A/N: In which they have never met before, in which Katniss is older before the rebellion (twenty-five or so), in which the war goes a bit differently.
He finds her singing with the dawn, before the vanguard of the army, in a field of flowers.
The songs that Peeta know are heavy with drums, the loud voices of his masters, with the beat of iron on iron, chains about his wrists, grain on earth, whip on flesh. They are songs for the thunder of a heart or the shameful scuttle of the feet of a condemned man. He pauses in the shadow of the trees, listening to the music falling from the lips of the woman before him like a wash of rain, of sunshine after storm.
Katniss does not sing in camp. She speaks, yes; she speaks of fire and damnation and revenge, of skyscrapers thrown down, of the pretty streets melted as vengeance for the Hunger Games. Peeta has heard her shouts in battle, the righteous fury of her propos, whispered regret at dawn and murmurs of strength and courage to the rebels in the grief-filled nights. He has never heard her sing; not really.
It is a simple tune, spare, the music of a coal miner's daughter from a District far to the south of his original home. There is nothing angry in this song, no clash of bullets, no fire – as it is always fire with her, the Mockingjay. It reminds him of the songs that have never truly been his to know anymore, not even to murmur under his breath after the Capitol took what they have from him. When he became their slave, words, music, had simply layed at rest, gone to sleep, passing from no lips and into the grave, useless and unreachable to him.
And yet, her song isn't happy.
It is not a song of a home returning, or a people rising and re-owning themselves.
It is a song of a love long lost.
He watches her in that field of yellow flowers, spinning slowly like the girl she used to be, watches her pluck one of the flowers and press it to her cheek. It is a dandelion, pale and innocent as she is not – the early-dawn light catches on the scars across her fingers and arms, uncovered by armor, the hard lines of her shoulders and legs trained by months on the march, the dark uncombed mess of her hair, and he knows that if she turns he will see her face that a Capital master of his once called more like a rapid wolf than a girl, but that does not matter. She is his commander, his Mockingjay, and perhaps most importantly, his liberator. Or his equal, now, if Peeta would allow himself to believe that, if that word will ever sit comfortably on his non-existent tongue as he looks up at this strange woman.
He understands, for the hundredth time, why people follow her.
For the hundredth time, he understands that he would die for her.
He holds his breath as Katniss finishes her song, and when she leaves to wake the army – retrieve her gun, don her armor with a Mockingjay on the face – he slips into the clearing and finds the flower that she has dropped, perfectly yellow and already wilting on the stem.
Hope, he thinks, recalling the memory of long ago, a Capitol attendant who'd helped him carry vases of these same blooms inside for a master's party when he was still a rookie at the slave-tasks. The attendant spoke, where he desperately wished he could. We call this flower one of 'hope', you know,they had said, and with words so recently stirred back to use in his life, he took to this memory, recalling the meaning of the word: hope.
Peeta smiles. Katniss has little grace, as that the Capitol would say; she is all sharp lines and the weight of a bow, the snarl of a barbarian face shouting out justice and salvation. She is too tall, too scarred, too loud, not breakable or beguiling enough, and all her grace lies on her tongue. In speech and song. But she is hope, despite her fire. She brings hope, as she has, and they love her, they do – the rebels, all of them, and Gale, who knows her body, and her sister who knows her dreams.
He cuts the stem of hope short with a jagged nail and places it in his pocket.
It is there through the coming battle, the sky growing dark with bullets at one word, a hundred clashing lines of men, guns firing at the pulled trigger of hers, people of all districts in formation side by side. It is there all through the battle and the next, and the next, as they light the land on fire and strike off chains, and he stands at her right hand as she breaks the lines of his old Capitolite masters and brings one block of the city after block crashing down. As their army swells and he begins, finally, to hope – of a home, again, of being free, where slavery does not exist, nor the Hunger Games.
