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Nightlock is dedicated to Aubrey.

Had I not met you, I never would have been inspired


to find a happily ever after for Gale Hawthorne. When I first started this story, I figured
Id remain Team Peeta through and through and would struggle to create a good love
story for Gale. I couldnt have been more wrong! I think I fell in love with him by the
end of Chapter Three. Now I stand firmly on Team Gale right with you!

Id also like to thank Sara for tirelessly reviewing my stories no matter how many times I
ask and Glen for all his support, which has made this writing hobby possible. Love you
guys!

Disclaimer: All recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of Suzanne Collins
and Scholastic Press. The original characters and plot are the property of the author of
this story. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of
any previously copyrighted material. No copyright infringement is intended.


CHAPTER
ONE
I PULL THE taut string back, my eyes locked on his, my muscles twitching as I anticipate
whats about to happen. He smiles, showing me those pointy little teeth I despise. The
smell of roses is sickening, even though hes 50 yards away. He moves his lips. Im too far
away to hear him, but I can tell exactly what hes saying.
Im not your enemy anymore, Katniss.
My eyes narrow. I open my fingers, the string slides past them, releasing the arrow
and sending it through the open space between us. It pierces his heart, and the crowd is
immediately rewarded with Snows body collapsing to the ground.

*****

One week later, Im back in District 12 and completely lost. My whole life has been
about protecting Prim and more recently, killing Snow. But now theres nothing I can do
for Prim and killing Snow failed to provide the satisfaction I had anticipated.
I am numbphysically and emotionally. My heavy arms and legs hang limp over the
edges of the rocking chair. My mind is foggy like Im watching the world through a wall
of water. Out the window, I can see people moving around in town, but their movements
are blurry, and I dont understand their purpose.
Time passes, but it doesnt register with me. I could have been sitting here for days or
maybe weeks. Occasionally, I drift off to sleep, but it never lasts very long. Sleep is the one
place where my numbness is overcome by fear, anguish, despair. Its the one place where I
cant control my thoughts and they all come rushing back in excruciating detail. My
subconscious is trying to process everything Ive gone through, but I suppress it when
awakepushing it to the deepest recesses of my mind.
Whenever I wake up screaming and drenched in sweat, I grip the arms of the chair
forcefully and make myself focus on some mundane detaila crack in the wall, a speck of
dirt on the window, a dark grain in the wood floor. I stare at it without blinking until my
eyes water and the edges of my vision become fuzzy. Gradually, my heart rate slows, my
breathing becomes shallower, and I return to my state of numbness. Its the only way Ive
been able to escape the memories that haunt me in my sleep.
One evening, the still of my house is interrupted by the sound of the front door
opening. Probably Haymitch. Funny how times changenow he has to check on me. I
expect to hear his heavy footsteps moving down the hall, but its completely silent. He
must have changed his mind and left. GoodI just want to be left alone.
Katniss, a deep voice says, startling me. No wonder I didnt hear any footsteps.
I quickly turn to face him. His eyes are bloodshot, his hair is matted to his head in
irregular patches, and his shirt is wrinkled and untucked. He may actually look worse
than me.
Ive got nothing to say to you, Gale. My voice cracks after days of no use.
I know. I just wanted to drop off some food for you. Make sure youre eating. That
youre okay, he says quietly.
Im fine, I reply curtly and turn back to the window.
I hear a soft thud as he drops the game bag on the floor and then nothing until the
door creaks open again and quietly shuts. I dont touch the food.
Over the next couple days, this becomes a routine. Each day, he stops by, drops off
more food that I wont eat, removes the old food, and then leaves without us exchanging a
word. After four days, he disrupts the routine.
Okay, Katniss. This has gone on long enough. Whats your plan? Starve yourself to
death? He waits for an answer, but I say nothing.
Im sure you could come up with something quicker and less painful if you really
want to end your life.
I continue staring out the window.
Fine, you dont care about yourself. I get it. Your life is over. But youre wasting
perfectly decent food here. Things are still not good in the district. There are plenty of
people out there who need food, but I keep bringing it to you.
Well stop, then, I yell at him angrily. Im surprised by the emotion in my voice.
Leave it to Gale to drag me out of my coveted numbness.
Fine! But if I dont do it, someone else will. You really want Haymitch or Sae seeing
you like this? he shouts back. With that, he leaves, taking the bag of fresh game with him.
The anger lasts even after hes gone. And with that anger comes my thoughts. The
brick wall I had built around my memories begins to crumble. While Im awake, Ive been
successfully keeping my mind empty. Blank. It was nice and easy. No sadness. No
thoughts of Prim. Or Finnick. Or Cinna. Or anyone else who died because of me. No
thoughts of the deranged Peeta and how responsible I feel for that.
But Gale managed to topple that wall with just a few choice words. Im angry with
him for bringing me out of the nothingness. I feel the tears welling up and threatening to
spill onto my cheeks. I know Im on the verge of a complete breakdown.
I have a choice to make. Either I give into my depression and allow it to swallow me
whole or I force myself to live again. If I give in, there may be no turning back. I could
end up like Haymitch or worse. Like my mother after my father died. That thought scares
me more than anything. I dont want to be helpless with people taking pity on me.
I sigh loudly. Gales rightI need a plan. What am I going to do with my life? That
thought is so overwhelming it makes my head spin, so I focus on the short-term. Gale has
a pointI do need to eat.
I walk over to the game bag with the day-old meat, open it, and immediately know the
food is past its prime given the smell emanating from the small opening. Instead, I go to
the pantry and find dusty jars of pickled vegetables. I open a jar of beets and take a
tentative bite. Its been a while since Ive had anything to eat and Im not sure how my
stomach will react, but it tastes surprisingly delicious. I realize that Im ravenous. I eat the
entire jar and then open anotherthis one containing pickled katniss. After two more
jars, I finally feel satiated.
When I walk back to the dining room, the stench from the game bag immediately hits
me. It seems to be worse than just minutes before. Combine that with my overly full
stomach and I feel incredibly nauseated. Gagging, I lift the bag and carry it to the front
porch and then around to the back of the house. I walk to the farthest edge of the
property and dump the contents onto the ground. The smell and sight of decaying flesh
takes its toll on me, and I start to retch. All the pickled contents of my meal end up on the
ground next to the rotting squirrels and rabbits. Just perfect. If there was any doubt of
what a complete mess I am, its now been cleared up.
I wipe my mouth on my sleeve and then quickly head back to the house. When I
reach the back corner, I see Gale sitting on the ground staring at me, his eyes bloodshot
again. In my haste to dispose of the game, I must have missed him on the way out.
If you planned on eating, you couldve asked me to leave the fresh game. I thought
you knew better than to eat the rotten meat, he says quietly.
I didnt eat the rotten meat.
Well, something came up back there. He grins timidly, but it doesnt reach his eyes.
Pickled beets and katniss, I reply without emotion.
Hmm sounds delicious.
What are you still doing here? I ask accusingly.
I was just leaving, he says, standing up and walking off without another word.
I return to my rocking chair and collapse in exhaustion. The last ten minutes were the
most activity Ive had since coming back to the district. I feel my thoughts slipping back
to that dangerous place and force myself to think about something else, anything else. At
some point, Im going to have to leave this chair and this house and do something. I try to
focus on what that something could be. But, unfortunately, nothing I come up with seems
any better than just sitting here. I dont know how Im ever going to find the motivation
to live again.
In the early hours of morning, I fall into a fitful sleep. Im often plagued by visions of
Prim dying horrible deaths in the most gruesome ways. Sometimes shes devoured by
rabid wolf mutts. Other times, her neck is broken in one swift move by Peetas powerful
hands.
But, tonight, shes standing next to Gale, looking beautiful as ever. The back of her
shirt is untucked and I smile thinking about my little duck. Then, Gale hands her an
elegantly gift-wrapped package. Shes giddy as she accepts it and quickly unties the
ribbon. It falls to the floor in slow motion, as silence wraps around us. I hold my breath.
Then suddenly, out of nowhere, I feel and hear a blastit starts deep in my chest,
compressing my lungs, and then rapidly spreads to my ears. I know whats about to
happen. I scream Prims name, beg her to throw the package down, but she doesnt hear
me. And then it happens. The entire package explodes into a ball of fire, immediately
engulfing her in flames. She reaches out for me. I cant hear anything but the ringing in
my ears. Katniss! she mouths. Help me! I try to move to her, but my feet are firmly
planted to the ground. I look down and theyre ensnared by rosestendrils wrapping
around my ankles, slowly spiraling up my legs toward my knees. I try to rip them away
but the thorns cause deep gashes in my hands. Blood drips to the ground as the roses
continue to climb.
I wake up screaming, clawing at my legs. Red marks trail down my calves where my
nails must have made contact. This dream is the most disturbing Ive ever had. I know
thats because its the only one that is somewhat real. Gale killed Prim. And I wasnt able
to save her. I will have to live with that forever.
Im still shivering from the nightmare when I hear the door open. A few moments
later, Gale walks into the dining room carrying a small duffel bag. Now he has dark circles
under his bloodshot eyes, and his hair has become even more unruly.
The memories of the nightmare come rushing back. I narrow my eyes and angrily spit
out, What are you doing here?
Nice to see you, too.
Well?
Someone has been released from the Capitol and I thought you should know.
I try to hide my intrigue. Who?
Peeta, he says with contempt.
My heart stops. Peeta? I whisper.
Yep, hes due back today.
Oh, is all I say.
So it looks like well be roomies for a while, he declares and tosses his bag onto
the table.
My mouth drops open in astonishment. What?
Peeta has tried to kill you on multiple occasions. You dont think Im going to let
him move in next to you, do you?
In case you havent heardIm pretty good at taking care of myself. Won the
Hunger Games and all, I say sarcastically.
Yes, but in order to take care of yourself, youd have to actually move out of that
chair. And, from what Ive seen, thats not likely to happen unless youre about to toss
your cookies.
My blood pressure rises. I ball up my fists.
Come on Katniss. It will be fun, he says in a mocking tone. Maybe we can get to
the bottom of our issues. I can say hateful things about how you played games with me
and Peeta and you can blame me for Prims death. Its bound to be a good time.
Reflexively, my hand reaches for my bow leaning against the wall. Without thinking, I
draw an arrow back, and then send it flying through the air.


CHAPTER
TWO
THE ARROW EMBEDS itself in the wall two inches from Gales left ear. He didnt even flinch.
Of course he didnt, he knows Id never intentionally hurt him. That makes my blood run
even hotter. Im furious with him, will probably never forgive him, but theres not even
anything I can do about it.
Maybe you do still have the survival instinct after all, he utters indifferently. He then
turns and walks to the living room. Straining my neck to the side, I can just barely see him
lower himself into one of my mothers worn armchairs and then causally place his feet on
an old ottoman. He grabs a book off the adjacent bookshelf and starts reading. We only
have a few books and most of them are Prims schoolbooks from before everything fell
apart. Im sure hes really going to enjoy reading about cell division or the history of the
coalmines.
I contemplate my options. I could try to force him out, but hes much stronger than
me, so thats not likely to work. I could leave, but I have nowhere to go and no one to stay
with other than Haymitch. With the filth over there and his drunken outbursts, that
would be an even worse option than this. I could make Gale miserable until he chooses to
leave on his own. Thats rather promising. And honestly, probably the only viable option.
As an added bonus, making him miserable may also help me release some of the anger I
have towards him. He deserves to be in a living hell, just like me.
I stand and slowly walk to the living room until Im directly in front of him.
I dont want you here Gale.
No kidding? I think the arrow aimed at my head was a pretty clear indication of
that, he replies without looking away from the book. Its Prims math bookmust be a
riveting chapter on algebra.
Leave.
Nope.
You cant stay here.
Whys that? He still hasnt glanced up from the bookvariables must have really
piqued his interest.
I cant stand to look at you. That ought to cut rather deep.
Then dont.
The muscles of my jaw contract. I grind my teeth and kick the ottoman out from
under his feet. His legs fall clumsily to the ground with a loud thump.
My voice is becoming louder and higher pitched now. Get out of my house, Gale! I
will never forgive you for what you did. Do you understand that? Things will never be the
way they used to be. You and I are over!
To be over, we wouldve had to have something, he mutters under his breath, but
makes no move to leave.
I need to be more forcefulsay something that will really hit him hard.
Exactly. We never were anything, were never going to be anything. Were not even
friends anymore. You need to just forget about me! Then we can each move on with our
own lives!
He finally looks up and our eyes meet. Thats what you want then? For us to never
speak again?
Yes. Im sorry, have I not made that perfectly clear? I ask sardonically.
He finally stands and walks to the front door. Before going outside, he turns to me
and says, Thats not what I want. Itd be nice if my feelings could be considered for
once.
His mouth is tight, his eyes sad. Score one for KatnissI successfully made Gale
miserable in order to get him to leave. Its what I wanted, so why do I feel so terrible?
I spend the rest of the day trying to keep my mind occupied with thoughts of things
other than the people Ive lost or Gales eyes when he left. I find that cleaning can be
therapeutic. I scrub the floors and walls, focusing on nothing but removing every
microscopic piece of dirt that coats the surfaces of my house. By early evening my
knuckles are raw, and the house is the cleanest its ever been.
Im feeling tired, so I move to my rocking chair and look out at the district, really for
the first time. I let myself focus on individual details. The green has been plowed and
there are a handful of teenagers out there planting seeds and joking around with each
other. I see a collection of makeshift tents where the Hob used to be. A group of guys walk
in that direction looking tired. And in the town area, shop owners walk around the rubble
that used to be their shops. I watch a middle-aged woman give a neighbor a loaf of bread
in exchange for three bars of soap. They talk for a few minutes and then hug each other
before parting.
How can all those people be moving forward with their lives? So many of them lost
everything, too. It doesnt make sense to me. I cant imagine interacting with someone
else, giving them a glimpse into the torment that keeps me teetering on the edge of sanity.
By twilight, only a handful of people remain outside and they all appear to be heading
to the tent area. Im tired, but not at all interested in sleeping since Im sure the
nightmares will come with the same ferocity as usual. I decide to walk around the district
instead. Im curious as to the level of damage we sustained, and it will be good to explore
at a time when I have less of a risk of running into anyone.
The walk into town isnt long, but Im winded by the time I get there, a clear sign of
how completely out of shape Ive become. I sit down on the fragmented remains of the
Justice Building steps to catch my breath. I glance over towards the Seam, looking for our
old house, but of course its not there. In fact, theres nothing in the Seam, but a thick coat
of gray ash. No buildings, no trees, no grass. Nothing. I follow the path I took every day to
the woods. The fence is tattered with more holes than just the one Gale and I used to
travel through. In some places, its completely broken apart, the two halves swaying in the
breeze like fronds of the exotic looking trees from the Quarter Quell arena.
My feet follow what used to be the road back into town. Its now littered with piles of
rubble. I stop at the spot where the bakery used to be. My chest tightens, my throat
constricts. I force myself to look away and try to remember what was in all the other
stores, so that my mind wont visualize the boy with the bread. But, when Im three stores
down from the bakery, my eyes involuntarily move back there.
Theres nothing left that indicates it was a bakery. The rubble there looks exactly the
same as that from the stores on either side. I look to the darkening sky, but a movement at
the edge of my vision stops me. Theres someone kneeling down at the edge of a pile of
debris pulling pieces out, analyzing them, and then tossing them aside. Id recognize that
profile anywhere. Its Peeta.
Im surprised by the intense emotions that wash over me in waves. First fear, then
anguish, followed by guilt. As I continue to watch him, my mind eventually settles on
apprehension.
I dont want him to see me, so I climb the step next to me and slide along it until Im
deeper in the shadows of a large pile of stones and cement that was once the Justice
Building. He continues sorting through the remains until theres no daylight left. I can
barely make out his silhouette as he starts walking out of town, probably to his house. I
slink back into the shadows even more.
A few minutes later, he changes direction and starts walking straight towards me. I
think about running away, but hell see me for sure. Instead I sit perfectly still, hoping Ill
blend in with the background. Hes at the bottom of the stairs now, just three below me
and about four feet to the right. He puts one foot up on the next step and then stops. His
head turns toward me. I hold my breath. Im not sure if he sees me or not.
Katniss, he says quietly.
So much for hiding. Peeta, I reply simply.
May I sit down?
Always the gentleman. If you want.
Real or not realmy family is all dead.
I gulp. Real, I whisper.
You killed them.
Not real.
I didnt think so.
I see the corners of his mouth turn up slightly. He continues, Were you watching
me?
Yes. There doesnt seem to be any reason to lie to him now.
Why?
I miss you, I say, surprising myself with my answer. Do I really miss Peeta? Or do I
feel guilty about what Snow did to him?
He seems equally surprised. What do you miss?
I gulp. What do I tell him? I think back to the old Peeta and the relationship we had. I
know immediately the one part of that life I would take again right now.
I miss how you made me feel safe back before Snow got his hands on you. You
were the only one who could keep my nightmares away.
Are you still having nightmares?
Worse than ever.
Me, too. Unfortunately, we probably each play a major role in the others nightmares
now.
I nod. We sit in silence for a few moments and then he slides closer to me. Our legs
are just a few inches from each other, causing my body to tense slightly. The memories of
him trying to kill me in District 13 flash through my mind.
Im sorry about Prim. I know that she meant everything to you. Things have to be
incredibly tough for you right now.
I nod again because I dont trust myself to speak.
Real or not realI used to hold your hand to make you feel better?
I bite my lip. Its real, but what kind of slippery slope will I be headed down if I tell
him that?
He senses my hesitation and says, You dont have to answer that. He leans back on
his elbows and looks up at the stars.
Its hard being back here. I thought Snow had screwed up my mind so much that it
wouldnt be difficult. But all of the memories of my family are intact. I cant believe Ill
never see them again, his voice cracks slightly. After a moment, he continues in a steady
voice, My last memory of them is waving from the train as we pulled away for the
Quarter Quell. I saw the deep despair in my fathers eyes. He knew wed never be together
again.
I swallow the lump forming in my throat. Real, I whisper and reach for his hand.
We held hands to comfort each other.
After everything weve been through, I still cant stand to see him hurt. Of course,
now theres the risk that my touch will send him into a murderous fit.
At first, his hand is rigid, but slowly he relaxes one finger at a time.
How are you feeling? I ask him tentatively.
If what you mean is are you going to kill me, the answer is no, at least not right
now. I think Im gaining more control. More of an ability to analyze the situation rather
than react impulsively.
Does that mean you still have thoughts of killing me?
He sighs. Im not sure those will ever go away completely.
We sit quietly, holding hands for a long while. It feels nice, secure, very much like it
used to feel with him. The only difference is hes not professing his love to me, which
always made me uncomfortable anyways. Of course, I have to keep in mind that hes been
programmed to hate me to kill me. Who knows how well or for how long he can fight
that impulse.
Eventually, he releases my hand and stands up. I should probably head home now.
Okay, I reply.
Can I walk you home?
I nod.
After a few moments of walking in silence, he asks, Youre responsible for me losing
my legreal or not real?
I pause, not sure how to answer his question. I roll around possible answers in my
head, but finally decide on, Whats your memory?
We were on top of the cornucopia and you sliced open my leg, trying to get me to fall
off.
Not real, I say definitively. A mutt tore a huge gash in your leg and I was worried
you were going to bleed to death, so I put a tourniquet on it. Technically, Im partially
responsible for your leg, but it was to save your life.
Hmm how many times did you save my life?
I shrug. I have no idea. We didnt really keep track. You saved me, I saved you it
was just what we did for each other.
But why? You never loved me, right?
I turn my head and look at his profile in the moonlight. I really have missed him. This
is the closest to the real Peeta Ive seen in months. Suddenly, I have the urge to curl up
beside him like we used to do on the train. But what kind of message would that send?
And why do I want that? Because I want a decent night of sleep or because I want to feel
his body next to mine? Plus, his feelings for me are not even close to what they used to be,
so its selfish of me to think we could fall into our old routine after everything thats
happened. I sigh. How can I explain our relationship to him when I cant even begin to
understand it myself?
It was complicated, I say evasively.
Why do I feel like Im never going to fully understand what was going through your
mind? he asks with smile.
Neither of us says anything the rest of the way to the Victors Village. When were a
few feet away from my house, I debate whether or not I should invite him in. Its been
nice seeing him and Im not ready to let him go, but Im sure our time together is difficult
for him. When my feet hit the first step of my porch, though, I realize the answer has
already been made, and it wasnt my decision.


CHAPTER
THREE
PEETA, I SEE youve made it back to the district. Gale is sitting on the porch glaring at
the two of us.
Oh. Hi, Gale. Its nice to see you, he replies.
What are you doing here? I ask tersely.
I got worried when I came home and you werent here.
First of all, this isnt home for you. And secondly, stop checking on me. Youre
really My diatribe is interrupted by Peeta clearing his throat.
It was nice catching up with you, Katniss. Ill be going now.
Oh, yes, it was. Ill see you later, Peeta, I say extra sweetly to annoy Gale.
Gale and I watch him walk to his house and let himself inside. Once Im sure were
alone, I continue my rant.
Weve been through this. You agreed you werent going to bother me anymore!
His anger rivals mine now. So, this is it? Youll spend time with someone who has
legitimately tried to kill you, but you cant even stand to be in the same room as me after
everything Ive done for you and your family?!
Everything hes done. Like killing my sister. I glare at him, and then stalk to the door,
slamming it behind me after I enter.
Following that encounter, I rarely see Gale. He doesnt bother to show up at my house
anymore and I only occasionally see him when I head into town. Ive started hunting
again, and a few times weve run into each other in the woods, but we quickly head in
opposite directions without exchanging a word.
The highlight of my days is after the sun goes down. Peeta and I meet on the Justice
Building steps every night. It wasnt planned. We both just wander through town at night
and kept running into each other.
Each night, I feel like hes turning more and more into the old Peeta. He seems a lot
more relaxed around me and his sense of humor has even returned. Its really nice to have
someone to talk to, especially someone who shares my horrid experiences. Sometimes we
talk about whats happened; sometimes we just make small talk. Either way, I find the
sound of his voice soothing, and my time with him is what gets me through each and
every day.
One night, after sitting down, he reaches for my hand. I freeze because he hasnt done
that beforeits always been me reaching for his. He wraps his strong fingers around
mine and pulls my hand to his lap. I relax and smile at him.
Do you think well ever forgive ourselves for everything thats happened? he asks.
No.
Do you feel responsible for Prims death?
Yes. Well I blame myself and Gale.
Gale?
The bomb that killed her was his idea.
He had no way of knowing it would be used on the rebels, though.
I say nothing, so he adds, Plus, he wouldve never expected Prim to be there. She was
way too young to be out there. She shouldve never been there. Someone else is
responsible for that.
I think about what Peeta said. Its true. Why was a 13-year old on the medic team? She
shouldve been safely tucked away in District 13 with the other children. Why did
someone allow her, a child, to be on the front lines?
I scoot my body next to Peetas and gently lean my head on his shoulder.
Is this okay? I ask, since Im not sure if being this close will trigger any sort of attack.
Hmm mmm, he mumbles quietly, twisting the end of my braid in his free hand.
We were always just pieces in their games, werent we?
Yep.
Do you feel responsible for the death of your family?
Yes. Although not directly. I feel like us winning the Games put a chain reaction into
place that led to it. Sometimes, when Im feeling a little optimistic, though, I think that
things wouldve happened anyway, even if we hadnt won the games. If thats true, then
its not our fault.
Thats a nice thought, I say quietly.
And, we should remember the positive changes that have come with all of this. No
more Hunger Games, so weve saved the lives of a lot of children.
You always were the optimistic one, I say enjoying his closeness and the feel of his
hand against mine.
The next day, I wake up early feeling better than I have in a long while. Peeta is
bringing out the best in me, much like he always has. I quickly change and head out to the
woods. Rather than hunting right away, I decide to relax on the rock outcropping for a
bit. But when I get there, the spot is already occupied. By Gale. I start to turn, but notice
his blotchy red face and bloodshot eyes. He looks terrible. And very, very sad. I pause,
unsure what to do.
Feeling torn, Catnip? His voice is hoarse.
I take a step closer. Are you okay, Gale?
Of course. Why? Dont I look okay? he asks facetiously.
Whats wrong?
He shakes his head. Nothing.
I cant leave him like this. So, I climb up on the rock and sit next to him.
So, youre talking to me now?
No Maybe. Im not sure.
He laughs. Youve always had a problem being decisive.
Youve been crying.
Nah. Im a big tough guy, I dont cry.
Are you hurt?
No.
Did something happen to your family?
You could say that, he says with a sneer.
My heart sinks. Your mom? One of your brothers?
He shakes his head. I really dont want to talk about it.
Gale, theyre like family to me. I have to know.
He continues to sit silently. Gale, please, tell me, I plead.
Sister, he whispers.
I try to swallow the lump forming in my throat. Wh-what happened? I ask.
I killed her, he says mater-of-factly.
I know the shock is apparent on my face. Youre not making any sense. Theyre still
in District 13.
His eyes glaze over. Ive seen that look many times with PeetaGale is somewhere
else right now, reliving some terrible event that will forever haunt him.
Tell me about it, I urge.
It happened in the Capitol.
The Capitol? Your familys never been to the capitol, Gale.
She was just trying to help. All she wanted to do was save lives.
Hes not making any sense. His sister is youngtheres no way she can save lives.
I saw the parachutes. I knew what they were immediately. I tried to reach her, but I
was too far away.
Suddenly it all makes sense. Hes not talking about Posy, hes talking about Prim. He
thought of her as a sister. Of course he did. Hes hurting just as much as I am.
Why did I ever mention the idea of the delayed bomb? If I wouldve just kept my
mouth shut, everything would be okay right now.
Tears well up in my eyes. Ive had that very thought practically every day since it
happened.
I have to live with this the rest of my life. She was so sweet, so perfect. And I took all
that away from her.
Tears spill onto my cheeks. I wipe them away with the back of my hand. My throat
constricts, and Im on the verge of immense sobbing.
I dont blame you for hating me, Katniss. I hate myself. Theres nothing I can ever do
to make this right.
And then the sobbing starts. He reaches over and pulls my body to his. I climb into
his lap like a little girl. He wraps his around me protectively, gently rocking me side to
side. I bury my face into his shirt and let my tears soak through, as grief shakes my body. I
feel his tears landing on the back of my head, my neck.
Im not sure how long we sit like that, both of us letting our feelings run raw. Peeta
and I have talked about whats happened, but Ive always managed to keep my emotions
in check. This is the first time Ive allowed myself to cry. I feel exposed and vulnerable,
but Gale matches me sob for sob, which makes it seem acceptable. Two best friends
thoroughly messed up by the events that theyve been forced into.
Eventually, the uncontrollable sobbing turns into occasionally whimpers, as our tears
dry up. I sense Gales sudden discomfort.
Im sorry I totally broke down, he says embarrassed.
Yeah, me too. That really wasnt like either of us, was it? I smile up at him sadly.
No. After a pause, he adds, Given everything weve gone through, it was bound to
happen though.
He tightens his grip around me, making me realize Im still in his lap. Clumsily, I roll
to my side and quickly clamber away.
He frowns. Please dont hate me, Katniss.
I sigh. The exhaustion from my crying has taken its toll. I dont know what to think. I
still blame him. But will I ever be able to move past that? I really dont know. Theres a
huge hole in my heart and whenever that wounds exposed, Ill think of him.
Im afraid being around you will be too painful, I say softly.
He nods. Lets just take it slowly. Maybe we can help each other get through this.
I tense. I certainly dont want to be responsible for helping Gale. I cant even take care
of myself! Ive been turning to Peeta, but I know I cant tell Gale that. Does he not have
anyone else who can help him? I rack my brain for someone. Thom? No, hes not going to
show this vulnerable side of himself to one of his friends. His mother? No, shes still back
in District 13.
I hate to see him hurting, but am I willing to put up with the pain it brings me to help
him? I sigh and say, Well see
That night, Peeta and I meet up on the steps as usual, despite the threat of an
impending thunderstorm.
Whatd you do today? he asks me casually, moving his body close to me so our
shoulders are touching. With the cool storm wind blowing in, the warmth of his body
feels nice. I dont know where our relationship is going, or even where I want it to go, but
Im enjoying having Peeta back in my life. Like always, his touch brings a sense of
comfort to me when I need it most.
I ran into Gale in the woods.
Oh.
He says just one word, but that one word speaks volumes. I know hes wondering
what happened, whats going on between us.
He feels really guilty about Prim.
It was clear how much he cared about her. Im sure hes having a really tough time of
it right now, too. He laces his finger through mine and gently rubs his thumb over the
back of my hand. That guilt is something youll both hold on to for the rest of your lives.
As an outsider, I know it wasnt your fault or Gales fault. But, youll never be able to
convince yourself that there wasnt something you could have done differently. He sighs.
I feel that way about my family every time I think of them.
I nod.
I guess we all just have to learn how to live with our guilt, he states sadly. I know
hes right, but I wonder how were supposed to do that.
I glance up at the quickly approaching thunderclouds. The storms coming quickly
perhaps we should go.
Thats probably a good idea, he replies, but I can see the disappointment on his face.
I know what hes feeling. We only have a few hours together every evening, and I hate to
lose todays time due to a storm.
Would you like to come to my house? I blurt out without thinking.
He inhales sharply and stares at me unblinking. Im not sure, he says. I feel like
youre safer outside. No immediate weapons within my reach, you know.
Peeta, you havent tried to hurt me once since youve been here. Have you even had
thoughts of doing so?
Not when Im with you, he mumbles, his eyes taking on a distant look.
I grab his hand and pull him off the stairs and towards my house, but he balks. I have
not felt threatened by him at all, and I want him to understand that. I want him to trust
himself.
Youll be fine, I say pulling him along. He continues to resist, although less
forcefully. When we get to the edge of the Seam, the rain starts. Large, cold, wet drops
pummel us from above, soaking our hair and clothes within seconds. This brings Peeta
out of his trancehe starts running, pulling me with him now. But neither of us is in very
good shape and within two blocks, we stop, gasping for air. I place my hands on my knees
and bend over trying to slow my breathing. He starts laughing.
I tilt my head up and look at him under rain laden lashes.
What a sorry pair we are. Two blocks and were out of breath! he says.
I stand up straight and start laughing with him. Perhaps we should spend our
evenings working out, rather than talking, I suggest.
I guess thats one approach. He moves closer. His hair lays slick against his
forehead, fat drops of water falling from his blond bangs to the ground. His wet shirt
clings to him closely, showing his still muscular chest and arms. He reaches for me. I
quickly cover the small distance between us and melt into his embrace.
I guess theres no reason to hurry now, he murmurs into my ear, allowing his lips to
linger. His eyes are dark, smoldering.
I guess not, I whisper back.
After a few minutes of staring silently into each other eyes, he says, Can I ask you a
question?
Of course, I reply thickly.
Did any of our kisses ever mean anything to you?
Yes.
He opens his mouth, but stops himself. The rain continues to pelts us, but were lost
in each other right now.
What is it? I prod.
Slowly, he says, I would very much like to kiss you right now.
The formality of his request takes me off guard. But once it sinks in, my heart begins
racing and I feel that nervous sinking-of-my-stomach feeling that I experienced on the
beach. Do I really want to go there with Peeta? Yes. But for what reason? I start running
through all the reasons Ive had in the pastguilt, to convince Snow of our undying love,
to make Peeta happy, to get little parachutes from Haymitchbut none of those fit this
situation. I simply want to kiss him to kiss him. I really do miss him and the closeness we
had.
I look up at him. We didnt usually ask for permission, I reply with a nervous smile.
He leans down cautiously and lightly brushes his lips against mine.
Any murderous thoughts? I ask.
Quite the opposite, actually. His lips push against mine more firmly. The heat from
his mouth in stark contrast to the cool raindrops that continue to shower us. He moves
his hands to my face and gently pushes a strand of wet hair out of my eyes before tracing
a line from my temple, to below my ear, and finally to the back of my neck. His touch
sends shivers through my body.
Are you cold? he asks pulling away slightly.
Not even close. Quite the opposite, actually, I reply thickly, mirroring his words. I
rest my hands on his broad chest and enjoy the moment.
But that moment is short-lived as the darkness around us suddenly vanishes with a
flash of lightning. Its followed immediately by a crash of thunder that startles me, causing
me to jump away from Peetas hold.
Sorry, that scared me, I say with a chuckle. I extend my hand to Peeta, but stop
before reaching him. Everything about him has changed. His eyes are clouded and
distant, his face contorted in rage.
Peeta, youre fine. I say calmly, backing away from him. That was just some
lightning and thunder. Your name is Peeta Mellark, youre back in District 12, and were
friends, I try something like my old mantra to attempt and bring him back to this place.
But his eyes dont change. When his mouth curls into a snarl, I know theres no hope.
I need to flee quickly before he tries to kill me. I begin running faster than I thought
possible towards the old Hob area, where people are currently living in tents. Its only
three blockssurely I can make it that far, and then someone can help me.
After a half block, Im tempted to look back to see what my lead is, but the couple of
seconds I lose doing that may eliminate any advantage I have. Instead, I pump my legs
harder, faster, pulling deep breaths into my lungs. Its only two blocks now.
My breathing becomes ragged as my legs and lungs burn. Each intake of breath is like
fire spreading down my windpipe and through every inch of my lungs. The pain is
intense, and I slow slightly. I risk a look behind me now and am shocked to find Peeta not
even 25 feet from me. And he has that same look on his face; thats all the motivation I
need to kick up my adrenaline a notch. Instinct takes overmy legs move on their own,
pain no longer registering. My strides grow faster and longer as I try to put more distance
between us. Its only one and half blocks now.
Then the unimaginable happens. Focusing on the lights in the tent area, I dont even
see the pile of rubble in the middle of the street. I hit it at full speed, twisting my ankle
and slicing up my shins as I fall headfirst into a heap. I quickly roll over to see Peeta
approaching. Hes only a few feet away now. He slows and a sick, demented smile spreads
over his face.
I push myself up to sitting a position and try to stand, but its no usemy ankle wont
support my weight. I look to the tentstoo far way for anyone to see me. And, with the
rain, theres no chance of anyone hearing my screams. So, this is the way its going to end
for me.
Peeta. Dont do this. You dont want to hurt me. Were friends, I try to reason with
him.
He bends down to my level and tugs on my braid. The hatred in his eyes is
unbearable.
He grabs my neck, his thick hands easily encircling it. Slowly, he tightens his grip. I
struggle, pushing him with my arms, but he doesnt budge. I try to kick him, but Im not
able to balance on one leg with my injured ankle. Hes now completing occluding my
windpipeI can no longer breathe. I become frantic. My hands reach for his. I dig my
nails into his fingers, trying to pry them away, but nothing happens. After a few
moments, my vision darkens, my energy completely fades away and I stop resisting. I
sense myself falling and wonder where Ill land. Maybe in a nice meadow with Prim by
my side. Or a peaceful lake with my dad. I actually smilethis wont be bad at all.
And then I feel pressure against my head. No not pressure, more like pounding.
Intense pounding that starts at my temple and radiates to the back of my eyes.
Katniss, wake up! an urgent voice yells.
I groan.
Open your eyes.
The pounding intensifies and now its combined with hundreds of sharp, stinging
stabs over my entire body, like microscopic needles piercing my skin.
Katniss. Open your eyes, the voice says more firmly.
The meadow I want to go to the meadow or the lake, not this place with all the
pain. Luckily, thats exactly where I go.


