I basically lost the month of January to S2SL but it was time well spent. I wrote two fics for a worthy cause and had fun doing it. One of the fics, The Pearl of the Antilles, is going to become my next WIP once fics go public in June. I'm excited and honored that my fics kept the company of fics by some really wonderful writers. If you haven't done so yet, it is still possible to make a contribution and gain access to more than 30 wonderful smut-themed fics and artwork. Check it out on S2SL on tumblr.
My next HG Fanfic Rec must absolutely be Solasvioletta's I Envy Thee Thy Love. Originally written for Prompts in Panem's Seven Deadly Sins Challenge, she has decided to continue this fic with a second chapter. No one does Civil War!Everlark like SV! She also happens to be one of the best betas in the business.
And now, without further delay...
Chapter 9 - Love is a Battlefield (Peeta's P.O.V.)
I can't tell you why
But I'm trapped by your love
And I'm chained to your side
-from Love is a Battlefield by Pat Benetar
"Everything was the way it had always been until the Reaping. Then Primrose Everdeen's name was called and Katniss stepped in to volunteer for her."
My voice caught in my throat with disbelief. I was in awe of this. "She volunteered for her sister?"
"Yeah." answered Rye. It was clear he didn't like Katniss but even he spoke of that moment with some reverence. Parents would have gone into the arena to save their children but siblings were not known for volunteering for each other. Self-abnegation was not a big trait at that age but Katniss' life had been a training ground for abnegation. I remembered that part.
"And then you got Reaped." Rye said, dropping his eyes in shame. He didn't have to say it. I understood. Even with the precedence that Katniss had set with Prim, it was like lightning striking the same spot twice. No one had volunteered for me. It hit me like a stroke of intuition that perhaps part of his resentment towards Katniss could also be his own failure to live up to that standard.
"Don't worry. I don't know if I would have been able to do what Katniss did either." I said.
Rye took a ragged breath. "Actually you could have because you did."
I was taken aback. "What?"
"During the Quarter Quell. Haymitch Abernathy was reaped. You volunteered to go in his place."
"Why would I do that?" I said, shaking my head in disbelief.
"Because of Katniss. You weren't going to let her go in with Haymitch. She would be as good as alone, so you volunteered in his place. You wanted to protect her, even if it killed you. She's good at getting you to protect her." Here his voice betrayed his resentment. "She's been nothing but trouble since the day you got mixed up with her. I'll never forgive her for what happened to our family or District 12, not for as long as I live."
I looked down at my hands, picking at the blankets. What could I say to that? And yet, even though it was new information and was somewhat shocking, everything in me told me that this was not just possible, but true. I'd gone in with her - for her. The knowledge was hidden in the sinews of my muscles, buried in the bruised cells of my brain. I'd gone in with her as surely as I remembered my name.
How does a girl who is courageous enough to volunteer for her sister cause the death of so many people? And how does the mere sound of the name of someone my brother hates so much inspire the exact opposite feeling in me?
The rest of our visit goes by quickly as Rye describes the circumstances of the Quarter Quell, that the Victors had been Reaped from the existing pool of Victors. It was an absolute show of power by a government that already demanded too much of its people. And somehow, I, Katniss and the other Victors had confounded the Capitol by surviving and destroying the Arena in the process. And now we are in a place that wasn't supposed to exist, in a war we didn't even know was being fought. I lean against the pillows, my head throbbing from the effort to process all of this new information.
The biggest mystery of all is Katniss herself. She had always been the girl I watched from afar, the girl I couldn't have but apparently something had happened because there she was when I opened my eyes, clearly overjoyed to see me. There was Gale, of course - he and Katniss were inseparable. I had always believed them to be more than friends for as long as I could remember. So why had she flung herself across the room at me when I first woke? And in front of him, no less.
And there was the kissing – she'd taken all the air from my lungs and left me panting. It was amazing and overwhelming at the same time. How was I supposed to make it all fit together? Rye had even used the words "seduced" which implied that a lot more happened between the two of us than just overjoyed kissing. And Rye's obvious anger towards her couldn't be ignored. I'd never known him to be so rude towards anyone.
