way later today to either the quarry or the small mines that still dotted the District. She knew there were 29 others from her age group who would be training with her over the next two years, but of those, there was only one from her own village. If her own assignment hadn't surprised her, the one thing that had was the recruitment of Peeta Mellark as a Peacekeeper.
Sure, he'd been a wrestler at school, and had aced many of the physical and mental tests that they had to undertake over the years to determine if they were 'Tribute' material. In that respect, he seemed to meet the requirements, and she'd been mildly surprised he was never selected to attend the additional training potential Tributes undertook. But, when it came down to it, she'd always seen him as too friendly, too artistic, too charming, to be given any vocation other than that of working in a professional capacity in one of the villages or within the Mountain itself. Whether it had been in a merchant role, or simply serving as a host for visiting Capitol diplomats, Katniss had always assumed that was where Peeta had been headed. The oldest Mellark brother had worked as a merchant in their village, much like Peeta's parents had. Katniss could only assume that the middle Mellark brother would have as well, if he hadn't unexpectedly been reaped 2 weeks before his 17th birthday.
He'd never reached that milestone.
Katniss sighed and moved over to the dresser that held the clothing that had arrived on her doorstep not two days before. Simple in style and design, they were all black – simple trousers, heavy soled boots, a long sleeved jacket, and thin gloves. She was covered from neck to toe. Another important reminder to her that things were going to be very different for her than most others.
Her gender was now irrelevant, and it no longer mattered how she looked. As a Peacekeeper you were that, and nothing more. Not a wife, not a husband, not a parent. At least not until you had served your 20 years of service. And even by then, a life as a Peacekeeper was all you knew, and most elected to continue on until they perished, or the Capitol no longer requested their services. She didn't really know what happened to Peacekeepers once the Capitol had determined their service should end. In all honesty, she shuddered to think of it. Some of the only things she understood about the Capitol were that they weren't friendly or forgiving, and they didn't believe in their citizens moving into another field of work. It amazed her every day that more people didn't recognize that.
Her parents had taken great pains to discuss – albeit secretly - with her and her sister their distrust of the Capitol. The Everdeen line had been in existence since before the Dark Days, and the stories they told her – many of which most District 2 citizens elected to ignore or forget – horrified the two girls. The Everdeens were one of the few families left in 2 who were not in favor of the Capitol, but it was something they knew was better left unsaid.
Now, she had to live a life she never wanted, and her thoughts of the Capitol could never be spoken of aloud again. The one thing she was absolutely certain of was what happened to Peacekeepers who didn't follow the rules, or questioned the Capitol's authority. And it wasn't pretty. Not at all.
She dressed quickly, careful to not make any noise and wake the rest of her family. The boots were a little tight, but she hoped they would eventually stretch and mold to her feet. She glanced in the mirror, reworking her braid with nimble fingers so that it was smooth and free of any flyaway hairs. She vaguely wondered if, when the day came when she was assigned a district and would receive her first helmet, chopping it all off would be the easy, most logical thing to do.
Katniss crept down the hallway, opened the front door, and made her way down the cobblestone path that led from their porch to the front gate. The small vehicle waiting to take her away purred quietly on the street, its headlights cutting through the last of the morning fog. She turned, hand on the gate latch, to look back at her home one final time. She'd said her goodbyes to her family the night before, and unless she was lucky enough to be housed back in this village, she was likely never to see it again.
Now she was, first and foremost, an asset to Panem. Nothing more, nothing less.
They lined up, shortest to tallest, along a thin strip of well-maintained grass that bisected the criss-crossing dirt tracks that made up part of the outdoor training area. Behind them rose the old mining mountain that was the centerpiece of the district, which held the learning and training facilities where Katniss would spend her days until her first six months were complete. After then, she would be transferred out into one of the villages in 2 to complete her training. She watched as their commanding officer sized them up, hands firmly clasped behind her back. The short statured woman with crisp auburn hair cleared her throat, her gaze sliding along the length of the line.
"Welcome. I am Lyme, your commanding officer, and I welcome you to our facilities. You are this year's recruits as Peacekeepers, where you will fulfil an important part of ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Panem residents. Your primary aim will be to maintain a sense of propriety in the district to which you are eventually assigned. You are to keep the peace, to implement rules and regulations, to hand out punishment when required and to prevent any uprisings. We all know we don't want a situation like what led to the unfortunate destruction of District 13." She paused, and took a step forward. "Over the next two years, you will be trained to be physically, mentally and emotionally prepared to provide this kind of stability in your district. Once your first two years have concluded, you will leave the training program, prepared and able to fulfil your duties." She moved forward yet another step, and slowly made her way down the line, inspecting each of them. She spoke of the rules and obligations they were required to meet. She spoke of what they were forbidden from doing, but also what the positives of being a Peacekeeper were. She studied them carefully, for what reason, Katniss didn't know. If they'd already been selected to be Peacekeepers, surely the scrutiny would have already happened, already occurred.
Lyme continued, on and on, until Katniss was barely listening. It didn't matter to her what 'perks' this woman spoke of, what benefits the training would be to her mind and body. It didn't matter to her, none of it did. Her own vocation was something she couldn't approve of, hated with every fiber of her being. But she forced herself to tune back into the words when she noted that Lyme was partnering people up, grouping them in pairs of two off to the side. She cursed herself for zoning out, because now she had no idea what they were being paired for.
"Everdeen!" The Commander barked, her eyes shifting over the remaining people until Katniss stepped forward. She nodded, then consulted a little mechanical device she held in her hand. "And Mellark!"
Katniss was careful not to make a sound, but internally, she sighed as Peeta Mellark moved to stand next to her. She supposed whatever this was for, it would be easier and less daunting with someone she vaguely knew than it would be with a complete stranger. Looking at the others surrounding her, Peeta seemed to stick out like a sore, albeit friendly, thumb. She knew, after doing a little research, that he was the only one in the group who had come from a Merchant background. She vaguely wondered if his family had done something wrong, and this was their punishment. Why else would someone like him be given this vocation?
She tried to study her partner out of the corner of her eye, without being obvious. His posture was perfect, his shoulders wide, broad and strong. His curly blonde hair was the shortest she'd ever seen it, but it still waved a little over the tips of his ears, atop the collar of his shirt. He was fine looking, she supposed, but nothing to sigh over, like so many of the girls at their school had done. It was the closest she'd probably ever stood to him, and she was surprised to find that he smelled sweet, like he'd showered in sugar and vanilla. It should have been out of place, but it wasn't. Instead, it calmed her, eased the sense of worry that had sat on her shoulders all morning. It was a smell that reminded her of home, of comfort, of family.
Katniss turned her attention back to the Commander once it was evident that all the pairs had been matched. She noted that she and Peeta were one of only a handful of mixed gender couples, before she reminded herself that their gender no longer mattered.
"Recruits, meet your partner for this year. You have been specifically partnered as your skills, knowledge and strengths are deemed to be the most complimentary to each other. Where you lack skills, your partner has them in abundance. This is to ensure that you learn and develop, and become a well-rounded asset to Panem. You will train together, you will study together, you will room together, you will help the other to be the best damn Peacekeeper they can be. In short, this person will be your lifeline, and you will be theirs." Lyme paused to clear her throat, and slipped the small handheld device back into her pocket. "But with this partnership comes greater scrutiny. Know that if you step out of line, your partner steps out of line. If you're found to be doing the wrong thing, they're doing the wrong thing also. They are your lifeline, but could also be your greatest downfall. Work wisely with your partner. How you work together determines where you spend the remainder of your training." Thunder rumbled overhead, and the Commander looked up, squinting into the dark grey clouds that had moved in and now weighed heavily over them. Lyme sighed, and consulted the thick silver watch that adorned her wrist. "You're damn lucky the next part of today is inside, recruits. We reconvene inside for your physicals and health injections in half an hour. Get to know your partner. Don't be late." She stalked off before anyone could even shuffle their feet or utter a word.
Katniss half turned to Peeta, getting her first proper glance at him. He smiled softly at her, almost sheepishly.
