I hope you guys like this chapter. I've been working on it all month.
As always, thanks to the lovely and talented SolasVioletta.
And thank you to Scoutchick, who really helped me to recognize when I needed to let go of certain details.
Debate to understand that we all have a flaw.
Then fail to represent your life as you know it.
God grant you one wish to turn back the time.
Correct and create, making sense of
Me and my star…
Coheed and Cambria
The following morning, Squad 451 hobbled, limped and trudged to formation, all in varying levels of pain thanks to their punishment from the day before. Mitchell, being the first to wake, made the rounds among the tents, ensuring that the rest of his squad was up before the dawn. As a result, all eight members of the Star Squad were lined up on time, ready to work without complaint.
"You're on the block today, but your mission doesn't start until this afternoon, so you'll be running drills until then," announced Boggs, "A camera crew will be following you around on this mission, getting shots for the latest propo. Ignore them as best you can. I've already warned them to keep out of your way. Some of you will be using live ammo today and a dead cameraman means a lot of paperwork I don't want to do."
They broke for drills, most of them exercises in stealth. They practiced moving in complete silence first from one building to the next, then from floor to floor in an abandoned apartment complex that took up the far end of the block. When they returned from their midday meal, Boggs stood in front of a cart much like the one Soldier Bryn has used to bring the extra weights for their punishments the day before. A rack on top of the cart held eight rifles.
"Who's taking the lead on this mission?" called Boggs.
As usual, Katniss had the first hand in the air. She was so used to being passed up, that when Boggs called on her, she almost didn't recognize her name.
"You want this one, Everdeen?" he asked, handing her one of the weapons.
"Yes, sir," she said, after a moment of hesitation.
"It's yours," Boggs said, noting her shock as she took the weapon into her hands. He pointed to a six story building on the next street over, "Your assignment is to get to the top of that building and back down again with three high profile hostages who are being held on the roof."
"That's it?" asked Homes skeptically.
"That's the mission," Boggs told him, passing him a gun, "The building is occupied by five of your fellow squads, one of which is 429. Don't be surprised if they're looking for some payback after your little brawl yesterday."
"What about 382?" asked Mitchell, "Why weren't they invited to the party?"
"They're back in the lab where they belong," Boggs replied, "Commander Samson refused to allow them to participate...lucky them." He paused, "Information is limited, as is your ammunition. One of you has a full clip, four of you have a single round, the other three are empty, so every shot you have needs to count. Considering you're all sharpshooters," he looked at Peeta as he said it, "That shouldn't be a problem."
Boggs handed each rifle out as he went, all preloaded. No one looked at what they had, but it wasn't hard to guess who got which clip. Katniss, being that she was running the operation, would receive the full one.
Guess which one you get, Crazy?
Peeta tried to ignore the snide, errant thought as it made its way into his head, but it bothered him more than he liked to admit. He knew he wouldn't be given live ammo, and by the sidelong glances he got from the rest of the squad, they all knew it too.
"Is there a way to keep from going inside the building?" asked Katniss, "If our firepower is limited, it'd be better to avoid a conflict completely."
Boggs pointed up to side of the building, "There are fire escapes on outsides of the building, some are intact, some not so much, so watch yourselves on them. Stealth is key here, people. If you alert one peacekeeper inside, you'll have to deal with all of them on that floor, however many there may be. Everdeen, your job is to get your squad up to the top and back down with your hostages. If you lose anyone, or leave any of your people behind, you fail."
He passed her a hand drawn map of the building, then gave a few supplies out to the rest of the crew. Before he departed, he offered them one last piece of advice, "This is a lesson in trust. It will take all of you to accomplish your goal. The last team to finish, did it in three hours and thirty two minutes, but I expect a better time from the Star Squad. Lets see if you learned anything from yesterday."