CHAPTER
FOUR
SING TO ME, Prim pleads, dancing around me in circles. Its summertime in the
meadow. The wildflowers are in full bloom, blanketing the willowy grass with yellows,
blues, and purples, while the sun shines brightly overhead.
Of course. What do you want to hear?
The Hanging Tree, she answers immediately.
Are you, are you
Coming to the tree
Where they strung up a man they say murdered three.
Strange things did happen here
No stranger would it be
If we met up at midnight in the hanging tree.
By the end, Prim is holding my hand, singing with me. Its still a happy song for her
since she hasnt yet figured out the meaning. She grabs my other hand and whirls us
around in circles until were both laughing and dizzy.
Stop, stop I have to sit down, I say breathlessly, the world spinning around me. I
fall to the ground, pulling her next to me.
I close my eyes, enjoying the warmth of the sun on my face and Prims giddy laughter.
After a few moments, she says, Thanks for visiting me, Katniss.
Of course, little duck. Ive missed you like crazy.
Ive missed you, too, but its time for you to open your eyes.
No, not yet, I mumble shaking my head. Its so peaceful here.
Katniss, please, do it for me, she pleads.
I smile. She knows Ill do anything for her. Okay, I say lazily, barely opening one
eye. I expect to see the vivid colors of the meadow and Prim peacefully staring down at
me, but instead, Im thrown into a cold, dark world with frowning faces hovering mere
inches above me.
I close my eyes hard. Surely this is a bad dream. I try to go back to the meadow, but
my throat hurtsburnsintensely, like someone poured scalding oil down it. I swallow
to ease the pain, but that only intensifies it.
I groan and reluctantly reopen my eyes, but the scene is the same. Were under a blue
tarp and I hear the steady drumming of falling raindrops. Someone shines a light into my
right eye, causing a sharp pain to resonate to the back of my head. I groan again and try to
move away, but someone else holds me still.
Let go, I utter weakly, igniting the flames in my throat again.
Shh Katniss. Were helping you. Youre going to be okay. I recognize the voice.
Its a voice that has brought me lots of happiness, but also a good deal of pain. I roll my
eyes up and see Gales face. Hes sitting behind me, probably the one holding me still.
My head I say, reaching to touch my temple.
I know. Peeta didnt let go of you when I tackled him. You ended up taking a pretty
good fall.
Gale tackled Peeta? Why would he do that? He must be jealous of him. This is exactly
like Gale and so not appropriate. I feel my blood pressure rise, which only makes the
pounding in my ears more intense. I try to sit up so I can yell at him, but he easily pushes
me to the ground.
Yeah, youre welcome, he says brazenly.
I narrow my eyes. You better have not hurt him.
He laughs derisively. Youd rather I let him kill you?
Kill me? The pounding increases and Im having a hard time thinking straight. I try to
work backwards. I remember sitting in the meadow with Prim, but that must have been a
dream, since Prim is deadunfortunately I remember that all too easily. Before that, I
remember sitting on the stairs next to Peeta with his arm wrapped around me. We were
talking, but I have no idea what it was about. Did something go wrong on the steps?
Wh-what happened? I ask.
Peeta was strangling you. He completely flipped out and was trying to kill you. You
dont remember that?
Flashes of the evening start slowly coming back. The rain, running through the
streets, our kiss. But, my recollection is interrupted by a flash of lightning and crack of
thunder. I begin shaking as the flashback hits me like a ton of bricks. We were kissing in
the middle of the road when lightning struck and Peetas whole demeanor changed. He
was focused and his intention was very clear.
Gale lifts me into a sitting position and wraps his arms around my shivering body.
Someone places a blanket around us. My body slumps as realization hits. Peeta and I cant
be friends. At any moment, he could try to kill me again.
Dont worry. Hell have a hell of headache for the next few days, but hell survive,
Gale says softly.
The next couple of days are fuzzy. Im in and out of consciousness, so my memories
are only of a few minutes or hours at a time. But whenever I wake up, Gale is sitting in the
chair next to my bed with a glass of water, a bowl of soup, or a warm blanket for me. I
hate that hes taking care of me, but Im in no shape to complain. Reluctantly, I accept
whatever he offers me, but roll my eyes at the smug look on his face.
By the evening of the fifth day, my throat, head, and ankle feel significantly better.
And, Im spending more time awake than asleep. I finally venture out of my bedroom.
Gales like a little puppy, right at my heels the whole way.
How about a little space. Im not going to fall, I growl.
I feel him back off a little. Slowly, I make my way downstairs, taking each step
cautiously so I dont prove myself wrong. Downstairs looks as I remember it except for
the stack of mail on the kitchen table.
I sit down and begin sorting through it. More letters from my mother. Shes been
writing me since Ive been back and I havent bothered to contact her yet. I really need to
do that. A letter from Johanna. Thats a first. I smile imagining what kind of
inappropriate things will be in there and decide to wait until Im alone to read it. The seal
on the next letter makes my heart stop, my mouth go immediately dry. I thought Id
never have to see it again. I stare at it, my hands frozen, my breath caught in my throat.
Im vaguely aware of Gale walking towards me, but I still dont move until he pulls the
envelope from my grip. Then I look up at him, and I know he can see the shock in my
eyes.
What do we have here? he asks much too casually.
My lips move, but no sound comes out.
He slides his finger under the flap of the envelope and runs it along the entire width.
The inside is lined with gold leaf embossed with an intricate fleur-de-lis pattern. Gale
pulls out the letter. Its pale silver parchment paper with the same embossed pattern. His
eyes move from line to line as he quickly scans the words. His jaw clenches, as he
comprehends their meaning.
I finally find my voice.Wh-what does the Capitol want? I say quietly.
He looks me in the eyes. No. This is not going to happen. Im not going to allow it to
happen, he says adamantly. Theres fury in Gales eyesa fury I havent seen since the
revolution.
My shock is turning to fear. What? I ask again.
He shakes his head in disgust. His hand tightens, crumpling the delicate paper. Coin
is requesting that you return to the Capitol.
That doesnt seem so bad. Odd, but not terrible. There must be more.
Why? I whisper.
He purses his lips and looks away from me. To be a mentor. The very word sends
shockwaves through my body. I quickly pass through a range of emotionsfear, anger,
disgust, outragefinally settling on disbelief.
Another Hunger Games. Its not a question. Theres no doubt in my mind thats her
plan. I have never trusted Coin. She doesnt care about our country. Shes no better than
Snow.
She says its what the country needs right now. To heal, Gale says emotionlessly.
My disbelief is turning back to outrage. Yeah, thats exactly what we need. To see
children march off to certain death again. I stand, my voice rising. Does she not realize
weve all had more than a lifetimes worth of death and anguish this past year?!
Its not the districts children shes talking about.
I tilt my head, and shoot him a questioning look.
Capitol children.
I laugh. A very deep, throaty laugh. Yeah, thatll be entertaining! Theyll all curl up
into little balls and cry until a mutt or some other man-made disaster takes them out.
Theyve got no survival skills whatsoever.
Coin acknowledges theyll have to modify the games a bit. She thinks you can help
with that.
I laugh again. Im not helping. And Im not being a mentor.
Damn right, youre not. Youre never going through anything like that again. I wont
let that happen.
I scowl at him. I dont need you to protect me, Gale. Im perfectly capable of telling
Coin exactly what I think of her plan.
Gale walks to my side and puts his arm around my shoulders. Youve never needed
me to protect you, Catnip. He kisses the top of my head. But, regardless, Im staying by
your side.
I dont fight Gales touch. Emotionally, Im a wreck. And for the first time in weeks,
its due to something other than Prims death. Apparently, when my mind is preoccupied
with other terrors, having his body close to mine is actually comforting.
Katniss.
Hmm
Theres one other thing. I hold my breath, waiting to hear how it could get any
worse.
Peeta has also been invited.
Why would she do that? She knows hes in no shape to mentor!
My guess is its part of her plan for you. She knows hes one of your weak spots.
As much as I hate to admit I have any weak spots, I know Gales right. I was ready to
die for Peeta in the Quarter Quell. And even though hes not the same guy he used to be, I
still feel the same devotion towards him. Even if he wants to kill me.
I have to talk to him.
I know. But let me come with you. Ive seen what he can do, Katniss.
Unconsciously, I reach up and gently touch my neck where his hands so easily
wrapped around it. I see his dead eyes and cruel smirk in my mind, and agree without
hesitation. Lets go.
At Peetas house, I knock on the door loudly, but he doesnt appear. We ring the
doorbell and dock harder. Again no Peeta, but we hear voices inside.
Do you think he has company? Gale asks me.
No. He doesnt talk to anyone, but me and Haymitch occasionally.
That doesnt sound like Haymitch. Maybe its the TV. Gale tries the doorknob. It
surprises us both when the door swings open. But the surprise quickly turns to horror as
we take in the scene before us.


CHAPTER
FIVE
IM STARING AT myself. Gale and I look past the darkened foyer and into the brightly lit
living room where Im standing with an arrow drawn over a hunched figure. I stand
mesmerized, horrified by the scene, but Gale rushes towards it at full speed. One moment
hes inches from my likeness and the next hes on the other side of the room where I can
barely seem him. Its like theres a haze between us, but nothing in the scene has
changedIm still pointing my arrow at the trembling figure.
Its a hologram, Gale yells from across the room.
Please, dont kill me. Its Peeta.
Peeta! I yell running into the foyer.
Katniss, no. This is a trap! Gale crosses through the hologram again and holds me
close to his side.
Peeta needs our help!
Nothats not Peeta! That voice is coming from the hologram.
Only one of us can win, Peeta. You didnt really think Id let it be you, did you?
Gales right. The hologram comes complete with surround sound. We stare transfixed
as the scene unfolds.
Katniss, you heard them. Two tributes from the same district can win. Suddenly the
angle of the scene enlarges, giving a better view of the surroundings. Were on top of the
cornucopia. Peeta looks up, pleading with me.
Theyll never let that happen. Peeta closes his eyes, expecting the worse. I let out a
maniacal laugh, clearly enjoying his fear. I lower my bow and pull a large knife from my
waistband. Lets make this a little more entertaining, shall we?
Please, Katniss, no. I beg youmake it quick.
I laugh again and kick him squarely in the chest, forcing his back against the
cornucopia. I kneel beside his head and then lightly run the blade of the knife across his
cheek, over the length of his jaw, and then down his neck, along the pulsating vessel. I push
deeper, causing the blade to indent his skin. He whimpers and a small drop of blood
emerges. It drips down his neck, leaving a crimson trail along his pale skin.
Were leaving, Gale says suddenly, turning me away from the scene unfolding
before us. You dont need to see this.
No. I stand firmly. We have to stop this. Somebodys still messing with Peetas
mind.
I twist my way out of Gales grip and run to the middle of the living room, scanning
the walls, the ceiling, looking for anything that could be emitting the hologram. But my
hopes are quickly dashed. The ceiling is pocked with holes. Someone else obviously had
the same idea. I flip the light switch, but it does nothing, except make the hologram even
more visible against the darkness.
I can now easily see myself digging the knife deeper into Peetas skin, causing blood to
pool beneath his neck. I look away trying to focus, but the crazed laughter continues. The
sound is deafening, it penetrates deep into my core. I know its not real, that I was never
this evil or vicious to himto anyonebut the line between reality and fiction seems to
be getting fuzzier every minute. I cover my ears with my hands trying to get a moment of
silence to think.
Gales back at my side, pulling me with him.
No! I scream, still holding my hands over my ears. Im not leaving until I get rid of
this!
He picks me up, throws me over his shoulder, and quickly exits the house.
Damn you, Gale! I yell with exasperation when he lowers me to the ground outside.
Calm down, would you! I want to try shutting off the electricity. The hologram must
be powered somehow. Hopefully, its tied into the electrical system for the whole house.
You... I stop midsentence when I realize hes actually trying to help. Fine. I finish,
my anger with him still simmering. We walk to the back of the house and open the door
of the small storage area where the breakers are. Gale quickly flips all the switches. The
yellow light pouring from the downstairs windows disappears, but unfortunately, an
artificial blue, flickering light remains, like that from a TV in a darkened room. A very
demented and sadistic TV in this case.
How could that be Gale murmurs to himself.
A generator? I suggest.
Maybe, but where would it be? It would have to be outside or someplace with really
good ventilation.
Batteries?
He nods. I think thats more likely.
So, the only way to stop the hologram is to find the device thats producing it.
It looks like Peeta already tried that, though.
Then we have no choice. We have to get Peeta out of there.
First of all, we dont even know if hes in there. If he was smart, he left as soon as the
hologram started. And secondly, I dont want you anywhere near him. After what
happened last time you were together and seeing what hes been subjected to, nothing
good could come of you two being together again.
Yeah, well, lucky for me, I dont answer to you. I stride off purposely towards the
front door, ignoring the loud sigh Gale lets out.
Immediately inside the door, Im assaulted with a cacophony of agonizing cries,
crazed laughs, and awful hissing sounds. Except, its not hissing. Its the mutts from the
sewer and theyre saying my name Kanisssssssss Katnisssssssss. The scene in the
living room has changednow its me and Peeta sitting side-by-side on a couch while
Caesar Flickerman interviews us.
Love you? My crazy laugh again. I despise you, Peeta. Youre just another enemy to
me. Another enemy that I can eliminate with the flick of a wrist.
I cover my ears and quickly make my way to the kitchen. Gale did have a pointIm
not excited about running into Peeta without something I can use for self-defense. I stop
short when I enter the kitchen though. Yet another hologram, this one showing me in the
Quarter Quell arena. Again, Im spellbound as I take in the alternate reality someone has
devised.
Peetas sleeping while I wrap a length of wire around his leg. I then attach the wire to an
arrow and send it shooting through the force field. Peetas eyes open as the electric current
hits his body. He begins shaking as it burns through him leaving singe marks along all his
major veins and arteries. Then, abruptly, hes still, blank eyes staring straight ahead.
I stand motionless. How long have these been going on? How long has Peeta been
forced to watch me kill him in unimaginable ways? And why are these still going on if
Snows dead? Who still wants to torment him and why? Focusing on the last question, my
rising anger brings me back to reality.
I turn away from the hologram and pick up a large knife, but drop it immediately
its too much like the scene from earlier. Instead, I settle on a cast iron frying pan. Maybe
I can knock him out with it if he tries to kill me again. When I re-enter the living room,
Gale is standing there, looking angry. I ignore him and work my way towards the stairs.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see the scene in the dining roomits us in the sewers
during the revolution. That explains all the hissing. I take a deep breath and focus on
climbing the stairs. Gale follows closely behind.
At the top, its much darker since theres only one small hologram in the hallway. I
recognize the person before usits one of the doctors from the Capitol. I stop
momentarily to listen to him.
Peeta, you must kill her before she kills you. Youve seen all the evidenceshes wants
to kill you and will soon be successful. She is evil. She killed and dismembered your family.
You owe it to your family to seek revenge.
So, weve switched from scenes of me killing him to people urging him to kill me.
Great. Someone has gone to a lot of effort to try and mentally disarm two young people
who just wanted to fade away from the public eye.
I turn around, not caring to hear or see anything else from the doctor. The door to
Peetas room is shut, but the telltale flickering blue light leaking from beneath the door
makes it clear what well find in there. I touch the doorknob, but Gale grabs my hand.
Let me go first.
I roll my eyes, but dont object. Instead, I hand him the frying pan, which he holds
over his head as he pushes the door open. Inside, its surprisingly quiet and almost
peaceful compared to downstairs. Except for the scene in the middle of the room. This
one is Haymitch, in all of his drunken glory, telling Peeta he needs to destroy me for the
good of the country.
Do you hear that? Gale whispers.
Haymitch?
No, running water.
I push Haymitch out of my mind and focus on the ambient noise. Yes, there is
definitely the sound of water, which might explain the somewhat peaceful feeling I got
when entering the room.
We both look to the other door, which must lead to a bathroom. Gales pulls me
behind him again and we quickly move to that door. He grips the doorknob, but before
turning it, whispers, I will try to not seriously injure Peeta because I know thats
important to you. But, so help me, if it looks like hes going to hurt you, Ill do anything
necessary to stop him.
Hes not going to hurt me. I say matter-of-factly and with much more confidence
than I feel.
Gale nods and then slowly turns the knob. As the door swings open, the sound of
running water gets louder. Gale peaks around the edge of the door and then, apparently
satisfied with the lack of a threat, opens if fully. The shower, bathtub, and both sinks have
water pouring into their basins and down the drain, but no one is in there, other than a
virtual Effie staring straight at us.
None of this makes any sense. If Peetas not here, why is the water running? Even if he
is here, why would he have every faucet in his bathroom turned on? I slowly turn around,
taking in the scene. When I get to Effie again, I have to smile. She looks happy, upbeat
just like usual. Shes quickly gesturing with her arms and I wonder what shes sayingI
see her mouth move, but I can make out the words. with the noise from all the water.
Peeta must hide in here, I blurt out. With the water, you cant hear anything.
Gale points to the far side of the room where a set of slatted double doors is built into
the wall. He thinks Peeta is hiding in the closet. I run to the doors and pull them open
before Gale can stop me. Peeta is on the floor, knees pulled up against his chest, and his
head resting on top of them. His whole body is trembling. I kneel down and take his
hands in mind. Slowly his raises his head, but his blank eyes are focused on the wall
beyond me. He doesnt even seem to register that Im sitting there next to him.
Peeta, we need to get you out of here. Someone is playing mind games with you
again.
But, I get nothing from Peeta. He just continues staring blankly. I squeeze his hands.
Come on Peeta. Lets go. I try tugging on his arm, but his weight is too much for me.
Gale, help me, I yell over my shoulder.
Gale steps closer, but hesitates. Im not sure this is a good idea, Katniss. We have to
pass through at least 4 holograms to get him outside. Any one of those could trigger an
attack.
Well we cant leave him like this, I hiss back.
Flashing me an angry look, Gale relents and grabs Peeta by his arms, hauling him out
of the closet. But as soon as Peeta sees virtual Effie, he lets out a blood-curdling scream
and pulls his arms from Gales grip. He turns to face me, his eyes focusing intently on
mine. In that split-second, Im absolutely positive I should have listened to Gale earlier in
the evening and just walked away. Why do I continue to tempt fate with Peeta?


CHAPTER
SIX
BEFORE PEETA CAN act, Gale swings the frying pan, making contact with the side of his
head. He collapses to the ground immediately.
Sorry, Gale says while leaning down to pick up Peeta. He throws him over his
shoulder and continues, I didnt like the way he was looking at you.
I cant really blame Gale there. I didnt like the way Peeta was looking at me eitherit
was too much like a few days ago. Lets just get him to my house so he can wake up
someplace safe.
We quickly make our way through the ever changing, but consistently disturbing
holograms and back to my home. I realize that Ive never truly appreciated the peace and
quiet of this place. Gale lays the unconscious Peeta on my sofa while I collapse into one of
the side chairs. I sigh and roll my neck, trying to relieve some of the tension from the
night, but when my eyes reach the ceiling, an unnerving thought enters my mind. If
Peetas house has been messed with, what are the odds that mine has, too? Are there video
cameras? Microphones? Are they from Snows reign or is someone monitoring us now?
And why on earth would anyone care about what were doing now? With Snow gone, I
thought wed be left alone.
I reach for one of Prims old school notebooks and a pencil sitting on the end table. I
flip to a page in the middle and quickly write, Do you think my house is bugged, too? I
hold the cover partially closed and pass it to Gale who is now sitting in the chair next to
me.
He barely glances at the note before saying, Without a doubt. Then he pulls the page
from the notebook and tosses into the fire. We sit quietly for several minutes. Gale
watches the fire, I watch Peetas steady breathing. Neither of us is willing to speak our
thoughts for fear of someone overhearing us.
After a few hours, Peeta begins to stir on the couch. He touches his temple and
moans. I rush to his side and hold his hand.
Peeta, dont worry. Youre safe here. Nothings going to happen to you.
He opens his eyes. His confusion is apparent, but luckily, the rage has evaporated. He
looks at me and then glances at Gale whos snoring in his chair. I slide myself onto the
couch, sitting at his waist. Im surprised by my intense feelings as I watch this disoriented
boy try to process everything. I have a much better idea of what hes gone through now
and know that theres a high likelihood hes damaged beyond repair. But maybe theres
still hope. If we stop him from being tortured, maybe his mental state really can improve.
Maybe we can still have a future as As what?
I inwardly groan because thats a topic Im not at all comfortable with. Especially now
that Gale is back in my lifewhether I like it or not. I cant really get rid of Gale since he
did save my life, multiple times. Or maybe that just cancels out him killing Prim? I cringe
at that thought because after our meeting in the woods, Im well aware of just how guilty
he feels and how those words would destroy him.
What happened? Peetas hoarse voice interrupts my thoughts.
Shhh dont think about it right now. Once youre feeling better, we can talk about
it.
Did I hurt you again? He looks alarmed, probably because he cant quite distinguish
reality at this point.
No, Peeta. Im fine.
You should be afraid of me. I shouldnt be here with you.
Shhh its not your fault. Well get to the bottom of this and everything will be fine.
I run my fingers along his cheek to prove to him Im not scared. He tenses.
No, Katniss. Everything is not fine. Im never going to trust myself around you alone.
Theres no predicting when Im going to He pauses for a moment and then finishes,
have an attack.
I want to tell him that weve seen what theyre doing to him. How theyre programing
him to kill me. My hope that we can reverse all the damage. But Im afraid of who might
be watching this scene unfold.
Dont think about that right now. Just rest.
He closes his eyes, but his tension doesnt ease. My heart aches for him. Hes been
through too much. Things should be easier for him now that the revolution is over. He
should be receiving helpsomeone trying to reverse the damage Snow didbut instead,
hes being further tortured. And I dont understand why. How can I help him if I dont
understand whats going on or whos behind it?
While I sit there thinking, Peetas eyelids begin to flutter and then his jaw muscles
start clenching. He must be dreaming.
No no! he mumbles, now balling up his fists. Dont... I wont do it!
I want to help him like he helped me so many nights in the past. To take away some of
the terror he faces whenever he closes his eyes. Terror that Im all too familiar with now.
Carefully, I lie down next to him and wrap my left arm over his waist. I rest my head
against his chest and hum a lullaby I used to sing to Prim when she was little. Within
seconds, his body relaxes. I continue humming until eventually, I feel my eyelids
drooping and the surrender of sleep overtakes me.
When the first rays of light filter through the living room window, I enjoy my half-
asleep state. I dont remember anything from the night, but have a pleasant feeling, as
though I had a really great dream thats sitting on the edge of my consciousness, but I
know Ill never remember it. I havent felt this way in agesmy sleep has been cursed
with nightmares for months now. Slowly, I continue waking up and realize that I havent
felt like this since Peeta used to crawl into my bed in order to keep the nighttime demons
at bay.
Great. I was trying to help him and he ended up helping me... yet again. Hopefully,
my presence allowed him to have at least a little more restful sleep. My arm is still
encircling his waist so I tighten my grip a bit, enjoying the closeness of his body and the
warmth that only he can provide.
My thoughts are suspended when I feel his hand trailing down my braid. My breath
catches in my throat and I feel the nervous sensation in my belly. I need to get up before
something happens that well regret.
But before I can move, he says, I remember this. Us lying like this. Our bodies close,
touching. Real or not real?
I gulp. Real.
Why? No sign of anger, resentment, or love in his voice. Just inquisitiveness.
It helped us both sleep. You know, with all the nightmares.
Did you sleep better last night?
Yes, better than I have in months. You?
You have no idea. I woke up feeling content, almost happy. Not fearful or angry
like I usually do.
Oh good. The two lovebirds are up. Gales standing in the doorway with a scowl on
his face and disdain in his voice. His appearance makes me bolt up from the couch.
Gale. I forgot you were here.
So youre not purposely trying to hurt me?
Of course not.
My mistake. For some reason, I just assumed that was the case since you can barely
stand to be around me, but youll sleep with someone who wants you dead.
I dont want her dead, Peeta murmurs almost inaudibly.
Maybe not right now, but I guarantee you will again. And what happens if Im not
around to save her?
Youre right. Peeta sits up. Youre absolutely right. I cant be alone with her.
Well, dont expect me to babysit while you two cuddle every night!
Gale! Enough! Theyre talking like Im not even there. Like my opinion doesnt even
matter. This is my house and I can do whatever I want here!
Including risking your own life!
Gales right, Katniss. We shouldnt have done this. Greatnow Peetas on Gales
side.
Both of you out! I shout, pointing to the front door. Gale gives a gruff snort and
then storms outside. Peeta stands and starts to follow, but pauses at the door.
Im sorry, Katniss, but, Gales right. What would happen if I attacked you and no one
was around to help?
I bite my lip, but say nothing. Peeta turns and steps through the doorway.
I sigh, my anger beginning to ebb. I know theyre both right. There was no reasoning
with Peeta in the rain when he attacked me. The only hope we have is that there is some
way to unprogram him, some way to reverse the damage from Snow and all the
holograms. The holograms!
Peeta! Stop, dont go in there! I yell from the porch.
Why? He stops, one foot on the first step of his porch.
I sprint across the small patch of grass between our houses. Out of breath, I say, We
saw all of those horrific scenes playing out in every room of your house.
Oh
You cant live here anymore.
Katniss, its fine. They only come on for a few hours at night. Its its not a big
deal. His hesitancy tells me that it is a huge deal, though.
How long has this been going on?
Since I returned. He shrugs trying to convince me it doesnt bother him.
Suddenly, a few things make sense though. Is that why you were always walking
around town at night?
Yeah.
But you stopped.
After what happened, I was afraid of running into you again. I was am ashamed of
myself for what happened. I didnt want to put you at risk again.
Peeta, you cant stay in that house. Ive seen how theyre torturing you. No one could
endure that!
I dont really have anywhere else to stay. He shuffles his feet, embarrassed.
Stay with me, I say softy.
No. Id rather be tortured for the rest of my life than put your life in danger ever
again.
Then, Haymitch.
He groans. Would you stay with Haymtich?
Of course I wouldnt. Id rather live under a log in the woods, but Ive got to be
positive for Peeta. If I were in your situation, yes. It wont be so bad. Hes passed out half
the time anyway
Ill think about it. He continues climbing the steps.
Please, Peeta. For me, I plead. Do it today.
He frowns, but eventually says, Okay, fine. Ill go grab some things and then talk to
Haymitch.
Ill wait here for you. There is no way Im letting him live in this house another
night.
After a few minutes, Peeta emerges with a small duffel bag, and we head across the
green to Haymitchs home. We enter without knocking and are shocked to find Haymitch
sitting wide-awake and mostly sober at the kitchen table.
We quickly explain the situation, expecting Haymitch to be shocked by whats going
on. Instead, he just shakes his head and says to no one in particular, Its even worse than
I thought.
What do you mean? Peeta asks.
Haymitch rubs his eyes. Well, things arent going exactly as planned in the Capitol.