"Hey Katniss, how are you doing?" he asked, moving his arms so they were linked behind his back. She shrugged – could she really explain that here was the last place she wanted to be in Panem?
"Fine," she replied, for lack of anything better.
"Pretty crazy we got partnered together, right?" He prodded. "I mean, no one else here is from our village, and not very many of them seem to know each other either." He stretched out an arm, indicating the other pairs who were awkwardly introducing themselves.
"I guess," she muttered. "So are you excited about being a Peacekeeper?" She tried to sound serious, but she knew it was edged in sarcasm. She realized with a start that she was nervous - and she was never nervous around people. Snarky and generally uncommunicative, yes. Nervous? Never. So she was slightly confused as to why, with the start of a simple conversation with Peeta Mellark, her pulse began to thrum a little faster and she had to force herself not to bite her lip. She looked everywhere but directly at his face – at his hair, at the collar of his shirt, at the small speck of dust that had settled and stood out in stark relief against the black fabric that covered his shoulder.
"It's certainly going to be something different," he replied, with a hint of a smile in his voice.
Her lip curled instinctively. "Not what you expected to be doing?"
"No, not really. No one ever knows for sure what vocation they'll be given. But I'll be sure to do my best." His response was diplomatic, unaffected, but it didn't sit well with her. It was a little too perfect, a little too….careful. "What about you, Katniss? Looking forward to following in Gale's footsteps?"
At this, her gaze shot up to his, and her eyes narrowed. "What do you know about Gale?" She demanded. "And just because we have the same vocation doesn't mean I'm following in anyone's footsteps."
Peeta raised his hands up, almost in mock defeat. "Sorry, I didn't mean any offence. I just…know you were – are – friends. You hung out a lot at school. And my brother was in the same class as him before…. Well, just before. That's all. I didn't mean anything by it."
"Oh. Sorry. Sorry," Katniss huffed out. She knew a flush was creeping across her face and it was annoying and frustrating and embarrassing. She forced her next words to sound as emotionless as possible. "But I heard that a lot over the last week, since we got our assignments. I'd really like to think me being friends with Gale had nothing to do with this." Peeta's eyes flickered at her choice of words, and he dropped his arms back to his sides.
"I don't think it did, Katniss," he replied gently. "Somehow I think the Capitol puts a lot of thought into how they determine our vocations, and it's more than just our friendships." She watched as his fingers clenched into fists, and his lips straightened into two bloodless lines, his previous friendliness vanishing almost instantaneously. She caught his eye, and they stared at each other, neither willing to look away first, a silent battle of determination. She wondered what the hell he was thinking.
Peeta's gaze suddenly shifted to look over her shoulder, and his posture straightened abruptly. He smiled widely, as one of the other pairs walked by, close enough to be able to hear their conversation. "Anyway, I guess we're going to be spending a lot of time with each other over the next year. It's important for us to get to know each other and get along and be a good team. "
Katniss blinked at his sudden change in topic and tone, and the way his face completely changed. His smile was bright, bordering on cheeky, and his eyes friendly. While it didn't look artificial, she had the strange feeling she was looking at a carefully calculated mask. And in that moment, she knew there was more to Peeta Mellark than was on the surface.
The recruits' evenings during their first week were spent in a communal recreation room, the 76th Hunger Games projected onto a large white-washed wall. Katniss watched in disgust as tribute after tribute died, their blood on the hands of their adversaries. Some of the others in the group placed bets with each other, or cheered when the tribute they were backing won a particularly bloodthirsty fight. None of them had thought for a second to consider the mild-mannered blonde girl from District 12 who eventually claimed victory.
Through cunning skill and an ability to outwit her competitors, Madge Undersee managed to win the Hunger Games without taking a single life.
Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months. Katniss spent most of her days with Peeta, studying and training, though she never saw the hint of stark emotion he'd displayed on their first day. Whatever it was – if it remained – he kept it close to his chest. Some days she wondered if she'd even imagined it, the look he'd had in his eyes and the stern set of his jaw.
They cultivated few friendships outside of their pairing – Katniss, simply because she didn't particularly care about most of the others, Peeta because he seemed content in Katniss' company. Katniss' natural ambivalent and removed nature had provided her the status of an unknown entity within the rest of the group, and it suited her just fine. Peeta, however, was friendly and sociable, always warm and open. Even Lyme, regimented, solitary Lyme, expressed a soft spot for him.
It made Katniss want to vomit, but she never uttered a word.
They excelled in their own ways – Katniss found she was more than proficient with a bow and arrow, while Peeta continued to hone the skills he'd gained in wrestling by being a formidable opponent in hand to hand combat. Peeta had an affinity for camouflage, while Katniss was adept at creating complicated traps.
She hated to admit that whoever had paired her and Peeta together had done a good job.
They were opposites in practically every way, and with each day, their competence in whatever the other excelled in grew. It soon became clear that they were the premier pairing in the group, but Katniss paid no attention to those comments when uttered. If she paid attention, that meant she cared about it all, and she didn't. Just because she was a Peacekeeper, and was determined to do a good job and uphold the Everdeen name, didn't mean she had to like it.
Being this much closer to the inner workings of the District helped her to realize exactly why most of the citizens were oblivious to the real machinations of the Capitol. Here, in and around the Mountain, the people were 100% devoted to the Capitol. They gobbled up the drivel the Capitol fed them, believed every utterance. None of these people seemed to have knowledge of - nor did they seem to care - what really occurred during the Dark Days, what the Capitol had put in place with their rules and regimes and why their damned Hunger Games was wrong in so many-
"You ok, Katniss?" Peeta's voice broke through her thoughts, and she turned her head to look over at him. Their quarters were simple, but more luxurious than Katniss had originally imagined – pale cream walls and plush carpet the color of fog, with heavy drapes at the one window that matched the deep mahogany of their twin bureaus. Two beds lodged against opposite walls, a blanket of soft green covering hers, his a warm orange. Peeta leant against the head of his bed, his knees drawn up, a thick textbook on the history of Panem resting on them.
She'd thought it would take a while to get used to sharing a room with Peeta, particularly after their first interaction. But as he'd been nothing but a considerate, friendly and effusively happy roommate, it had been surprisingly easy, and she'd determined her initial nervousness should really have been attributed to 'first day nerves' rather than anything to do with him. She chose to ignore the little fission that ran up her spine sometimes when he looked at her and smiled that big, ridiculously charming, grin.
'Fissions' were on the forbidden list as a Peacekeeper, she was sure of it. So she just made sure if – and when – it happened, she kept a safe distance.
"Yeah I'm fine, why?" she replied, raising an eyebrow, pulling herself into a sitting position and crossing her legs.
"You were hitting your fist against the wall," he grinned. "I don't know what it did to deserve such a pounding, but….." Katniss looked down in surprise at her hand, noting a faint bruise on her knuckle. She hadn't even realized she'd been doing it, her thoughts so fixated on the damned Capitol and-
Stop, she admonished herself. She'd been doing so well over the first month to keep her thoughts calm and sedate, but she felt like it had been welling for a few days. It was obviously starting to get to her.
She looked back up at Peeta to see him nod to himself, as if making a decision, and rise to his feet, grabbing a pen and notepad off their shared study desk. He settled beside her on her bed, his back against the wall and his legs stretched out in front of him.
"What are you doing?" she demanded, a tickle forming in the back of her throat. He tapped the pen against the pad of paper.
"Thought we could help each other study," he replied, and began writing across the top of the page. The pencils and paper Peeta used were a luxury that most of the other pairs didn't have, and that he did have them was a testament to the fact that he was so unashamedly likeable. Lyme had discovered his artistic ability and had procured the items for him to use in his spare time, just because she wanted to. Katniss sometimes wondered whether if Peeta asked for the sun to stop shining, it would do so, and do it happily, no questions asked.
She looked down to see the pad of paper dumped in her lap, and Peeta's neat cursive across the page.
You know they'll be listening. So do you want to talk this way?
She lifted her head quickly, her gaze colliding with his. His expression was steady, but his eyes reflected the look she'd been missing since that first day. He thought the same as she did, she realized. Part of her had always instinctively felt they were being monitored, and his words simply confirmed her own suspicions. She grabbed the pencil from his hand, her own messy, bordering on sloppy, scrawl lining up under his own text.