Once he was gone, Katniss took a look at the map. It was a mess. A lot of rectangles that she assumed represented the floors and random X's at different points that she couldn't make sense of. For some reason, the rebellion thought it was important to learn how to read a paper map. Or maybe they just didn't want to risk a holo on a training exercise.
Jackson looked over Katniss's shoulder, grinning at the confusing chicken scratch on the page.
"Want me to navigate?" she offered, "I read 'Boggs.'"
Katniss gratefully handed over the map. Jackson studied the drawing, pointing out some of the buildings that surrounded their goal, "I think the X's are guard posts- or at least the ones that we know about."
About a dozen of them were marked inside the building, mostly in a section that Katniss assumed to be an elevator shaft. There were two on the roof and three at the front door. Several others were on surrounding rooftops, or at street intersections.
"If this is right, there are seventeen inside," said Jackson, "but five squads means at least forty soldiers. Probably more. 429 on its own has sixteen gunners. We only have fifteen rounds."
This did not appear to concern Katniss in the slightest, "Do we have to worry about pods?"
Jackson shook her head and pointed to a circle drawn under the bottom left corner of the building they were supposed to be scaling, "That's how pods are marked on official maps. We should be able to avoid them easy."
"Only if we go inside," Katniss looked across the block to find a single story building right beside their target. If stealth was necessary and ammunition was in short supply, then it didn't make sense to start at the bottom.
"When does the time start?" Gale asked absently.
"I think it's already going," said Katniss, " Jackson take point with me. Mitchell I want you and Gale on my 9 and 3. The rest of you bring up the rear. Keep your eyes peeled. Just because we're not going inside yet, doesn't mean there won't be trouble wandering around."
Trouble was not far away. As they approached the low building they found a peacekeeper- actually a soldier from another squad dressed in white- patrolling the rooftop that they needed to be on.
"We need to distract him," Katniss stated as she watched the guard pace. She turned to Finnick, "Want to run around and make some noise?"
"Yes, Ma'am." He gave her a clumsy salute, smiling mischievously before darting out of sight.
Seconds later they heard the sound of rattling trash cans and saw the guard taking aim from the roof.
The rest of the squad ran forward. Since Leeg had volunteered to go up and take out the guard, her squadmates created a human staircase to get her onto the roof. One foot went on to Jackson's bent knee, the next into Peeta's cupped hands, which lifted her onto Gale's shoulder. From there, she grabbed the edge of the roof and hauled herself up, just as Finnick rounded the corner once more. The moment she disappeared, Homes went up after her. He laid at the edge of the roof, pulling each member of the squad up, until they all stood in formation again.
A single soldier dressed in white lay on his back.
Leeg rejoined the group, holding up a small metal ball with a seam cut into the side all the way around its circumference, "I checked him for ammo, but he wasn't much better off than any of us. I did, however find a few of these on him."
Katniss took the ball into her hand, grinning, "What's the range on this?"
"That size will get you fifteen, maybe twenty feet," said Jackson informatively.
Katniss pocketed the ball, "Where to?"
Jackson looked at the map in her hand, then pointed out a tall building adjacent to the rooftop where they stood, "That's our objective."
The buildings in this area were old, constructed during a time when the population was growing quickly, and the surrounding mountains were not stable enough for expansion. For the sake of space, these structures were hastily erected so close together they were practically on top of each other.
Katniss went to the edge, looking across the empty air to a balcony on the next building only five feet from the rooftop she stood upon. A staircase led up to the next level where a large window was set into the wall. She realized that this was the fire escape that Boggs had mentioned. Where she had expected metal steps with a simple railing, she found a stone walkway colored to match the building's exterior, designed with intricate hand-carved patterns.
It was epitome of Capitol opulence. The least safe option for a life saving structure, chosen for the sake of aesthetics.
"We gotta get across," she said.
"We don't know what's in there," said Jackson, eyeing the window suspiciously, "They could be watching us right now."
Katniss turned back with a grin.