I shake my head, causing a stab of pain to lance up behind my eye and into my battered skull. I'd met Dr. Aurelius that morning and we'd spoken at length about my disorientation, the possibility of my memory's return, and my grief. Because there is also the untapped sea of sadness that washes over me and swallows me whole. Whenever my thoughts fly to my family, my heart pound in my chest and I can't stop the tears. This always concerns Dr. Aguilar because of my blood pressure - "Mind the pressure, Mellark!" seems to be her refrain. But she is not insensitive. She knows the unspeakable horror of District 12's destruction threatens to drown me time and again and sometimes, I have to let it. Rye says District 12 was destroyed because Katniss blew up the Arena. He doesn't have to come right out and say it but he blames Katniss for that too. He's keeping track of all of Katniss' transgressions - our family's deaths, the destruction of District 12, my amnesia, the whole revolution - and it's an impressive list of reasons to hate her.
I doze off, but I'm not really able to sleep deeply since my body is too well-rested. I want to get out of this bed already. Laying here like a lump of dough is not helping my memory but again, Dr. Aguilar is borderline paranoid about my pressure. Fine, but laying here is boring as hell. If I try to read, my head starts pounding and the television features endless lectures about the history of District 13 and news programs that only increase my anxiety. And there are no words for how desolate these rooms are. It's impossible to know what time it is without looking at the digital clock embedded in the wall because there are no windows. Rye tells me we are hundreds of feet underground and it really does feel like it. I'd give anything to crack open a window in this place. I miss the smell of the woods, the crisp mountain air that almost never fails to chill a room at night no matter how hot it gets during the day.
While I'm lost in one of these stupors of longing, Katniss suddenly appears. She has an uncannily quiet step despite the clunky boots that clearly seem to be at least a size too big for her, giving her feet the appearance of a flapping duck. This together with the standard-issue grey jumper uniform typical of District 13 makes her look momentarily unfamiliar to me. But my easily befuddled brain finally recovers itself and I can't help but feel a sudden, involuntary surge of happiness at the sight of her.
She hovers near the side of my bed seemingly unsure of where she should sit. I relieve her of her indecision by patting the mattress next to me.
"How are you feeling?" she asks shyly as she settles down.
"A little stir crazy, actually. I can't wait til they let me out of here."
She nods with understanding. "I can appreciate that." She lapses into a nervous silence, her small hands lying restlessly on the bed. She is strumming with a pent-up energy that seems to cause the air to vibrate around her. I don't know where the impulse comes from but I stretch my hand out and grasp her restless fingers in mine. I have a sudden fear that I may have done too much by the way her breath hitches in her throat but just as I am about to withdraw my hand, she captures and entwines her fingers in mine.
"How are you doing?" I ask.
"Oh, you know, the usual. I started training. Nothing really physical because of my concussion but I'm doing light weaponry. I have classes too. Nuclear History," she bites her bottom lip, the sight of which causes my heart to leap momentarily. I take a moment to really look at her. She's the same girl I always knew but she seems healthier and stronger. To me, she'd always been beautiful but there is something less girlish and more insistent about her beauty and I feel something stirring inside of me that makes me anxious. I'm determined to be unbiased about her before I know everything but my body is betraying me at every turn.
"You know, if everything goes okay, you'll be out of here soon," she answers, oblivious to my struggle, lost in a thought that is so intense, her face seems to squinch up from thinking so hard about it. "Isn't it interesting that you forgot this very specific time in your life? Everything that had to do with the Games?"
"Dr. Aurelius suggested there might be a psychological component to my memory loss but no one can be really sure of that. The head wound offers a better explanation." A frustration with my amnesia bubbles up inside of me and I blurt out my thoughts without filtering them. "Tell me what's missing, Katniss." I plead. "I'm tired of this gap in memory between me and everyone else. It's like there's a story featuring you and me and everyone we know. The problem is, I left during one of those intermissions and I'm just getting back again and now I don't know what happened." I stroke her hand with my thumb, hoping to reassure her. "Just tell me what I missed."