CHAPTER
SEVEN
I PULL OUT a creaky, old wooden chair and sit down. Sliding a couple empty bottles on the
table aside, I say Does that have anything to do with the new Hunger Games Coin is
planning?
What? Peeta and Haymitch ask simultaneously; the blood drains from Peetas face.
You didnt receive Coins request to serve as a mentor? I ask him.
He slowly shakes his head. But I havent checked my mail in days.
I got mine yesterday, so Im sure yours is in your mailbox.
Peeta turns and rushes out of the house, not bothering to shut the door behind him.
Whats going on Haymitch? I need him to level with me. We havent even had time
to settle into a new routine and theres already more national turmoil.
We dont totally know yet. And I really dont want you kids involved. You played
your roles and paid the price. You should be left alone now. He takes a long pull from a
brown bottle.
I knock the bottle from his hands, leaving a trail of clear fluid on the tabletop. Clearly
someone else has other plans, though. Lookif were going to be forced into this, we have
to at least know what were dealing with!
Haymitch sighs, puts his elbows on the table, and rests his head in his hands. Youre
right. The problem is were having a hard time figuring everything out.
Whos we?
He looks up. Right now, me, Plutarch, Beetee, and Paylor.
And what are you trying to figure out?
Coins politics, he says with a sardonic smirk.
I give him a questioning look, so he continues. Youd think Coin would be focused
on rebuilding our country after everything weve gone through. Districts have been
destroyed, resources are limited, theres no effective trade between the districts. But Coin
has assigned just one Cabinet member to deal with our country.
Whats everyone else doing?
Foreign affairs for the most part.
What?! Why on earth do we care about foreign affairs at a time like this?
He leans back in his chair, tipping it up on the back legs. Placing his hands behind his
head, he says, Thats the million dollar question, sweetheart.
Just then, the door opens and Peeta walks in reading the familiar silver parchment
paper. After a moment, he stops and stares at us. Why would she do this?
Because the country needs to heal, I say, sarcastically.
He shakes his head. There cant be anyone who would support her in this.
Well, it doesnt seem like she cares much about support, Haymitch says.
We have to stop this.
Peeta stares at Haymitch. Haymtich stares at me. I close my eyes and sigh. I just
wanted to be left alone.
That evening, I sit on the top step of my porch and watch people in town make their
way back to the makeshift campground. Theyre joking, laughing, and seem to be
generally content with their simple lives. During the day, the rebuild what they can with
the limited supplies and at night they talk, sing, or dance around campfires. Sure, theres
not enough food to go around, but thats always been the case. And now that hunting
isnt illegal, a few more people have been venturing into the woods. Plus, Ive seen the
amount of food Gale drops off. Hunting has become his full-time job for the district.
I pull my knees to my chin and wish that I could be content. That I had friends who
werent trying to kill me or who I didnt blame for my sisters death. That I didnt have to
think about another Hunger Games or why Coins focused on other countries instead of
her own.
But, thats not my life right now. And it may never be. I know what I have to do, even
though Im completely dreading it. Eventually, I build up enough courage and make my
way to the milling crowd. When I first get there, people gawk at me, but say nothing. Im
sure theyre wondering what Im doing since the only other time theyve seen me, I was
unconscious. I ignore their stares and continue searching for the person I need.
Katniss! Its so nice to see you out and about! Greasy Sae wraps a plump arm
around my shoulders and gives me a tight squeeze.
Hi Sae.
What are you doing here?
Im looking for Gale. Have you seen him?
Oh sure. His tent is the next row over, a couple in from the far side. Its nice to see
you two getting close again, she says with a wink.
Ugh. This is exactly why I dont talk to peoplerumors will inevitably start to fly
now.
I weave my way through the tents to where Sae pointed, avoiding all eye contact along
the way. When Im four tents from the end, I see his bent legs protruding from a
makeshift tent, and it annoys me that I can recognize him by just his legs. I walk up to the
legs and gently kick the sole of his boot with my foot. He peaks his head out from under
the tarp and looks genuinely surprised to see me.
So he hasnt killed you yet.
I give him a dirty look, which he just brushes off. What brings you to the slums?
Perhaps tremendous guilt and the overwhelming urge to apologize?
No. I meant every word I said.
Hmmpf. , he grunts and ducks back under the tarp.
I sit at his feet and remain silent for a few minutes. Im not exactly sure how I should
ask this.
Afraid to go home with him there? Gales muffled voice escapes the tent.
No. Hes staying with Haymitch.
Gale pops he head back out, this time with a grin from ear to ear. So, you want me to
keep you warm tonight?
No, I say. I just need to ask him what I came to ask before he jumps to any more
conclusions.
Weve decided to visit Coin. To tell her that were not being mentors and convince
her that another Games is a terrible idea.
Seems like a letter or phone call would be easier.
But not as effective. Plus Haymitch has some concerns with Coin. Were going to use
that time to gather intel.
What kind of concerns?
I explain the limited information Haymitch shared and cant help but notice Gales
rebellious side beginning to emerge.
So, why are you telling me? he asks, resting his forearms on his knees.
I scrunch my face because the next part is difficult to admit to Gale. because you
and Peeta were right.
He raises one eyebrow.
I cant be alone with Peeta. He might try to kill me. ThereI said it. Are you happy?
Yes, I am. So, you need me to protect you, then? He smiles coyly, enjoying this way
too much.
I dont need you. But it would put everyones minds at ease. Plus youre probably not
half-bad at gathering intel.
I do believe that is a compliment coming from you.
I scowl. Are you coming or not?
Well, since you asked so nicely, how can I refuse? He intertwines his fingers and
stretches his arms out in front of him. When do we leave?
In two days. Peeta called the Capitol and theyre sending a train for us.
They must think youre going to agree.
I shrug.
So your plan is to tell Coin no and then just hop on another train back here?
Well figure something out if we need to. Haymitch has friendshe can help us.
Okay, then. Sounds like a well thought out plan. He yawns and leans back on his
elbows. Youre more than welcome to join me in here tonight.
I stand, kick his boot againhard this timeand then head back home.
The next two days go by slowly. Peeta refuses to be alone with me and I refuse to
spend time with Gale. That means Peeta and I only get a few hours a day when Haymitch
is sober enough to intervene if something should happen. And with Haymitch around, it
means we cant really talk, at least not like we used to on the Justice Building steps. We
end up sitting next to each other on the couch, holding hands while Haymitch makes
snide comments. Its not ideal, and I feel my generally poor mood souring even more.
Of course, the nightmares are as bad as ever, so Im sure my lack of sleep is also
contributing to my foul mood. That and my anger at Coin for having another Hunger
Games.
When we finally board the express train to the Capitol, Gales excited, but Peeta and I
are apprehensive. Its too familiartoo much like our previous trips.
Onboard, we turn left with the intent of finding rooms in the sleeping car, but Peeta
pauses.
Thats weird. Theres no food and no attendants here to help us.
I guess Coin is bringing her District 13 sensibilities to all of Panem, I say.
We drop off our bags in our respective rooms and then meet in the observation car
where we watch the rolling hills pass us by.
After a few moments, Gale asks, So, have you come up with more of a plan?
Haymitch talked to Paylor, and shes expecting you.
Isnt Paylor Vice President now?
Technically, yes. But according to Haymitch, she has no power. Coin lets her oversee
numerous departments and committees, but shes been told in not so many words that
things must progress as Coin sees fit.
Interesting And while Im doing that, you two will be?
Convincing Coin to cancel the Games, I say, never taking my eyes off the ever
changing scenery out the window.
I suppose youll be using your everlasting charm and strong negotiating skills for
that?
I turn and glare at him.
Peeta places his hand on my arm and leans towards Gale. Actually, were hoping that
by sharing our experiences, well give her a better perspective on the effect the Games
have on the tributes even the ones who win, he explains. And we want her to ask the
people if thats what they want. I cant imagine anyone sending children back to the
arenaeven if they are Capitol children. At some point its got to be about forgiveness
rather than revenge.
Gale smirks at me, Maybe you can dust off your Mockingjay costume and speak to
the masses again.
With that comment, I storm off to my room and spend the majority of the rest of the
trip there, only coming out to accept the lukewarm mashed turnip stew from the single
train attendant at mealtimes.
Two days later we pull into the Capitol and Im shocked by the level of disrepair that
remains. For some reason, I thought the Capitol would be rebuilt immediately, even if the
districts were struggling. Of course the devastation here is different from the districts
where everything was completely leveled. Here, there are certain areas that remain
unchanged from before the Revolution, but then interspersed between, there will be a
block or two that have been demolished. By following the path of destruction, you can see
the exact route the rebels took when entering and eventually capturing the city.
As soon as we exit the train, a guard meets us and escorts us to the Presidents
mansion where Paylor is waiting for us.
Its nice to you see again, she greets all of us, but her gaze lingers on Gale.
Peeta, Katniss, Ill show you to President Coins office. Gale, its a beautiful day, how
would you like to go for a walk rather than meet in my stuffy office? We can all read
between the linesTheres no privacy in this placeevery action is watched and every
word is recorded.
Gale nods, Sure.
Unlike the disrepair outside, the inside of the mansion is as over-the-top as ever. It
doesnt look like even one curtain has been wrinkled or one piece of furniture has moved
as a result of the revolution. I cant imagine why Coin would want to live in this place that
reeks of SnowI can still smell the roses.
Paylor drops us off in the anteroom of Coins office where her secretary welcomes us.
While we wait for Coin, Paylor and Gale head back the direction we came. I watch their
backs and am surprised by the emotion that hits me. Their friendly chatter and ease with
each other seems too familiar. Im suddenly wondering how and when they got so close.
Were they trading war stories while I was stuck in the hospital recovering from burns
inflected by his bomb? Or did the somehow meet up in District 13 during one of the
many times I was too drugged to know what was going on?
My thoughts are interrupted by the squeak of a door. I turn to the sound and find
Coin, looking exactly the same, staring at the two of us with her cold, gray eyes.
She gestures towards her office. Wont you come in Mockingjay.
You as well, she says to Peeta, almost as an afterthought.
Peeta and I take seats opposite Coin and her massive desk. Staring down at us over the
rim of her sleek, black glasses, she says, I trust your trip here was acceptable.
Yes, it was very nice. Thank you. Peeta is much more polite than I could ever hope
to be.
And now youd like to discuss the 76
th
Hunger Games?
Why are you doing this? I ask.
Im sorry. Did the letter not explain our rationale adequately?
The country doesnt need to watch more innocent children die in order to heal.
Katniss, you are a teenager. How could you possibly know what the country needs?
Ive been groomed for this role for the past 40 years. Until the districts feel like the score
has been settled, there will be no bringing the country together.
My body tenses and my fists clench at my sides.
Peeta quickly chimes in before I can lash out at Coin. With all due respect, President
Coin, he gives me a warning glance, Wouldnt compassion and forgiveness send a
positive message of what our country should strive for in the future?
Coin shakes her head and makes an annoying tsking sound, like shes reprimanding
schoolchildren. Theres no room for compassion in the government. Compassion is
weakness. Our people need to see that the new government is stronger than ever. That we
will make decisions that serve them best. That they must rely on us because we know
what they need better than they do.
My anger boils over. Enough children have died for Panem! Killing more will not
accomplish anything! The people wont agree to this. Youll seeyoure going to have an
angry mob on your hands again!
Katniss, how can you continue to be so nave? The masses will think whatever we tell
them to think. Especially when it comes from the Mockingjay. Her mouth twists into a
calculating and cunning smile. The meaning of her words slowly sinks in, causing an
involuntary shiver to creep down my spine.


CHAPTER
EIGHT
I GAPE AT Coin. I cant believe what shes suggesting. She really thinks Ill dress up in that
ridiculous costume and promote another Hunger Games? The thought of it makes me
sick.
With all due respect, I say mockingly, that is not something I am willing to do.
Youll have to convince them on your own.
Standing, I turn to Peeta and say, I think were done here. Lets go.
Peeta stands and we walk to the door, but when my hand touches the doorknob, Coin
addresses us again.
Of course, its your right to do whatever you chose. However, I am a powerful person
to have on your side Katniss. After an extended pause, she adds, And an even more
powerful enemy.
I turn around to face her. Ill keep that in mind.
Please do. Youve already lost so much in the revolution. Id hate for you to lose the
few precious things you have left, she says, glancing to Peeta.
My eyes narrow reflexively. So, shes going to threaten me. Shes no better than
Snowthey come from the exact same mold.
Her face changes slightlya barely perceptible rise of the corners of her mouthand
she continues, I do believe condolences are in order. Im sorry I never expressed my
sympathy over Prims untimely passing.
Im no longer thinking. My body reacts to her veiled threat the only way I know
howthe way Ive been forced to live. My hand drops from the doorknob and I take a
determined step in her direction, my eyes holding hers in a steady gaze. I dont care that
shes our new President. She is pure evil and I can kill her just as easily as I killed Snow. I
take another step, but Im pulled back to the door. Peeta has wrapped his arm around my
waist, preventing me from getting any closer.
Thank you for your time, President Coin, Peeta states stiffly. In my ear he whispers,
Not here, not now.
Your old rooms in the training center are available, should you change your mind,
Coin says to our turned backs, as we exit her office.
Its not until were back outside and in the middle of the lawn where no microphones
or video cameras could be hidden that we stop to talk.
As he lowers himself to the ground, Peeta says, We should have never come here.
I sit down next to him and turn my face up to blue sky littered with small, wispy
clouds. The sun beams down on us, and I welcome its warmth on my skin.
Like that matters. She would have found another way to blackmail us. You realize
that shes going to kill you unless I do what she wants, right? Just like she killed Prim.
And how shes torturing you with those holograms. Theres no doubt in my mind now
that shes the one responsible for both of those things. I dont understand what she has
against me what shes always had against me.
Peeta reaches for my hand and laces his fingers through mine.
Well, thats easy. Shes threatened by you. Power is everything to her and you had all
the power in the revolutionthe people loved you , believed in you, idolized you, even. If
there had been a vote for President, you would have beaten her hands down.
I yank clumps of perfectly manicured grass from the ground with my free hand and
fling them in front of me. But she knows Im not interested in that.
Looks like she has plans to use you to her advantage whenever possible, though. He
pulls his knees up to his chest and rotates slightly so hes facing me.
I cant let her control my life like that. My voice starts rising as my anger intensifies.
He shakes his head. No, you cant. Tell her you wont do it.
My head snaps up, and my eyes meet his. And risk your life? Thats not something
Im willing to do either.
Peeta eyes the guard stationed at the front of the mansion. What if we just disappear
for a while? Go to another district or live in the woods for a while. Lay low till this blows
over.
Then shell kill someone else who matters to me. My mother Gale Haymitch? I
feel like Im back where I was with Snow afraid that anything I do could mean certain
death for someone I care about.
He squeezes my hand, but doesnt reply. We sit like that, without saying a word, until
Gale and Paylor approach us after their meeting.
So, howd things go? Gale asks lightheartedly.
Fantastic. Either I stand up before our country in support of another Hunger Games
or one of you dies, I say, motioning between Gale and Peeta.
Then I guess Im lucky Peetas death would bring you more sufferingI should be
safe.
Thats not even funny, I say, rising from the ground with Peeta.
Look, Katniss. For the past two years, associating with you has been a serious risk
factor for getting beaten, maimed, tortured, or killed. Did you really think things would
be different now?
I know Gales right, but having it be said that bluntly is unsettling. My friends and
family shouldnt be targets just because I picked up a handful of berries in the arena. Plus,
I killed Snow. That shouldve been the end of it.
Rather than responding to Gales question, I focus on something else thats been
bothering me. I thought you might be surprised, since you seemed rather fond of Coin
back in 13.
He looks to the ground. Sometimes it just takes one thing to see someones true
colors, he says evasively.
Did you find out something today that changed your mind? I ask, looking to Paylor
who stands rigidly at his side. Always in military mode.
Gale says, No no just supporting evidence. My mind was changed months ago.
Moisture builds in the corners of his eyes. He turns his head to hide his sudden show of
emotion, but I know what hes thinking aboutthe day Coin dropped bombs killing
innocent rebel children in a war that had already ended. The day she killed Prim just to
make me suffer.
Paylor clears her throat, effectively ending the uncomfortable silence. So, what are
you going to do, Katniss?
How can she ask me that? Isnt the answer obvious? I dont really have a choice. Ill
promote the Games so no one dies because of me.
But twenty-three children will die.
Of course shes right. But Im not about to sacrifice my friends and family for twenty-
three Capitol children I dont even know. She cant possibly expect that of me.
Luckily Gale steps in before I say something Ill regret later. Lets just tackle this one
problem at a time. Katniss can do the promotionso we dont face eminent deathand
then well probably have at least a couple of weeks before the start of the Games. Plenty of
time to come up with a plan to deal with that.
That seems reasonable, Peeta chimes in.
Paylor purses her lips, but doesnt say anything. A cloud passes overhead, causing
shadows to dance across her face, accentuating her clenched jaw and making her
disapproval of this plan all the more apparent.
But its decided nonetheless. Ill sell my soul to the devil and potentially sentence 23
children to death if we arent able to come up with a successful plan to thwart the 76
th

annual Hunger Games.
After saying goodbye to Paylor, we make the short trek to the Training Center.
Walking through the front doors brings a particularly macabre sense of dj vu. Peeta and
I glance at each other; I know he wants to hold my hand to make this a little easier, but
Gale is between us.
Whew this is quite impressive, Gale proclaims with awe as we amble through the
marbled foyer to the elevators. He looks up at the massive windows streaming in sunlight.
I was expecting something dark and depressing, not light and airy like this. He
continues his praise of the Training Center without any regard to the effect this visit is
having on me and Peeta.
When we enter the elevator, I finally interrupt his constant chatter. Yeah, yeah, the
Capitol spared no expense when it came to training children how to kill others in the
name of entertainment. My words have the intended effect and he becomes silent.
We exit on the twelfth floor. Peeta hangs back in the elevator, allowing Gale to exit
first. Then, he reaches for my hand, which I gladly give to him. In my ear, he whispers,
Well get through this like weve gotten through everything else.
I nod, but wrap my fingers more tightly around his. Things never end the way I
expect they will on my first day in this place, and its always in a way that I could have
never predicted. That makes me wonder whats in store for us this time.
We follow Gale to the common area. He peers through each of the opened doors into
the bedrooms beyond.
Any preference? He asks us.
I point to the one on the right. Thats usually mine.
Peeta points to the one on the left. Thats mine.
So I get the suite at the end of the hall?
Sure. Thats Haymitchs room, I say.
Gale wrinkles his nose. Perhaps I should fumigate it first then.
I give him a wan smile and reluctantly let go of Peetas hand. I walk into my room and
throw my bag on the bed. Everything looks the same. I peer out the window and am again
shocked by the stark contrast of disrepair in the Capitol, but complete lack of damage in
here.
I hear footsteps approach me from behind, but I dont bother to turn around.
Moments later, thick arms wrap around my waist and I feel the warmth of him behind
me.
We were close here. Real or not real?
Real. I place my arms on his and pull him even tighter against me.
You were freer here, more willing to share your true feelings. Real or not real?
I pause. Im not sure how to answer that question. Could he be right? Its true that I
welcomed his closeness here, unlike back in the district. But wasnt that out of fear that
our lives would be over in a few days? I wasnt being truer to myself, truer to my own
emotions, was I?
I I dont know, I say honestly.
Ahh this must be part of the complicated aspect of our relationship. He rests his
chin on the top of my head and I lean into him, welcoming his contact.
Seriously? Gale asks from behind us. We have to set some ground rules. If Im
expected to babysit you two to make sure no one gets killed, I dont want to see this, he
says, waving his hands at our intertwined bodies.
Peeta pulls away. I scowl.
Of course, Gale. Im sorry. We shouldnt put you in an uncomfortable situation.
Well. good, Gale says awkwardly. Im sure he wasnt expecting that response
since I fight him on absolutely everything. I just wanted to let you know that dinner is
here, he adds before turning on his heel and exiting my room.
Youre too nice to him, I tell Peeta.
He shrugs. I owe him a lot.
His words cause me to frown. I suppose hes right, but I have a hard time
remembering that with Gales cocky attitude.
Shall we join Gale for dinner?
I nod. We deserve some delicious Capitol food after the day weve had.
Unfortunately, the expectation of Capitol food is extinguished as soon as we enter the
common area. I recognize the smell, but its the bitter, overly cooked odor of District 13
food, not extravagant Capitol delicacies. Gale has already dug in, unaware of the further
injustice Coin has delivered to us.
Great. Beet soup and stale bread. Just what I had in mind for dinner, I say.
Ill take yours if you dont want it, Gale says.
I protectively pull my small portion closer to me and begin eating without
enthusiasm.
So Gale, theres a nice garden on the roof that Katniss and I would like to show you.
It has a great view of the city. How would you like to go up there after dinner?
Gale looks up from his soup with a sneer. Im sure hes about to make a snide
comment, but then realization hits. He knows we cant talk openly here so hes probably
figured out thats always been our safe place.
That sounds lovely, he says with his ridiculous Capitol accent, spoon paused
midway between his bowl and mouth.
Ten minutes later, were climbing the steps to the roof and I hear the familiar clinging
of wind chimes growing louder with each step. Im glad no one has touched those
between them and the wind, well be able to talk candidly without fear of Coin recording
us.
At the top of the stairs, I open the door and enter what served as our sanctuary
whenever we were at the Training Center. I feel my blood pressure drop immediately, a
sense of calm washes over me, and fond memories of me and Peeta come rushing back.
Its funny how the mind can find peace in one unlikely spot amid a place that is otherwise
completely horrid.
We walk towards the edge of the roof. Gale grabs the railing and says, So, Im
assuming we can talk openly here?
Peeta joins him. Yes. What did you find out from Paylor today?
Gale rubs the back of his neck. Well, Paylors concerned about Coins leadership and
intentions for the country. There was a meeting right after Snows death where Coin,
military leaders, and Coins appointees met to discuss both the short-term and long-term
plans for Panem. It became apparent immediately that there was a great divide among
those in power.
How so? I ask, stepping beside Peeta at the railing and looking around him to Gale.
Coin and her staunch followers set a short-term plan of providing the districts the
bare minimum to get them back functioning so they can provide resources to District 13.
His words take me by surprise and I give him a confused look. But District 13 has
always been self-sufficient. Why are the districts now taking care of them?
Because they need to focus their efforts on other thingsthings related to the long-
term plan.
Peeta furrows his eyebrows. That doesnt sound good.
Gale shrugs his shoulders. He looks to the darkening city. Every few seconds a new
light turns on in one of the remaining buildings. Shops hoping to bring in some evening
business. People settling into their homes for the night.
I guess it depends on how you look at it. Coin wants to focus on the development of
weapons and military training. She wants to make sure were prepared to defend
ourselves.
From who? asks Peeta.
Gale shrugs again.
Are we talking nuclear weapons? I ask, turning to face him, placing my hands on
my hips.
Not clear. She hasnt specifically said that, but people are worried that will be the
case.
Will the districts still be supplying the Capitol with resources, too?
Paylor mentioned that there hasnt been much sympathy for the Capitol during any
of their meetings. Makes me think they wont be receiving any special treatment. If I had
to guess, Id say that they better learn how to take care of themselves like weve had to
do.
I laugh. I dont see that happening anytime soon! Coin better be careful. If she keeps
rationing things for the Capitol people, shes likely to have an angry crowd show up at the
Presidents mansion. They arent used to that kind of treatment.
She wont have to worry about that for too long. According to Paylor, there are
discussions about moving the government to District 13, so they can better monitor the
progress of the military.
A large hawk flies overhead, temporarily distracting us. It circles, first widely, but then
in ever tightening arcs focusing on some unsuspecting creature below. Just as it dives
downward, Peeta asks, What are the plans of those who disagree with Coin?
Gale meets his eyes. To spend time and money on our people. To set up social
programs to help those who have been affected by the rebellion. To establish
infrastructure between the districts so we arent so segregated.
Seems like there could be an approach that makes both sides happy, Peeta says, as
sensibly as ever.
Apparently Coin isnt so willing to compromise.
Im beginning to lose interest in this conversation. Coin is evil. Like we didnt already
know that. So, what exactly is Paylors plan? I ask, trying to wrap things up.
To keep a close eye on Coin. They dont trust her and worry that there may be an
ulterior motive behind each and every action she takes. They want to build up internal
support in case she turns into another Snow. In case she becomes a dictator who works by
her own personal agenda, rather than in the best interest of the people.
And whats your plan? I cringe as I ask him because I already know the answer. I
knew from the moment Haymitch first mentioned all of this to meGale will want to be
right smack in the middle of this. And even though it doesnt seem too dangerous right
now, I know how quickly things can change.
His eyes narrow. I didnt fight in the rebellion to put another power-hungry
politician with questionable ethics and single-minded agendas in charge. Im going to
help Paylor and the Nationalists.