"Then let's find out," she said, swinging her weapon so that it laid across her back. Without waiting to discuss it further, she jumped the distance to the other side, hearing seven gasps behind her as the squad realized what she'd just done. She landed a little awkwardly on the fire escape, bracing the impact with her hands to keep her middle from slamming into the railing, then crawled over the bar and headed up the steps to the next level, stopping in front of the window on little more than a square of concrete. The stairs that continued up had been blasted away, meaning that her only path from here was to go inside.
Mitchell stepped up to the edge and leaped across to stand beside her on the opposite side of the window. Without a word, he used the butt of his rifle to put a hole in the window.
"Everyone get ready," she called, pulling the metal ball from her pocket. In a quick motion, she turned the top of the ball to left while turning the bottom to the right, then chucked it through the hole. Angry cries went up from the soldiers inside as the ball sprayed blue paint in every direction. The sound of gunfire caused everyone on the adjacent rooftop to duck. Mitchell leaped into the broken window and used his one round to take out the only peacekeeper left standing. It couldn't pierce through the white armor, but whoever was inside would likely have a deep bruise in their shoulder the next morning.
"All clear," Mitchell called.
Katniss signaled for the rest of the squad to come across, then joined Mitchell inside. The building had formerly been an office as evidenced by rectangular light panels in the low ceilings and the track marks that years' worth of rolling chairs had made in the drab carpet. All the desks had been pushed into a corner, leaving a large open floor where half a dozen peacekeepers were lying down, covered in paint.
"Check them for ammo," said Katniss. She walked to the back of the room where a pair of doors were set into the wall. The first turned out to be a huge supply closet, twice the size of what she expected.
Katniss couldn't help but feel slightly envious of the Capitol office workers and their giant closets, especially when she recalled the cramped spaces that she and Peeta had hidden in, months before as they snuck around District 13.
As if he'd read her mind, Peeta looked over Katniss's shoulder, "Damn. The closets here are...roomy."
"I was just thinking that," she agreed, playfully adding, "Imagine what we could do with a space like this."
"Oh, I have," he admitted with a sheepish grin.
"I thought you liked the close quarters?" she reminded him.
"It had its appeal," he said. After a beat, he added under his breath, "Mostly, I just liked the naked girl who was in there with me."
She felt her cheeks glowing pink, calling to mind what it was like to be that naked girl, in a space so small that it was almost impossible for them to avoid physical contact. Of course, the point was never to avoid. Those secluded nights had been about connecting when something as simple as the brush of a finger was all it took to draw their bodies closer together.
"But this," he added, breaking her out of the passionate memories that were reforming in her head, "This might have given us a few more-" he paused, searching for the right word before deciding on, "options."
It suddenly occurred to Katniss that this was the first time in two days that they'd spoken to each other. It felt good to be on friendly terms, even somewhat strained ones.
Making a conscious effort to return her focus to the mission at hand, she walked to the second door against the back wall, and pushed on the handle. It was locked. Katniss lifted the butt of her gun, ready to break the doorknob when Jackson came up behind her.
"I wouldn't do that," she said, "Unless you want to alert every enemy soldier in this place to our position."
"Then why didn't the gunfire bring them down on us?" Katniss pointed out.
"Maybe it did," said Mitchell, coming up behind them. He put his ear to the door, holding a finger to his lips to signal quiet from the rest. After a few seconds, he looked back to Katniss and nodded, "Its a stairwell. I can hear their boots echoing."
"So much for stealth," said Katniss, looking around at the room.
"Are we falling back?" asked Jackson.
"We don't have to fall back," said Gale, approaching the door with the others, "I have an idea, but we need to get moving."
As the enemy soldiers entered the room, they found it still and silent. Wooden desks had been piled into a low wall around the open window. Three others had been tossed haphazardly throughout the room.
"They're gone," said one soldier.
The man he'd spoken to looked suspiciously at the barricade of furniture surrounding the window, spotting the barrel of a gun through a hole in the wood paneling. He turned to the first soldier, "Get the others."