What do you mean? She wasn't going to give herself away easily. Just in case. What if this was all a ploy, to get her to admit her hatred of the Capitol? What if this was the entire reason for both of their recruitment – flushing out the Everdeens, proving their mistrust, their lack of allegiance, and using Peeta's familiar face as the means to do so?
Peeta leant over, not even bothering to move the writing pad from her lap as he added his response.
You know what I mean. They listen to everything we say. And if they're listening, they're going to hear us talk about how much we hate The Capitol.
This time her jaw dropped, and her eyes widened as she turned to look at him. He simply raised an eyebrow and placed the pencil back in her hands.
Why do you hate The Capitol? She scrawled hurriedly, then leapt to her feet, grabbing another pencil from the jar and settling back beside Peeta. His response was already waiting for her.
My brother was the simple answer, and she realized she should have known.
Tell me about it. She watched his hand pause over the paper slightly, before she heard his deep intake of breath.
The escort at my brother's reaping was told not to accept volunteers the moment he was reaped. My parents – and everyone else – think it was a last minute rule change for that year. No volunteers. That's bullshit. They did it because my brother and I were not pro-Capitol. And that's why I think I'm here.
Her eyes flew across the words, shock – but not surprise – settling in her bones. Peeta Mellark was just like her.
What makes you think they know all that?
The Capitol knows everything. They're likely to know you're against them too.
Her fingers trembled a little as she replied with I don't know what you mean.
Don't lie to me. I'm observant. And I've-
Katniss watched as Peeta dropped the pencil and looked away, color spreading across his cheek. She reached over and tugged on his arm, turning him to face her. "What?" she demanded, not worrying if they could hear her. 'What' wasn't really giving anything away.
He glanced back at her, and gripped her fingers tightly with his. "Katniss, look at your notes. You know there were only three world wars," he finally said pointedly. She opened her mouth to reply, to ask what the hell he was talking about, when it clicked.
"Oh yes. You're right. Sorry. I was looking at the wrong page in the book," she replied carefully. She pulled the paper back in front of her, and simply drew a question mark. She waited as he seemed to struggle internally with whatever he was going to write.
I just know. We grew up in the same village. I noticed you a lot. That's all.
She read the words, confused at what he meant by I noticed you a lot. Was she that obvious with her thoughts about the Capitol? Had she stood out at school? She always assumed no-one had paid her very much attention. She scrawled her next sentence across the paper.
You know we need to talk about this, right?
Yeah. Tomorrow, when we have our outdoor training session. We should be able to get some time alone.
She nodded in agreement, and watched as Peeta moved to the desk, beginning to scrub at the paper with a small white eraser. After a few minutes, aside from some indentations and faint shadowing, their words were gone. He tore it into four pieces, strode into the bathroom, and a moment later she heard the toilet flush.
"Making sure we cover our bases. We should continue studying," he said simply when he moved back into the room.
"Good idea," she replied. They fell into silence, and Peeta went back to his own bed, opening the textbook and beginning to read again. Katniss lay down, staring at the ceiling.
In the last 15 minutes, things had made a significant shift. And despite the deep-seated fear that the Capitol may know of her feelings, it didn't over-power her. It was the thought that Peeta felt the same way she did that overwhelmed her. More than she expected it to. More than she wanted it to.
More than it should.
"You've got 5k to run, recruits, and not long to run it in. You'd better move. And now!" Lyme yelled at their retreating backs, as they began the first part of the days' outdoor training session. These days were Katniss' favorite, by far more than the long frustrating days when she would have to sit inside and learn even more of Panem's history, trying to retain useless information on wars and leaders and propaganda and rules and regulations and general utter rubbish. She needed these outdoor days more than she needed air, and they always flew by, quicker and quicker each time, until she found herself back inside again.
Today was more important, more vital than any other training day she'd had before. And the nerves in her stomach wouldn't sit still. Annoyingly, Peeta ran steadily beside her, not a hint on his face of nervousness or uncertainty. Nothing fazed the guy. Nothing at all.
They waited until the group had begun to split apart, depending on their level of fitness and speed, as they circled the tree lined field.
"Are you ok?" Peeta finally asked, his breath catching at the end of the word. Running still wasn't his strongest suit.
"Why did it take you a whole month to say something?" She retorted, slowing her pace a little so they were in sync.
"I had to make sure. And I wanted to wait for the right time."
"And yesterday was?"
They paused as they both regained their breath a little. The morning air was brisk, and the intake of air burned Katniss' lungs as she gulped it in.
It felt wonderful.
"But I'm right aren't I?" he finally asked.
"My family dates back a long time." She coughed a little. "My parents keep no secrets from me about what the Capitol is really like."
"They're pretty brave, your parents, telling you that."
"Yeah. What about you? Why were you and your brother…" she trailed off, unsure of how to finish. Peeta didn't reply immediately, the only sounds their breathing and the slap of their shoes against the ground as they ran.
"I don't really know how it started," he began. "But how can anyone seriously approve of a place that willingly sends children to die?" Katniss shivered involuntarily as Peeta voiced the biggest reason of all to hate the Capitol. But what he said was true. How could anyone approve of such a place?
"There are others like us, you know," Peeta said suddenly, breaking her out of her reverie.
"I guess so. I mean, if there are people in our district who think that way, think of those in the outer districts. They probably hate the Capitol even more than us."
They fell quiet as they heard footsteps coming up behind them, and waited until the person had passed and was well ahead before continuing.
"What's the point of this? Why does this even matter, anyway?" she mumbled.
"It doesn't. Not really. But I wanted you to know you could talk to me about it."
They didn't speak for the rest of the run, although her thoughts kept circling back around to the one comment that continued to sit uneasily with her - half a dozen times she was tempted to ask what he meant by "he noticed her". But she always held back, not entirely sure she was prepared for the answer.
She guessed the important thing was that she and Peeta were on the same page. She had an ally.
Katniss looked disdainfully at the wide blue mat that covered a good portion of the indoor gymnasium. Hand to hand combat was on the schedule for today, and she hated it almost as much as studying - mainly because Peeta was so damned good at it, and made her look pitiful in comparison.
She watched as the current pair twisted and shifted and bent in awkward positions, trying to get the upper hand. It wasn't exactly wrestling, but sometimes it seemed close enough, with how heated some of the match-ups got.
"C'mon, Katniss, it won't be that bad." Peeta nudged her with his shoulder, and grinned. She rolled her eyes.
"Yeah, right. You'll just make me look weak."
"The last thing I ever do is make you look weak. Weak is the last thing you'll ever look. Plus, you wouldn't want me to go easy on you anyway, would you?"
She snorted, crossing her arms across her chest. "No, of course not. If you're going to beat me, I want you to do it fair and square."
Lyme's strong voice carried across the room. "Peeta, Katniss, you're up."
Katniss sighed, rolled her shoulders and stepped onto the mat, Peeta not far behind her. They squared off, waiting for Lyme to call time. Katniss braced herself, ready to shift to the right. She may not fight as well as Peeta, but she'd studied him enough to know his moves now. He was going to feint to his right, before quickly changing to the left. She'd already been blindsided too many times by this to fall for it again. She raised an eyebrow almost cockily at him – his response was a crooked smirk that made her heart thud twice. Then Lyme blew the whistle, and Peeta was already moving to the left, throwing off her carefully planned first move.
She quickly raised an arm, and felt the vibration of the block shudder through her shoulder as it came into contact with Peeta's arm. They parried around each other, blocking attempted hits and exchanging pithy insults that meant nothing but had become an unofficial part of combat training. As Peeta swung out an arm, she ducked under, shifting so that she was behind him, bouncing on the balls of her feet as he quickly turned to face her. He'd taught her well, her ability to be quick and nimble on her feet a good contrast to his strength. These days, no matter what Katniss thought, they were very worthy opponents.