CHAPTER
NINE
THE NATIONALISTS? I ask with confusion, leaning against the railing so I can see Gale
around Peeta.
Thats what their calling themselves.
Whats your role in this going to be?
He shrugs. Hard to say right now. Itll depend on how all of this plays out. How
stubborn and unyielding Coin is. For now, when Im not babysitting you two, Ill be at the
Nationalists headquarters monitoring the situation and developing a plan with the rest of
the group. And Paylor, whenever shes able to slip away.
Headquarters? I ask raising an eyebrow. Theyre already that organized they have a
headquarters?
Well, its more like the basement of a bar thats owned by someone who supports our
cause. But it will work for now.
The three of us stand there, side-by-side looking over the now dark Capitol. Although
I cant see it anymore, I know the forest lies just beyond the lights of the city, surrounded
by a ramshackle wall that provides no barrier whatsoever. We could leave today, right
now and forget about all of this. Forget about Coins threats, forget about Paylors plans
for the Nationalists.
I sigh because I know that will never happen. We never run awaynot one of us. We
stay and deal with it no matter how much it ends up hurting us in the end.
After a few moments, Gale says, So my thought is that during the day Ill be there
and you two make sure youre never alone. That way, he, Gale waves his hands in Peetas
general direction, cant try to kill you without someone seeing it and hopefully
intervening. Then, at dinnertime, Ill come back and babysit through the night. Does that
work for you?
I nod and bite my tongue, so I dont say something rude and ungrateful. Peetas more
tactful and says, Yes. Thank you, Gale. I appreciate everything youre doing.
Later that night, when I return to my room, theres a note on the dresser in that awful
silver parchment paper.
Katniss,
Im glad to see you reconsidered my offer. Please meet me in the Presidents mansion at
8 AM sharp tomorrow morning, so we can begin filming your segments. Bring Peeta
along, as well.
Kind Regards,
President Coin
I sigh. Just a couple days of this, and then we can go back to District 12 and be left
alone, hopefully, forever.
I strip off my clothes and enter the shower, relishing in the warm stream of water
hitting my back. I place my hand under the dispenser and push random buttons, waiting
for some assortment of fragrant body gels to be dispensed, but nothing happens. I try a
few more buttons, but again nothing. Frowning, I look around the shower stall. At the far
end, theres a small bar of soap and a little bottle. I open the bottle and it smells clean, but
not fragrant. This must be more of Coins utilitarian ways coming to the Capitol.
After finishing my shower, I change into the one pair of pajamas I brought with me
and crawl under the covers, although Im quite certain sleep will evade me in this place. I
stare at the ceiling replaying the events of the day in my mind, when a knock at the door
startles me.
Come in.
The door opens, and Peeta takes a tentative step in.
I just wanted to say good night.
I smile. Good night to you, too. We stay like thathim standing, me in bed
staring at each other. Eventually, I say, Do you want to come in?
Yes. But, I dont think thats a good idea.
I nod, feeling disappointed. It would have been nice to curl up beside Peeta tonight.
He says, Well, Ill see you in the morning.
Sure. Oh, wait, I forgot to tell you. Coin wants both of us at the Presidents mansion
tomorrow morning at 8.
Why me?
I shrug.
Okay, then. Good night, Katniss.
Good night, Peeta.
Not even a minute after he leaves, theres another knock on my door. Perhaps he has
changed his mind.
Come in.
The door swings open and Gale saunters through, eyeing the contents of my room.
He walks along the wall, running his hand over the dresser, and then makes his way over
to the picture window. While staring at the lights of the Capitol, he says, I noticed Peeta
visited, and I just wanted to make sure youre still alive.
Yes, Im alive, I say, rolling my eyes at his back.
Good. He continues staring out the window.
Is there anything else Gale?
Turning slowly, his eyes settle on me. Hes frowning. He closes the gap to the side of
my bed in two long strides and then sits down facing the front of the room, so Im staring
at his profile. Im worried about you, Katniss.
I told you Im fine.
No, not about this. About your life.
I laugh. How can you be worried about that when I dont even have a clue where my
lifes going?
He purses his lips as though hes considering his next words carefully. I see you and
Peeta getting close again. But, what can come of that? Hes unpredictable. You know that.
You cant have a babysitter around for the rest of your life and you cant be alone with
him.
He turns towards me, putting his left knee on the bed. Im worried that the more
time you spend with him now, the harder its going to be when you finally come to that
realization yourself.
I watch him, but say nothing. Part of me thinks I should be angry with him, but
another part of me knows hes right.
I understand you two have shared a lot. That he helps you deal with your past. But,
other people want to help you, too. He gulps. I want to help you, Katniss. And you
would never have to be afraid with me. I promise I would keep you safe forever. I I
would do anything for you, he finishes shyly and looks to his wringing hands in his lap.
His sudden vulnerability takes me by surprise. This is exactly the second time in my
life Ive seen him like thisthe first being in the woods when he confided in me about
how responsible he feels for what happened to Prim. My nurturing instinct immediately
takes over and I place my hand on his shoulder reassuringly.
I know Gale. Its just not so easy. He helps me, like no one else can. And, part of
me feels guilty for everything thats happened to him because of me.
You cant be with someone out of guilt, Katniss! He shyness leaves, and hes glaring
at me with the typical fire in his eyes. Furthermore, you have nothing to feel guilty about.
Hes been just as involved as you in all of this. He made his own decisions that led to what
happened, too. He played the game just as much as you, probably more so!
I pull my hand from his shoulder and stare at the wall, brooding. I appreciate your
relationship advice, Gale, I say sarcastically.
He lowers his voice. Im sorry. He rests his hand on my leg, but I swat it away.
Do you love him? he asks.
My mouth falls open.
What? Were best friends. Wouldnt best friends talk about this type of stuff?
I chuckle at the innocent look on his face. You really want to talk about this?
Im just trying to understand you.
I raise my eyebrows and give him a brief questioning look before looking back to the
wall.
We sit in silence for a few moments before he presses again, So, do you love him?
As persistent as ever, I mutter.
You still havent answered me.
I sigh. I dont know. I dont really see myself with anyone long term. All I know is
that I feel better when Im with him. That must be worth something, right?
Gale nods. How do you feel when youre around me?
Mostly annoyed, I say, playfully punching him in the arm.
He lightly rubs the spot on his arm and says, Well, thats better than nothing.
Despite the awkward subject of our conversation, this is the closest Ive felt to Gale in
while. It feels as though were regaining part of our friendship. And Im actually enjoying
his company. Its nice to be sitting next to him, joking again.
Tell me about the happiest day of your life, he says, rearranging himself on the bed
so hes next to me with his back against the headboard and his feet extended in front of
him.
I frown. He clearly remembers this from the first Hunger Games when Peeta asked
me the same thing. Why?
Im not tired and theres nothing else to do.
I sigh. It was when I we, I correct myself, brought Lady home to Prim. I give
him the same one I gave Peeta, with a slight modification to reflect what really happened.
Really?
Well, its up there.
Fair enough. What else is up there?
I groan. Most of my favorite days have to do with Gale, during a simpler time when
our biggest concern was getting food on the table. And he knows it, which is why hes
pressing me.
I ignore his question and turn the tables on him instead, Your turn.
He beams. Thats easy. The day you survived your first Hunger Games. Youre up.
Ummm the first time my dad took me to the cabin and the pond. He taught me
how to swim. Its the best memory I have of him. Your turn.
The day you kissed me in District 2. Of course, the circumstances surrounding that
were pretty horrible and the kiss didnt really count. Well need to try again, so I can
replace that memory with something even better, he says with a coy grin.
I shake my head. I plead temporary insanity from everything that was going on
then.
He laughs. Thats probably true. But you liked it just as much as I did.
I roll my eyes, but know hes right. That kiss with him was different from all my kisses
with Peeta. There was an intensity that Id never felt before. Maybe it was because of the
war or maybe it was because of the strong feelings that have always existed between us
from friendship to anger to jealousy to one brief moment of passion.
He tilts his head down and looks up at me through his long, thick lashes. We could
always rewrite that memory tonight.
My heart stops. He slowly leans closer, giving me ample time to resist, but I cant
move or speak. The memory of our one and only kiss burns though me.
He trails his fingers down the side of my face. The feeling of his rough fingers on my
skin causes my breath to catch in my throat. He stops at my chin and gently tilts my head
so Im looking directly into his dark, inviting eyes. Leaning closer again, he parts his lips,
and I feel his warm breath brush against my cheek. I close my eyes and hold my breath,
expecting the pressure of his lips against mine. Instead, all I feel is a quick peck on the tip
of my nose. I open my eyes in shock.
Well, thats a good sign, he says smugly before standing and strolling out of my
room, while I gape at him with open incredulity.
That night I get very little sleep. Between the filming on a cause I dont even remotely
believe in to the unexpected and very unsettling encounter with Gale, my mind runs a
million miles an hour. I cant believe I was going to let Gale kiss me. What about Peeta?
Gale does have a point that a future with Peeta is virtually impossible. But I cant give up
hope that we can find a way to make it work. I owe that to Peeta, dont I?
The next morning, after a quiet breakfast between the three of us, Peeta and I head
over to the Presidents mansion.
In the elevator, he says, I saw Gale leave your room last night.
I gulp. He wanted to make sure I was okay.
I just want you to know that I wouldnt be upset if things worked out between you
and him. Hes better for youwe all know that.
I touch his arm. Dont say that. Well get through this, Peeta. I have to believe that.
He shakes his head. I cant even kiss you, Katniss!
Yes, you can, I say, biting my lip.
Have you already forgotten about the time in the thunderstorm? Hes angry and
frustrated.
I havent forgotten. In fact, that memory has started taking front stage during my
nightly terrors.
Well find a way to make it work, I say, trying to convince both of us.
We walk the rest of the way in silence and are met by the President herself at the front
door of the mansion. Im so glad you could make it, she says as though were arriving
for a cocktail party, rather than being blackmailed into supporting an atrocious cause of
her own.
Lets just get this over with, I say without emotion.
Her mouth tightens into a thin line, but she says nothing as she leads us to an elevator
and then several floors below ground level. When the doors open, were met by the
familiar site of a makeshift TV studio; however, our usual crew has been replaced.
Wheres Cressida? I ask.
She and I didnt see eye-to-eye on this project, so I opted to go with Renel here
instead.
Renel nods, but makes no attempt to interact with me. In his navy checked suit, dark
auburn hair, and thick black glasses he appears all businesslike as he orders cameramen
around and adjusts the lighting of the teleprompter. I immediately dislike him and wish I
wouldve made using Cressida a stipulation of our agreement.
Wheres my prep team?
No makeover for this. We want you to look natural. Just put on your Mockingjay suit
and youll be ready.
Well, thats the best news Ive had with all of this. At least I wont have to suffer
through being waxed and buffed and polished until Im down to only a single layer of
skin. But with that relief comes concern. I remember how my prep team was treated in
District 13 and worry that Coin has tortured them again. I certainly wouldnt put that
past her. And with that thought, I decide I need to protect myself before I go forward with
Coins plan.
I have one stipulation to doing this, I tell her.
I dont know that youre in a position to be negotiating, she says with that annoying,
barely perceptible smile of hers.


CHAPTER
TEN
I IGNORE COINS comment and say, Once I do this to your satisfaction, youll leave me
alone. Im not going to allow you to control my life. Ill do this and then were through.
No more favors, no more blackmailing. This is it.
Coins mouth spreads into a full on smile for once. That I can agree to. I wont have
any use for you once were done with this.
She walks me to a small dressing room where I see the dreaded suit hanging. Maybe, if
Im lucky, Ive gained weight and it wont fit anymore.
Coin says, You can change here and then come out to the green screen. Peeta, you
come with me.
Where are you taking him? I ask, the fear in my voice detectable.
Somewhere he can watch your performance. Dont worryyoull be able to see him
the entire time. She leads him back the way we came. He glances over his shoulder and
gives me a reassuring smile.
I groan after changing into the suitunfortunately, it still fits perfectly. The only
positive thing is that my bow and arrow are included. I cant believe Coin is allowing me
access to itshe must not realize how much I hate her. I could end everything right now
with one precisely aimed arrow. Of course, with all these witnesses, Id probably end up
with a life sentence in prison or worse. I sigh, acquiescing to the plan weve already
devised.
I make my way to the green screen, searching for Peeta the whole time. I finally spot
him to the right of the main camera in a small room with floor to ceiling windows. Coins
rightIll be able to see him the entire time. Hes sitting in a chair, looking at the ground
and nodding. Someone must be talking to him. I walk towards the room so I can get a
better view.
When I get directly in front of him, I gasp at the sight. Hes not just sitting in the
chair, his wrists and ankles are shackled to it. And talking to him is a doctor I recognize
from District 13. The doctor is gaunt with thin, pale skin. I remember him having a
circular bald patch on the top of his head, but its now expanded into a horseshoe shape
leaving the edge of his hairline right above his ears. His eyes are bloodshot and his hands
visibly shake as he talks to Peeta.
Peeta is biting his lip, but continues to nod as the doctor holds a small rectangular
object in front of him.
I pound on the glass. Whats going on? I scream to no one in particular. Let him
go! He doesnt need to be in there. Ill do whatever you want!
Suddenly, Coin appears next to Peeta with a microphone in her hand.
I know you will, she says into the microphone, her voice broadcasting out to the
entire room. This is just to confirm that. Im sure well have no need for Dr. Aurelius
services today.
I hold my hand to the glass for Peeta and whisper, Im sorry. He gives me a strained
smile and mouths back, Im fine.
I stalk to the green screen with the intent of finishing the filming as soon as possible.
Renel hands me the script, which I skim through. Its awful, but no worse than I expected.
A few minutes later, everyone is in place and were ready to get started. I turn towards
the camera and read the script off the teleprompter.
Congratulations Panem. With your fortitude and perseverance, were no longer under
the tyranny of Cornelius Snow. We have a new leader, committed to ensuring this country
achieves its potential. But before that can happen, we need to heal as a nation. We need
each and every one of you to feel secure in your new country.
As a Hunger Games victor, I can tell you how much resentment I feel towards the people
of the Capitol. How could they, year after year, sentence innocent children to death as a
form of entertainment? Its time, Panem, for us to seek retribution. Its time for a Hunger
Games with Capitol tributes, so they can feel the pain weve felt for the past 75 years.
When I finish, I look to the crowd watching me. No one says anything. In fact, no one
gives any indication that they even realize Ive finished. Theyre all staring at me open-
mouthed.
I shuffle my feel uncomfortably, waiting for someone to say something. Finally, Renel
breaks the silence. That was dreadful.
He looks to Coin. I thought you said she was a natural? She had no emotion in her
voice at all. Its like she was reading a recipe for minced meat pie!
I interrupt Renels assessment of me. Im terrible on camera! Ive always been terrible
on camera. Im only good if Im caught in action and saying something I believe in. I
glare at Coin. Ill never believe in this so youll have to accept my performance for what it
is!
I yank off the microphone and start to storm off the stage when Coins voice stops me
dead in my tracks. Shes still in the room with Peeta, her mouth against the microphone.
You said you would complete these spots to my satisfaction, Katniss. That
performance was not to my satisfaction. I suggest you put a little emotion behind the
words.
Or what?! Are you going to torture Peeta in front of all these witnesses, I say waving
my hands to the group, just because Im a terrible actress?!
Saying nothing, she nods to Dr. Aurelius, who places the rectangular object to Peetas
neck and then pushes a button. A short scream escapes Peetas lips and then his whole
body begins shaking violently. His limbs tense uncontrollably against the shackles and his
head flops to the side. All I can see is the whites of his eyes, as they roll up into his head.
Stop! Stop! I scream, running to the glass. I hit my palm against it. Leave him
alone! Ill do it again. Ill do a good job, I promise. Just stop! I clench my hand into a fist
and pound on the glass with all my force, as Dr. Aurelius continues to hold the weapon to
Peetas neck.
After a moment, Coin nods to the doctor, and he lowers the device. Peeta slumps in
the chair, his eyes closed and drool escaping the side of his slack mouth. I stand there
watching him for a couple minutes until his eyes finally blink open in confusion. Coins
voice resonates over the speaker, Lets try that again, Katniss.
I return to the green screen and read the script again. This time, I channel my anger
for Coin and Dr. Aurelius into my performance. I spit out the words and shoot daggers
with my eyes to the two people I despise most. If anger is what they want, thats what
theyll get. At the end, I even add my own words, as I glare at Coin with contempt.
Its time we stop letting others scare us into submission. Its time we take our lives back
and show them that we are strong and will prevail against all odds!
Im sure it will be edited out, but at least it makes me feel better. Again, when I finish
no one moves a muscle. Although, this time I see fear in their eyes, not shock at my utter
lack of on-air talent. No doubt theyre all wary of how Coin will react to my ad hoc
addition to the script. I stare at Coin, who finally picks up the microphone and says,
That will do for today. Thank you, Katniss. Same time tomorrow, please. Shes all
business again, like she didnt just zap Peeta to within an inch of his life.
Everyone in the room starts moving around, methodically completing their duties
without so much as a glimpse towards me or Peeta. I hope its out of embarrassment that
theyre involved in such an appalling situation. Why would these people agree to help
Coin with this? And then it dawns on meshes probably threatening each of them in
some way, too.
They release Peeta from the room and he stumbles over to me. I grab his arm and
hold him steady as we head back to the Training Center. Lunch is waiting for us when we
arrive, but neither of us can eat after what weve been through. Instead, I change clothes
and then we climb the stairs to the roof. Im vaguely aware of how Gale would not
approve of us being alone, but Peetas in no shape to attack me right now. And, we have
plenty of time before he returnswell be sure to meet him outside the Training Center at
precisely 5 PM.
We lie down on the rooftop, under the wind chimes, and try to forget about the day.
My head is resting on Peetas chest, while he plays with my hair.
Im so sorry, Peeta, I say. I had no idea they were going to do that to you.
He wraps his arms around me. Of course you didnt. Dont worry about it. Im fine
now. Only a couple more days and well be done with all of this.
Did it hurt?
Not really. It was a quick shock, but then I dont remember anything after that. It
couldve been worse
I cringe at that thought. What if it is worse next time? How much of this can he
endure? How much can I endure? I know that Im going to have to do a better job. Ill
have to appease Coin no matter how difficult it is.
Hours later, an enraged voice startles me.
What the hell are you doing up here?! Gale screams from the doorway.
The sun is setting, and I immediately realize we must have fallen asleep. Its well past 5
PM.
I pull myself into a sitting position, as Gale continues his rant. You agreed that you
wouldnt be alone with each other! Ive spent the last two hours searching for you, sure
that Peeta managed to kill you somewhere!
I point to my bow lying next to me. We took precautions, I mutter.
Im sorry, Gale. We messed up. We had a pretty rough morning and werent really
thinking straight, Peeta says.
From now on, when youre done with Coin, you come straight to the Nationalists
headquarters. Im not living through another two hours like I just had! he yells and
begins marching back downstairs. We stand and follow him quietly.
That night, no one comes to visit me in my room; instead, Im left alone with my
thoughts. I reflect on what Peeta said in the elevator earlier in the day. He was basically
giving me permission to be with Gale, to leave him behind. And Gale has been crystal
clear that he wants to be with me. But what do I want? And is what I want realistic given
the world we live in? In the early morning hours I finally fall into a fitful sleep riddled
with nightmares of Peeta being tortured, me being killed by Peeta, and Gale trying to kiss
me. I wake up more exhausted than I was the night before.
A knock on my door alerts me to breakfast. I quickly change clothes and head out to
the common area where Peeta and Gale are already seated. We eat in silence and then all
three of us leave the Training Center together.
Peeta and I arrive to the studio at 8 AM sharp. But instead of video cameras, there are
still cameras and large flashes surrounded by tremendous white boxes. At the back of the
studio is a painted backdrop depicting the arena from the 74
th
Hunger Games, my
Hunger Games. The Cornucopia is the center of focus, but tributes can be seen scurrying
around. I immediately pick out Rue and then Cato. My body shudders reflexively at the
memories.
Whats going on? I ask Renel, who has stepped beside us to adjust a flash.
Photo shoot. We figured we could all use a little break after yesterday, he says
glancing between me and Peeta. His voice is businesslike, but his look says more. I
suddenly have a little more respect for him and wonder what Coin is holding over his
head.
Peeta goes into his room, where Coin is already stationed, but I feel better about it
today. Theres not much I can do wrong with a photo shoot. He should be free from
torture for the next few hours, at least.
Renel barks orders to the photographer who lines up the camera and lights. He then
places me in front of the backdrop and provides directions on how to stand. Overall, its
not nearly as bad as yesterday. Once everything is lined up appropriately, the
photographer steps behind his camera and clicks the shutter button. The flashes go off,
and Im momentarily blinded.
What happens next is a blur. While my vision is still a solid sheet of white, I hear a
scream of rage emanate from the speaker. Then, Coin yells, Whats going on with him?
What did you do?!
When my vision returns, I can see the commotion in the glass-walled room. Peeta has
that deranged look on his face and hes jerking against his restraints. Coin is gawking at
him with fear and confusion, while yelling at Dr. Aurelius. Then, suddenly, Peeta pulls
one arm and both feet free of the shackles. He grabs the chair, which is still attached to
one hand and hurls it against the glass. The wall between us shatters and Peeta makes a
beeline straight towards me, yelling profanities the entire way as he drags the chair behind
him.
I back up, ready to run, but trip over a wire. Im on the ground, completely
vulnerable, and hes only a few feet away. I scramble backwards but reach the backdrop.
Theres nowhere else for me to go. Hes so close now that I can see the sweat beading up
on his forehead. Why is no one trying to help? Why are they all just watching this play
out? I pull my bow to the front and load it with an arrow. Drawing back on the string, I
aim directly for Peetas chest.


CHAPTER
ELEVEN
STOP! AN UNFAMILIAR voice echoes through the small, makeshift studio. Dont do it,
Katniss!
It breaks my concentration and, in that split-second, Peeta is kneeling on top of me.
He reaches for my throat, but I shield myself with the bow. He snarls and tries to pull it
away, but the chair dangling from his wrist impedes his movement. Then he changes
tackhe lifts the chair overheadand I know I only have a moment before it will come
crashing down on my skull. I reposition my arms to take the brunt of the blow.
I hear it before I feel anything. A sharp crack that could either be my arm fracturing
or the chair breaking apart. But seconds later, its obvious which one it was, as the pain
commences. It feels like Ive been hit by a sledgehammer. A sharp and piercing pain
radiates from my left forearm, followed by a flood of heat moving into my chest. I wince
and try to protectively cover my arm, but Peetas lifting the chair again.
When the chair is at its peak, he rises on his knees slightly. I take advantage of the
situation and pull one of my legs out from beneath him. Hes distracted by my movement,
giving me the opening I need. I draw my knee to my chest and drive it forward with all
my strength, meeting him squarely in the gut. His body bends backwards, and he exhales
forcefully, but hes still pinning my other leg. I struggle against him, trying to free myself,
but he recovers in no time. Hes got the chair over his head again and brings it crashing
down on my outstretched forearm one more time. But theres no pain nowits
numbness that spreads, followed by a wave of nausea. He raises the chair yet again and I
try to shield myself, but Im on the verge of being sick.
I turn my head to the side and finally see someone running towards us. Its Dr.
Aurelius. He grabs the chair and tries to pull it from Peetas grip, but hes no match for
Peetas strength. Peeta easily jerks it free from his hands and focuses back on me.
Swallowing the bile rising in my throat, I raise my arms, readying myself for another hit,
when Dr. Aurelius leans into Peetas ear and whispers something. I see his lips move, but
cant make out the words. The effect is immediate. Peetas face relaxes, his eyes clear, and
he drops the chair. It becomes obvious when hes assessed the situation for what it is
with wide eyes, he bites his trembling lip. In no time, his eyes become misty with the
threat of tears.
Dr. Aurelius unlocks the one remaining shackle, freeing Peeta from the chair. He
touches my left arm, which is now a brilliant and mottled shade of red that is rapidly
spreading. Im Im so sorry, he says before standing and running out of the room
with his head held in his hands.
What the hell was that? Coin yells from behind the broken glass wall. This is the
first time Ive ever seen her lose her cool. Was she not aware of how her holograms and
mind games with Peeta manifest in real life?
This is what youre doing to us! I scream at her in fury. This is what your constant
torture does to him! Even if you never bother us again, well have to live with this for the
rest of our lives!
Her eyes dart from me to Dr. Aurelius and back to me. For a brief second, I think I see
a flash of uncertainty in them.
But that look is quickly replaced by her usual cold, stone-faced exterior, as she says,
Youre clearly upset and not thinking straight, Katniss. Lets call it a day. Dr. Aurelius,
take care of her arm. Then she marches out of the room without further comment.
To me, the doctor says, Lets go up to my office.
Ill pass, I say coldly and grab my bow with my good arm.
I think your arms broken.
Really? How many years of medical training did it take for you be able to determine
that? I spit out at him.
Ill need to set it so it heals properly. Id hate for you to lose function in that arm.
Im sure you would, I say over my shoulder as I walk away from him, cradling my
left arm to my body to minimize the shooting pain that comes with even the slightest
amount of movement.
He catches up to me as I wait for the elevator. I know you dont trust me. You have
no reason to trust me. But, I would like to help. I owe that to you and Peeta, he says.
I turn and catch a sadness in his eyes before he averts his gaze.
He continues, Heres my card. I included directions to my office on the back, should
you change your mind.
The elevator doors open and I enter without responding. I place the card in one of the
many pockets Cinna included in my suit and then head back to the Training Center.
Hopefully, Peeta will be there so I can show him that Im fine and we can somehow try to
get through this.
Not surprisingly, though, the Training Center is quiet and empty when I return. The
nausea still hasnt subsided and my arm has started throbbing, so I lie down on the couch
in the common area to rest and wait for Peetas arrival. At some point, I must have passed
out from either the pain or pure exhaustion because the next thing I know, Im being
poked in the side. When I open my eyes, Gale is sitting on the coffee table with a bowl of
broth.
Hungry?
Ugh no, I say with a frown.
Looks like you put up a pretty good fight, he says nodding to my arm.
I think its broken.
Maybe you should see one of the fine doctors here in the Capitol.
An offer was made. I declined.
Gales grabs a small square container from the table and holds it up to his face. Was
that offer by a Dr. Aurelius? he asks, reading the label.
Yes, I groan.
Well, looks like he left some pain killers for you, if youd like them.
My eyes light up. Those Ill take. Give me one.
He hands me a small, translucent square, no bigger than the tip of my thumb.
What am I supposed to do with this?
The directions say to place it on your tongue and let it dissolve.
I do as Gale says, and the throbbing immediately subsides. I close my eyes and moan
in relief.
Better?
Uh huh.
Do you want to talk about what happened?
I open my eyes and expect Gale to have a smug, I-told-you-so look on his face, but
instead he looks contemplative.
Im sure you already know.
I know Peetas side, but Id like to hear yours.
I shrug. I was having a photo shoot and something set him off. He attacked me again.
This time with a chair, I say, sticking to the facts. When did you talk to him?
He came to where Ive been during the day, he says, evasively.
So, Peeta is at the Nationalists headquarters. At least hes someplace safe and not
wandering aimlessly through the Capitol.
Gale continues, He plans on staying there for a while.
Why?
Gale raises his eyebrows. Isnt that obvious?
So, he plans on avoiding me then. How long is that supposed to last?
A disbelieving look flits across Gales face before he hands me a piece of folded paper
and says, He asked me to give you this.
I unfold it and read Peetas delicate handwriting:
Dearest Katniss,
Words cannot describe how terribly sorry I am for what happened today. When I came
to and saw what I had done, I felt like part of me died. I want nothing more than for us
to grow close again, but I think we have to accept our fate. Im a dangerous animal that
could snap at any moment. Im not willing to continue to put your life at risk. Im
grateful for the time weve shared the past few weeks. Despite everything weve gone
through, I feel myself falling in love with you all over again. Unfortunately, sometimes
love isnt enough.
Youll be forever in my thoughts--
Peeta
My mouth drops open and I stare at the paper. Hes telling me goodbye. And not even
giving me a say in the matter.
Gale asks, What did he write?
I cant answer him, so I just pass him the letter. He quickly reads it and then sets it
down on the table. Cautiously, he slides his body next to mine on the couch.
Im sorry. I really am. I know how hard it is to give up someone you love, he says.
And even if you cant admit it, I know you love him.
A lump forms in my throat. I try to swallow, but the lump just gets bigger. I stare
straight ahead, not focusing on anything in particular. If I focus on something, the tears
that are building in my eyes will begin pouring down my cheeks.
Gale notices, Its okay to cry.
I shake my head, more for myself than him.
Im not sure how long we sit like that, but eventually, he picks me up and carries me
to my room. He places me on the bed and then lies down next to me. Pulling my body
close, he holds my head to his chest and strokes my hair.
Ill always be here for you, Katniss. Please dont forget that. I hear him say before I
drift off to sleep.
The next morning, Im awakened by Gale brushing a stay piece of hair behind my ear.
Good morning, he says when I open my eyes.
Im momentarily shocked by his presence. Did he stay with me all night? Even when
he took care of me back in District 12, he never laid next to me. I immediately feel
guiltyhow can I do this to Peeta? But then the awful memories from yesterday come
rushing back. Peetas gone. And my arm is killing me. I groan, and Gale reaches over to
the bedside table. He pulls out one of the painkillers, which I greedily accept from him.
Would you like me to go to the Presidents mansion with you today?
I shake my head.
We get up and have a quiet breakfast, just the two of us. Peetas absence is
overwhelmingI have to excuse myself before Ive even finished. Back in my room, I
retreat to the shower where I finally unleash my tears and sobs under the security of the
water, where Gale cant see or hear me. When my sobbing finally calms to quiet hiccups, I
take a half-hearted shower with my one functioning arm. As soon as I turn off the water, I
hear pounding on my bedroom door. I hastily wrap a towel around me and walk to the
sound. What?! I ask with annoyance as I open the door.
What are you doing in there? Ive been knocking for ten minutes, he says with equal
annoyance. But then he catches my reddened eyes and his face softens. Sorry, he
murmurs, I just wanted to make sure youre okay.
Im fine. Thank you, I say with embarrassment and close the door.
A few minutes later, Gale walks me to the Presidents mansion. After three more
attempts of me telling him Im fine, he finally heads off to the Nationalists headquarters
and I make my way down to the studio. I contemplated writing a letter for Peeta, but I
dont know what Id say. I want to tell him to come back, that everything will be alright,
but we both know I cant make that promise. And what if he causes more than a broken
arm next time? If I were lucky enough to live through it, wed just be thrust into this cycle
again.
I sigh as the elevator doors open and I enter the studio. Things are set up like
yesterday, which must mean were going to try the photo shoot again. I notice that the
broken glass has been fixed and Coin is sitting in the room with a very tired looking Dr.
Aurelius. Peetas not therenot that I expected him to bebut I wonder how Coin will
feel about that.
Renel pulls me over to the backdrop, and the photographer directs me into various
poses again. Im grateful that hes mindful of my left arm, which I can only hold straight
down or tight against my body. I apologize because I know hes not getting the shots he
wants, but he says hell make them work. It seems like weve all grown a little closer over
the last two days. After a few hours, when my arm starts throbbing again, Renel tells me
were done for the day.
As I walk towards the elevator, Coins voice echoes through the room, Tell Peeta Ill
expect him here tomorrow. No exceptions.
Great. Peeta has no intentions of ever seeing me again, and I need to somehow
convince him to come here with me tomorrow. And for what reason, so that hes not
tortured or killed by Coin? Hed probably welcome that at this point. Theres no way hell
agree to come back here.
While Im waiting for the elevator, Dr. Aurelius joins me again, like he did yesterday.
He asks, How are you feeling?
Fine.
Did you get the painkillers I sent?
Yes.
Heres a splint, he says passing me a gray piece of fabric with various straps hanging
off of it. The immobilization will help with healing.
Thanks, I mutter, taking it from his hands.
Id still like to do a thorough exam Katniss. Please feel free to stop by my office if you
have any questions about... he pauses and then finally finishes, your condition.
His awkward demeanor causes me to look at him, really look at him for the first time
today. His eyes droop with dark bags under them and tight lines at their corners. His skin
looks paler than usual, and his jaw is set in a hard line. He looks stressed and completely
exhausted. Maybe torturing others has finally taken its toll on him.
The doors open, and I enter the elevator without saying a word. As the doors begin
closing, he says, I have answers for you, Katniss.


