Peeta went very still. "What kind of accident?" He turned to look at Boggs, his face a blank mask as he rose from his crouch over the ruined man on the floor. If there was one thing his mother had taught him well, it was to hide what he was truly thinking, something that had served his time in the Capitol well.
Boggs sighed, scrubbing his face with his hand. "Katniss is missing, along with two of my best agents."
The words he didn't say hung in the air. Presumed dead
"And you're doing what about it?" Pulling a pristine white handkerchief out of his inner breast pocket, he walked over to the well-stocked bar in the corner of the room to grab some water. Opening the cap, he wet the material and began to dab at his knuckles. It hurt like a sonofabitch, but again, he refused to let it show, lifting his gaze to the stocky man across the room from him, lifting a brow in question. His heart was racing a million miles per minute and it took every ounce of self control that he possessed to not stalk over and shake the man until he told him what he knew.
Peeta jammed the key into the lock, twisting it viciously. When the tumblers clicked, he shoved open the door, uncaring that it bounced off the wall and left a mark. Raking his hand through his already disheveled hair, he sighed and stalked into the house, slamming the door shut behind him.
The darkness surrounded him, swallowing him as he walked through the empty rooms. It suited his mood at the moment – sullen and malevolent. The need for violence simmered just beneath his skin, pulsating with every beat of his heart.
His shoes made clicking noises against the expensive tile in the hallway as he walked towards the kitchen – click, drag, click, drag. Taking down Seneca, while worth it, had made his leg ache, a pulsing numbness spreading outwards from the mortar wound, forcing his foot to drag as he walked. Stepping into the kitchen, he reached for the switch.
The word cut through the silence, his heart thundering in his chest. Soft and feminine, yet laced with steel edged intent. His hand moved slowly back down to his side and he stood still – all senses alert as his military training rose to the forefront, forcing everything aside.
Light flared to his left, and he squinted, raising one hand to shade against the glare. He couldn't make out much, the light leaving him temporarily blinded. The soft snick of a gun being cocked caught his attention and he stiffened, cursing under his breath for not being prepared for this eventuality.
"Who are you and why the fuck are you in my house?" he asked with blunt bravado, pivoting towards the light.
"I'll ask the questions. She's alive but that can change depending upon your actions."
He inhaled sharply, reaching out for the counter, hoping that he'd left something – anything really that could be used as a weapon, but it was as pristine and bare as the rest of the kitchen.
"Walk towards the light, slowly." He stopped his desperate search and pushed up off the counter, following her directions.
"That's far enough."
Her voice wasn't familiar, rough and deep, it sounded like she had a pack a day habit at the least. The pool of light from the lamp barely touched his shoes. His eyes had adjusted to the light and as his gaze slid over the hard edged woman sitting in his chair, a gun resting lightly in her lap, he realized who she was.
"Word on the street is you're dead."
She laughed - a deep throaty sound that had no humor in it at all. "Funny you should say that, given that you could be the one that tried to make it happen."
He shook his head. "Not me, you were protecting the one thing on this planet that's important to me, why the fuck would I want to take you out?"
Agent Johanna Mason shrugged her thin shoulders lightly, the light glinting off of the red streaks in her stark bangs. "It's politics, Mellark. Everyone's dirty in some way or another."
"Is Katniss alright?"
She tilted her head slightly. "For now."
Peeta's blood went cold. He knew Snow's claws went deep, but he'd thought at least Bogg's detail was clean. "What do you want, Agent Mason?"
Shaking her head, she lifted the gun, studying it. "I'm not for sale, Representative Mellark."
"Good to know, Agent Mason," he said carefully. "But you're here for a reason, right?"
Johanna flipped her wrist and pointed the muzzle directly at his chest. "I am." She motioned to the sofa. "Sit down."
Peeta sat carefully on the couch, ass barely on the cushion, bracing himself to be able to move in a heartbeat if this went to shit.
Mason stared at him, a sly smile tugging at her lips. "Crane is dead, Boggs is nearly so and you're in deep shit, boyo."
"I just left Boggs," Peeta said quickly.
Mason laughed coldly. "Shit happens fast in this town, but again, you should know that, you're the politician after all."
Tension ripped through his gut like a hot knife through butter. He hadn't wanted any of this! All he'd ever wanted was to live his life with the woman that meant more to him than air.
Another voice rose from the darkness that cloaked the house like a shroud, the hard gravelly tones making Peeta's blood run cold. "Do you remember when I told you thing were going to be bad? This ain't even the worst of it yet, boy."
Peeta's head slowly swiveled towards the left. "You used me," he said flatly as his eyes found the wasted form of Haymitch Abernathy staring back at him, a full glass of something in his hand. Knowing Haymitch, it was a glass of the best of Peeta's meager liquor cabinet.
A harsh bark of laughter met his words. "Did you really expect otherwise?" His tone was mocking and edged with steel. "This is an ugly game, boy, and no one ever wins."
Peeta's voice was cold, all emotion stripped bare and buried deep. Now, more than ever he needed to be ice cold. No weaknesses to exploit. "Then why play?"