Katniss looks down at our joined hands, her lips pressed into a thin line. "You won't like the whole story. There are some traumatic parts."
"Every good story has rough parts. It's okay. I'm a big boy and anyway I can't remember any of it, right? It'll be like it's about somebody else."
She snorts quietly, shaking her head but a small smile dances on her lips as she nods. "Alright then. Once upon a time…"
I drop my head back against the pillow and groan. "No, not one of those!"
Katniss grins, a playful look that steals the humor away from me and replaces it with a low vibration of need that makes my skin tingle. "If you aren't careful, I'll put a unicorn and a dragon in there too. It's not like they'd be that of place."
"I'm behaving." I say, sitting up a little straighter. "Are you comfortable?" I say, scooting my functional leg over so that she will have more space.
She nods and shifts so that she is practically leaning against my thigh. My skin has become so hypersensitive that the mere pressure of her thigh against mine feels like butterflies have been released from my belly and are fluttering to every extremity of my body.
"So…" she begins. "Do you remember Reaping Day last year?"
"No." I shake my head.
"Okay, we'll start with the First Reaping. We hadn't spoken since that one time I sold the three squirrels to your father about a month before. Do you remember that? You were frosting the Hanley girl's birthday cake. There were purple and pink flowers and ribbons along the side…"
"You have a good memory!" I laughed. I'm not able to remember that specific cake though the motif was a common enough one. All we ever did was exchange salutations but maybe that is what ranks as talking for Katniss.
"When I'm paying attention." her eyes drop down with a kind of shame before she continues.
"After you were chosen as the male tribute, they took us away to the Justice Building, you know, to say goodbye to our families. Then they put us on the train to the Capitol. From the minute you got on that train, you were scheming, trying to get Haymitch to do his job and actually mentor us. You even slapped him at one point." here she smiles and I can't help but smile also at the image this conjures up.
"I hope he forgave me for that." I quip but I'm truly shocked by my behavior.
"Oh, he more than forgave you. I think he likes you much more than he does me." her face clouds and a pained expression settles on her. I sense she is leaving out a whole universe with that statement.
"What is it?" I ask.
"Nothing." Katniss voice begins to shake and she stands suddenly from the bed. "This story you want to hear - it has its moments but it's so bad in places that maybe it's better if you don't remember it at all."
"Katniss,' I grab her hand. "Please. You are one of the few people who can help me remember who I am. I know it's hard but I need you. I need you to do this for me." She looks directly at me, her eyes glassy with tears and indecision. "Please?" I try again to convince her. I'm confused with myself, at the ease with which I am able to appeal to a girl who, until my most recent memory, so intimidated me, I could barely say hello to her.
Katniss makes a decision and sits back down. "I have a million memories! I get lost, you know." She takes a deep breath and continues. "They took us to the Training Center where they prepped us. That's why you aren't growing a beard." I automatically bring my hand up to touch my chin. "It will grow back eventually but they treated us, especially the girls, so we'd be like hairless mole rats. Our stylists were Cinna and Portia. I'm not sure where Portia is but Cinna is dead." Katniss' stoicism falters and her face struggles to keep its composure. "He made us look like we were on fire for the Tribute Parade. Every outfit he created for us made a statement." She stops struggling to keep a lonely tear from escaping her and she brushes it furiously away. "He was so clever and I think he hated what the Capitol did to its tributes and it got him killed."
"Katniss, are you going to be okay?" I ask, questioning for the first time whether this is a good idea to make her relive these memories.
"No, Peeta. I'm not going to be okay! They beat Cinna to death because of me! They firebombed District 12 because of me! You don't know how many people are dead because of me!" Suddenly she stands up and I sense this time, I'm not going to get her to sit back down. "I can't do this. I know you need it but this is too much for me right now."
Was Rye right? This girl, for whom every cell in my body seems to scream out, is it possible that she is actually responsible for everything that has happened to me? To District 12? I suddenly become angry and I don't take long to think about why.