Three squads of soldiers dressed in white came in behind the two scouts, until there were twenty-six weapons surrounding the blockade of desks.
"Stand down," came Katniss's voice from inside, "I'm warning you."
"Surrender, Everdeen, " said the lead soldier, "We'll let your squad go, but you need to come out."
He was answered by a shot to the chest, which sent him sprawling onto the floor.
"Open fire!" called a voice.
Immediately, twenty six guns went off, sending red paint pellets and rubber bullets into the barricade, blasting countless holes into the structure until it could no longer stand. The room was filled with deafening blasts, covering the sound of the door closing behind them.
As the wooden desks collapsed on top of each other, it became apparent that 451 was not in the room. One of the soldiers in white headed for the pile, shoving bits of wood aside with his foot, revealing a black rectangular communicator.
On the level above them, they heard a loud thump of a body hitting the floor.
"Move out!" called the leader. He left a pair of his men on guard in case the squad returned, then took the rest to the next level up. The two he'd left to watch the level didn't last thirty seconds before they dropped, both cracked over the head with rifles turned into clubs.
Homes and Peeta reached under their victims' arms and dragged them back towards the supply closet where they'd put the other soldiers they'd "killed" on that level, all of whom were fully awake and waiting for the order to head back to base.
One of them looked up irritably when the closet door opened, glancing at the two unconscious soldiers, "You didn't have to knock them out."
"You're right," shrugged Homes, "Have fun getting them down the stairs."
He snapped the door shut.
Meanwhile, the white armored soldiers were sprinting up the narrow staircase to level five. As they rounded the bend of the landing, the one bringing up the rear stumbled. She stretched her hand forward, latching onto the belt of the man in front of her, sending them both crashing face down on the ascending steps.
"Sorry!" she said, reaching out to the man she'd taken down with her.
"Get off of me," he yelled, leaving her sprawled on the steps in his wake.
As she watched him disappear into the room,she got onto her comm.
"Clear to pursue," she said.
"Copy," said the voice in her ear. "We're heading up now."
Leeg smiled under her helmet, "See you in a bit."
Katniss walked silently up the fire escape to the fifth floor, followed closely by Peeta, Homes, and Gale.
The four of them crouched by the window watching as almost five squads worth of soldiers had their guns aimed at the door, awaiting the arrival of squad 451. They were so focused on their task that no one noticed as four soldiers, discreetly stepped away from the rest of the group, taking cover wherever they could find. Katniss lined up her shot, aiming for the metal ball that Leeg had attached to one of the enemy soldiers. It was just her luck that he was in the middle of the crowd, standing while many of his fellow soldiers kneeled at different levels around him. She could just barely see her target, but once she had it, she didn't hesitate. Her finger reached for the trigger and squeezed gently.
There was a dull click, then nothing. No blast of the rifle, no kick back against her shoulder, no downed peacekeeper. Just the clicking of a gun with nothing to fire..
There was no time to figure out why she'd been handed an empty rifle.
"Gale, take the shot," she ordered, ducking down below the window line.
As they waited for the crack of the rifle and shattering glass of the window, Peeta glanced over to find Katniss staring down at the empty gun in her hands, looking completely rattled at the notion of being without ammunition.
"Why wouldn't he give you round?" Peeta wondered aloud.
Katniss just shook her head, suddenly furious that Boggs had given her the mission, then sent her up here without a fair chance at defending herself.
"I don't know," she growled.
Beside them, Homes chuckled quietly, "Seriously? For two days, Boggs has done nothing but scream at us about teamwork and trusting each other and it sure as hell ain't because of him."
Homes jutted his chin towards Peeta, still amused at his own assessment of the situation.