It is there in his pocket as their army stretches long over the trapped, prettily stoned streets, miles upon miles of marching rebels, foraging ahead and behind, bringing down a force stronger than any he had once thought possible. It is there when they stay up late into the night, Katniss and her generals, Boggs, Haymitch, Plutarch, as they spread out maps before their council table and try their best to treat him as an equal, as the elected representative for the Avoxes. He sits at the table with them, at Katniss' side, and he does not have to look up to meet their eyes, does not have to fumble over sounds that are meant to be words. It is there, still, as her husband, Gale, arrives and takes her to his tent and Peeta remembers that she is mortal like the rest of them, belongs to more than her cause and rebels, to the war and to him. He remembers the girl in the field of flowers before dawn instead of the armored Mockingjay.
He touches the flower against his heart, her little dandelion song pressed against the martial drum of his, and he thinks of that girl as the night grows long and he looks north and imagines the lights of the president's mansion in the distance, steadily growing closer, the lights of victory and finality.
He has not heard her sing since that morning in the field, but the flower is there, dried and pressed thin as a whisper. It is thin and brown and brittle, yes. More fragile than paper, fragile as his dream of home once was, but it is there.
There, his hope.
It is there, even, with the next dawn. The sun breaks red and bloody over the horizon and Peeta is one of the first awake, the first to see the Peacekeepers in the camp, and he yells incoherently, unable to scream words of warning, and springs to his feet. There is a gun in his hand and an bullet in the barrel already in route when he hears that clang, that familiar rub of metal on his wrist, as they ambush him, push him against the side of the nearest wall, a blow leaving a cloud in his head and sand in his veins, and he can no longer even attempt to shout words. He watches one of the Peacekeepers smile at him, watches the tent open and his commander, his Mockingjay, his hope walk out unarmored, calm despite the bindings on her hands, not looking at her husband bound behind her, or the Peacekeeper who holds the tethers to her cuffs like she is a songbird on a leash.
"I will go peacefully," she says. She sounds like nothing Peeta knows. He has heard her shout and scream in battle, heard her rage, heard her plan in the small hours of the night, heard her voice in fury and exultation and despair. Now it is none of these things. "I will go with you, if that's what it takes."
She does not look at her husband. She looks at him.
One of the Peacekeepers laughs, spits. It lands on her face but Katniss does not blink, does not flinch, lifts her chin and steps forward. But Peeta knows these men, he knows, knows that when a master is displeased and is incapable of real discipline it is to the Peacekeepers Avoxes are sent, he knows what they want and what they like to see, and he cries out as the man curses. Words like barbarian bitch are on his lips as he raises a hand against Katniss, hits her hard, sends her on her knees onto the lavender paving stones as the rest of the Peacekeepers laugh.
The chains holding him create a clamor as he fights them, but they are Peacekeepers of the Capitol and he is a single man who used to be a slave, barely even worth their effort and their fun. He hears her calling "Peeta!" as he burns with the bullets in his back, hears her calling "no!" as they kick and curse him, as his blood is not his own, as he falls to his knees with a knife in his back and another between his ribs, a knife scoring the hope against his skin. He has woken the camp at least, finally, with his animalistic screaming, by the shouts Katniss is issuing; they must have woken the camp. He hears commotion, hears shouts of outrage, hears the Peacekeepers yelling that they need to leave, someone – Haymitch? – shouting orders, Gale calling to Katniss, the rebels stirring and the crack of gunfire as the Peacekeepers begin to shoot their way out.
His hands are on the ground and the stone is wet with his own blood but he can raise his head, at least, and see her – Katniss, manacled, blood and bruise across her face, being led away by a Peacekeeper dressed in finery and white. He is the one with the ends of her chains in his hands but she is the one doing the leading, her head high. He can see her. He can see the scars on her dirt-streaked skin, see the harshness of her face that no one would ever call as beautiful as him; because you do not look into a face and see only hope and grace, and not think that.
She is not thecommander and his Mockingjay, then.
He can see, for the first time since that morning, the coal miner's daughter in her eyes.
Peeta watches her away until his eyes can see no more, until it is just the sound of her, over the clank of a slave's chains and the fading sounds of battle beginning all around him.
She is singing.