Screw this, she finally thought, and launched herself at him, head ducked as she used the force of her body to throw them both backwards, Peeta expelling a deep breath as the wind was knocked out of him. She vaguely heard the cheers of the rest of the group as she pinned Peeta with her arms and sat across his chest, one bent leg lined up either side of him. Her chest heaved a little from the exertion, the tail end of her braid brushing against his cheek. His jaw clenched, the muscle in his cheek dancing from the effort.
"Yield, Mellark?" She asked, a triumphant grin on her face.
"Hardly," he retorted, breaking one arm free as if her weight was nothing, and twisted them over until she was pinned under him. She scowled, wriggling, twisting, trying to get herself free, but for nothing. She always forgot how strong he was.
"Dammit, Peeta," she muttered. He looked down at her, and for once it was free of the cocky grin she'd normally expect to see. Instead his lips were drawn together in a straight line, and his eyes burned into hers. He didn't move a muscle. "What's up with you? I yield, alright? Do you have to be such an asshole about it?" She tried to shift her leg one more time in a bid to loosen his hold, but he shook his head slightly.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you, Katniss," he warned softly.
"Why?" she demanded. Then his hip rolled, almost involuntarily, and she felt the arousal pressing up against her thigh. Her eyes widened.
Shit. Shit. What the hell was this?
"I'm pretty sure you've got the upper hand here," he mumbled, and she couldn't help the shiver than ran through her body, from her fingertips to the soles of her feet. She froze, not wanting to move. She didn't know what to say.
"Come on, Everdeen, just yield already!" someone called, and she realized the rest of the group still thought they were battling it out. If only they knew.
She looked up at Peeta, a mixture of terror and confusion on her face. "Fine, yield!" she finally yelled, and she felt his body rise up enough off of hers to allow her to slip out from under him. She scrambled to her feet, rushing off the mat. She turned to watch Peeta still lying on his stomach, head resting on his hand, grinning up at the group.
"She tired me out, I gotta take a break guys," he joked. He glanced at her, and she could see the hint of embarrassment on his face, before he quickly looked away again. She'd never felt so humiliated, or confused or… or…aroused in her whole life. Katniss turned and stalked out, her face aflame, the sound of the groups laughter at Peeta echoing at her back.
She managed to avoid him for the rest of the day - he gave her a wide berth, as if aware he was the last person she wanted to see. But eventually, as the door to their room finally opened late that night, and Peeta stepped in, she realized they needed to discuss what happened before she read too much into it.
Katniss cleared her throat loudly as he closed the door, drawing his attention.
"I'm going to take a shower, ok?" she said slowly, tipping her head towards the bathroom door, and gesticulating with her hand, in a talking motion. His brow furrowed, before it smoothed out, understanding her reasoning.
"Ah, that's fine. I'm just going to try and sleep. Pretty tired," he replied, dumping his books on the desk, and moving into the bathroom, Katniss close behind. She closed the door, turning the taps on in the sink.
"I don't know if they have devices in here, but I figured we'd be ok with the sound of the water," she started.
Peeta nodded. "What's up?"
"We need to talk about earlier," she said bluntly, and he winced. She folded her arms across her chest and leant against the countertop. "Well? What was that all about?"
He mirrored her pose, and leant against the opposite wall, beside the wide glass door of the shower. "I'm sorry, Katniss," he said simply. "I'm not sure what else I can say."
"It was pretty damned embarrassing," she replied.
"No-one else knew," he assured. "And shouldn't I be the one embarrassed? I mean, I was all but ready to-" Peeta cut himself off, and looked away. She opened her mouth to speak, but he turned back, cutting off whatever she was going to say. "I told you a few weeks ago that I noticed you, Katniss. I meant it. I noticed you a lot back home. You…there's just something about you. And I'm sorry that I got a little carried away today."
Her mouth had dropped open at his words, and she shook her head, as if to clear it. "You noticed me? What does that even mean?"
"Do you really not understand what I'm saying?" he asked gently.
"I have no idea," Katniss replied honestly.
He sighed, and pushed away from the wall, moving over to stand beside her. He linked his fingers together in front of him, and Katniss noted how tightly he held them, so tight the knuckles were white to the point.
"Katniss, when we were six, you sang a song in front of the whole school. It was about Two, about the mountains, and the villages, and the people. And you made it sound like the most wonderful place in the world. Until I realized that the most wonderful thing in the world…was you." He paused, a soft, almost shy smile crossing his face before he quickly hurried on, while he still had the chance. "I don't give a damn whether the Capitol knows I am against them, or if that's the reason I'm even here, as a form of punishment. I don't care. Because all the Capitol has done is brought us together."
Katniss mouth opened and closed, not able to form a single word. What he was saying…. Couldn't be true. Shouldn't be true. "Peeta," she whispered. "What you're talking about…can never happen. We can't be together. We're Peacekeepers. It's like….the golden rule. I can't get married, or have children. Neither can you. Why are you even saying this?"
"Because if I don't say it, I'll regret it for the rest of my life," he said simply. "I don't care if we can't be together. I needed to tell you. And if an awkward situation led me to have the courage to tell you, then I have no regrets about today." He reached out, resting his hand on her forearm, and squeezed gently. "But I want to remain friends, ok? We can't let what happened ruin us as a team. Because we work well together. We're allies. And that's what counts." He waited until she nodded, almost numbly. "Don't forget to turn the water off, Katniss," he all but whispered to her, and exited the bathroom, leaving Katniss alone with her thoughts. Peeta Mellark knew how to drop bombshells, and drop them well.
It took a couple of weeks, but Katniss and Peeta eventually overcame the awkwardness that befell them following the incident in the gym, and their ensuing conversation. In time, they fell into the same easy rhythm again, so much so that Katniss could almost pretend that it never happened.
She'd thought about it constantly for the few days afterwards, replaying Peeta's words in her head, the feeling of his body over hers. Trying to quell the feelings that always seemed to want to overwhelm her.
She'd had to admit to herself that, really, she'd felt drawn to him the moment Lyme had called their names and paired them together. What she hadn't really expected was the pull he felt in return, and she most certainly hadn't expected the words he'd uttered in the bathroom. But what she did understand was the limitations they had, the rules and regulations that would forever prevent anything from happening between them. To her relief, Peeta didn't raise the topic again, and they both let it lie. It no longer affected their work, or their day to day interactions.
Training continued as normal for the group, though their physical activities became more strenuous and they progressed to using firearms. The objects continued to feel foreign in Katniss' hands, no matter how many times she used them.
Studies on the history of Panem changed to studies on forms of punishment and retribution. If Katniss had hated those inside days before, she loathed them now. At the end of every day, she would simply lie on her bed, staring blankly at the ceiling. During those times, Peeta never said a word to her, knowing that she preferred the silence.
The morning seemed to begin like any other – the sun was warm, the breeze brisk, and the recruits entered their first class for the day.
Except there were only 28 of them, not 30.
Gossip started, rumours swirled. Someone swore they had seen the pairing sneak into one of the barracks laboratories late at night, while another was adamant they'd been overheard speaking against President Snow. An offhanded comment was made that maybe the pair had broken the golden rule, and giggles had echoed through the room.
The rumors set Katniss on edge. Whatever the reason, it was definitely for the best that she and Peeta stop their conversations about the Capitol, regardless of the precautions they took. And it was even more imperative that they kept a distance from each other, just in case.
Lyme offered no explanation, and the morning session continued as normal.
Nothing was heard from the two trainee Peacekeepers again.
Time passed quickly, and it was a number of months before Katniss realized there were others in their midst who felt the same about the Capitol as she and Peeta did, who shared the same hatred and distrust as they did. And it came from the most unlikely of sources.
"Everdeen, Mellark." The strong, steady voice approached them from behind as they stood watching other recruits at target practice. The turned simultaneously to find Lyme standing behind them, face blank and posture straight.
"Commander Lyme," Peeta replied formally. "Can we assist you with something?"
"I've been requested to complete a parameter check within the next hour. I'd like your assistance if you have nothing on your schedule."
"We have no session for the next hour," Katniss confirmed. "We'll be happy to assist."
"Good. I have the transport vehicle parked behind the range - I'll take us to the edge of the Mountain and start there."