CHAPTER
TWELVE
BACK AT THE Training Center, I take another pain killer and retreat to my bedroom. Its
only mid-morning, but I have no plans for the day and absolutely no motivation to do
anything, so I climb into bed, hoping to take a long nap.
Unfortunately, after only a couple hours, the inevitable nightmares hit and I wake up
screaming. I roll over and find myself staring at Gales leg.
Hey, he says, looking down at me. Hes sitting with his back against the headboard
fiddling with the splint that I never bothered to put on. He places it on the bedside table
and then tugs on my braid.
How are you feeling?
Ignoring his question, I ask, What are you doing here? My breathing is still labored
from the nightmare.
I was worried. How are you? he asks again.
Fantastic.
For some reason, I dont believe that.
After a few moments of silence, he continues, Do you want to get some fresh air?
Theres a park not too far from here.
I actually thought staying in bed for the rest of the day sounded pretty appealing, but I
know theres no way Ill be falling back asleep anytime soon.
Sighing, I say, If you want to.
I do. He jumps off the bed with too much enthusiasm. Lets go.
I groan and roll onto my back, staring at the ceiling. Give me a few minutes.
You never used to be this lazy, Catnip, he says, teasingly.
You could cut me a little slack I do have a broken arm.
Ive seen worse, he replies with zero sympathy. But you should probably put this
thing on, he adds, tossing the splint to me.
I groan again, but force myself to sit up. After spending ten minutes arranging and
rearranging the straps of the splint into a position that seems to work, we walk to a tiny
park in the middle of the city.
Before the rebellion, this place was probably very nice. Now, its a collage of toppled
stone rubble, singed grass, and ash-like debris. We skirt around the splintered and jagged
concrete sidewalk, opting for the soft dirt instead. As we approach the center circle of the
park, I run my hands along the smooth marble remains of what was probably part of a
bench, but is now a lone pillar, its glistening white surface and precise gray veins in sharp
contrast to the rest of the devastation. The one nice thing in the parkthe thing that
actually brings a smile to my faceis the central statue of Snow that someone has
beheaded. Id love to add a similar one of Cointhey could be a matching pair.
Sitting down on a large rock, I ask, What exactly are we doing here?
Gale settles next to me. I thought we should talk.
We couldve done that on the rooftop.
You needed to get out of the Training Center. And this place is just as safe.
Gales right. Theres no way Coin would be monitoring this wasteland. And none of
the Capitol people seem to come through here. In fact, very few Capitol people are even
walking around town.
Where is everyone?
Who?
The Capitol people?
They dont spend much time outside anymore. Apparently, seeing the devastation is
too much for them. You know how they like everything to be beautiful and perfect, he
says in his Capitol accent.
I let out a quiet laugh. Its like the old days when we used to sit in the woods and poke
fun at the Capitol. Its refreshing and soothing and makes things seem a little more
normal than they actually are.
What do you want to talk about? I ask.
Our plan.
I didnt know we had a plan.
Of course we do. Youre going to finish the promotion for Coin, then well figure out
a way to stop the games, and then He stops and looks at me out of the corner of his
eye, waiting for me to finish his sentence.
I stare straight ahead, saying nothing.
Finally he relents and turns towards me. And then you plan to go home. Its more of
a statement than a question.
Im not sure why, but it annoys me. Maybe because I feel like hes already assuming
our lives are somewhat connected with Peeta out of the picture. Or maybe its because I
cant even bother to make plans for an afternoon, let alone the rest of my life.
I havent really thought about it, I say curtly.
The Nationalists could really use you.
I gape at him incredulously. He, of all people, should know how much I want to be
out of the spotlight. How little interest I have in the politics of our nation.
Theres always someone who wants me to be their puppet. Thanks for the offer Gale,
but I decline.
He shakes his head and rolls his eyes. Not as a puppet. You have a good head on your
shoulders. We could use that. Were trying to develop a strategy and the more minds we
having working together, the better.
Still not interested. I belong in District 12, not here.
It wouldnt be forever. Just a few months.
I shake my head. Cant he just get it through his thick skull that we are very different
people? I know he wants to change the world, but all I want is a simple, quiet life.
Looking at his shuffling feet, he quietly asks, Will you do it for me?
Now its my turn to roll my eyes. No.
Come on, Katniss. I dont want you to go home alone. Id feel better if we were
together. But I really want to see this thing through.
Sorry Im cramping your style, I say, standing.
He grabs me by my good arm and pulls me back to my perch. Dont be like this. I
know youre going through a lot, but there are other things going on, too. Things that
affect the entire country, not just you.
My eyes narrow reflexively at his accusation. And there are plenty of people to take
care of those things. I dont need to be involved. And I dont need you to accompany me
back home.
I stand and start walking back to the Training Center. This time he lets me go.
That night, still upset from my talk with Gale, I fall into a troubled sleep, replete with
the usual nightmares. But its a new one that has the greatest effect on me.
Were in the Quarter Quell arena. Its just before midnight and were on the beach,
running away from where the impending storm will strike. Once we get well into the next
section of the clock, we take a moment to catch our breath. Finnick lowers Mags to the
sand, and Peeta turns to me.
We should be safe here, he says, wrapping his arms around me.
I nod and turn into his chest, so I wont have to watch the imminent blood rain
downpour.
Sorry to interrupt such a tender moment, but can you hand me the spile? We need to
get something to drink while we have a break, Finnick says from behind me.
I reluctantly push away from Peeta and reach into my pocket for it. As soon as I have
the spile in my hand, the lightning strikes, startling me and causing me to drop it. I lean
over to pick it up, but am knocked to the ground when something strikes me forcefully on
the back.
The wind has been completely knocked out of me. I try to scramble to my knees, but
its dark and I cant breathe. Instead I crawl on my belly in a sad attempt to get away from
whatever my newest attacker is. Maybe a giant owl or spider with the head of a dragon. I
search the darkness but dont see the offending creature. Then Peetas coming towards
me. Good, hell help me. Hell fend off whatever attacked me.
But instead of helping me, he grabs me by the shirt and pulls me to a standing
position. My breathing is coming in gasps. He wraps his fingers around my neck and lifts
me off the ground. I reach for his arms, trying to push him away, but its no use. My feet
are now dangling six inches above the sand, and all oxygen is cut off. I know its only a
matter of seconds before I pass out.
Why is Peeta trying to kill me in the arena? Why is no one trying to help? Wheres
Finnick?
Then, out of the darkness, I hear, I have answers for you, Katniss.
I try to turn my head, but Peetas grip holds me steady. At the corner of my vision, I
see a flash of movement, and then Finnick is standing behind Peeta. Only its not Finnick
anymore, its Dr. Aurelius. I owe that to you and Peeta. My vision begins to cloud,
but I see him lean into Peetas ear and whisper something. Immediately, Peeta opens his
hands and I tumble to the ground.
I wake up in a pool of sweat, but know I have to see Dr. Aurelius immediately. With
everything thats happened, I forgot that he had whispered something into Peetas ear in
the studio. Something that completely stopped his attack. What was it? And can anyone
do that? Is it possible that I could stop Peetas attacks just as easily if I knew the right
words?


CHAPTER
THIRTEEN
I FRANTICALLY SEARCH through the pockets of the Mockingjay suit until I find the small,
now crumpled card from Dr. Aurelius. The front has his name and title, Chief Medical
Officer to the President, but nothing else. I turn it over and on the back, scrawled in
barely legible script is See me before its too late. Sub-basement of the Presidents
Mansion, room 0212.
Its well past midnight, and I know hes probably not there, but since Im positive I
wont be falling back asleep, I hold out hope and make the short trek to the mansion. Im
met at the front door by an armed guard, no doubt wondering what the Mockinjay could
possibly need at this time of night.
What can I do for you, Miss Everdeen? he asks formally.
I need to see Dr. Aurelius. Its an emergency.
Fear creeps into his eyes. Are you alright?
I ignore his question. Its very important. Hes expecting me, I lie.
He nods and opens the door, allowing me to enter the marble foyer. Wait here while
I give the doctor a call.
Great. In all likelihood, my lie will be exposed and the guards will be instructed to
keep a close eye on me from now on, either due to worry that Im mentally unstable or
concern that Im a risk to national security. He picks up the phone and dials a number
from memory. I can hear the ringing from the handset held loosely against his ear. One,
two, three I have just about given up hope when a deep, slurred voice registers from the
other end. Yes.
Dr. Aurelius. The Mockingjay is here. She says youre expecting her.
The guard pulls the handset closer so I cant hear the doctors response, but after just a
brief pause the guard answers, Very well, and hangs up.
Ill take you to his office, he says to me. We wait in uncomfortable silence for the
elevator. Every few seconds, I catch him glancing at me from the corner of his eye. Im
sure the curiosity is killing him. When the elevator finally arrives, he holds the door and
motions for me to enter first.
Once inside, he clears his throat and says, I hope its nothing too serious. I heard
about Peeta the other day. Its such a shame.
Such a shame? Like Peetas some derelict teenager who never lived up to his potential.
I want to scream that its his government, the people hes protecting who have sentenced
Peeta to a life of violence and subsequent self-resentment, but I bite my tongue and keep
my face impassive. Taking my anger out on this guard will accomplish nothing, other
than make me their next topic of gossip.
After a few more minutes of even more uncomfortable silence, the elevator doors
open and he says, Go left, its the last door on the right.
I walk tentatively down the short, dark hallway. Only the nighttime security lights are
on, casting an eerie red glow on the polished marble floor and walls. I use the time to
collect my thoughts. The doctor seems to be close to Coin so I need to be careful what I
say. But, I also need to find out how he stopped Peetas attack. Im not leaving until he
tells me that. I finally have a glimpse of how I can make everything right and Im not
about to lose sight of that.
I stop at an engraved stone placard that reads,Dr. Montgomery Aurelius, and lightly
knock on the door.
It opens immediately, and a very haggard Dr. Aurelius peers out at me. His white coat
hangs limply on his frame that seems to have grown even more fragile over the past 12
hours. His eyes are rimmed in red and the dark bags underneath them have expanded.
Katniss. Im glad you came, so I can assess the damage to your arm.
I open my mouth in protest, but he raises his hand to stop me. Lets start with an x-
ray. Follow me.
He walks across the hall, unlocks the door, and motions for me to enter. I do as he
wishes, but say, I just want to ask you a few questions.
Yes, yes I know. Will your arm heal normally? Will you ever be able to shoot your
bow again? Well get to all of your questions in just a moment, he says with a stern look.
Hes cautioning me not to say too much.
I patiently sit through the multiple x-rays he takes and wait while he fiddles with the
portable computer in the dim light cast by all the equipment. Finally, he seems pleased
with the images and addresses me again. Lets review these in another room. Ive been
meaning to sterilize some equipment and Id like to get that started.
I follow him to yet another room. This one is small and even darker than the previous
one since it only has one piece of equipment emanating light.
He opens the portable computer and uses the light from the display to find two chairs.
He shoves one in my direction takes the other for himself.
Please have a seat, he says while pushing buttons on the massive, rectangular
machine on the counter. Im shocked by the loud swishing sounds that escape from it
once he pulls a large lever on the side.
He rolls his chair closer to me so that we are side-by-side, our arms touching. I try to
move away, but he grabs my wrist.
Now that we have the autoclave going, lets take a look at your images, he says
loudly into my ear. With all the noise from the machine, I can barely hear him even
though hes so close. Which means that Coin wont be able to hear our conversation at all.
Let me just adjust the contrast a bit so you can see this better, he says, decreasing the
amount of light radiating from his computer. Were in practical darkness now, which
means Coin wont be able to see us, either. So, hes just as worried about the
governmental eavesdropping and spying as weve been.
Thats better huh? he says and looks at me for the first time since weve entered this
room.
What answers do you have? I ask, getting to the heart of the matter.
He sighs. First, you have a hairline fracture of your radius, which I need to cast for
you tonight.
You know thats not why Im here.
He removes his glasses and rubs his eyes. I know. But Im not sure where I should
begin.
What did you whisper in his ear in the studio?
Nightlock.
I shake my head slightly in disbeliefnightlock has become the symbol of our lives.
Will he respond to that no matter who says it?
Yes. Its the safe word. We established it to stop him in the event he tried to hurt
anyone during one of his treatments.
I cringe at the word treatments. Torture is more like it. Torture aimed at ruining
both of us for the rest of our lives. Im surprised Snow would even allow a safe word
thats just a weakness, a chink in the armor that could compromise his plan of absolutely
destroying us.
Do you know what sets off his attacks? I ask.
During his treatments, he responded most strongly to a flashing light, which is what
we saw during the photo shoot. He was also programmed to react to key words, but he
never took to those as well.
That explains why he reacted during the thunderstormthe flash of lightning must
have pushed him over the edge. Something about all this doesnt seem right, though.
How do you know about his treatments? That was Snow. You were in District 13 at
the time.
The doctors eyes become even darker. Im not exactly what I seem, Katniss. My life
has been built on lies and deceit.
You were helping Snow? I ask in shock.
He nods slowly.
Did Coin know? Does she know?
No. Anyone who knew was killed during the rebellion.
How could you do that to us? And then pretend you were trying to help us in 13!
My voice is rising.
Why does anyone do these kinds of things? Promises of money, power. I am not
proud of what Ive done. You two didnt deserve any of it. Thats why Im trying to make
things right now.
My anger with this man is reaching epic proportions. I can feel the fury leaking out of
my pores. Make things right?! By exposing him to graphic and demented holograms
every night? By shocking him with an electric current in the studio until hes just a
mumbling shell of himself?!
He places his hand on my arm, but I furiously shake it off.
Im sorry. I I didnt know the holograms were still active. The batteries in the
transducers should have died by now. We were planning on them lasting six months and
they were placed when Peeta was transferred to 13. They were just a security measure. In
case the rebels won, Snow wanted to make sure the two of you were never happy. He
hated you. But you know that.
So Coin is completely innocent?
No, he says with a guttural laugh. Shes far from innocent. In fact, I think shes
much more dangerous than Snow ever was. But with regard to the holograms, yes. She
doesnt know about them.
So even after all that with Snow, you were still willing to torment us under Coins
directives? I ask contemptuously.
He runs his fingers through his thinning hair. I didnt feel like I had a choice. She
threatened me. Like she did you. Thats how she functions. Thats how she gets her way.
Shes manipulativeyou know that. He sighs again and puts his glasses back on.
So my assumption that she had blackmailed everyone involved in the promotion of
the 76
th
Hunger Games seems to be correct.
Why are you telling me this now?
I cant live with the guilt, the shame, any longer. I see how my actions are ruining
your lives.
I have a hard time believing hes now developed some sense of moral fortitude. Im
guessing its because there are no longer promises of money and power, but rather threats
of death. Maybe hes realized that his life is turning into something very similar to ours
fear dictating every action that he takes.
Coin is dangerous, Katniss. I think your role in our countrys future has only just
begun. You need to be strong. And I know you need Peeta by your side for that. The two
of you will save this country, he says with a renewed sense of urgency.
His words take me by surprise. No, I say forcefully. Im done after this promotion.
Shes agreed to leave me alone once I finish this. Peeta and I will go back to District 12
and try to heal from all of this. From what youve done to us, I say with disdain.
There are many lives at stake. Many more than in the revolution. Were talking
millions. I know youll do the right thing when the time comes. You, unlike me, have a
solid foundation built on honesty and strong ethics, always allowing compassion to direct
your actions.
I dismiss his words with a roll of my eyes. How do you know her plan?
He laughs. I dont know her master plan. Im filled in on the areas where she needs
me. Developing strategies for brainwashing or physically or mentally torturing war
prisoners...
I stare at him, my eyes wide.
Yes Katniss. That is our future with Coin.
I become quiet and let him cast my arm while I try to comprehend everything hes
told me. The good points are I can stop Peetas attacks and the holograms wont last
forever. We dont have to be afraid anymore. I smile as that realization sinks in.
Unfortunately, the bad points are Coin is as dangerous as I suspected and shes
developing a plan that puts the lives of millions at risk. Suddenly, my earlier conversation
with Gale seems to have greater implications than I thought.
Okay, youre all set, Dr. Aurelius says, interrupting my reflection. Leave this on for
four weeks. After that, all you do is turn this fastener here, he says pointing to a lever at
the top. The cast will open slightly and youll be able to slide your arm out.
Sure, I say, not really listening to him.
He continues. I truly am sorry for all the damage Ive caused. I dont expect your
forgiveness, but please dont allow whats happened prevent you from doing whats right
in the future. Your most important role is yet to come.
And with that, he ushers me out of the room. I cant help but feel like its a final
farewell of sorts.


CHAPTER
FOURTEEN
THE NEXT MORNING I head to the Presidents mansion a little early. I hadnt fallen back
asleep the night before with all the new information from Dr. Aurelius running through
my mind, especially the most important piecePeeta can come back. With everything
going on right now, its refreshing to have one positive thing finally happen to us.
When I walk through the studio door I see the crew quietly erecting the green screen
and placing video cameras in various locations throughout the room. A very animated
Coin is in the corner, talking to a guard in hushed whispers. I look to the glass room,
expecting to see Dr. Aurelius, but its empty.
Well find him! Coins loud command breaks the silence of the room. I turn in her
direction, as she comes marching towards me.
Wheres Peeta? she asks.
I havent seen him since he tried to kill me, I say coolly. Whats the plan for today?
The sooner we start, the sooner I can finish and find Peeta to tell him the great news.
Another video.
I cringe. This may take longer than I thought.
Yes, exactly, Coin says, sensing my concern. Thats why we need Peeta. So you
have some motivation to be convincing.
Ill be fine, I say through gritted teeth, although I doubt it myself.
Coins eyes dart around the room, as though shes looking for someone. I get the
distinct sense that she is distracted by something important this morning. My mind
wanders as I wait for direction from her. Maybe she knows about the Nationalists? Or
maybe the Capitol people are starting to get angry with how shes treating them?
Finally her eyes lock on mine again and she says, Lets just give it a try. I take a deep
breath as she turns on her heel and begins striding to the glass room.
After changing into my Mockingjay suit, one of the crew drapes and pins black fabric
over my arm, trying to disguise the bright white plastic cast.
Once Ive read the script and Renel has placed me in the correct spot for the first take,
its time to begin. I draw a deep breath and start reading the lines illuminated on the
teleprompter. But after just a few moments, Coins voice echoes through the room.
Cut! Not acceptable Katniss. We have a deal. Either you do this to my satisfaction or
there will be consequences, she hisses.
Renel approaches me and adjusts the microphone. He smooths my hair, fiddles with
the black fabric over my cast, and whispers, Pretend youre sending her to the Games,
Katniss. Pretend its her and Snow and all the other people who have hurt you.
Slowly, I move my eyes up to meet his. I can see the anguish there. He doesnt want to
be here. He doesnt want to see me or Peeta tortured anymore. Hes trying to help the best
he can. I nod and take another deep breath, slowly releasing it as I imagine Coin in the
arena. An involuntary smile spreads across my face as I picture myself in there with her. I
have no doubt who would win that match up and the thought fills me with immense joy
and satisfaction.
Renel yells Action, and I start reading again. I do as he recommended and know its
working by the grin on his face. But about half way through my speech, Im distracted by
the guard from earlier storming into the studio and going straight to the glass room.
I continue reading, but watch his encounter with Coin. Whatever he tells her causes
her tense mouth to dip into a frown. She places her fingertips to her temples and appears
to be deep in thought. My gaze moves back to Renel who is also watching Coin. I stop
reading because its obvious no one is paying attention to me anymore.
The silence pulls Coin out of her contemplation. Were done for the day. Katniss, Ill
expect Peeta here tomorrow or our agreement is void, she says distractedly before
rushing out of the studio.
Those of us remaining in the room stare blankly at each other. What just happened?
Renel clears his throat and tells the crew to pack up for the day, making it clear there will
be no gossiping about what could have caused Coins behavior. Before heading out, I
change into normal clothes and say goodbye to Renel.
Ten minutes later, Im walking through the Capitol trying to remember where Gale
said the Nationalists headquarters is. I inwardly chastise myself for not paying closer
attention to him when he was talking. Ive been so caught up in my own drama I havent
really been supporting him with what hes doing. And now its coming back to hurt me
when I need to find Peeta.
I know its in the basement of a bar and it must not be far since Gale walks there every
day. How many bars can there be close to here? After a few minutes of wandering
aimlessly, I stop a middle-aged couple along the sidewalk and ask them for directions to
the nearest bar.
Recognition is immediate. They stare agape, but Im not sure what emotion flits
across their faces. Fear? Disdain? Shock that the Mockingjay is looking to drink mid-
morning? It doesnt seem to be a positive emotion, which makes me briefly think about
the promotion that will be coming out soon. Im sure I wont be able to show my face
here again after that. And I dont blame them. If I were in their shoes, Id hate me after
that, too. I have to remind myself that were going to stop the games. Eventually, theyll
understand everything.
After an uncomfortable beat, the man points to the left and says theres one two
streets over.
Are there any others close by?
He looks confused, but answers, Theres another one about a half mile from here,
back towards the river.
I thank them and feel confident the one two streets over is where Ill find Peeta. I pick
up my pace, excited to see him again and share my news.
The bar is in the middle of the block, between a haberdashery and a market. Overall
this block experienced minimal damage from the revolution, the only signs being a few
craters littered throughout the sidewalk and the occasional boarded up window,
indicating shrapnel likely found its way here. The bar itself is fairly non-descript with a
simple black awning. The windows are clean with stenciled block letters reading Capitol
Lounge. Beneath that are the words Fine Food & Drink.
Not surprisingly, the door is locked since its not even noon yet. I peer through the
window and see a middle-aged man with navy blue hair and a tight white t-shirt mopping
the floor. Hes got two plain gold hoop earrings in his right ear and an apron wrapped
around his thin waist, partially covering his burgundy and gray striped pants. I rap on the
glass, causing him to look up from his work with a scowl. But the scowl is immediately
replaced by a large grin when he seems to recognize me. He scurries over to the door and
opens it for me.
Its such an honor to meet you, he gushes. Im Tallis. Gale mentioned you might be
stopping by. Can I get you something to drink before you head downstairs?
Unfortunately we dont have much to offer since the rebellion, but Id be happy to get you
the best we have.
Uh, no. Im fine, I say. Why did Gale think Id come here? He doesnt know
anything about my meeting with Dr. Aurelius last night. Unless he thinks Im going to
offer to help the Nationalists like he requested.
The man leads me to the back of the room, through a thick wood door and down a
dark set of stairs. At the bottom, we pass through another door and then I hear raised
voices. It sounds like a heated discussion is taking place. The man points down the
hallway. At the end of the hall, turn right and go through the stockroom to their meeting
room.
I nod and thank him for his help before following his directions. I listen intently to
the discussion as I slowly approach the group.
I told you we needed to set up surveillance sooner! a recognizable voice says. Its
Gale, and hes angry.
It was too risky, you know that, a female voice admonishes. Maybe Paylor?
Yeah and now hes dead! Well never find out what he knew! It sounds like a fist
slams onto the table.
Well get enough incriminating evidence through other means, a more controlled
voice says. My knees go weak at the sound. Its Peeta.
The boys right. We have enough moles in there now that its only a matter of time
before the pieces start fitting together. Its Haymitch and surprisingly, he sounds sober
despite being in a bar.
Im not backing down on this. We need surveillance. We have to set up a camera in
Coins office! Back me up Beetee.
I hear Beetees soft voice reply, Yes, I agree. Even if we gather information through
other means, we need proof. To defeat her, were going to have to convince the courts.
Hearsay isnt going to cut it.
Suddenly, multiple people start talking at once. It sounds like this has been an
ongoing debate with strong opinions on both sides.
Now that Im only a few feet from the threshold of their meeting room, I feel
uncomfortable. Like Im eavesdropping, even though theyve asked me to be part of the
group. I stand behind a stack of boxes and glance around the edge to watch the meeting
in progress. Gale is on the far side of the table so I can see his face. Its contorted in anger.
Paylor is next to him at the head of the table with Haymitch opposite her. Plutarch is next
to Gale and Beetee is next to Plutarch. Two other people I dont know round out their
side of the table. The only form I recognize on the close side of the table is Peetas broad
back and curly blond hair.
I bite my lip. I want to rush to his side and tell him the good news, but now is
definitely not an appropriate time with everyone talking over each other.
Enough! Paylor shouts above the commotion, silencing everyone. Were not going
to accomplish anything by arguing with each other. Beetee and Gale, put together a
proposal that we can consider. Include how you intend on planting the bug and how
youll mitigate the inherent risks associated with it. Any questions?
No. That seems fair, Gale responds with a smug smile.
Good. Lets take a break. Meet back here in five minutes, she says addressing the
group.
My eyes immediately move to Peeta. He stands and stretches his arms above his head.
Turning to the guy on this left and says something that makes him laugh. Peeta joins in
and my body aches at the sound. I didnt realize how much Ive missed Peetas voice, his
laugh, the past two days.
My eyes continue scanning the room until Im back to Gale again. Hes still seated
next to Paylor and theyre deep in conversation. She reaches over and touches his
shoulder lightly as she talks. He glances downward at her touch but doesnt pull away. I
frown. How long has this been going on? I remember back to our first day here and how
she treated him like a close friend. Did something develop between them during the
rebellion? Have they rekindled whatever they had since weve been back here? That
thought makes my stomach churn.
Hearing someone clear his throat, Im brought out of my thoughts. I focus back on
Gale and find that hes staring straight at me. I feel my face reddening and try to regain
my composure. He seems to finally realize Paylors touching him and quickly pulls his
shoulder away, a slight blush appearing on his face. Thats a firstGales not one to get
embarrassed easily. He motions me over with his hand.
I take one step into the room, and all eyes turn to me, shock apparent on the faces. I
smile shyly as Gale pulls a chair to the table between him and Paylor.
You can have this seat, Katniss, he says welcoming me to the group.
He clearly doesnt know why Im here. He must think Ive changed my mind after our
conversation yesterday. I suddenly feel terrible. I shouldve talked to Gale first. Hes going
to be crushed when he finds out the truth.
I take the chair he offered and nod to the group. Peeta stares at me, eyes wide. He
looks scared. This really was a bad idea. I need to somehow get alone with Peeta to tell
him what I learned. But theres no way hes going to allow that. Im surprised he doesnt
get up and leave right now. I smile at him trying to ease his worry, but the fear on his face
doesnt recede.
Paylor breaks the tension by resuming the meeting. Katniss, thank you for coming. I
cant tell you how pleased each and every one of us is with your willingness to take an
active role in the current political situation.
I bite my lip again. Im not taking a role. I just want to get Peeta back. Should I say
something? I glance around the group and the expectation on their faces is too much. I
cant let them down.
I decide to avoid the topic altogether and get some answers for myself. I heard you
say someone is dead. Who?
Dr. Aurelius. Why?
The blood drains from my head and settles like a bag of bricks in my stomach. My
chest constricts as I try to deal with the shock of what Paylor just said. Coin must have
found out about our conversation and had him killed. What does that mean for me? And
Peeta and Gale and my mother? Well be next. We need to get out of here now.
Hhe was killed? I ask quietly.
No, he committed suicide, she says pointedly.
My mouth drops at the unexpected piece of information. That certainly explains
Coins bizarre behavior this morning. The guard must have told her that her prized
torturer decided he couldnt take it anymore. Now shes going to have to find someone
else who is willing to do her dirty work.
Paylor continues, He was found this morning in his office with a syringe containing
trace amounts of a barbiturate. It happened sometime last night maybe around
midnight or so.
More like three AM, I mumble.
She cocks her head to the side and stares at my quizzically. And how do you know
that?
I visited him last night. I hold up my cast. To get my arm treated. Peetas jaw
clenches when he sees the cast and I immediately regret my words. I quickly lower my
arm below the table again.
Did he seem distraught?
No well maybe a little.
In what way? Gale asks.
He he I pause. How much to do I want to tell this group? I trust Gale, Peeta,
and Haymitch, but thats about it.
Were all on your side, sweetheart, Haymitch says from across the table, accurately
reading my hesitation. Spill it.
II, I look to Peeta as I continue. I went to see him because he told me he had
answers for me and Peeta. A glimmer of hope appears in Peetas eyes. I smile and
continue. He told me about the hijacking and holograms in Peetas house. He told me
about his triggers and gave me the safe word.
Safe word? Peeta rolls the term around on his tongue like he cant quite believe it.
What do you mean safe word? Gale spits out, his anger rising again.
Hold on, were getting ahead of ourselves, Beetee says quietly from the corner.
How did he know about the hijacking and other torturing that was done under Snow?
He indicated he was a spy. This answer elicits whistles and sharp intakes of breath
from around the table.
But then he worked for Coin after Snow was killed?
Yeah. My impression was that he just wanted to get ahead and would do whatever it
took to do that. He obviously didnt care about other people too much, I say motioning
to Peeta.
And he told you all of this? Beetee says.
I nod. He seemed scared. He mentioned that Coin is more dangerous than Snow, so
maybe he figured his time was limited and wanted to make amends?
What else did he tell you? Paylor asks.
I shrug. A few other things. Nothing specific though. He said millions of lives were at
risk and I stop myself mid-sentence, realizing I dont want to tell them that he thought
my biggest role was yet to come because they might hold me to that.
And what? Gale asks, nudging my arm with his.
AAnd he was being used to develop strategies for brainwashing and torturing war
prisoners. Im thankful I remember that part of our discussion, so I can avoid the topic
of me being involved.
Gale looks at me with admiration. Youre a member of our team for not even five
minutes and youve already provided invaluable intel! He squeezes my forearm and
gently nudges my foot with his own.
I roll my eyes.
Im sorry. I dont mean to derail the conversation, but Katniss mentioned a safe word
for me. What did you mean by that? Peeta asks, hope radiating around him like coal dust
around the mine back in District 12.
I fix my eyes on his.Nightlock. Anyone who says that can stop one of your attacks.
You dont have to be worried anymore, Peeta.
Really? he whispers, barely audible. Im sure he cant believe that his torment can be
stopped with one simple word.
I feel Gale shift his position next to me. Well obviously, this would need to be tested
before we can trust him, he says huffily, his attitude a complete reversal from mere
seconds ago.
Of course, of course, Peeta mumbles, lost in his own thoughts. I see the glint in his
eyes and the smile playing on his lips. Hes already imagining our lives together without
the constant risk of killing me. I return his shy smile.
I can barely concentrate on the rest of the meeting. Peeta and I keep stealing glances
at each other, both excited to test the safe word.
About an hour later, Paylor finally adjourns the group. Gale leans into me.
So, I guess you and Peeta are officially a couple now?
Im taken aback by the contempt in his voice. II dont know, Gale. Im just happy
that he wont try to kill me anymore.
He shrugs. Maybe.
Do you want to help me test it so you know for sure?
He glares at Peeta, but nods to me. Ill be back at the Training Center around 5.
Perhaps you two can manage to stay apart until then.
You dont have to be like this Gale, I say with more intensity than I intended.
He pushes away from the table forcefully, causing his chair to fall to the floor as he
stands. I sigh and wonder if my troubles are just beginning.