Katniss couldn't bring herself to share in the joke. Instead, a sudden flash of rage burned through her chest at the insinuation that she was still being regarded as untrustworthy by the Commander, despite how hard she was working to prove her capability. From the moment he'd found out about the pregnancy, he'd been treating her like a damn time bomb.
It didn't matter that she'd kept up with squad in almost every activity, despite feeling the exhaustion, stress, and general shittness of a body changing of its own volition. Nor did it seem to matter much that she had done everything Boggs had told her to, gone to every appointment, changed her diet, adjusted her P.T. schedule. She had even accepted that she would likely end up under the care of a stranger who was going to override her ability to make her own decisions, including whether or not parenthood was something she could handle in the first place!
What else did Boggs want from her!
Why had he even given her the assignment if he didn't think she could do it?
Gale fired, shattering the glass, and bathing the room in blue.
The few men who were left unmarked, opened fire. Peeta grabbed her by the collar and yanked her out of the view of the window. Gale dropped down beside them as the sounds of chaos erupted from the room: gunshots going off, people yelling orders to each other, bodies collapsing to the ground, then finally silence.
Katniss breathed deeply, trying to steady her shaking body, still lying where Peeta had dragged her down. His hand was still gripping her shoulder, keeping her from rising off the stone surface until her breathing evened out and slowed.
"Katniss?" she could hear Gale's voice from somewhere above her, sounding very far away.
"I'm fine," she uttered softly, "Just give me a second."
Shaking away her rising panic, she sat up, lifting her head above the window sill to see close to forty soldiers on the ground each one splattered in blue. Jackson, Mitchell, Leeg, and Finnick remained well hidden. Everything was still.
"Looks clear," she said.
She turned just as a white body flashed across the corner of her eye before disappearing behind the wide support pillar.
"Down!" she barked. ducking back below the window so that only her eyes and the very top of her head were visible.
"Hold your positions!" she called, and no one moved.
From where she crouched, she only caught the edge of the soldier's boot, as he hid behind the pillar. His heel was sticking out from one side, his gun barrel from the other.
"I see him," said Homes, "for all the damn good it does me."
"Likewise," said Gale.
"Where the hell are you guys looking?" Peeta asked, staring into his scope, swiveling it around it each direction to find their target.
"That support on your right," she said.
"I don't see anything."
Katniss could see the frustration in his face as he searched for the target that she, Homes and Gale had found so quickly. Still ducked below the window sill, she slid around him, crouching on his left hand side. The view of the enemy was better, but not by much.
"Look at the ground right next to that support pillar," she directed, leaning against his side to get a better look at exactly where his gun was pointed.
Peeta wasn't looking at the ground. He was too busy watching her face as she looked down the line of sight, pressing her lips together, furrowing her brow in concentration.
Just as she had while standing beside him in front of the supply closet, Katniss became aware of how long it had been since they were comfortable enough to be this close. They hadn't touched one another in over a month, yet here she was, pressed into his side, her chin practically resting on his shoulder.
He'd asked her for space, and she'd warned him that it might be impossible, but the size of the base and the close working conditions had only been half the truth. She knew that she couldn't give him space because where she wanted to be was right there next to him and her willpower to stay away could only last so long after a month's separation.
"Do you see him?" she asked, nodding towards the rifle he was supposed to be concentrating on.
"It would probably help if he was looking through his scope," Gale drawled in a voice that he was trying to pass off as bored. However, to Katniss's ear, which was so well attuned to his moods, he sounded more impatient than anything else.
"I see him," Peeta said, having already returned his eyes to the target. She noted the corner of his mouth not covered by the butt of the gun had curled into a smile.
"Won't do you much good," said Homes from her other side, "He's the one with the round."
Katniss saw the quick falter of Peeta's expression, saw his fingers tighten on the gun, and a slight reddening of his face.
He looked guilty.
"You have a bullet," she hissed.
She paused, wondering if perhaps Homes hadn't been calling her reliability into question, as much as her inability to let others get things done in her stead. She thought back to her final test in 13, only this time, by giving her an empty clip, Boggs had removed her ability to choose whether or not to take the shot, forcing her to rely on the others.