They followed Lyme to the vehicle, the drive short and uneventful. They disembarked close to a chain link fence and moved towards it, before Lyme suddenly pulled a small device from her pocket, pressing a small button on the side of it that caused a low beep to emit steadily.
"We don't have long," she spoke quickly, turning to face them. "This will block our conversation from the monitoring systems for about 15 minutes. Let's keep walking, make it look like we're here for the check like I said." She began walking briskly, Katniss and Peeta having to hurry to catch up, glancing at each other in confusion.
"There are hints of rebellions in the other districts," Lyme started without preamble. "People fell in love with Madge Undersee in the Hunger Games, and the districts saw how she won without killing, and showing compassion and sympathy for those who lost their lives. We've been waiting a long time for this kind of spark, and there's finally a swing against the Capitol - it's going to come to a head sooner rather than later."
Katniss' mouth dropped open, while Peeta managed to find the words she wanted to say.
"What…what are you telling us this for? Why?"
Lyme finally turned to face them, a smile on her face and a glint in her eye. "I've known it from the first day you both stepped on that field in front of the Mountain. Neither of you are pro-Capitol. And I think…. well, those of us who are rebels can recognize it in each other. If you're not, I have probably just signed my death warrant. But I'm right, aren't I? If I told you there was a rebellion, and one day you could assist in overthrowing the Capitol, you would, wouldn't you?"
"Yes," both Katniss and Peeta replied in unison, without a second thought.
"Good. I thought so. There's really not much to tell you at the moment, but I needed to approach you before your assignments were handed out. I may have more, but that is not likely to occur until the victory tour. I'll ensure I'm your designated supervising commander while you're at your first year post, and ensure it is at a location nearby. We'll need all the help we can get one day, and I recognized the fire in both you." She continued to walk, Katniss and Peeta practically trotting at her heels.
"But….how are you not a Capitol sympathizer?" Katniss finally found her voice, and piped up. "You're….you're…."
"A commanding officer?" Lyme finished wryly. Katniss nodded. "I know. But I'm quite sure all three of us are aware that you don't always get given the vocation you wanted, nor have to like it. There are many other factors, all too long and too complicated to get into here and now. All you have to know is that we need to keep this between us. And I'll try to keep you as informed as I can."
"Does anyone else know how we feel about the Capitol?" Peeta asked. "Is that why we were given this vocation? As punishment?"
Lyme snorted, a faint smile crossing her lips. "I've never heard anything to confirm that. They knew about your brother, there was no doubt about that. As for the two of you - I wouldn't think so. But, it's the Capitol, so who knows. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer," she said simply. She pulled the device out of her pocket, checked the small counter that was on there, indicating how much time they had left. "We have one more minute, so I'll say this to you also. I think both of you have a pretty good idea of what happened to those two recruits last month. And I like you both, I like you a lot, therefore I don't want you guys to get in trouble because you know this shit can't happen. But for god's sake, try and reign in the sexual tension, ok? You're not going to keep a damned lid on that forever."
She put the device back in her pocket, and moved towards the fence. "And as you can see, it is electrified. Primarily for our own safety. There are too many wild animals out there. This fence circumvents the entire District, as well as this additional fence, which helps to maintain the security of the Mountain." Katniss and Peeta watched, and listened, in disbelief as Lyme continued to speak, as if their previous conversation hadn't even occurred. Neither were sure what had shocked them the most. The rebellion, or Lyme's recognition of whatever was between them that they had tried to put aside and forget about.
They followed her, completing the task they'd been assigned, as if nothing happened.
Peacekeeper Level One - Everdeen, Katniss
Peacekeeper Level One - Mellark, Peeta
Assigned Village – Village 13
Supervising Commander – Lyme, Evelyn
Length of Tenure – 6 months
"Peacekeeper Everdeen, Commander Lyme would like to see you in the Justice Building." Katniss turned at the timid voice of the Mayor's secretary, a small woman who barely would have topped 5 foot, decked out in what were obviously her finest clothes. Victory Tours only came but once a year, and in a place like District 2, it was one of the most exciting days on the calendar.
To most people anyway, Katniss mused, as she nodded and moved towards the entrance. Peacekeepers were in abundance, not just those stationed in 2, but others from various districts – even from the Capitol - who were accompanying the tour itself. As Katniss had never been this close to the proceedings before, she'd never realized how heavily guarded they were.
Or maybe it was just this year, and the fact that it was Madge Undersee who was coming. The girl Lyme insisted had possibly instigated a rebellion.
As Village 13 was only 45 minutes away from the Mountain, both she and Peeta had been assigned to assist with Peacekeeping duties. While they were far from being accredited enough to play a formal role, Lyme had insisted on their inclusion, as well as 8 other recruits posted nearby, emphatically placing the importance the tour stop would have on their growth as Peacekeepers. Peeta had been posted at the train station, paired with a senior commander, while Katniss had been stationed at the Justice Building with Lyme herself.
Katniss followed the small woman up the front stairs of the building, feeling stiff and uncomfortable in the borrowed Peacekeeper uniform. If she was able to confirm one thing from this experience, it was that the hair was definitely getting chopped off at the end of her two years. She was guided into a small room at the front, overlooking the town square. It was beautifully appointed, thick heavy drapes the color of overripe plums, deep carpets of a dark forest green, sleek metal chairs with matching fabric seats, a large buffet to the side piled with glorious looking fruit and pitcher upon pitcher of golden orange juice. Katniss mouth watered at the sight.
Near the window stood Lyme, and a young woman with golden blonde hair twisted into complicated knots, a pale pink dress falling gently to her knees. So this was Madge Undersee. An innocent-looking girl who had the Capitol masterminds worried and rebels rubbing their hands together in glee.
Katniss cleared her throat by way of introduction, and Lyme looked up, smiling grimly. "Good afternoon Katniss. Please, join us. I'd like you to meet Madge Undersee, the victor of the 76th Hunger Games." Katniss moved over to the two women, holding out her hand in welcome. Madge shook it firmly, a small smile on her face. It didn't reach her eyes.
"Nice to meet you, Katniss," she said, and Katniss was surprised at the strength and resolve in her voice.
"Likewise, Miss Undersee," she replied, as they'd been taught to address all visitors from the Capitol, but Madge waved it aside.
"Please, it's Madge. Commander Lyme tells me you're one of her brightest Peacekeepers. You must be proud."
Katniss couldn't help the way her eyes narrowed at Madge's words, and she shot a look at Lyme, who returned the gaze innocently. Maybe she was just reading too much into things. But she watched as Lyme reached a hand into her pocket, pulling out the small blocking device she had used before. She should have known.
"We have fifteen minutes again," she spoke briskly. "Katniss, Madge and I utilized this before, and she is aware that you are pro-rebellion. I wasn't able to tell you this before you left the Mountain, as things were so rushed at your departure, but your hosts are also rebels. The home you are staying in has similar devices to what I have here, except that they've been modified to be turned off for extended periods of time. Your hosts, Durham and Autumn, are both electronics whizzes, and they've been adept at amending the monitoring devices in their home. They made this for me," she held up the device, that, if found, really only looked like a small, rectangular pocket watch. "This is why I had you and Peeta stationed at that location. It's secure, you're based with people who are sympathizers to our cause. They will keep you informed of any developments that occur. They're trustworthy, and you can feel free to speak your mind to them."
Lyme paused, before turning to Madge and continuing to speak, but Katniss couldn't pay attention. Every time she thought she'd gotten a handle on things, Lyme would blow her out of the water with more rebellion information – and in this case, the fact that where they lived was a secure location. She could ruminate about the Capitol again, after all this time, as much as she wanted. And she had people to talk about it with.
The relief that seemed to fill her was almost palpable. She couldn't wait to tell Peeta.
Katniss sat outside on in the back yard of her assigned home, her eyes closed against the bright rays of the sun. The warmth on her face was soothing, instilled a peace in her that she didn't really think belonged.
She'd been on edge ever since the Victory Tour, when the reality of the rebellion finally seemed to hit home to her.