CHAPTER
FIFTEEN
PEETA WAS WATCHING us and once Gale leaves the room, he comes to my side. Touching
my shoulder tentatively, he says, Thank you, Katniss.
For what?
For believing we would find a way around this. I had given up was planning on
moving to District 4. I didnt think Id ever see you again. His eyes reflect a very different
emotion now than when I first arrived here. Anxiety and fear have been replaced by hope
and excitement.
Thats not like you. Youre usually the optimistic one, I say with a smile.
His arm wraps around my shoulder. So, how are we going to test this?
Gale said hell be back at the Training Center tonight at 5. Maybe we should wait for
him just to make sure everything goes okay? I swallow hard, not wanting him to see my
nerves. In my heart, I believe it will work, but I cant forget about the last time Peeta
attacked me. I almost killed himwould have if Dr. Aurelius hadnt distracted me. And
he would have killed me if Dr. Aurelius hadnt intervened.
Well, I had planned a lively evening of helping Tallis count cocktail napkins and
coasters, but that can probably wait until tomorrow, he grins. His easy smile almost
calms my nerves, but the hard line of his jaw and tense arm give away his uneasiness, too.
We both know how badly this could end if the safe word doesnt work.
I take a deep breath and try to focus on something elseto think beyond the test.
Will you stay at the Training Center if all goes well? I ask shyly.
Wrapping his other arm around me, he says, That could probably be arranged.
I lean into him, encircling his waist with my arms, but soon notice the handful of
people remaining in the room watching us. I quickly release my grip and back away, my
face burning.
Peeta catches my blushing. Sorry, didnt mean to embarrass you.
N-no, its fine I say.
Well this ought to be fun nothing like bringing teenage love triangles to major
political movements aimed at impeaching the President, Haymitch mutters under his
breath as he walks past us.
I cringe at his words.
Dont worry. Hes just grumpy because he hasnt had anything to drink in over a
week now, Peeta says, lacing his fingers through mine.

*****

At precisely 5 PM, both Gale and Peeta walk into the common room on the 12
th
floor
of the Training Center. Did they actually walk here together? Given the tension apparent
between them, I think thats doubtful. More likely, Peeta waited outside for Gale, afraid to
be alone with me for even a minute until weve proven the safe word works.
So how are we going to set him off? Gale asks without emotion.
I point to a small black box on the table next to me.Renel let me borrow a strobe light
this afternoon. That should probably do the trick.
Well, what are you waiting for? Turn it on, he says gruffly.
Are you ready Peeta? I ask with a little more tenderness.
He walks to the rear of the room, as far as he can get from me, and then nods.
Gale turns off the overhead light. A couple seconds later, I feel him at my side. I flip
the switch on the machine, and the room is immediately filled with rapid flashes of light. I
lift my hand to my face and it appears to move in slow motion. I switch my gaze to Peeta.
Hes running in slow motion right towards me as Gale watches with his arms folded over
his chest, his lips pursed.
Nightlock! Nightlock, nightlock, nightlock! I scream at the top of my lungs when
Peetas only a few steps away. Its like magic. He stops dead in his tracks. I ease myself
around Gale to turn on the overhead light and then study Peetas face. He looks tired and
confused, but not angry or fixated on killing me. I turn off the strobe light as I continue to
watch him.
How do you feel? I ask slowly.
Worn out. Emotionally drained. He walks to the couch and sits down, closing his
eyes. I take a seat next to him and squeeze his hand gently.
Well good for you two. Now you can have a long and happy life together. Gale turns
on his heel and stalks out of the room without further comment.
Gale, please I yell after him, but I hear the sound of the elevator closing and know
that hes already gone.
I stare at the door and wonder what will happen to us.
Are you alright? Peeta has opened his eyes and is watching me intently.
I nod.
You know the ball is in your court. I want to be with you, but only if thats what you
want. If you want Gale, I understand. I know he would be thrilled with that outcome, he
adds softly.
So this is it. Right now I have to declare who I choose? And for what? For the rest of
my life? Im too young for that. Ive never wanted to get married. But I do want to keep
Peeta close to me. That must count for something.
You dont have to decide right now, he says tucking a strand of hair behind my ear.
But soon. You know we cant go on like this.
I nod, wary of what hes asking me to do. He wants me to make a commitment to
him. A commitment Im not sure I can uphold.
Luckily, the arrival of dinner saves me from further discussion on this uncomfortable
topic. We thank the guard who brought the food and then sit across from each other at
the table, which now seems too large. The lentil and okra soup is bland and the bread is
stale, but nonetheless, this is the best meal Ive ever had here. Sitting across from Peeta,
knowing that our lives arent in immediate danger and that I can stop his attacks is
completely liberating. For the first time in a year, I feel like Im almost in control of my
life. All I need to do is finish the promotion and stop the Games and then Im free were
free to do whatever we want.
Peeta avoids the larger, looming issue between us and focuses on small talk
throughout dinner. But we can only talk about the food, the weather, and the state of the
Capitol for so long. Eventually, we sit quietly as we finish our soup. Every few minutes, I
catch him watching me, an overjoyed smile on his face. I cant help but smile back.
When its time to retire for the evening, Peeta walks me to my room and fidgets at the
threshold.
Well, goodnight, he says, placing a light kiss on my cheek.
Good night, I reply.
He shuffles his feet. I should probably be getting to bed.
Yes. We have an early appointment with Coin.
Okay, Ill be going then, he says, but makes no move to leave.
I smile. Are you waiting for an invitation to come in?
Kind of, he admits with his charming grin.
I reach for his hand and pull him into my bedroom. I think its about time we both
got a good nights sleep.
He nuzzles my neck. Yes, a full night of sleep would be nice. His hand moves up my
back to the base of my neck. I gaze at him expectantly.
Can I try something? he asks.
My breath catches in my throat because I know exactly what he wants to try.
Not waiting for an answer, he lowers his mouth to mine. Our lips meet tentatively. . I
look into his eyes and see nothing but my Peetathe boy with the breadso I pull him
closer. His lips move against mine more urgently, causing my head to become light and
my heart to racing.
He walks us backwards until my legs touch the bed. I sit on the edge and grab the
front of his shirt to pull him down with me. We slide up so our bodies are completely on
the mattress lying next to each other, our lips never parting.
You remember the safe word, right? he asks between kisses. Hes still worried that
kissing is what set him off in the thunderstorm, not the lightning.
Youre fine, I whisper, trailing my fingers across his chest.
He wraps his arms around my waist and pulls my body tight to his.
Im vaguely aware of the enormity of what were doing. Lying in bed together has
always been about sleep for us. Not this. I hesitate for a moment, not sure what message
this sends him.
Are you okay, he asks, sensing my hesitation.
Hes giving me an out. I can tell him Im not ready for this. We can just curl up in
each others arms like we used to do. But thats not what I want. After thinking I lost
Peeta again, I want to be close to him. I want to make him happy and have him make me
happy. I enjoy kissing Peeta and I cant think of any reason we shouldnt be doing this.
Except Gale. Okay, theres that one, tiny reason.
Im fine, I answer, pushing Gale out of my thoughts.
Peeta brushes light kisses along my ear, down my jaw, and finally to my lips again. I
curl my fingers in his soft hair and enjoy his body next to mine. His hands slowly move
down my shoulders, my back, and to where my shirt meets my pants. He gently tugs on
my shirt, freeing it from the waistband. His unexpected action causes me to gasp.
Too much? he asks, pulling his hands from my body.
I shake my head no, not trusting my voice. He smiles and slowly inches my shirt
upward. His fingers slide off the fabric and glide over my skin; a tingling sensation
following his movements..
And another thing, Catnip! Im immediately confused by the booming voice. I open
my eyes to find Peeta staring at me, bewilderment on his face, too. Before we can act, the
door to my room flies open and Gale is standing there red-faced and disheveled.
Oh, hell! I should have known you two would hop into bed the moment I left!
I jump up and meet Gale at the doorway. Gale, youre drunk. Lets talk about this in
the morning.
Whats there to talk about?! You were always going to choose him. I never stood a
chance, he slurs.
Gale, now is not the time nor the place for this discussion.
Does he know that you wanted to kiss me the other night? Maybe pretty boy here
needs to know what kind of girl hes getting!
I slap him across the face so hard my hand stings. Peeta races to my side, as Gale
reaches up to his cheek and starts laughing.
Gale, I think you should leave, Peeta says menacingly. Im shocked by the intensity
of Peetas glare. Thats not something Ive ever seen before.
Yeah, yeah shes all yours pretty boy. He turns and stumbles through the
common room.
I move back to the bed and massage my stinging hand.
Do you need ice for that? Peeta is at my side, watching me closely.
No, Ill be fine.
He climbs onto the bed and sits cross-legged beside me. He lays his hand on my knee,
but says nothing.
I reflect on what just happened and my anger towards Gale increases. First of all, he
should have knocked before entering my room. And, secondly, why would he tell Peeta I
was thinking about kissing him? That was under completely different circumstances. And
what was he insinuating about me? I clench my fists as I it dawns on me exactly what his
meaning was.
Dont be too hard on him, Katniss, he says quietly.
I give him a look that lets him know exactly how angry I am with Gale.
One thing he had going for him was my instability. In his mind, we could never be
together because of my attacks. But that was taken away from him today. Hes hurting.
That doesnt give him any right to treat me like that!
No, but it is understandable.
I furrow my eyebrows and glare at him. Why does he always give people the benefit of
the doubt?
Its okay, Katniss.
Whats okay, Peeta? I yell at him.
If you kissed Gale the other night.
I didnt kiss him, I grumble. Of course that was because he stopped it, not me.
Peeta holds up his hands in surrender. Look, Katniss. Our lives have been a mess for
years now. Its hard to hold either of us responsible for what weve done the past few
months. I mean, Ive tried to kill you multiple times and yet youre still here with me.
That wasnt your fault.
But, its not your fault if something happened between you and Gale. Before tonight,
I had very little hope that anything could develop between us. It made more sense for you
to be with Gale. I know you love us both.
I turn my head unable to meet his probing gaze.
I feel like were finally in a place where we can think about the future. We need to
agree on what we want and then be held accountable for what we do. If you commit to a
relationship with me and then go around kissing other guys, were going to have a huge
problem, he says with chuckle. He lightly places his hand on my chin and turns my face
towards him. Hes smiling, trying to lighten the mood.
Hes clearly not mad at me, but my mood is still sour. Perhaps its because I agree with
Gale. What kind of girl am I? I have these two guys in my life who I dont want to upset,
but the status quo is just going to hurt us all. I think back to all the times Ive thought I
lost Peeta and the pain is so powerful, so all consuming, that I know I cant go through it
again. Peeta and I need each other.
Is that the case with Gale? Maybe in the past. But for the last year, Gale and I have
tolerated each other with small periods of friendship among long bouts of fighting. I gulp
as realization hits. I know hell do fine without me and Ill do fine without him as long
as I have Peeta by my side.
I sigh quietly, knowing I need to accept this revelation.
I love you, Katniss, Peeta whispers. I have since the day I met you. I had some
confusion for a while with the hijacking, but I remember so much of it clearly now. Your
beautiful voice, your courage to take Prims place in the reaping, the sacrifices you made
to keep me alive in the arena. Both arenas. I I want to spend the rest of my life
making you happy.
The old Peeta is back. The Peeta who makes me uncomfortable by openly declaring
his love for me. Only this time, it doesnt make me uncomfortable. It makes me pleased.
After everything weve been through, its remarkable that getting back to where our
relationship was over a year ago could bring so much pleasure. It just took death, torture,
and war to make me realize what I need.
You make me very happy every day, I reply lamely when I know all he wants to hear
is those three little words.
Well, good, then Im doing my job.
We lie back in bed and I snuggle into his arms. When his breathing becomes slow and
regular, I finally garner the nerves to tell him how I feel. I choose you, Peeta. I cant live
without you.
A contented murmur escapes his lips, although Im not sure if he really heard what I
said or not. I move closer to him and lightly kiss his forehead before falling into the most
restful sleep Ive had in years.


CHAPTER
SIXTEEN
THE NEXT MORNING, I awake fully-refreshed to find Peeta watching me, his lips curled
into a content smile.
What? I ask, self-consciously.
I had the most wonderful dream last night.
I turn on my side so Im facing him. What was it?
You said that you chose me and couldnt imagine living without me.
The memory from late last night comes rushing back. Feeling the red creeping up my
neck, I roll over to try and hide it from him.
Hey, dont roll away, he says, pulling me back around so Im facing him again.
Why are you blushing?
I cover my face with my hands and whisper, That might not have been a dream.
His body tenses next to me. Really?
I nod, and he pulls my hands from my face. Why are you embarrassed? This is
great, he says quietly, leaning up on his elbow next to me. Are you having second
thoughts now, is that the problem?
No, no, Im sure, I say with a gulp. After a full night of sleep, I still believe in my
decision. Its just well you know me and emotions, I say, shrugging my shoulders.
Hmm were going to have to work on that. He kisses the back of my hand and
then my forehead. Do you have any clue how happy I am right now?
From his beaming smile and sparkling eyes, I have a pretty good idea. And if Im
honest with myself, now that the embarrassment is wearing off, I feel quite good about
things, too. Theres something to be said about making a decision and moving forward
with it.
Im happy, too, I say quietly. He wraps his arms around me, and I can feel his smile
grow even larger against the top of my head.
An hour later, we walk into the studio again, Peetas fingers woven between mine this
time. Coin immediately spots us and heads our way. She glances down at our intertwined
hands and a smirk plays across her lips. When shes standing in front of us, she says,
Glad you could make it today, Peeta.
He nods in response and releases my hand before walking to the glass room with her.
I follow their movement with my eyes, remembering everything that has happened in that
room. Im nervous about what today could bring, but once theyre settled, I reluctantly
change into the Mockingjay suit and take my place before the camera.
Were taping the scene from yesterday, so I feel well prepared. I follow Renels
recommendations about imagining Im sending Coin to the Games, and we finish in two
takes without comment from Coin or zapping of Peeta. All in all, Id call it a successful
session.
After I change out of the suit, I find Peeta and Coin talking. Stepping beside Peeta, I
hear the end of their conversation.
Stop by this evening and Ill give them to you, she says.
Thank you, President Coin, Peeta says and then turns to me. Taking my hand, he
leads me out of the studio.
What was that about? I ask.
Youre done. She has all the footage she needs, so were free to go. Shes going to give
us the train tickets tonight.
Oh, okay, I reply, knowing that is not our plan at all. After leaving the mansion, we
head straight for the roof of the Training Center.
You dont want to leave, do you? I ask him, as soon as we pass through the door.
No. We have to stop the Games. We cant let twenty-four more children go through
that.
I nod in agreement.
But, he continues, walking towards the wind chimes, she cant know were still
here. We need to at least go through the motions so she thinks we left.
Where will we stay?
Tallis will probably let us stay with him. He has a spare room in the basement. He
was pretty agreeable to me staying there as long as I helped with some of the heavy lifting
and cleaning.
We sit down, and I look up to the chimes blowing in the breeze. With a sigh, I say,
How are we going to stop the Games, Peeta?
I have no idea. But we dont have to do this on our own. The Nationalists will help
with all of us, well come up with something that will work.
Great, well be working side-by-side with Gale, I say with a groan.
Im sure hell be fine once he sobers up. A little embarrassed probably, but the cause
is important to him and hes not going to let personal issues get in the way of that.
Hmmm you think highly of him, I say, glancing at Peeta out of the corner of my
eye.
Yeah, I guess I do. Hes smart and motivated and dedicated. And its easier to like
him now that I know hes no competition, he adds with a grin, settling his arm on my
shoulders.
I cant help but smile. Seeing Peeta this happy and carefree confirms that I made the
right decision. After everything weve been through, were so close to our happily ever
after. In just a few more weeks well be back in District 12 to live a quiet, peaceful life out
of the spotlight and out of Panem politics.
What are you concentrating on so intently? he asks.
Our happily ever after, I say without thinking.
He laughs and I immediately wish I would have censored my response.
I wouldnt have taken you to be such a romantic, Katniss. He slides his hand down
my arm and wraps his fingers around mine, pressing our palms together. What does
your happily ever after look like? he asks, squeezing my hand gently.
Were back in District 12. I hunt, you bake. Lots of cheese rolls, I add with a grin.
Thats it. Simple, easy. No camera crews, no letters from the President, no deranged
holograms. After a moment, I say, What about you?
That all sounds good I could definitely live with that. Of course, some day, years
from now, maybe thered be a little Katniss with pigtails running around.
My mouth falls open, and I gape at him.
What? I said years from now. He tightens his grip on me as I continue staring. He
looks straight ahead at the railing and the city beyond, but by the twitching of his mouth,
I can tell hes enjoying my discomfort.
I force myself to take a couple deep breaths, and then Im able to respond. I dont
think its right to bring children into this world.
No, not this world. But the future will be better. It has to be better.
Peetaalways the optimist. Im not convinced, but I bite my tongue because theres
no reason to dampen our moods today.
We spend the rest of the afternoon on the roof talking about our future, the past, and
the people we miss most. Its refreshing talking to Peeta because weve shared so many of
the same experiences and understand exactly what the other feels. He knows when to be
supportive, when to listen, and when to offer an alternative viewpoint. As the sun drops
lower on the horizon I allow myself to reflect on how happy I have been today. How this
will be every day very soon.
Leaning up on his elbow, Peeta brushes my hair off my neck and says, The
promotions going to be on in ten minutes. Do you want to see it?
Not particularly.
Okay. Im going to watch it, so we know what were facing what the people of the
Capitol will think of you.
I nod without really hearing him. I know exactly what will be in the promotion and
what the people of the Capitol will think. Theyll hate me. Hate me as much as everyone
in District 12 hated Snow. That thought makes me sick.
I follow Peeta back to the 12
th
floor and pack my meager belongings while he hovers
near the television in the common area, waiting for the promotion. From the bedroom, I
hear my voice fill the adjacent room. It sounds fake and stagedsurely people realize
that, right? After a few moments, curiosity gets the best of me and I join Peeta. We watch
it in silence until my image fades to static.
Is that what you expected?
Yes, I respond impassively.
Peeta reaches for the power button on the television when Coins face suddenly fills
the screen with a flashing Live rolling across the bottom of the image. He pauses as she
starts talking.
People of Panem. I am as surprised and dismayed as you by the cold, heartless
message you just heard from the Mockingjay. Please know that I do not and would never
support such an atrocity. Our nation needs to unite and move forward. That can only be
accomplished through forgiveness, not retribution as Katniss Everdeen suggests. I
officially denounce her message and promise you that we will never have another Hunger
Games, as long as I am in office. Furthermore, I am declaring all arenas obsolete and
promise their destruction one by one on live television. I will personally be present for the
first onethat of the 74
th
Hunger Games one week from today. Please join me in protest
of the Mockinjays appalling and callous disrespect for the people of our country!
Peeta and I stare at the screen in shock as it returns to static. Neither of us moves a
muscle while we try to make sense of what we just saw.
After what must be minutes, Peeta finally says, Did you expect that?
No, I respond, still in shock. So, she never really planned on holding another
Hunger Games, I say more to myself that Peeta.
No, he snorts. She just wanted to make sure no one in Panem treats you like a hero
anymore. She wants to solidify herself as the savior of the country.
Peetas words roll around in my mind. Maybe this isnt all bad. This is a sure fire way
to take us out of the spotlight. And, we dont have to stop another Games. The only
negative is peoples perception of me. But I dont plan on leaving District 12 once I go
back and surely people who have known me my whole life wont believe any of this.
Peeta wraps his arm around my waist and presses his chest to my back. What are you
thinking?
As awful as this sounds, it might not be so bad. We can go home tonight. And no one
will ever want to film us again, I whisper, turning around to face him.
He nods. Shall we go get our train tickets then?
After scribbling a note for Gale to let him know our plans, we grab our bags and start
heading over to the Presidents Mansion one last time. In the elevator, I grip Peetas
shoulder with my good arm, lean into him, and firmly press my lips to his, not pulling
away until the doors open on the first floor.
What was that for? he asks breathlessly as we step into the lobby of the Training
Center.
I just want to make sure you know how important you are to me. How happy I am
that were going home and starting over...
With a coy grin, he says, Im not sure I totally understand. Maybe you should try
explaining that again.
I lace my fingers through his and lead him across the lobby, laughing. When we get
on the train, Ill see if I can explain it a little better.
He raises an eyebrow and starts pulling me through the lobby. Well, lets get moving
then, he says, clearly eager to board the train.
Other than the guard who lets me and Peeta in the front door of the Presidents
mansion, the place is deserted at this hour. We make our way upstairs to Coins office and
rap on the door.
Come in, she says.
We open the door, and I march to her desk. She tilts her head and watches us
shrewdly, probably expecting me to lash out at her over her spot after the promotion. I
refuse to give her that satisfaction.
Instead, I say, I assume you are pleased with the quality of the promotion?
Yes, Katniss. Fine work.
And I assume that means our business arrangement is sound. You will no longer
contact me or anyone important to me. We will be allowed to live out of the spotlight
without fear of torture, repercussions, or any other atrocities brought on by you or other
members of the Cabinet.
Of course, to the ability that I can control such actions.
I nod in agreement as she reaches into a desk drawer, presumably for the train tickets.
I twist around to see Peeta standing by the door. He smiles encouragingly at me. I take a
deep breath and face Coin again. Only shes not sitting anymore, shes standing with her
legs hip-width apart, arms held out straight, and a small, silver pistol in her hands.
I reflexively reach for my bow, but its in my bag, which is in Peetas hands.
Oh, Katniss. You didnt really think Id let you two go back to District 12 just like
that, did you?
I step towards her, assessing my ability to disarm her before she fires a shot.
I would stay where you are if I were you, she says through gritted teeth.
I need to keep her talking while I come up with a plan.
Why shoot us? Youve already effectively discredited me with the people of this
country. You get what you want. Youre their hero. Theyre going to turn to you from
now on. I stare into her cold, steel eyes, trying to garner some bit of information that will
help us get out of this situation.
She says, And you think I should just let you return to your life back in District 12?
Yes. Ive done what you asked and we had a deal.
You really dont understand, do you? Discrediting you was only part of the plan. The
other part is destroying you so youre never a threat to me again.
I draw in a quick breath as her words register. Shes going to kill me. I may have
survived two Hunger Games and the revolution, but it all ends hereright now at Coins
spindly little hands. I try to swallow, but my mouth is too dry. Peeta. I need to think about
Peeta. Coins issue is with me; he can still go home.
Why dont we let Peeta leave, so you and I can settle this? I say.
No, Katniss! I hear his loud steps coming closer, but Coin moves the gun, causing
him to stop at least a few feet behind and to the left of me.
Coin turns her eyes towards me and holds my steadfast gaze. I think you
misunderstood my plan, Katniss, she says wickedly, a cool spark in her eye.
And in that moment, her plan becomes crystal clear. She wants to destroy me
emotionally, not physically. That was her plan when she killed Prim. It almost worked
then, but Peeta helped me cope. Now, shes heard every word between me and Peeta in
my bedroom. She knows I cant live without him. This no longer has anything to do with
the people of Panem or what they think of me. This is personal. She hates me, has always
hated me, and wants to make me suffer for the rest of my life.
The click of the hammer resonates like thunder through the small office. I know I
have only seconds to act.
When I see her finger twitch on the trigger, I leap to the left putting my body between
the gun and Peeta. Suddenly time is moving in slow motion. I see the flash of light erupt
from the muzzle of the pistol. My body is arching through the air as I hear a cacophony of
soundsPeeta yells at me, the blast of the gun finally sounds, and I scream at Coin. What
seems like minutes later, even though it could only be a fraction of second, my body lands
with a thump on the hard floor.