This was why he gave her the mission.
She suddenly realized the gravity of what Boggs had done. He had taken away her best means of defense and given it to Peeta, knowing full well what it could mean, the potential disaster it could lead them all into, and had done it without blinking an eye.
Katniss finally understood what he'd been trying to say for days.
She was the problem and Boggs had sent her up here to fail.
Fuck that! she thought viciously.
She got close and under the guise of helping him adjust his hold, said faintly, "Deep breath. Exhale. Take your shot."
"You should take it," Peeta protested, "I'm gonna miss."
"You won't miss," she said firmly, "Just point and shoot. Don't think too hard about it."
He followed her instructions and when the bullet flew, it fell short, embedding itself in the carpeted floor, more than a foot from its target. The blast was so loud and unexpected, that the soldier in white made a run for it.
Peeta frowned at the patch of carpet he'd destroyed, but Katniss shrugged it off.
"We'll work on your aim," she said, "How many more shots do you have?"
"Just the one," he replied in earnest.
"Did you know you had it the whole time?"
He shook his head, "After you left us on the roof, Leeg checked her clip. She had the full one, everyone else was out...I did the math."
"Wasn't a bad shot," Homes commented.
His voice was drowned out by the piercing wail of a siren blasting from the hallway.
Katniss paled as she recognized the sound of the emergency signal.
Something bad was on the way.
She ducked her head through the window, yelling, "Let's go!" then stood aside to let them pass.
"Straight down!" she yelled, "Get to the base!"
Once an emergency alarm went off, it was required that all squads report to their commander within five minutes. Comm lines were automatically severed until the danger passed, so there was no way to check in with Boggs. She hoped he would be close by when they got to the bottom.
"What the hell is that?" Peeta demanded, looking anxiously towards the hallway.
"It's just a drill," she lied. In all honesty, she had no clue, whether or not the threat was real. All she could think about was that there were five stories between them and the ground and they had start moving immediately.
"This is how it's gonna work," she said, thinking fast to find the safest course of action, "Gale's going first, then you're gonna go down with Homes. I'll be right behind you." She looked back to Gale, cutting him off before he could argue, "You're not fighting me on this. Now go."
With reluctance, he turned down the stairs, following the other half of the squad. She waited until he was out of sight before rounding on Homes and Peeta, "Forget the siren, it doesn't matter. Count your steps, if you need to focus on something, but get to the bottom safely. Move out!"
She watched Peeta carefully as they took each step down the side of the building. The longer the siren went off, the more it got to him. He seemed to be holding himself together fairly well, except that every few steps, he would crane his head back to make sure she was still there. Each time he looked back, his eyes were a little wider and more panicked than they had been before.
They had only gone down a single level when they found Gale stopped at landing on the fourth floor. The stairs here only went down halfway before they broke off a few feet away from the third landing where Jackson was waiting for them.
"You gotta jump it," she called, "It not as bad as it looks. Come on!"
Katniss sent them in the order of their formation, saving her own jump for last. Jackson was right, it wasn't far as it appeared to be. Gale, Homes, and Peeta, all reached the landing solidly.
Katniss backed up a couple of steps, and ran to the edge, pushing off from the last stair as hard as she could. The moment her feet hit right at the very edge of the landing she could feel the damaged stone surface giving way beneath her. As it tumbled down the thirty feet to the street below, she realized almost too late, that it was taking her down with it. She leapt forward, arms extended towards the ledge to grab hold of something. The bottom of her chin impacted with the stone surface and she could feel the skin scraping along the hard floor as the weight of her legs dragged her body down towards the street.
Peeta darted forward, taking hold of her hands, before she could slide anymore off the edge. As he pulled her out of danger, he looked over her skinned palms and scraped chin.