In the months since her posting to Village 13, she and Peeta had fallen into a daily routine. They both woke, breakfasted with Durham and Autumn and went immediately to the Peacekeeper barracks in the village. They weren't on par with those at the Mountain, but they were good enough for training purposes. Their day ended with dinner, and then sleep, with only the occasional afternoon free to spend their time as they chose. At least once a week during the evening Durham would reprogram the listening devices, and the four of them would discuss the rebellion, the Capitol, Snow. At times Katniss would start to worry that this level of freedom was too good to be true, that it would all come crashing around her one day, and she'd disappear like the other recruits. Other days she marvelled at the fact she could speak so freely, the thoughts and opinions she'd held tightly to herself for so long now something she could discuss with likeminded people.
For their training, Peeta had been given direction to continue to increase his knowledge and prowess with hand to hand, although Katniss wasn't sure what more he could learn. She was assigned to sniper duties, and spent her days trying to feel more comfortable with a firearm, before eventually falling back on the bow and arrow that had soon come to feel like an extension of herself. Hell, she shot those arrows with such pinpoint accuracy, she didn't see why they couldn't consider her a sniper with a bow and be done with it.
"Hey Katniss." Peeta's voice broke her thoughts, and she opened her eyes to see him sitting beside her, his legs stretched out in front of him as he leaned back on his palms.
"Hey," she replied.
"How'd training go?"
"Shoot any targets?"
"With a firearm?"
"Never." He laughed, and she couldn't help the small smile that crossed her own face in response. "You got the early afternoon finish today too?"
"Yeah, thankfully. I don't know why they kept me in combat training, but who am I to question their decisions?" He smiled at her wryly, knowing questioning decisions was something they did every day. "This is nice, though. We rarely get the same afternoon off anymore."
"Yeah, I know," Katniss replied. "It's weird, after spending so much time together when we were both back at the Mountain."
"Got used to me, huh?" Peeta joked, nudging her shoulder with his. She snorted sarcastically, to cover the instinctive clutch her stomach always took whenever he got too close. That was probably a good reason that they'd not had as much time together. "Systems off?" he asked quietly, playing with the tufts of grass beside his fingers.
Katniss nodded. "Mmm-hmm. Autumn already had the sound loop up this afternoon when I got back. According to whoever is listening to her, she's baking cookies today, instead of working on jamming devices."
Peeta laughed, and stretched out on his back, folding his hands under his head. His black shirt hitched up slightly around his waist, affording Katniss a glimpse of the smooth skin that had turned golden in the last few months. She wondered if some of the combat classes required the participants to take their shirts off.
She closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. Things she really didn't need to think about.
"You ok?" Peeta suddenly spoke up, and she could hear the concern in his voice. She didn't open her eyes.
"I'm good. Why?"
"You just look a little sad."
She heard a rustling of grass, and flicked one eye open, then the other, to see Peeta lying on his side, arm propped and his head resting on his hand. She shook her head gently. "Not sad. Just…resigned I guess. This is my life. Nothing will change it."
"That's not true," he stated emphatically. "What have we been talking about recently? And the updates Durham is giving us so often? This rebellion will change everything. Just imagine when we win. A world without the Hunger Games. A world where we don't live in fear every day of what could happen, what might happen. A world where…." He trailed off, a faint blush crossing his cheeks. She already knew what he was going to say.
"Just say it, Peeta," she sighed. "You know you want to."
"You don't want to hear it," he replied, an air of finality in his voice.
"Of course I don't. What's the point?" Katniss felt the weight begin to set in on her shoulders. They hadn't talked about this in so long. She'd stupidly thought they could get through their final months without bringing it up, and go on their separate ways.
"The point?" He practically spat the words out. "The point is that with this rebellion anything could happen. I know we're going to be separated for our second year, and I highly doubt we'll be sent to the same District for our posting. But this rebellion – we could see each other again one day. You could maybe consider one day being tog-"
"Stop." Katniss said forcefully. She didn't know what was worse, the way her head ached or her heart betrayed her at his words. "There's no point in talking about this. Yes, we both want the rebellion to happen. Yes, it will be the best thing that's ever happened to Panem. But don't say things you don't know anything about."
"Don't know anything about?" he scoffed. "You didn't say anything negative towards me when I told you how I felt about you back at the Mountain. Your only excuse was the golden rule. And if there is no restrictions to that, then….I know there's something between us, Katniss, and I'm certain you know it too." Peeta watched her, waiting for her reply. She was silent for a moment as she formulated her best response.
"I've never thought of anything like that before, Peeta. Until I turned 18, my focus was purely on surviving the reaping. I didn't have time, or the need, to think about marrying, having children, having a family. And then I was given this vocation, and there was no need for me to think of it at all. That's why I didn't say anything. Because I didn't have anything to say." The air of finality around her words fell heavily upon them. It didn't matter whether she meant them or not, they were words that needed to be said. For their safety. And for both their state of mind.
Peeta said nothing in reply, but she heard the hitches in his breath. She couldn't look at him, couldn't bear to. It didn't take him long to leave her there, and soon she was alone on the grass again.
The sun suddenly didn't seem as warm.
"The rebellion will happen within six months."
"You're full of shit, Ham. Eight months."
"You're on." Katniss and Peeta looked on, amused, as Durham and Autumn undertook their usual ritual of predicting when the rebellion would be begin. At first they were both aghast at the casual, flippant way the two spoke about something as important as the rebellion. They soon realized it was their coping mechanism, their way of biding their time until something happened.
Their hosts had been waiting a long time for this rebellion.
"You know," Peeta began casually. "We've never really asked you why you're a part of the rebellion, how you got involved. It might start tomorrow, for all we know. I guess I'd like to know why you volunteered, why you risk your lives every day for this."
The two exchanged a look, and Durham leaned back in his chair, the front two legs lifting off the ground. He scratched absently at the scruffy beard that covered his chin. "We have two very different reasons, really, and Autumn's story is one for her to tell you. As for me – well, my mother was a victor. Not a very well-known one, for she wasn't pretty or strong or charismatic. She won by chance, but whatever happened to her in the arena made her come out a very different person to the one who went in. She married my father the minute the Victory Tour was over, fell pregnant, had me, then died 2 years later. Some said she killed herself, but that really wasn't it. She may have taken her own life, but it wasn't by choice. The only reason she did was because the Capitol made her that way." He paused, and shifted his weight so the feet of the chair hit the floor. He rested his elbows on his knees, considering the weight of his words to those around him. "My father always said I was her one shot at happiness, but not even I could bring her back from the brink. That was a lot of weight to put on a small child. But I haven't let my hatred for the Capitol ruin my life. I let it guide me to try and make Panem a better place. This is my way of doing that."
Katniss couldn't think of a thing to say. Everything he'd said made perfect sense to her. The fact that she was sitting in front of the child of a Victor was not lost on her.
"How….how were you not targeted by the Capitol when you were of reaping age?" She ventured.
He shrugged. "I don't know. I assume they didn't think much of me. My mother hadn't impressed them much, so I suppose they didn't think I would either."
"Does your father know what you do?" Peeta asked.
"He died when I was ten, so no. But I'd like to think he would be proud."
"He would be," Autumn said softly, reaching out to grasp his hand with hers. She looked over at Katniss, her eyes sad. "My story is nothing like Durham's, and honestly, it simply comes down to him. I fell in love with him when I was 16 years old. It took him two years to tell me that he was doing everything he could to take down the Capitol. When he did, there was nothing he said that I could disagree with. It seemed…right. So I made the decision. Where Durham went, I went. What he did, I did. Not for him, though. For Panem."
"Does your family know?" Katniss asked, echoing Peeta's question. Autumn shook her head.
"No, they don't. And they won't, either. I haven't seen them in a long time. They….They'd never understand. Not right now, anyway. I hope their eyes are opened when the rebellion comes. Some people will fight it, I know. I just hope my family aren't those who do." She paused, studying the two young people in front of her. "This rebellion is going to benefit everyone. People will need to realize the gift that will be given to them when it happens. Freedom means everything. In life and in love." She locked eyes with Katniss, and the meaning of her words were not lost on the younger woman.