Another bark of laughter, even more mocking than the first. "Cause it's the only game in town."
Peeta paced his cavernous house, a half full glass of whiskey held loosely in his hand, the empty rooms mocking him with angry silence. His unexpected company had departed, with several warnings to lay low and another of the ubiquitous black phones.
How had his life come to this? When he'd left the hell of war with its rain of blood and atrocities so horrific that they turned people into sick, mutated versions of themselves, he'd thought he'd never have to deal with something so horrible again. It was over, or at least he thought it was, left behind when he'd left the battlefield. The memories were bad enough – shiny, warped images that hijacked his dreams and sometimes even bled into his waking hours, leaving him shaking and drenched with sweat, eyes staring blankly as the horror show paraded past his retinas.
It was the war all over again, played out on a more luxurious battlefield. He was a piece in a vicious, ugly game that had no winners – only walking wounded survivors.
Snow had to pay for his crimes – evil that pervasive had no place in the civilized world. Hell, it had no place in any world. He was like the Hydra, cut off one miserable excuse of a head and two more came back, just as ugly and twisted as the first.
Lifting his drink with a shaky hand, he downed the amber liquid, barely feeling the warmth spreading through him. Fear drew icy tendrils around his heart, as he thought of Katniss, alone and hurt, not knowing where he was or if he was in on the plot to attack her. She couldn't think that he'd hurt her, not after all they'd been through together. Spinning, he flung the empty glass at the wall, watching as it shattered against the wall, raining glass down onto the floor.
Sick with disgust, he wandered outside, sitting down on the perfectly manicured yard. The trees and flowers had been carefully chosen to give an artful appearance to the yard, but he saw none of it, his gaze drawn to the house across the way, blazing brightly with lights. Seneca's house, the one he played perfect family man in with Katniss. It didn't look like a family house tonight though. People milled about on the lawn, spotlights shining brightly, illuminating every crack and crevice. More people moved inside the house, silhouetted against the bright lights like ants in a terrarium, dissecting the lives of the two people that had inhabited it.
The house looked normal, which felt odd. It should have looked different – destroyed as thoroughly as Seneca had destroyed lives -a raging torrent of ugliness, sweeping everything from it like a tsunami, leaving only broken flotsam in its wake.
Peeta sighed deeply, his mind a jumble of random thoughts, tumbling endlessly in his head – fragmented, disjointed. His life had been so perfectly planned, laid out in a neat, methodical path. Do his duty to his country and then come home and live his life with the woman he loved more than life itself. But it'd all gone so wrong. Almost from the day he'd left her, fighting back tears as he'd boarded the airplane that would take him away from her.
He never should have told his mother he was going to marry Katniss, shouting it at her as her poisonous vitriol spewed, thick and viscous. She'd made it her life's mission from that moment forward to ruin any happiness they might've found together. It'd never made sense before, until tonight when Haymitch had told him the truth about his parent's marriage, how Snow had turned her aside in favor of a political match, despite their growing up together and being inseparable all through school. It was Snow that had told her to marry Branford Mellark, convinced her that it was in both of their best interests.
It was amazing, really, that Peeta had managed to get Prim safely out of his mother's clutches. She'd known instinctively that the fastest way to break Katniss would be through her sister. For the first time in his life, his father had stood up and been the man Peeta had always believed he could be. The money he'd fronted had paved the way for Prim and Rory to be hidden, never to be found by Charlotte or Snow.
Peeta sighed again, scrubbing his face with his hands. He needed more alcohol, more something – anything that could numb his mind and let him forget, for just one second how fucked he truly was. His failures played like a bad movie, one right after the other, piling up until he couldn't breathe for the weight of them. So lost in his misery, he never heard the soft scuff of footsteps on the grass, never saw the arm rise, the thick baton delivering the blow that rendered him unconscious.
"Mr. Mellark, how good of you to join us."
Peeta blinked painfully, squinting against the harsh light. He blinked again, the room coming into blurry focus. His head hurt like hell and his tongue felt thick in his mouth, like he'd been breathing through his mouth all night long. He tried to lift his hand to rub at his eyes, but it was tied firmly to the wooden arm of the chair he was sitting in. A quick glance at his other arm found it just as tightly bound. The pain in his thigh told him that he'd been in this position for a while, ankles tied to the legs of the chair.
"Water, for our guest. We mustn't be rude, after all." Coriolanus Snow's dulcet tones were measured, never hinting at the malice that shone in his gaze as Peeta lifted his head, meeting his icy gaze.
Water smacked him in the face, the shocking cold making his breath hitch. Shaking his head, he blinked water out of his eyes, fighting against the ropes that held him tightly.
"Please struggle, it makes this so much more entertaining."
"Fuck you," Peeta muttered.
"Tch, Mr. Mellark, stooping to vulgarity already?"
"What do you want, Snow?" Peeta said, glaring as he leaned back as far as he could in the unyielding chair.
"For you to die, Mr. Mellark," Snow said, steepling his fingers as he sat down in the chair one of his underlings placed before Peeta. "But not until we talk, of course."