"Rye says you used me to survive in both arenas. Whenever we were in front of the cameras, you pretended to be madly in love with me yet you couldn't be bothered with me when we got back to District 12 after the first games." I pause, desperately waiting for her to refute what I've said.
Her stunned silence tells me she won't so I blunder on. "Then, in the Quarter Quell, you were willing to do...anything...to make sure I protected you. Is that true? Did you seduce me to ensure my loyalty? Did you figure good, old reliable Peeta would do anything for you if you gave him what he's always dreamed of…"
Katniss' face crumples momentarily, a look of pain so heartbreaking, my anger drains away and I all I want to do is call those words back to me but it's too late because she's become stone. She was already on her feet but now she seems to become taller with her rage.
"Is that what Rye told you? That I used you? And you believe him?" Her eyes flashed and I almost couldn't concentrate on what she said next. "He has no idea what happened between us. Even if he saw it he could never understand it." As suddenly as her anger flares, it burns out and she visibly deflates before me. In all her moods, she is breathtaking and I suddenly have an overwhelming yet confusing urge to touch her. She seems to want to say more and I'm ready for it, ready to know everything but instead, she chokes back something that sounds like a sob and storms out of the room.
I slam my head back down on the pillow, which causes another lancing of pain to go through my battered skull. I'd reacted to a sudden surge of anger towards Katniss from out of nowhere and now she's gone. I wouldn't be able to explain it in rational terms but the idea that she might have used me in the Arenas hurts me so much, the pain is a physical twisting in my gut. I'm unable to tie the events together that lead up to the birth of this feeling but it is there and it is the worst thing in the world - to feel things and not know why you feel them.
Katniss doesn't come back to visit again that day or the next after that. Instead, a large, burly nurse called Darwin helps me out of bed and does physical therapy with me, stretching out my stiff muscles, massaging my cramps and in general helping me become comfortable with my mobility again. It's easier than I think because my body remembers how to function with the prosthetic even if my brain is completely at a loss with this new aspect of myself. I can barely look down at the stump that was once my leg. A powerful urge to make a break for it and just run in any direction that will take me away from this reality grips me so powerfully, it leaves me breathless. I'm miserable, lonely and angry; a toxic mix all rolled up together and it is in no small part due to the way Katniss and I'd left things.
"Well, your vitals look good and your wound is healing very well. I would like to do one more brain scan tomorrow and, if all the lab work comes back clean, I`ll recommend your release in three days' time." Dr. Aguilar gave me one of her warm smiles and despite my dislike of this place, I was sorry that I would no longer have cause to speak to her each day. She was rational and direct in a way others in my life were not at the moment. The only way I would truly get better was to get out and talk to people and hope something in those interactions would trigger my memory.
"I don't know how I'm going to live without these shiny grey walls, doc." I quip.
Dr. Aguilar's smile deepens and I'm struck by the woman's beauty, how utterly wasted it appears to be in this place. "Well, you're in business because this is pretty much what District 13 looks like. You're going to get all the metal and grey you ever dreamed of." She looks down at her chart before looking back up at me. "I'm only clearing you for light duty. No combat training or heavy weapons. You will check in with me on a weekly basis." She scribbled a few other notes before turning her full attention on me. "You have to take care of yourself and check in with me when scheduled, okay? How are your visits with Dr. Aurelius?"
I shrug. "Painful but strangely cathartic. He has me talking about my family." I sigh. I just want to get out of here but I restrain the urge to scream in frustration. "He's trying to get me to remember things, to discover memory triggers."
"It must be unbearable." she says with an edge of sadness.
I nod and feel myself collapse back into my misery.
Dr. Aguilar studies me for a moment but I'm in no mood to try to figure her out. So what she says next surprises me.
"She comes every day, you know. Asks about your progress and studies your chart. Then takes one of the guest chairs and just sits." I'm in too much shock to respond but Dr. Aguilar doesn't wait for one. "I'll be back tomorrow, usual time."
"Okay." I mutter, unable to form another sentence but my head has already taken off without me.
She comes every day.
She killed my family.
She asks about my progress.