CHAPTER
SEVENTEEN
I DONT FEEL pain. I quickly scan my body, looking for blood, but dont see any. In fact,
everything seems to be fully intact. Turning to my right, I find Peeta on the ground next
to me. I crawl to his side, trying to put myself between him and Coin once more. When I
reach him, I look up to see if shes taking aim, but the space behind her desk is empty. A
back door swings loosely on its hinges.
Peeta, she left. Lets go. Weve got to get out of here. I sit up on my knees and grab
his shirt. Come on!
But he doesnt move. His brilliant blue eyes stare at me unblinking. Panic courses
through my veins and clenches my heart.
Peeta! Talk to me, Peeta! I reach down and touch his faceits cold and clammy. I
move my hand to his fingers and squeeze, but he provides no resistance. Peeta, dont do
this to me! I slam my fist on his chest as hard as I can. Dont do this to me!
And then I see the pool of crimson spreading from beneath his chest. No, no this
cant be happening
I grasp his shirt and pull it up over his chest. There on the right side between two ribs
is a small, perfectly round wound. It looks innocuous. No blood, no raw flesh.
Peeta, youre fine, I whisper. Its just a small hole. Well get you to a doctor and
youll be as good as new in no time. My voice begins to waver as the pool of blood
expands.
I pound on his chest again, ignoring the pain that shoots up my broken arm. No!
This isnt the plan, Peeta! We deserve happily ever after! Dont do this to me! I need you!
Suddenly, Im pulled off my feet by strong arms. Tears start streaming down my
cheeks as another figure bends over Peeta. Inserting a needle into his arm, she pushes a
yellow fluid into the vein. Then she leans over his still body and begins pressing on his
chest rhythmically.
The person holding me lets go, and I kneel by Peetas head again. I touch his face. Its
warmer. Peeta, talk to me!
His eyelids flutter.
Peeta! Im here. Youre going to be fine, I say.
Katniss, he garbles, barely audible.
Shhh youre fine. Youre going to be fine. My tears fall onto his face and roll
down his pale cheeks. I wipe them away with my fingertips.
The person who was holding me kneels on the other side of Peeta and I finally get a
good look at him. Its Gale. He grabs Peetas hand. Hey man, this is nothing. Youre
going to pull through. Just stay with us. I see the tears glistening at the corners of his
eyes.
Peetas empty gaze moves towards Gale. Make. he says in a fluid-filled gasp. Pink-
tinged foam escapes from the side of his mouth. I wipe it away with my shirt.
Her He sounds like hes choking.
I cry out, frustrated that theres nothing I can do.
Happy.
Dont say that Peeta. Youre going to make me happy. Youre not leaving me like
this! I scream.
His eyes roll back to me and his fingers flex weakly against my hand.
No! Peeta, I love you. I love you with all my heart. Dont leave me! Dont leave me
like this! His lips curl up slightly, a fraction of the Peeta smile I adore, and his eyes
become fixed again. Gales partner begins pressing on Peetas chest again and periodically
breathing into his mouth, causing his chest to rise slightly.
I lay my forehead against Peetas and let the tears really flow. I begin sobbing, loud,
choking, all-encompassing gasps that shake my body. Im vaguely aware of Gale and the
other person talking, but I ignore them. I stroke Peetas hair, touch his face, hold his
hand, anything to make him stay with me for a few more minutes. But he doesnt respond
to my touch. The usual warmth that emanates from him has disappeared, replaced by the
icy shadows of death.
Eventually, Gale wraps his arm around my shoulder. Katniss, we need to go.
No, I scream between sobs. Im not leaving him.
Hes gone, Catnip. His voice catches. Theres nothing we can do. Im sorry...
He slides one arm behind my back and the other under my knees. Picking me up, he
cradles me against his chest. I clutch his shirt, burying my face into it and soaking it with
my tears.
Im barely aware of the next few hours. I vaguely remember a short car ride and Gale
carrying me up a set of stairs before placing me in a soft bed. He left the door slightly ajar,
so I could see the blurry outlines of a number of people moving around in the adjacent
room. They spoke in hushed whispers and under normal circumstances I would have
needed to know what they were saying. But having Peeta die in my arms effectively
extinguished my spark, my passion, my fight. My whole reason to live.
Im walking the fine line between sanity and irrepressible despair. Just like after Prim
died. Maybe even worse. This time, I truly am responsible. I never trusted Coin. I never
should have let Peeta come with me. I should have listened to himwe could have
hidden in the woods for the rest of our lives. Or I could have made things simplerI
could have killed Coin. Why didnt I have my bow on me when we entered her office?
Why did I let my guard down?
These thoughts continue to swirl around in my head, tormenting me relentlessly. I
close my eyes and beg for sleep in order to escape the continuous onslaught of self-
loathing and guilt. But I know that without Peeta by my side, Ill never sleep well again.
Ill have nightmares of our last minutes together and how I failed him. How I failed my
boy with the bread when it mattered most.
Sometime laterhours, minutes, Im not surethe door squeaks and my eyes spring
open automatically. Im lying face up on the bed, staring at the ceiling. Out of the corner
of my eye, I see the dark silhouette of Gale glide towards me. The bed sinks slightly at my
hip as he sits down. I begin to meticulously analyze the ceiling. In the dim light, its hard
to tell what its made of. Maybe wood or metal. Every few feet, theres a triad of small
circular pieces that cast short shadows on the adjacent material. I begin counting the
triads and then individual pieces in order to keep my thoughts at bay and prevent a
recurrence of the immense sobbing from earlier. I remain stone-faced and unblinking
while Gale sits uncomfortably at my side. A few times, he draws in a breath and I think
hes about to speak, but then he lets it out with a quiet sigh. In the end, he merely covers
my legs with a quilt adorning the end of the bed and then leaves the room to join the
others.
After he departs, my resolute facade cracks and I begin sobbing. I curl up into the fetal
position, and the ruthless feelings of guilt overtake me yet again. For the rest of my life, I
know I will never forgive myself for what happened to Peeta.
After an immeasurable amount of time, the room begins to lighten. Through the
window, I see the first hints of the new day as orange rays poke around the large building
filling my view. The door squeaks again, but I dont bother turning to see who it is.
Someone plunks himself down at my back, and I know immediately it isnt Gale.
Its hard to believe right now, but youll learn to live with the pain. It wont get easier,
but youll learn to cope. Its Haymitch.
I know what youre going through. They took the love of my life, too. I miss her
everyday And I blame myself every day for not being stronger. For not protecting her.
New tears threaten to spill onto my cheeks.
He was a good man. Better than most of us could ever hope to be. Well all miss
him.
The bed springs back up when he stands. I hear his shuffling footsteps and then he
addresses someone else. Well see you both at Headquarters in half an hour.
A loud sigh is followed by, Ill do my best. And then Gale walks around the bed so
hes looking at my red eyes and tear-stained face.
He kneels next to my head and places his hand on my cheek. Dont let her win,
Katniss. We need to fight back. Work with us. Were going to change things.
I stare impassively at the wall beyond Gale.
Youre stronger than this. I know you are, Ive seen it, he says.
Im tired of being strong. Im tired of having the people I love be taken away, leaving
me to pick up the broken pieces. Ive endured all I can. Theres nothing left for me to give.
Gale draws in a deep breath and says, Dont turn into your mother, Katniss.
His words are like a sword straight to my heart. My insides twist and turn, and all my
muscles tighten. Through gritted teeth, I growl, How dare you say that. You have no idea
what Ive gone through the past two years. What Peeta and I went through! Everyone I
love is dead, Gale. Who do I need to be strong for? Prims dead. Peetas dead. I might as
well be dead!
He grabs my wrists and holds my gaze with a resolute stare. Punctuating each word,
he says, Dont. Ever. Say. That. Again.
I try to pull my arms free, but he easily holds me steady. I turn my head to the floor to
at least break free from his glare.
Come on. Were going to Headquarters, he says, pulling me into a sitting position.
No.
Yes. He stands me on my feet, but I let my knees buckle, hoping Ill crumble to the
floor. Instead, he catches me, throws me over his shoulder, and begins walking towards
the door.
Damn you, Gale! Im not going anywhere with you! I scream at the top of my lungs.
Doesnt look like you have much of a choice.
I begin pounding on his back with all the strength I can muster with my good arm,
but he doesnt even flinch. I try kicking his chest, but he just holds my legs more firmly.
Ill carry you all the way there if I have to.
Put me down!
Will you play nice if I do.
Of course, I lie in a sickeningly sweet tone.
He gently lowers me to the ground. As soon as my feet touch the floor, I lash out with
my right fist in an uppercut. It lands squarely on Gales jaw, and he stumbles backwards a
few steps.
Dont ever do that to me again, I scream and run back to the bedroom. I slam the
door for added effect and try to lock it, but of course the lock has been disabled. Hes in
the room seconds after me.
Not bad, he says, rubbing the red spot already forming on his cheek, just above his
jawline.
He holds up his hands and says, Okay, okay, truce. Let me level with you. You cant
stay here by yourself. And things are heating up for us. I need to get to Headquarters
today.
I certainly can stay here by myself, I say with a scowl.
Katnissyou dont even know where you are or whose house this is!
I I stop myself because hes right. Ill go home then.
He rubs his eyes. Id prefer to go with you. Since everyones seen the promotion, you
dont have a lot of fans out there. It could be a rough trip.
Ill manage, I say, walking towards the window.
You dont even have money for a ticket.
Ill sneak on.
He approaches me. Why dont you just give this a try for a few days. You can hear
what were planning and if youre still not sold on it, well talk about your options, he
says from directly behind me, placing his hand on my shoulder.
I knock his hand off and turn to face him. My options? Who do you think you are?
My keeper? I am free to do whatever I want!
His face softens a little. Im sorry. Youre right. This is all coming out wrong. Im just
worried about you, thats all.
I cross my arms over my chest defiantly. Im going home today.
He sighs and looks at his watch. The train leaves in ten minutes. You wont make it.
Come to Headquarters with me. You dont even have to join the meeting. You can spend
the day in the spare room in the basement. He holds out his hand for me.
I glance out the window to get some sense of where we are and how long it will take
me to get to the train station. But all I see is the large apartment building across the street.
Gales certainly not going to give me directions and I have no idea where I am, so getting
home today seems very unlikely. If I cant do that, then curling up in a ball in the spare
room does sound like a fairly good alternative. I ignore his reach, but walk towards the
door. Fine, but Im leaving tomorrow morning.
He nods assent, although the concern etched in the lines around his eyes is readily
apparent. I know Ill have to come up with a plan to escape from Gale sometime during
the night if I have any hope of making it home tomorrow. At least I have all day to figure
it out.
We step into Headquarters less than 20 minutes later. Luckily, the street was empty so
early in the morning, so I didnt have to face any angry Capitol citizens chiding me for the
promotion. With everything else that has happened, I dont think I could handle it.
All eyes turn to us as we walk into the room. Gale heads towards his usual seat, but
points me to a door at the far end of the meeting space. I make a sharp left towards that
door and the room beyond. Expectant eyes follow me, but I continue without stopping.
As soon as Im in the room, I lean my back against the wall, close my eyes, and take a
deep breath. I know Im letting them down, but they have to realize Im useless to them.
Even if Peeta were still alive, my lack of interest and knowledge of politics and Coins
demented plans would make me a completely ineffective member of their team. With
Peeta dead, Im an emotional wreck who would provide even less.
I slowly open my eyes to survey the room. Its small and dark with a musty smell, like
its been closed up for ages. There are a number of boxes stacked around the small space,
and a tiny mattress lays on the floor against the wall to my right. Its covered with a thin,
green blanket riddled with holes. I sit down on it and try to collect my thoughts. How am
I going to get away from Gale?
I run my fingers through my hair and use the heel of my hand to rub the headache
thats been pounding against my skull since last night. I silently wonder if it will ever go
away. When I lift my head, I spot a haphazard stack of papers on the floor to my right. I
reach down and grab them without thinking. The image on the first one takes my breath
away. Its me. Me as a child in school. Im standing in front of the class singing. I know
immediately its Peetas work. The delicate strokes and attention to even the finest detail
can only be from him. He must have done these to occupy his time while he was staying
here.
I shuffle to the next paper. Again me, older this time and sitting in the rain looking
distressed and malnourished. I move through the stack, each one is me at a different
point in my lifevolunteering for Prim at the reaping, ablaze in the tribute parade,
sleeping in Tigress basement, sitting on the steps of the ruined Justice Buildingbut its
the last one that elicits an involuntary whimper and brings instantaneous tears to my
eyes. Its me and Peeta on the roof of the Training Center. My head rests on his chest as I
weave together flower stems and he looks at me adoringly.
I fold up the last sheet of paper and place it in my pocket. I close my eyes willing
myself not to cry again. Its a small piece of Peeta that I can keep with me. A small piece of
one of the happier times we shared.
Ahem
Im startled by the sound of a throat clearing. My eyes jerk open to find Paylor
standing in the doorway.
Katniss, we could use your help out here.
I seriously doubt that, I say without emotion. I turn away from her and pull my
knees to my chest.
Id expect you of all people would want revenge on Coin, she says pointedly before
turning and leaving.
I hear her voice trailing off as she walks farther away, addressing the group gathered
in the adjacent room. Ok, lets get down to business. Gale, fill everyone in on yesterdays
events
Revenge. I roll the word around my mouth a few times. I had my revenge on Snow.
Why not Coin? Doesnt Peeta deserve that? An idea slowly begins to develop in my head.


CHAPTER
EIGHTEEN
OF COURSE MY revenge on Snow was under the rebels terms. Do as they wanted and then
I was allowed to kill him. Why should I bother siding with the Nationalists now? Why not
have revenge on my own terms? The Nationalists will be satisfied with removing Coin
from power, but thats not acceptable to me. Death is all that I will accept. Either she dies
or I die trying. I owe that to Peeta. And Prim.
My mind begins racing as my new sense of purpose develops. I slide off the mattress
and squat next to the open door in order to hear the discussion in the other room.
Gales talking. As you know, after receiving approval by the group yesterday
afternoon, one of our moles paid a visit to Coin and successfully planted the bug in her
office. Beetee and I began monitoring the input immediately. I dont think any of us could
have predicted what we would see. His voice falters slightly, and then he slowly
continues, Katniss and Peeta stopped by Coins office to pick up train tickets to return
home. While they were there, she attacked them. He gulps and adds, Peeta was killed.
The room is completely silent.
I peek my head around the doorjamb to see the reaction. Gale is rubbing his right
temple. Paylors hand is resting on his shoulder. Haymitchs back is to me, but his
shoulders are slumped. Others seem to be in shock. The guy who was sitting next to Peeta
yesterday is staring at Gale with his mouth hanging open. Even Plutarch, who was never a
fan of Peeta, is frowning.
After a few moments, Gale continues. Avery and I rescued Katniss, but there was
nothing we could do for Peeta. Unfortunately, Im sure Coin is suspicious as to how we
showed up so quickly. To prevent her from finding the bug, we had it self-destruct right
after we left. But I think its feasible that we could plant another one in a few days, once
this isnt so fresh in her mind.
Thank you, Gale, Paylor says with a warm smile. Too warm. For a Vice President,
she sure can come across as unprofessional, especially at a time like this. I glower at her
from my hiding spot.
Hani, any news from your team? Paylor turns to a middle-aged man with a
powerful brow, deep-set eyes, and pale brown skin.
Yes. You know weve been closely following Coins conjecture that Eurasia is eyeing
our northern territories, considering the use of force if we dont acquiesce to their
demands.
Everyone around the table nods.
Eurasia? I have to stretch my memory back to World History in 8
th
grade to recall
anything about Eurasia. I believe that country was formed around the same time as
Panem, when the global economy failed and the world was on the brink of World War
III. What we learned was that Panem bowed out, letting the rest of the world fight for
dominance. By doing this, we were able to keep the land that was previously known as
North America, but we gave up trade with any other country. We were essentially shut-
off and self-contained. Im sure the rest of the world figured it would only be a matter of
time before we would fail and they could swoop in and take over.
If I remember correctly, after years of bloodshed and countless lost lives, Eurasia and
the Republic of Chinussia were the two countries that emerged from the war, each
claiming about half the worlds land beyond Panem. We were always taught that we
should be grateful to Panem for protecting us from war and the tyranny of those other
countries. I laugh inwardly because Panem has certainly had its fair share of tyranny.
But, why is Eurasia now interested in us after almost a hundred years? I turn my
attention back to Hani.
Well, we were fortunate last night. My team was finally able to successfully launch a
jet. A multidisciplinary squad is currently en route to Eurasia to get information. They
should land within the hour if all goes as planned.
The group around the tables erupts in whistles, high-fives, and congratulatory shouts.
Its about time, Haymitch says grumpily.
I agree, Hani says shaking his head. Coin has got every landing strip under tight
surveillance. We finally found a high-ranking supporter in District 8 who was willing to
help. With Beetees aid we were able to scramble the radar until the jet was well beyond
the range of Coins monitoring.
And now youre just going to land the jet in another country? Plutarch asks
incredulously. Theyll shoot it down before it gets within fifty miles of the coast!
That is certainly a risk. Beetee has been working on setting up some international
telecommunications, so we could contact them beforehand, but Coins team effectively
blocks every single strategy he comes up with. She doesnt want anyone talking to them.
Because we might figure out everything she says is a lie? Gale asks sarcastically.
Lets hope so, Hani says with a sad smile. Anyway, we didnt want to wait any
longer to make contact. We have a negotiator on board and the plane was painted with
the international sign of peace. As soon as theyre within radio range, theyre going to
explain their mission. We all need to keep our fingers crossed that this goes well.
A somber tone spreads through the room.
Paylor eventually breaks the silence. The last thing I want to discuss is our Cabinet
meeting from yesterday. The main thing Coin covered was the importance of continuing
to increase the size of the military in order to be able to defend ourselves should we be
invaded. She wants to expand recruitment efforts and has us starting an ad campaign
aimed at the unemployed. Offering them positions in the military in exchange for food
for their family.
Adding to our military isnt helping rebuild our cities! Gale exclaims, slamming his
fist on the table. At some point, you have to wonder what were defending! A broken,
hopeless wasteland!
Paylor nods and quietly says, Youre right. She sighs. Lets adjourn for now. We
can reconvene at seventeen hundred hours. By then, we should have more information
from Hanis team.
The group stands and individuals begin talking quietly amongst themselves. Paylor
leans in close to Gale, but he excuses himself and begins walking towards me. I quickly
move over to the mattress, so he wont know I was watching.
Within seconds, hes leaning through the doorway. Mind if I come in?
I shrug. Its a free world, at least in theory.
Are you still planning on going home tomorrow?
I shrug again.
I really wish youd reconsider.
I say nothing, so he continues. I dont want you to be by yourself right now. But, Im
needed here. Ive got a future here. You could too, Katniss. Why dont you stay here with
me? Maybe doing something different would be good for you. Help take your mind off of
everything
If Im to get my revenge on Coin, it would be easier to plan from here than back in
District 12. Plus the information I get out of the Nationalists might prove useful in my
yet-to-be devised plan. But I dont want to give Gale the satisfaction of thinking he
convinced me to stay.
Just think about it, okay?
I nod.
So, we have a few free hours. Do you want to stay here or go back to the house?
Whose house is it?
Paylors.
I grimace. Ill pass. Actually, Id like to be alone for a while.
He purses his lips. I dont feel totally comfortable with that.
I dont really care what youre comfortable with Gale! I cross my arms over my
chest and press my back against the wall.
He sighs. I need to visit Tigress. I want to get you a disguise so it will be safer for you
to move around. Plus if you leave tomorrow, youll need it for the train ride. Youll stay
here while Im gone?
Where else am I going to go? I reply crossly.
With that, he leaves, and I begin formulating my plan for revenge. I need to get to
Coin when shes alone. I could try her office, but Id have to get past any number of
guards. Where else does she go during the day? I realize I have no idea. Maybe I should
just stalk her and strike when the opportunity presents itself. But Gales watchful eyes
would figure that out pretty quickly. Hed lock me in this room before I even got close to
her.
I replay the events of the last 24 hours in my mind. The heartbreaking viewing of the
promotion, the shock I felt with Coins impassioned speech, and the despair that will stay
with me always. Something flickers on the edge of my memory. Something small and
rather inconsequential at the time, but monumental now. A wicked smile spreads across
my faceI suddenly know the perfect opportunity to exact my revenge.


CHAPTER
NINETEEN
BY THE TIME Gale returns, Ive devised a plan. The hardest part will be getting away from
him so I can arrange everything. Im hopeful that if I pretend Im willing to help the
Nationalists, hell cut me a little slack, though.
When he walks through the door, he tosses me a large duffel bag. Make sure you
wear whats in here whenever you go outside.
Okay.
Are you hungry?
No.
He holds a sandwich out to me anyway. You have to eat, Katniss.
I reluctantly take it from his hands and place it on the floor in front of me.
After lowering himself next to me on the mattress, he takes a large bite of his lunch.
Once he swallows, he says, So I was thinking maybe we could go hunting today.
That surprises me. Dont you need to save the world? I ask, picking at the ragged
edge of the wool blanket.
I can take a few hours off.
Why?
Were waiting to see what happens with Hanis team before we move forward with
anything else.
I roll my eyes and look at him. Thats not what I meant. Why do you want to go
hunting?
Shrugging, he says, I miss it. The peacefulness of the woods, the sense of being in
complete control.
It seems like he wants to say more, but he bites his lower lip and focuses on the
scuffed floorboards instead.
Hunting with Gale could work to my advantage. If I go with him and put on a good
show to convince him Im fine, maybe hell stop hovering over me. Plus, I could really use
the target practice. I dont have long before Ill need to be in top shape again.
Okay. I say.
His head shoots up in surprise. Well, that was easy. Ill get us a ride. Pulling up his
shirtsleeve, he reveals a communicuff encircling his wrist.
How can you use that without Coin knowing? I ask.
Beetee reprogrammed them. Were on a different frequency, and he scrambled all the
waves, so no one can listen in.
He exits the room and begins talking to someone. Not even thirty seconds later, he
leans his head through the door and says, Meet me upstairs in twenty minutes.
After picking at my sandwich for a bit, I open the duffel bag and choose an outfit that
will have to suffice for hunting. The bright colors will make it difficult to blend into
nature, but at least the material is sturdy and should provide some protection against the
underbrush.
I quickly dress and then finish the disguise by donning a blond wig. When I enter the
bar, Gales gaze meets mine. He covers his mouth with his hand and I know hes stifling a
laugh.
What? I ask, irritated.
Nothing. Wrinkles appear at the corners of his eyes, letting me know that hes
smiling behind his fist. Blond is a good look for you.
I flash him an angry scowl and head outside where Haymitch is behind the wheel of a
beat-up, powder blue car that has clearly seen better days. Gale takes a seat in front and I
climb in back, next to Gales old game bag. I open it and find both of our bows inside.
Gale must have grabbed my belongings from Coins office yesterday. I slide my fingers
along the smooth wood, finding comfort in something that is so much a part of me.
Something that will help me bring justice to this screwed up world we live in.
Thirty minutes later, were on the outskirts of the Capitol. Houses are farther apart
and there are even fewer people on the streets. Compared to the city center, it looks like
this neighborhood fared much better during the revolution. But despite the lack of
intended damage, this area appears to have been neglected for years. Colorful paint peels
off the houses, overgrown grass and weeds occupy the front yards, and tattered garments
hang from clotheslines in the backyards. I didnt realize the Capitol had areas that werent
perfect. It makes me wonder what these people did to upset Snow.
Where are we going? I ask impatiently. There were holes in the city wall back
where we werewe could have easily slipped into the woods from there.
Yeah, and have Coins guards see us. According to Paylor, they dont patrol this area,
so we should be safer here, Gales says from the front seat.
We continue following the wall until we find a hole big enough to crawl through.
Be careful, Haymitch says in farewell. And meet me back here at sixteen hundred
hours.
We quickly scurry out of the car and under the cover of trees. I cant believe how
much better I feel once weve escaped the city. The forest is different from our forest, but
the towering trees and chirping birds bring a tranquility I havent felt in a while. I didnt
realize how stifling the Capitol has been. I yank off the blond wig and hook it through my
belt, enjoying the wind against my neck.
Then, I begin running. I have no purpose, but the freedom is exhilarating. I run away
from the Capitol, and Coin, and even Paylor. I run from the pain that being in the Capitol
has always brought me. I run from the memories of the night before. I pump my legs hard
and go deeper and deeper into the forest until the rays of sun are replaced by dark
shadows and the ground beneath my feet shifts from grass to rich soil covered in pine
needles.
Eventually the pounding in my chest is too overwhelming. Out of breath, I stop, bend
over, and rest my hands on my thighs. Gale easily jogs to my side, not even panting. If my
plan is to be successful, Ill need to get back in shape. Exercise must become a priority.
Feel better? he asks with a tentative smile.
I nod. Why arent you even breathing heavy?
Because Im inherently a better athlete than you.
I roll my eyes. Seriously.
He shrugs. Ive been working out. Jogging five miles a day. Want to join me
tomorrow morning?
Maybe.
The shock is apparent on his face, but he says nothing. Instead, he opens the game bag
and hands me my bow and quiver. I place them on my back and relish in the feeling of
completeness. Its been too long since Ive been in the woods with my bow. With Gale.
Yes, even he is adding to the sense of normalcy.
We walk in silence for a few minutes until we reach a bluff overlooking a river bed.
Its the perfect spot to catch animals coming up for a drink. Without exchanging a word,
we both kneel on the ground, pulling our bows to the front and waiting for the first
unfortunate animal.
We hear the rustling of leaves before we see them. Two small does step out from the
trees and walk to the waters edge. Gale pulls back on his arrow and they still, sensing
something in the air. After a moment, one leans her head down to lap at the water, giving
Gale the opportunity he needs. He releases the arrow. Its a clean shot through the heart,
and the animal collapses to the ground immediately. The other doe scurries off the way it
had come.
Gale looks at me. I thought youd take the other one.
A deer is no challenge. Im looking for a rabbit or squirrel, something that will test my
skills, so I know exactly how much work I have to do.
I shrug. We have limited space to bring game back with us.
Thats never stopped you before, he snorts.
Just then, a squirrel appears on the other side of the river. I quickly take aim, but the
cast on my left arm is cumbersome. My wrist doesnt move like it should. I try to
compensate for the limited range of motion, but when I release the arrow, it lands solidly
in a tree behind the squirrel.
Gale lets out a deep laugh. Not even close! Maybe you should wait until your arm
heals.
I scowl because Im worried hes right. But I dont have time to wait for it to heal. I
need to learn how to shoot with it. I spend the next hour on a mission. Im a mad woman
relentlessly pursuing the unsuspecting squirrels of the forest one after another. Every miss
propels me forward with even greater intensity. Even after I begin hitting them, Im not
satisfied. I continue moving through the woods taking fastidious aim until I finally land
an arrow through an eye. I run to my prize and hold it up triumphantly.
Will you let the poor squirrels live in peace now? Gale teases from behind me.
Intent on my mission, I had totally forgotten he was with me.
He walks my way, carrying all the squirrels I had killed before the final one.
Im guessing squirrel isnt a delicacy in the Capitol, he says, but, maybe Tallis can
make it into a stew or something, and no one will notice.
I finally let out a long breath and allow my muscles to relax. No doubt Gale is thinking
Ive totally lost it. So much for convincing him Im fine.
Then, he punches me playfully in the arm. Not badit only took twelve squirrels to
get your deadly accuracy back.
I cant help but smile. He doesnt think Im crazy. He just knows Im a perfectionist
when it comes to hunting. We walk back to where he shot the deer and I sit with my feet
in the river as he cleans his catch.
Thanks for coming out here with me, he says, sliding his knife under the animals
hide. Once hes exposed the leg muscles, he continues, You look better out here. Maybe
youre rightmaybe it would be best for you to go home.
I do feel better out here, theres no doubting that. Focusing on hunting took my mind
off of Peeta for the first time since everything fell apart. Unfortunately, as soon as I sit still
for a couple minutes, it all comes rushing back with a vengeance. I swallow the lump
forming in my throat.
Gale continues talking. Ill go back as often as I can to visit and make sure
everythings okay. We could get my mom and the kids to move back from District 13, too.
They could stay with you to help out. You know, cook, help with the cleaning
Hes already started making plans. Stop Gale. Its fine. Im staying. Im going to help
the Nationalists, I say quietly.
He momentarily stops what hes doing. Why?
I look to the ground because I cant lie to his face. I want to help.
Of courseKatniss Everdeen, the world renowned humanitarian. Are you sure you
dont have an ulterior motive?
How does he know me so well? Nope, I say, running my fingers through the pine
needles on the ground in front of me.
He grunts and continues working on the deer. He knows something is up. Ill need to
be even more careful than I thought.
Were quiet the rest of the afternoon. I think about Peeta and how to keep Gale out of
the way of my revenge. Im sure Gale is wondering what Im up to. We meet Haymitch
right on time and arrive back at Headquarters as the group reconvenes. This time I sit at
the table in Peetas old place. People regard me out of the corners of their eyes, but no one
comments on my sudden presence.
Paylor doesnt waste any time. Weve had some major developments. Everyone be
seated, she says authoritatively, as she strides through the door. Hanis team
successfully landed in Eurasia. Theyre currently in discussions with governmental
authorities, but early information indicates Eurasia has not made threats to Panem. It
appears that Coin is spreading misinformation to her Cabinet members.
Surprise, surprise, Gale murmurs under his breath.
Paylor gives him a warning glance and continues, Unfortunately, thats not the most
troubling news.