"This way!" yelled Jackson, crawling through the open window. Katniss stepped through the window, her fingers laced between Peeta's as she they raced to the inner stairwell, followed by Gale and Homes.
As they reached the first floor, Katniss threw the door open, and ran into the building's lobby.
Two other squads were already there, along with a pair of medics and Boggs, whose eyes were fixed to a stopwatch in his hand. She stopped in her tracks, hearing the two pairs of feet halting behind her.
"Why didn't you come straight down through the stairwell with everyone else?" Boggs asked, looking up from the stopwatch.
"Because everyone else was taking it," replied Katniss, trying to catch her breath, "And we were already on the fire escape."
"It cost you time," Boggs told her with finality. He nodded behind her, "Hey Mellark, what's the problem?"
Katniss glanced back to see Peeta- whose hand she continued to grip tightly- staring at one of the speakers as though it was personally insulting him.
"I don't like the sound, sir," he replied flatly.
"Yeah, I guess you wouldn't," said Boggs, "I don't really like it either. Mitchell, why don't you go shut the speakers up. Hawthorne, go with him. We're gonna be in here for at least an hour and I don't want to listen to that shit anymore. Everdeen, your face is bleeding everywhere. Go see Cora at the med station. The rest of you sit tight. I'm gonna try to get this lockdown lifted."
Katniss lifted her fingers to her chin, surprised to find blood on them when she pulled them away.
"Was it a drill, sir?" asked Jackson, as they split up
"False alarm. They're looking into it," said Boggs, just as the emergency alert cut off, "Bout damn time."
"Commander?" said a feminine voice behind him. He turned to find the woman in charge of the camera crew standing holding up a video card.
"This is all of our footage from this afternoon," she said, as he pocketed the card, "I hope it h as what you're looking for ."
"So do I," he replied.
An hour later, they gathered in a briefing room on the base, discussing highlights from their incomplete mission and watching clips from the footage the camera crew had handed over.
Boggs didn't look very happy.
"So, instead of attempting to go around the enemy, like I told you to, you barreled straight through, drew the enemy to you, and used their weapons against them," he concluded.
Katniss didn't reply. She sat straight in her chair and waited for the verbal onslaught he was gearing up to throw at her.
But Boggs didn't yell. He narrowed his eyes, considering her and the position she'd found herself in. Between an unplanned pregnancy, a failed mission, her sister going AWOL, a screwed up whatever-the-hell-it-was she couldn't fix with a fellow unstable soldier, and an unmet need for revenge, she was a damn mess. She needed to get priorities straight before she got herself killed.
"I'm surprised you agreed to Hawthorne's idea," he said, "It's not your usual style."
"It was a good plan," said Katniss, trying mask her frustration.
"You sure about that?" Boggs challenged, "You threw a grenade, while standing a foot away from a window. Forget stealth. That blast would have gone through two floors, and the flying glass would have ripped you to shreds . And if that wasn't enough, you attached a second grenade to a soldier, effectively turning him into a human bomb."
"It was paint," she insisted.
"Would you have done the same if it wasn't? The reason we do missions is to simulate a real life situation as closely as we can. Had that been incendiary, every person in that building, including you and your squad would be dead right now. Everdeen, if you want to stay out here, you better pull your head out of your ass. You have one more chance to not piss me off, then you're gone."
"That's bullshit," Gale blurted out.
"Well, Hawthorne, if she washes out, feel free to join her on the train out of here. You're all dismissed. I don't want to see any of your faces till at least noon tomorrow."
"Noon, sir?" asked Jackson, "No predawn line up?"
"I'll tell you what," he offered snidely,"You line up at noon tomorrow, and I'll get you up three hours before your usual time the next day to make up for it. Sound fair?"
Jackson felt seven death glares coming from the rest of the squad.
"Fair enough, sir," she replied, as Boggs stormed off.
The squad stood silently, carefully avoid one another's eyes.