She used me in the Arena.
She comes every day.
She destroyed District 12.
My head is pounding with my confusion and because there is no way to distract myself from the litany of statements, I give myself over to them even though what I want the most is to not think about Katniss Everdeen every waking minute of my pathetic life.
The day before my release, I finally make the re-aquaintance of a certain drunk.
"Hey, kid. You look like shit." he says by way of introduction.
Despite his fame for rudeness and embarrassingly drunken escapades, Haymitch Abernathy has taken me completely off-guard. "Uh, okay, thanks. Yeah, you look pretty shitty yourself." I wasn't really lying either - he looks like he'd slept in his clothes and simply rolled out of bed before coming to see me.
"It's true, then. You don't remember a thing, do you?"
"Up to a point, no." I watch him warily as he takes the seat next to my bed. He steeples his fingers before his nose and just watches me for a bit before reaching his hand into his pocket and pulling out a thin, plastic square. "Unfortunately for the sake of the rebellion, you need to remember things, though I gotta admit, you are one lucky bastard. If I had a choice, I'd forget the last 25 years of my life." He tosses the square onto the bed in front of me. "This might jog your memory. Not here, though. When you get to your living quarters."
"What's this?" I say, eyeing the square suspiciously.
"It's the broadcast footage of both Games and the Victory Tour. Everything's on there. When you're finished, see me."
"Will I really understand?" I ask, already intuiting that there were layers upon layers of deception in this tale and I didn't want to draw the wrong conclusions.
"If you are confused, talk to me or Katniss. We can help you clear things up."
I let out a snort, as if it was the most absurd thing in the world that Katniss of all people could help me clarify things. If anything, she would only confuse me more. Haymitch notes my reaction and narrows his eyes.
"I know sweetheart is about as warm and fuzzy as a poison ivy plant but she saved your life on more than one occasion and there were things that only the two of you experienced, things that are not on that disc. You'd be stupid not to rely on her, if remembering is what you really want."
"She saved my life?" I say as I feel my heart quail at the memory of our last argument.
Haymitch looks at me as if I've sprouted a new eyeball. "Keeping you alive is what set everything off! It was her primary mission in the Quarter Quell, at the expense of herself, if necessary. Hell, it's the only reason you're here now! Haven't you spoken to Katniss at all while you've been in here?"
I drop my head as the heat of shame spreads across my face. "We did but we argued and I haven't seen her since. Rye told me she'd used me in the Games…" My head begins to pound and I bring my fists up to my temples to relieve the pressure growing there.
Haymitch leans forward in his chair and catches my eye. "Things got very complicated there for a while, kid. But you've got to get the whole story before you go jumping to conclusions. And Rye might be your brother and may even be trying to protect you but he has no idea what all went down. Katniss is a lot of things but one thing you can never accuse that girl of is of having anything but your well-being at heart." He gets up to leave. "Watch the footage. Then we'll talk."
As he disappears through the doorway, I finger the disc case carefully as if it will poison me if mishandled. I need this disc and everything it contains. I need clarity. I shuffle out of bed and make my way to the wardrobe in the wall. Inside is the crisp, grey uniform that's been assigned to me. With some clumsy fumbling, I dress, getting my prosthetic stuck in the pants leg and manage to stuff the disk in one of the oversized pockets without breaking some other part of my mangled body. I glance at the mirror and shrink at the figure that looks back at me - a head full of half-shaved scruff trying to grow back into the hair I once had, a small adhesive bandage covering what remained of the infernal gash that was responsible for my current predicament. I've lost weight and look gaunt and somewhat bent. I'm hardly Finnick Odair but I won't be deterred. Slipping out of the doorway, I set off to find Katniss. I've had enough of half-truths and speculation. It was time I learned the truth about everything and, almost as important, the truth about Katniss and me.
This chapter is leading up to a major turning point and, as such, it was hard as heck to write but I hope it did the job. I'm excited about what's coming up next! Thank you for reading and reviewing! I try my best to respond to every single review so if I miss you, feel free to pester me! You can also hit me up on tumblr (titania522).