The light-heartedness of the early evening gone, Durham and Autumn excused themselves, leaving Katniss and Peeta alone in the dim kitchen. Their stories gave Katniss pause to think, of the life they had chosen to live, and the sacrifices they would have to make if they were ever discovered before a rebellion could occur. Durham had overcome the loss of two parents – one a Victor, no less – to become a man not worried by the Capitol, or their punishments. To him, the advancement of Panem was far more important than his own life. And Autumn had left her family to follow her heart, to break the rules, to take a chance.
She knew, in Autumn and Durham, in Lyme, and in Madge Undersee, she'd met people committed to their cause. And realized that the vocation she'd once cursed, had once hated with a passion, had given her the opportunity to meet these people. In the end, it would be the only way she could make a difference.
Peacekeeper Level Two - Everdeen, Katniss
Assigned Village – District 2, Village 4
Peacekeeper Level Two - Mellark, Peeta
Assigned Village – District 2, Village 7
Supervising Commander – Lyme, Evelyn
Length of Tenure – 12 months
They sat in the lounge, the soft glow of the lamp in the corner the only light in the room. Durham and Autumn were out for the evening, and despite their numerous pleas for Katniss and Peeta to join them, they declined. The village meant nothing to them.
They'd talked about useless, unnecessary things, simply a way to pass the time. Anything, really, but the one thing both were thinking about – the fact that this was their final day in Village 13. Their final day as a partnership.
In the end, though, they had nothing more to say.
"We leave tomorrow," Peeta finally said unnecessarily, after silence had dragged on for far too long.
"Yeah," she replied. What else could she say?
"Are you going to be ok?"
"Of course. Are you?"
Her head jerked at his words, and her eyes narrowed. "What do you mean?"
Peeta sighed, stretching his legs out in front of him, crossing them at the ankles. "Katniss, you should know this by now. I've tried to tell you so many times, but you just never wanted to take me seriously, or to just listen. Will you listen to me now?"
"I've always listened to you, Peeta," she replied blithely, and jumped slightly when he growled angrily.
"No, Katniss, really listen. Listen to what I have to say, what I need to say." He paused, watching her as she sat on the sofa opposite him, knees and hands clenched together tightly. "This year has been – amazing. I never wanted to be a Peacekeeper, thought my world was ending when I got my papers telling me that's what I'd been designated to do. But it's been nothing like I expected, nothing at all. Yes, we've had some shitty times, and we missed our families. We've also been able to become a part of something amazing, something that could change Panem forever. But I know it's likely we'll never see each other again after tomorrow, Katniss. And I need you to know my life…my life….it isn't really worth living without you in it."
Katniss' heart jittered, but she couldn't help the way her lip curled. "Don't be so dramatic, Peeta. You'll be fine."
"No, I won't be, Katniss," he said forcefully, running a hand through his hair in frustration. "Tell me, seriously, that when you think about the rest of your life, and not seeing me in it, that you'll be fine?" She opened her mouth, but he continued, cutting her off. "Think about it, Katniss. Whatever is between us has been building since the first day we were partnered together. We've been it, whatever it is, for a year, no matter how many times you try and deny it. Close your eyes and think for a minute what never seeing me again will be like. Because, dammit, when I think about not seeing you again, I'm not sure I can go on." He stopped, biting his lip and simply watching her. She knew he was silently begging her to close her eyes.
She did, emptying herself of every thought except for Peeta. What her life would be like without him. What her days would be like without his smile, without his laugh, without the way he seemed to tell her a thousand words in one look. The way he'd been there for her every step of the way.
The way his eyes lit up whenever he spoke of the rebellion, of the plans being initiated to make Panem a better place, a better country.
And she knew, without a doubt, that what he said was true.
Her entire body froze at the thought of a life without him. It was ridiculous – as a teenage girl, with the threat of the reaping hanging over her head, she'd never considered a life with someone in it. And then as a Peacekeeper recruit, she couldn't consider a life with someone in it. Now, it was all she could think about.
Somehow, in the last year, no matter how much she'd fought it, it had happened.
She'd fallen in love with him.
She opened her eyes, and they locked with his. Before she could second guess herself, she pushed herself off the sofa, moved around the coffee table, and slid onto his lap, her legs folding up alongside his thighs. His eyes were wide with shock and his hands froze in mid-air. She had no idea what she was doing and had no clue how to tell him what she was feeling. She was left with little alternative other than to show him.
Her hands rose, wrapping around and cupping the nape of his neck. She threaded her fingers into his hair, and watched as he slowly let out a breath.
"What are you doing, Katniss?" he whispered. She leant forward, until her chest was flush with his, and her mouth rested against his ear.
"I need to be with you," she replied softly, and felt his body shudder beneath her.
"Why now?" he asked, closing his eyes. She took a deep breath before uttering her next words.
"Because before I was always too scared of what the Capitol could do to me if I let myself feel something for you. And now…I'm more scared I'll never know what you could do to me."
Peeta's eyes flew open, and his hands instinctively landed on her hips, fingers digging into her flesh.
"Do you mean it?" His breath was rapid, and she could feel the pounding of his heart against her own chest. She nodded, all her words gone. She had nothing more that she knew how to say. "But what if….what if you got..." He trailed off as she laid a finger on his lips.
"The doctors back at the Mountain took care of that a long time ago, Peeta. We'll be fine." She brought her mouth down to his, her kiss soft but insistent. She wasn't very experienced, and she hoped he didn't mind.
He couldn't have cared less.
He brought his hands up into her hair, tugging on the band that confined her braid, threading his fingers through it until it tumbled down her back in soft waves. He tugged on the strands lightly, and her breath caught in her throat.
This wasn't enough.
She shifted, changing the angle of the kiss, urgency and need flowing through her until the kiss was a heated tangle of lips and tongues and warm breath. If she'd known how good his lips would feel, how their mouths would slant together so perfectly, she would have done this a long time ago. Peeta's hands slid down her back, curving around her ass and pulling her closer to him until their hips came in contact. She couldn't contain the moan that fell from her lips at the feeling of him pressing against her, heat spreading through her body, from the pit of her stomach to the ends of her hair, until she felt like she was on fire.
Katniss rolled her hips against him, and the moan she'd uttered not a minute ago was echoed by Peeta, as his body tensed and his head dropped back against the sofa.
"Shit, Katniss," he breathed, his eyes locking with hers. She felt like he wanted to say more, but couldn't. Part of her was thankful, worried she wouldn't be able to deal with whatever he may have uttered.
"Let's go to my room," she whispered, and she didn't need to prompt him any further. He cupped his hands under her, managing to pull himself to his feet in the process. She wrapped her legs around his waist, tightening them and crossing them at the ankles at the small of his back, her lips and teeth nipping at the soft skin below his ear. His cock twitched against her, and she couldn't decide whether to giggle or gasp.
So she did both.
He pulled his face back to study hers as he maneuvred his way through the house towards her bedroom, a smile crossing his face. She couldn't ignore the combination of utter delight and lust that lit his face up like a light. She swore never to forget that face.
He stumbled through the door, kicking it closed with his foot before turning around and pressing her against it forcefully as he locked it.
"I don't want anyone to interrupt us," he said softly, before leaning forward and biting softly on her bottom lip.
"Neither do I," she muttered. He kissed her, deeply, a kiss that knocked every thought from her head except how good he felt against her. She moved her hands from the back of his head to the front of his shirt, tugging at it. It didn't budge, its hem caught between their bodies, and she pulled at it harder in frustration. Peeta shifted so that she could yank it free, and with a sigh of relief, she moved it high enough so that she could run her hands over the bare skin of his back, across the expanse of his chest. She'd known he was strong, his body taut and hard and muscular from a year of training, but the actual feel of it against her hands was another thing.
Peeta ducked his head, his lips resting against her collarbone, pressing kisses along the line, before trailing his way up the sensitive skin of her neck, tickling her and causing her shoulders to clench in response. He tipped his head back slightly, a slight grin on his face.