Or maybe they're just avoiding yours Katniss considered bitterly.
Could they really believe that she was so callus? That their lives meant so little to her that she would risk them so recklessly over a war game. It was insanity. She never would have thrown a live explosive so close to her squad.
But would she have done the other part? Attach a grenade to some clueless kid and let him blow up his own teammates?
She wanted to say never, but she couldn't be sure.
She understood Boggs's reservations on the matter and the moral quandary of using an unsuspecting human being as a delivery service for death. Even in wartime there was a line and she knew that better than anyone. As he'd pointed out, that way of thinking wasn't "her style."
She'd would never understand how it could be anyone's style.
But then, it hadn't been her plan.
Memories surfaced, ones she had shoved aside, refusing to think too hard about them at the time in hopes that she was reading the situation wrong.
She saw herself in the Special Weaponry department of District 13, asking Gale if he thought it would be easy to use a tricked out, high tech bow on another person, watching as he figured out how trap hummingbirds for no other reason than having been presented with the challenge, listening as he and Beetee designed weapons intent on taking out as many targets as possible.
Gale turned to her suddenly, offering her a reassuring smile when he saw the apprehension etched across her face.
"Ready to get out of here?" he asked.
"Yeah," she replied distractedly, following him out.
Katniss returned to her tent to find Peeta sitting outside of his own, anxiously scanning the clouded sky.
"Hey," she muttered, breaking his focus.
"Hey," he replied, startled, before returning his eyes upward.
She'd noticed the habit while they were on the block, right after the alarm began. When he wasn't seeking out the source of the offensive sound, he was looking upwards as though expecting something.
"Mind if I sit?" she asked, indicating the space beside him.
Without a word, he scooted over to make more room. She dropped down, crossing her legs in front of her, "So what's up there?"
"Probably nothing," he told her flatly, making it clear that he didn't want to discuss it, but not removing his troubled gaze from the clouds.
They fell into silence, hearing no sound but the crackling of the fire and the soft chatter of their fellow soldiers in the tents around them. In truth, she was relieved that he didn't want to talk about it. She knew, based on his reaction to the alarm, that it had brought up a memory of his imprisonment, and she often found herself unsure of what to say.
The fact was, she was proud of him. She was grateful.
He had fought it. He'd listened to her commands, stayed relatively calm in the face of a terrifying memory, and even saved her from falling off of the fire escape.
She reached a hand over to his, pleased when he didn't hesitate to take hold.
Their fingers interwove, but the silence continued.
Finally after nearly two hours, he spoke.
"How's your chin?" he asked.
She idly reached her fingers up to the scraped skin.
"Four stitches," she replied, lifting her chin so he could see the damage, "How bad does it look?"
"Disgusting," he said, amusedly.
Katniss yawned through her reply, "That's what I figured."
He released her hand, holding her palm upward so that he could see it in the light. His index finger traced the scratches she'd received while clinging to the ledge.
"What did the med office say?" he asked, in a failed attempt at sounding casual.
"They said I can go back to work tomorrow," she replied.
He nodded thoughtfully, looking away, towards the dying fire this time instead of the sky. His arm snaked around her shoulder, pulling her against him so that she leaned into his side like she had on the fire escape as he rested his cheek on the top of her head.
"But that's not what you meant," she said after a second, feeling him tense slightly at her accusation. When he didn't deny it, she turned her head upwards to meet his eyes, "So why don't you say what's really on your mind?"
He looked down into her face, surprised to find no pretense of ignorance. She was daring him, begging him to break the silence they had both insisted upon keeping from the moment he'd arrived.
He leaned forward slowly, stopping his lips centimeters from her own.
"What'd they say about the baby?" he breathed.
Katniss closed the distance, brushing her lips against his.
"They said she's fine."
Thanks for your patience on this chapter. I have some of 22 written, but will be spending a week in Cancun- sorry, but I must have a life. Thank you for your comments and tumblr follows.