"My, my," he whispered. "Katniss Everdeen has a ticklish spot." She couldn't help but pull a face at him, and he laughed gently. "It's ok. I won't take advantage of it. Much." His grin mellowed into a soft smile, and he pulled them away from the door, moving towards the bed until his knees hit the end of the mattress. He bent forward to lay her down as gently as he could on top of the soft green quilt, before crawling onto the bed after her. He braced himself over her, nipping at her ear, the dip in her throat, the tip of her chin, the soft skin of her eyelid. She sighed, her hands tracing patterns over his forearms, her nails gliding over the golden skin and fine hairs. She tugged on the hem of his shirt again, and he steadied himself on his knees, pulling it over his head, dropping it to the side of the bed. He looked down at her, his fingers tracing the edge of her own shirt, brushing gently against her skin, and he caught her eye. She knew he was asking permission, and she nodded, lifting her torso off the bed slightly. She closed her eyes as he gently pulled it over her head, didn't even open them at his sharp intake of breath. She couldn't look at him, just couldn't. Not right now.
She felt his hands ghost over her skin, brush against her ribs, the underside of her breast, and she gasped. Her room was like a furnace – she was like a furnace. Not even the breeze through the window she'd left open stopped the beads of sweat from pearling on her brow.
"Katniss," he said softly. She mumbled an incoherent reply, but he traced a finger down her torso, from her breastbone to the waist of her pants. "Open your eyes." She shook her head slightly, then felt his lips on hers, kissing her gently. "Please?" She let out a slow breath and opened them, and found herself looking directly into his. They were so blue, so bright, so direct, and they were looking at her like she was the most important thing in the world.
"You're so beautiful," he whispered. "I can't believe you're here with me, right now." She reached up a hand to his cheek, pulling his lips back to hers.
"Don't waste time talking, Peeta. We don't have long together," she sighed. He nodded, and lowered himself down gently, his body resting alongside her, sliding his leg so it rested between hers. He bent down to capture her lips with his, his right hand splaying against her waist, fingers digging gently into her ribs. Breaths came in heavy pants and expelled with soft moans as their kisses deepened, as time slowed and their bodies drew closer together. Impatience led to urgency as they shed their clothes, the need for skin upon skin overpowering anything and everything else. She gasped as Peeta shifted over her, as he lathed the soft skin of her breast with his tongue, his hand grazing across the stiffened peak of her other breast before resting intimately at her hip.
She ground against him, the shocking thrill of the groan that fell from his lips causing her to roll her hips a little harder, a little faster, until the thrusting of his hips matched hers in rhythm, the ebb and flow causing a friction that needed nothing but release.
Breaths came thick and fast, skin sliding against slick skin, fingers clenching together, lips and tongues tangling in a war neither had fought before and may never fight again. Her heart was pounding so heavily, it echoed in her ears, and her nerves were on fire, tingling and bursting every time Peeta moved his weight against her. She could hear him mutter something unintelligible, but it didn't matter. She didn't need an explanation.
She allowed his hands, and fingers and mouth, to travel over and down the length of her body, drawing sensations she never imagined were possible. He used those hands and mouth to slowly bring her to peak, and after, she felt weightless, empty, shattered.
But he brought her back, the need and desire building again until she was almost at breaking point, until he finally eased into her, slowly, filling her, twin moans echoing each other. It was awkward at first, a moment to find their rhythm, for the faint discomfort to shift, and fade into an ache, to become a buzz. The heat that had been lying low in her belly grew, spread through her body. She flung her head back as she got closer and closer to whatever she was racing towards, Peeta's body moving faster and faster over hers, until her fingers reached for his, twisting with them tightly as her body clenched around him. She looked up at him in that moment, and she would never forget, as long as she lived, the blue of his eyes as they burned into her, as he thrust deeply into her once more, his body pulsating as he breathed her name, then slowing, then stilling over hers.
He pressed a kiss to her brow, shifting slowly so he was next to her, and drew her close, so her head was resting against his chest. They were quiet, nothing but the sound of their beating hearts and the rustling of leaves outside the bedroom window.
"I love you, Katniss," Peeta whispered finally, when he was almost certain she was asleep, her breathing slow and even.
She wasn't. And though the words made her heart both hitch and break, she couldn't say anything back.
She fell asleep knowing that while they may have broken the rules, she didn't regret it one bit.
It could have been the rays of the morning sun creeping over the horizon that woke her, the thin streams of light shifting through the curtains draped across the window. It could have been the slight rise and fall of the bare chest beneath her cheek, and the steady heartbeat that accompanied it. It could have been the call of birds – possibly mockingjays at this time of year – that indicated that the night was close to over. But in all likelihood, it was the knowledge that after today her life would never be the same that was the reason she was roused so sharply from her sleep.
After today, she was likely to never see Peeta Mellark again.
She shifted, sliding the arch of her foot against his calf, reaching a hand up to brush at the fine blonde hairs that covered his chest. If she could freeze this moment, if she could stop and live in it forever, it could suffice. Maybe. Possibly.
The arm that curved around her shoulders and the fingers that splayed against her waist tightened, and she turned her head so that she was looking up at him.
"Hey," Peeta whispered.
"Hey," she replied. She wasn't sure she could say anything else around the lump that had lodged itself in her throat.
"You ok?" he asked, his left hand reaching to tip up her chin, before dropping back to the mattress. She nodded, unsure of what to say. Surely, after last night, he should know. He'd have to know.
He shifted and pulled himself into a sitting position, watching her as she twisted her body in the sheets to pull it tightly around her as she sat up beside him. She had no idea the effect she had, the way he saw her with her mahogany hair tumbling around her shoulders, eyes heavy-lidded with sleep, olive skin warm and dusky against the stark white of the sheet.
"Are you ready for today?" He finally asked.
She sighed. "I think so. I don't have another choice, do I?" He didn't offer a reply, but his silence spoke a thousand words. Right now, they didn't have a choice. This was all they had.
They didn't talk, simply linked their fingers together and thought of all the things they were going to miss. Even if last night hadn't happened, Katniss realized, she'd feel like she was missing a part of her anyway. Somehow, in the last year, he'd become as much as part of her and she was of him.
Eventually she rose from the bed, and dressed quietly - black jacket, black shirt, pants and thin gloves. She'd already packed, had done so yesterday, before she even thought for one second she would have spent her last night with Peeta. She'd imagined a night curled up on her bed, staring at the ceiling, knowing she would be starting all over again with someone new, someone she probably wouldn't even like. Instead, she got a night that meant so much more.
Katniss grabbed the handle of her bag and stepped over to the bed where Peeta sat watching her, eyes solemn and filled with grief. She bent down, laying a soft kiss on his lips. She couldn't linger, because she knew she'd want to stay if she did.
"Goodbye Peeta," she said quietly, brushing a lock of hair from his forehead. His hand reached up, gripping her wrist and bringing her palm to his mouth, his lips pressing against it gently.
"Goodbye Katniss. I hope...I hope we see each other again."
She paused for a long moment before replying. "So do I, Peeta. Otherwise, what's even the point in this rebellion?"
A slow smile spread across his face and he nodded. "You're right. That's exactly the point."
Silence fell before Katniss stepped away from the bed, her hand dropping from Peeta's to hang limply by her side. She moved towards the bedroom door, opened it quietly to make sure she woke noone else in the house, and stepped out. She glanced one more time back at Peeta, trying to memorize his features and her heart clenched, not knowing if she would ever see him again. Then she closed the door, her footsteps quiet on the wooden floors.
Katniss crept down the hallway, opened the front door, and made her way down the cobblestone path that led from the porch to the front gate. The small vehicle waiting to take her away purred quietly on the street, its headlights cutting through the last of the morning fog. She turned, hand on the gate latch, to look back at the house one final time. She raised three fingers to her lips, and held them out in the direction of her bedroom window. She hoped he saw.
It was the only way she could tell him she loved him.
She closed the gate behind her, and walked away.
A/N: This was written as a gift for Court81981 for the Spring Fling Fic Exchange, based on a prompt where Katniss and Peeta met on the first day of attending the Police Academy.
With many thanks to Jeeno2, MalTease and Salanderjade for their cheerleading and impromptu beta-ing!