CHAPTER
TWENTY
OH HELL WHAT is it now? Haymitch grumbles.
We received intelligence from our folks in 13. Coin has asked them to provide her
with an estimate of costs and time needed to arm two fleets with nuclear warheads,
Paylor says.
Gasps escape from the gaping mouths around the table.
For what purpose? Hani exclaims.
All she said was that the country needed to be prepared for an invasion. Shes
making District 13 nervous. They think an attack is imminent, Paylor says.
But Eurasia claims theyve never threatened us, Gale says coldly.
Eurasia states theyve never communicated with Coin and didnt even know about
the revolution or Snows death, Hani clarifies.
Do you really think shes doing this as a form of defense? Plutarch asks the group.
Possibly, Avery says. Remember when she was in charge of 13? Having nuclear
weapons was the only reason we were free from the Capitol. Maybe she sees this as
security. Security that no other country will mess with us in the future.
But why spread lies about an attack? Why not explain it that way? Plutarch
counters.
Because people are starving, their homes and businesses have been destroyed, theyre
out of work unless theyre in the military, and shes spending the countrys money on
arming jets with nuclear weapons, rather than helping those of us who put her in office, I
say quietly.
All eyes settle on me.
Thats a good point, Haymitch agrees. Shes not going to get much support unless
she convinces people theres a reason we need to be prepared.
Yeah, shes trying to unite the country against a common enemy, even though there
really isnt one, Gale says.
So, whats the plan? Hani asks. What kind of evidence do we want my team to
gather while theyre in Eurasia?
Documentation that there has been no threat. Lets get it in written and video form.
That should be sufficient to take to the Cabinet as grounds for an investigation, Paylor
says.
And then what? I ask. All heads turn to me again.
Then we try to remove her from office. Impeach her. Once we prove that shes been
lying to the Cabinet in order to advance her own goals at the expense of our citizens, she
should receive little sympathy. Our ultimate objective is to have a fair election so our
leader actually represents the people he or she leads, Paylor explains simply, as though I
should already know.
I nod in understanding. Of course, if Im successful, there will be no one to impeach.
I barely listen to the discussion the rest of the meeting. The group has moved on to
other Nationalists goals like how to implement a country-wide voting system and
developing a set of governing rules. I focus on my agenda and make a mental list of
everything I need to accomplish in a short time.
When Paylor finally adjourns the meeting, I stand and walk towards the spare room.
Gale follows me and lightly grabs my arm just as Im about to pass through the doorway.
Dont you want to come back with us?
I pivot to face him. To Paylors house?
Yeah.
No. Ill stay here, I say, turning back towards the room.
Okay. Let me go get our stuff. Ill be back in a few minutes.
I sigh. Hes going to make it incredibly difficult for me to get some alone time. And
without alone time, Ill never be able to put my plan into action. No, you stay there. Ill
be fine by myself, I say with very little hope of changing his mind.
As expected, he waves me off and is out the door before I can object again.
I know I only have a few moments before he returns, so I make the most of my time. I
quickly change into my disguise and head up to the bar. A few patrons lean wearily on the
counter, looking like theyve already had enough to drink. Tallis is at the sink wiping
glasses. I walk up to him, and he smiles at me.
I like the new hair style, he says with a wink.
Um, thanks, I say self-consciously. Can I ask you a question?
Sure. He pulls me to the corner, out of earshot of the men at the bar. What is it?
Do you know Cressida, the journalist who helped the rebels?
Of course, why?
I need her help. Do you know where I can find her?
He pulls a slip of paper and a pencil out of his pocket. Her office is about a five-
minute walk from here, he says while writing down her address and directions.
I thank him and then go back to my dingy little room. A few minutes later, Gale is
back, carrying both of our bags. He tosses me mine and then sits on the floor opposite
me.
Why dont you want to stay at Paylors house? he asks.
It seems too risky, I lie, but it makes sense. Surely Coin is watching Paylors every
move and if Gale and some random girl in an ill-fitting wig stay with her, it will throw up
some serious red flags.
That isnt her real house. Her real house is on the grounds of the Presidents
Mansion. Thats where she sleeps. This is a secondary house she acquired from a
supporter for the Nationalists use. She doesnt spend much time there so its probably
pretty safe.
Then why dont you go back there? I suggest.
He smirks. Always so eager to get rid of me. He lies back on the dusty floor and
stares at the ceiling. Good night, Catnip.
Ignoring him, I flip the light switch and roll on my side so Im facing the wall. I pull
the picture of me and Peeta out of my pocket, kiss it lightly, and then continue to stare at
it, tears blurring my vision, until my body finally succumbs to the emotional and physical
exhaustion of the last thirty-six hours.
But, my sleep is riddled with visions of Coin and Peeta. When Gale wakes me in the
morning, I feel as exhausted as I did the night before.
Ugh. What time is it? I ask.
Five thirty. Time for a run. You in? He turns on the dim overhead light.
I move my arm over my eyes, shielding myself from the light. Running is the last
thing I feel like doing, but I only have a few days and I need to be in better shape. Plus,
this might be a good opportunity to break free from Gale and pay a visit to Cressida.
Yeah, just give me a few minutes, I say.
Okay, Ill be upstairs. Come up when youre ready.
Once he leaves, I quickly change into the most appropriate exercise attire I can find in
the duffel bag, careful to put Tallis directions in my pocket. I groan as I finish off the look
with the blond wigthis ought to make running fun.
Once were outside, Gale leads us, slowly at first, along the grid-like pattern of streets.
The sidewalks are empty and I seriously consider taking off the ridiculous wig that is
quickly becoming soaked with sweat. But then Gale increases the pace and I cant think
about anything other than trying to keep up with him. He takes long, graceful strides
while I fight to put one foot in front of the other, my breathing becoming more and more
ragged with each step. At the two and a half mile mark, I finally give up.
I stop and place my hands on my hips, trying to catch my breath. After a couple
seconds, Gale realizes Im not behind him anymore. He turns and easily jogs back to my
side. Too far?
Nodding, I say, Im done. Ill see you back at Headquarters.
Ill come with you, he offers.
No, no. Finish your run. Ill be fine.
Hes tornI can tell by the look in his eyes.
Really, you should finish, I say.
He nods and then continues down the street, but glances back at me after a few
seconds, probably second guessing his decision. I start walking to the last corner we
passed. When I get there, I quickly glance over my shoulder to make sure Gale is out of
site. Feeling assured that hes not watching me, I turn into the cross street and pull out
Tallis directions. Weve been headed the wrong way, but it still shouldnt take me more
than ten minutes. As I walk, I consider whether or not Cressida will be in her office so
early in the morning.
But when the elevator opens on the tenth floor, my concerns immediately vanish.
Unlike, the relatively quiet streets outside, this place is teeming with people running
around frantically. People yelling in headsets, people carrying large cups of coffee, and
people scribbling on clipboards all dodge each other as they move through the maze of
cubicles. Directly in front of me is a large desk with a young, perky woman seated behind
it, smiling at me.
May I help you? she asks warmly.
Is Cressida here?
Yes. Is she expecting you?
Um, no. Not really, I say, fidgeting with the hem of my Capitol shirt.
May I tell her whos calling?
Kat um Ms. Mellark, I say.
Very well. Please have a seat and Ill give Cressida a call.
I sit on the purple sofa and wring my hands as the receptionist calls Cressida. At least
she didnt seem suspicious of my name. She nods into the phone and then glances at me
with a frown on her face. Her mouth forms the word no and I wonder what theyre
discussing. Finally she hangs up and directs her attention back to me. Cressida will be
out in just a moment.
I nod and take a deep breath. But before I can take another, Cressida is standing in
front of me, staring at me with her head tilted to the side.
Ms Mellark. Its been a long time. Ive been meaning to catch up with you. Please
come to my office.
I follow Cressida to her glassed-in room. As soon as we walk through the door, she
pulls curtains, giving us privacy from the rest of the office.
And how is Peeta, Katniss? She asks affectionately once were both seated.
My body shudders involuntarily at her question, and I gulp. Dead, I say, moving my
eyes from her to a framed picture of what must be her family. Once the threat of tears has
passed, I meet her gaze again.
She looks at me with wide eyes and a deep frown. Im so sorry. What happened? she
asks in a whisper.
Coin shot him. In front of me. To torture me.
She covers her mouth with her hand, and I can tell shes deeply troubled by the news.
She leans back in her chair and begins turning to look out the large picture window, but
not before I catch the moisture glistening in the corner of her eye. I follow her gaze
through the glass. At one time, it likely had a spectacular view of the city. Not it just gives
a birds eye view of the destruction that remains.
After a couple moments, she slowly turns back around. What can I do for you
today? she asks, regaining her composure and getting down to business.
In exchange for your assistance, Ill give you the story of the year.
Im listening
Over the next half hour, I explain everything that has happened to me and Peeta and
everything that Im planning. I leave out the details about the Nationalists, but even
without that, Cressida looks interested. When I finish, I say, So, do you think you can do
what Im asking of you?
I can probably pull some strings. Give me a day to work things out on my end. Do
you have a number I can call you at?
No. Lets meet in person tonight. Can you come to the Capitol Lounge on Fifth
Street?
She nods. Ill be there at seven oclock.
Thank you, Cressida. I reach my hand out, but she comes from around the desk and
embraces me instead. Im very sorry for your loss. Youve been through so much. This is
the least I can do.
When I get back to Headquarters, I know Im in trouble because Gale is pacing
around the meeting room, his hair wet from a recent shower.
Where the hell have you been? he glowers at me.


CHAPTER
TWENTY - ONE
I GOT LOST, I say in a weak attempt to explain why it took me almost an hour to get back
to Headquarters.
Lost? We made two turns!
Im grieving. You cant expect me to keep up with every little detail, I say and then
rush to my little room.
Gale enters right behind me and takes a deep breath. I can tell its taking his full effort
to not blow up on me. He clenches his fists and says, Im just glad youre here safe and
sound. Please tell me nothing happened while you were wandering around the city.
No. Of course not. What would happen?
No telling with you, he mumbles under his breath. He steps out of the room and
yells through the open door, Everyone will be here in thirty minutes, I suggest you get
cleaned up quickly.
I roll my eyes at his demanding voice, but follow his recommendation.
The discussion throughout the day is a continuation from yesterday. At numerous
points, I find myself dozing off. Every now and then, the guy sitting next to me elbows me
in the side causing me to wake up with a start. When Paylor finally dismisses the group, I
retreat to my room.
As seven oclock approaches, I feel my anxiety rise. Even though the meeting has
ended, Gale and Beetee remain in their seats, talking about some new plan for spying on
Coin. In order to meet Cressida, Ill need to make it through the meeting space without
Gale getting suspicious and following me.
At five minutes to seven, I know I cant wait any longer. I put on my wig and colorful
clothes and walk through the meeting room with a purpose. When I make it to the
adjacent storeroom, I hear chair legs scrape against the floor. I stop, knowing what this
means. Gale runs into my back.
Ugh.., he moans grabbing my shoulders, turning me around. What are you doing?
Im bored. Im going to help Tallis.
His eyes narrow as he studies my face. I keep it blank, giving nothing away.
He pinches the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger, but nods.
Alright. Holler if you need anything.
Your clinginess is really starting to get on my nerves, I say tersely. I spin on my heel
and climb upstairs without a backward glance.
When I reach the top of the stairs, I see that Cressida has already arrived and shes
talking to Tallis at the bar. I walk to her side and they both look at me. Shall we have a
seat? I ask nodding to a booth in the corner.
Of course. Tallis, nice seeing you again.
He smiles in return, and Cressida and I move to the quiet corner.
So, were you able to get everything arranged on your side? I ask her.
Yes. Were all set. As we discussed, Im bringing Pollux with me. And, as you know,
theres the one variable we cant control for. Well have to keep our fingers crossed on
that. But my research today indicates it shouldnt be a problem.
Okay, good.
Cressida provides me with the remaining details and then we hug like old friends and
go our separate ways. Although I suspect her main motivation for doing this is the story,
Im thankful that she has been so kind and eager to help. Without her, it would be
impossible for me to carry out my plan.
So that I didnt completely lie to Gale, I decide to head behind the counter to help
Tallis clean glassware. Smiling warmly, he hands me a towel. He does a nice job of
keeping up a slow pace of small talk. He wisely avoids the topic of Peeta and instead
focuses on edible plants and cleaning squirrels or tells me stories of his childhood when
he used to rebel against his parents. He actually gets me to laugh a couple times at the
crazy antics he pulled.
Im surprised when he ushers his last patron out and locks the door. Its hard to
believe that four hours have passed so quicklytalking to him reminds me a lot of talking
to Cinna. Which makes me think of everything that has happened the past two years
especially what happened two nights ago. My thoughts are quickly turning dark, so I push
them aside and instead focus on Tallis story of when he and a childhood friend
vandalized the statue of Snow in the downtown square, giving him horns and tail. I smile
at the picture in my head. Tallis will be a Capitol person Ill miss when I leave.
When I return downstairs, Gale and Beetee are still at the table with pages and pages
of diagrams spread out between them.
I think this is our best option, Gale says pointing to a diagram. We dont need
video. Audio should be sufficient.
Beetee nods. Yes, I agree, but do you really think youll be able to install it without
being noticed?
No problem he says with an arrogant smile. Ill call Paylor so we can clear it with
her. How long will it take you to create this?
Two days max.
I continue to the small room and lie down on the mattress, preparing myself for
another restless night.
Gale wakes me up for our morning run. Its been four days since I talked to Cressida
and our plan was set into motion. As long as I focus on that plan and revenge, Im able to
keep my grief at the edges of my mind. Its those moments when I lose focus that I risk
falling into the deep despair that tormented me after Prims death.
This morning, however, excitement for whats to come tonight and tomorrow causes
me to leap up with enthusiasm. Gales attitude, on the other hand, has been in a
downward spiral the past few days. He doesnt talk to me about whatever is upsetting
him, and I dont bother asking.
Looks like someone had a good night of sleep, he says grumpily.
He couldnt be further from the truth. Im lucky if I get a couple uninterrupted hours
of sleep a night. But within thirty-six hours, Coin will be dead. Thats enough to keep me
going.
A few hours later, were gathered in the meeting room with the rest of the group. As
soon as we entered, Beetee grabbed Gale and pulled him to the corner. Theyre talking
animatedly when Paylor joins them. She pats Gale on the back and says something that
causes him to frown.
Please be seated. Things have taken a turn for the worse, Paylor says, walking
towards her chair.
Everyone sits, watching her anxiously. I look to Gale; hes staring at his folded hands
on the tabletop.
Gale successfully planted an audio transducer in Coins office two nights ago, she
says, smiling proudly at Gale.
Howd you do that with all the guards shes got there now? Haymitch asks.
Through the outside. I drilled a small hole in the cement exterior and placed a
fiberscopic cable with a video camera through it. With that I was able to weave my way
around wires and plumbing to get to the interior wall. The head of the audio transducer is
no bigger than a pinhead, so I made a miniscule hole in the wall and placed the
transducer through it.
What about the rest of the transducer? asks Hani.
I attached the rest of it to the backside of the wall with some heavy duty glue. So far
its holding well. I then patched up the hole in the cement with a little plaster and was out
of there in less than three minutes.
Nods of approval come from around the room.
Im assuming what we heard is the troubling news? Plutarch asks.
Paylor nods solemnly. Our assumption of Coin wanting nuclear warheads as a
defensive action was incorrect. It appears she plans on taking offensive action.
Everyone begins talking at once. Its pure chaos as the ramifications of what Paylor
said begin to sink in. She holds up her hands to quiet the room. Ill tell you what we
know. We recorded a conversation between Coin and Maxim Groll, the Executive
General, the head of our military. She asked him what he thought our chances were of
defeating Eurasia with a surprise attack using our current arsenal of nuclear weapons.
What did he say? Haymitch asks.
Unfortunately, we dont know since she was on the phone. We only have her side of
the conversation. But, based on how the conversation went, it sounded like we have at
least a few months before anything could happen. We still have time to make a
difference.
Does Eurasia have nuclear weapons? Plutarch asks.
No. But the Republic of Chinussia does, Hani says.
And how are international relations between those two countries? Any chance the
Republic of Chinussia will side with Eurasia and retaliate against us?
I would imagine thats a huge risk, Hani answers.
Unless Coin is conspiring with Chinussia, the man next to me says.
Again, shouts ring out through the room. Our country may initiate a World War IV
and we dont even know why.
Echoing my thoughts, Avery raises her voice above the din, Why? Did she say why
shes doing this?
Paylor shakes her head, but Gale speaks up. Because shes power-hungry and cares
nothing about our country. She just wants to make a name for herself in the history books
by expanding her reign as much as possible.
With no consideration for the number of lives that will be lost, I add quietly.
Suddenly, Dr. Aurelius words come back to haunt me. There are many lives at stake.
Many more than in the revolution. Were talking millions.
I realize that my actions tonight and tomorrow serve a much bigger purpose than Ive
been thinking. Theyre not just for revenge, but to save the lives of millions. Dr. Aurelius
was right, my biggest role is yet to come. I blanch at the thought.
What are we going to do? asks Hani.
We have to walk a fine line. Obviously this intelligence was gained illegally. We cant
present it to the Cabinet.
Maybe if we present it unofficially to members we can slowly tip the scale, though,
Plutarch suggests. There are a number of moderate members who might be swayed with
this information.
Thats certainly a possibility. After a sigh, Paylor continues, Look, we arent going
to come up with our answer right here, right now. Lets all take a day, work with our
teams to brainstorm some ideas, and then well reconvene tomorrow morning. At that
time well start sorting through our options.
Im barely listening now because if all goes well, their plans wont matter. Coin will be
dead tomorrow. But, if I fail I shudder at the thought. If I fail, I wont be around to see
what happens.
Paylors voice breaks my concentration. Gale, I need you on my team tonight. Were
installing more bugs and I need your expertise.
His face is pale. What time?
She glares at him with disbelief. All evening and night, she says shortly.
Im sorry, but Im only available until eighteen hundred hours, he says quietly.
She continues glaring at him. Well take this offline. She turns her attention to the
team members surrounding the table. The rest of you are free to go. Please take this
seriously. Your country is depending on you.
Everyone slowly files out of the room except for me, Gale, and Paylor, who looks at
me and says, Could we have a little privacy, Katniss.
Oh, sure, I mumble and slide off my chair. I walk to the little room and sit just
inside the door so I can hear their conversation. Ive never seen Paylor so angry with Gale
or him so anxious.
Shut the door! she yells from across the room. I stand and quickly follow her order,
but place my ear against it. Unfortunately, I cant hear anything other than an occasional
word here and there.
I plop down on the mattress, replaying the events of the meeting and determining
how this new information will factor into my plan. But, realistically, the only thing it
changes is the importance of me succeeding.
A few moments later, Gale opens the door, his face red, sweat beading on his
forehead. He kicks a stack of boxes and then punches another, sending foam shipping
material flying around the room.
Ive witnessed him getting grumpier and grumpier over the past few days, but hes
never been this angry. I wonder if the current issue is something new or just a
continuation of whatevers been bothering him. Suddenly, I feel a little guilty for not
trying to talk to him.
Are you okay, I ask cautiously.
No, I am not okay! he yells.
Whats wrong?
I am being placed in an impossible situation!
What situation? Maybe I can help.
He lets out a deep, throaty laugh. No, you cant.
I gently touch his arm. Gale, come on. Its me. You can talk to me.
He brushes me off and stalks out of the room. Im worried this is the last time Ill see
him. Whether I succeed or fail with my plan, I wont be able to return to District 12 or the
Capitol. I knew Id need to say goodbye to him, but Im not ready yet. I still have ten
hours until I have to go.
Gale! I yell after him. Dont leave. Please spend the day with me!
But hes already through the storeroom and pounding up the stairs to the bar. Im
surprised by the immediate sense of emptiness that washes over me when I realize this
may be my last memory of him.
My fear is confirmed when the time comes for me to go and he has yet to return. I
quickly scribble a note and try to suppress the loss I feel. With my all-consuming focus on
revenge, I never really thought about how hard it would be to leave Gale.
Gale,
I didnt plan on saying goodbye to you like this, but you left me no choice. Youll never
know how much I have valued your friendship over the years. Without you, Im not sure
what would have happened to my family after the explosion in the mine. So, thank you
for everything that youve done.
And I want you to know that I dont blame you for Prims death. You loved her just as
much as me, I realize that. Coin is responsible for what happened, not you. Im sorry for
the way I treated youyou didnt deserve that.
Hopefully our paths will cross again in the future, but if not, I want you to know how
important you are and have always been to me. Ill miss you.
Yours,
Katniss
I leave the note on the top of his bag and head out of the little room for the last time. I
choke back a sob that is building in my throat. I know that I need to forget about Gale,
forget about the Nationalists. I need to focus on my mission; anything else will be a
distraction. A distraction I cant afford.
In the bar, I give Tallis a hug. By the look in his eyes, I can tell he knows something is
about to change. Be careful, he whispers into my ear. I nod and then walk to Cressidas
office.
She meets me outside and then ushers me to the roof of her building, where a
helicopter is already waiting, its rotors spinning. I buckle myself into a seat, and we begin
the two-hour trip.


CHAPTER
TWENTY - TWO
AS WE APPROACH the destination, I hear the pilots crackly voice in my headphones. Im
going to circle around the arena. Pollux, when I give the sign, drop the box out the door.
That will tell us whether or not the force field is up.
What do we do if its up? I ask from the back seat.
We go home, he says matter-of-factly.
Katniss, you knew this was a possibility, Cressida says, turning around to lock eyes
with me.
I nod. Of course I did. But now the stakes are higherits not just my revenge against
Coin, its the lives of millions. I cant tell Cressida that, though. Instead I look out the
window anxiously, waiting to know our fate.
A few moments later, the pilot gives the signal, and Pollux drops the box. I hold my
breath as I watch it float effortlessly through the sky. My hopes improve as the box gets
closer to the ground, shrinking smaller and smaller. When it hits a treetop, I know were
safe. The force field would be well above the treeline.
The pilot echoes my thoughts, Prepare for landing. Well be on the ground in five
minutes.
When I exit the helicopter, Im immediately taken back to my 74
th
Hunger Games.
The cornucopia still sits in the middle of the clearing. Even from a hundred yards away, I
can see Catos now rust-colored blood stains trailing down the edge. My eyes move
beyond the cornucopia to the steep drop-off where Thresh staked his claim. I slowly turn
my body and take in the woods. It looks exactly the same. When making this plan, I
didnt really consider the emotional impact being back here would have on me. This place
screams of Peeta.
I walk into the woods, touching the trees as I pass them. If I go further into the forest,
will I see the charred remains of the fire that led me straight into the hands of the
Careers? Will I see the Tracker Jacker nest I dropped on them? Will I see the ring of
flowers I laid for Rue? I know I need to push these thoughts out of my mind. I have to
focus on the mission. Any distraction could cause me to fail and allow Coin to incite the
next World War.
I return to the helicopter and unload my bag. Cressida and Pollux are busy pulling
various cases out of the storage compartment. When theyre done, I expect the helicopter
to leave, but it sticks around, the pilot talking to Cressida. I sit down in the clearing next
to Pollux, enjoying the comfortable silence that he always provides.
After a few moments, Cressida joins us, and the pilot enters the cabin again. Is he
leaving now? I ask.
No, not yet. He wants to wait until after dark.
Why?
Something about wind patterns. Im not entirely sure.
I nod and lie back with my arms behind my head. Cressida pulls out a notebook and
starts reviewing some hand-written notes. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions,
Katniss?
I inwardly groan. Yes I mind, but this was the dealshe gets me here and I give her
the story.
What do you want to know? I ask.
For the next hour, she peppers me with questions. When darkness falls, she finally
relents, and we settle in for the night.
The troubled sleep Ive endured since Peetas death was nothing compared to this
night, though. Being back in the arena brings the dreadful memories of the past to the
forefront of my brain, mixing them with the events of the last week into one horrifying
and muddled amalgam of excruciating visions. My screaming wakes me at least three
different times. Each time, my clothes are soaked through with sweat and my heart is
racing. And, unfortunately, waking up just lands me right in the middle of the real
nightmare that is my life.
Early the next morning, none of us having slept very well, were awakened by the loud
whir of multiple helicopters descending from above. The three of us scamper under the
cover of the trees and wait for the scene to unfold.
Hours later, everyone has arrived and filming is about to begin. Im crouched in the
woods, set back a few feet from the edge of the clearing. From my vantage point I can
clearly see Coin, as well as her camera crew and four guards. About a hundred yards to
my right is Pollux, posed similarly to me. Cressida is already in position.
One of the cameramen clips a microphone to Coins lapel and then backs away while
saying, Were live in three two one He then points dramatically in her direction.
She immediately plasters a large smile across her facea smile Ive never seen from
her before and one that looks foreign on such a rigid face.
As you can see, she says motioning to the cornucopia behind her, Im in the 74
th

Hunger Games arena. These arenas are a sign of inequality, greed, and the most horrific
acts we as a nation have ever been subjected to. Like I promised one week ago in response
to the Mockinjays inexorable speech to Panem, I pledge to abolish each of these arenas.
Coin glances to her left and frowns slightly. I follow her gaze and see the smoke. The
guards also see it, and three of them dart in that direction to investigate, leaving only one
guard for me to deal with. I smileCressida performed her role perfectly.
Regaining her poise, Coin continues, Im pleased to stand before you today and
declare these arenas obsolete. One by one, we will destroy these symbols of innumerable
and pointless deaths. Deaths that should never have happened. Weve lost too many
children the past seventy-five years! These are children who should be studying diligently
in school, training with the military, or working hard for their districts. Children who
should be helping our nation grow stronger!
She is putting on such a showgiving the people exactly what they want to hear. But I
know better. She doesnt care about the people of our country. Her only goal is to become
even more powerful. And shell do whatever it takes to reach that goal. Like manipulating
people by telling them what they want to hear so theyll trust her. And then using that
trust to twist and turn reality into her own personal distortion of right and wrong.
With one final flourish, Coin raises her arms, fists clenched, and says, We are a
unified nation, the strongest weve ever been, and no other nation can take that away
from us! Remember, Panem, we will always be triumphant!
Her words cause bile to rise up in my throat. Shes already planning, calculating her
next move; setting the stage for developing a rationale to proceed with her plan. First
make the people start thinking about other counties. Then, convince them that an attack
is imminent and we must take the offense. Any doubt I had about whether or not I could
go through with this today is quickly quashed. I will do this for Peeta. For Prim. For
Panem.
Thats a wrap, says the main cameraman, and then everyone starts moving around,
packing up the equipment.
I look to Pollux and motion for him to start taping. I stand to get in a better position.
Coin is still in front of the cornucopia, her single guard about twenty feet away,
talking to a young camerawoman with canary yellow hair. I know I need to deal with him
first, but the woman is blocking my shot. I wait a few moments, but they continue talking.
Then Coin starts walking towards the group. My chance is vanishing before my eyes.
I grab a rock and launch it with my bow into the cornucopia. It crashes against the
side, and a loud metallic clank spreads throughout the arena. The guard is immediately at
attention. He draws his gun and surveys the area, while Coin drops to the ground. The
crew disperses, making their way back to the aircrafts.
I have to act now. I pull out an arrow and aim directly for the gun. With one smooth
motion, I draw back on the string and send the arrow flying through the open space
between us. It hits its mark perfectly, right through the hole of the trigger. The arrow
thrusts the gun airborne and both land a good fifteen feet from the guard. Shock and fear
register on his face.
Before he can retrieve the gun, I quickly reload my bow and aim low. Its a clean shot
straight to his thigh, and he crumbles to the ground.
Well, well, Katniss, you never fail to surprise me, Coin says, standing and slowly
turning in a circle, obviously unaware of my location.
I walk out from the protection of the shadows and aim directly at her chest as I
continue moving towards her.
Our eyes connect, and she smiles. Now why would you want to hurt me? Look at all
Im doing for this country. She takes small, slow, deliberate steps backwards toward the
cornucopia.
Youre doing nothing for this country. The districts are still in ruins, people are
starving, and all you care about is expanding your reign!
She shakes her head and makes her belittling tsking sounds. You never did
understand anything about politics. Its too bad Peetas not here. I always thought he
could be a very potent political force with the right training.
My eyes narrow reflexively, my lips curls into a snarl. Yes, its too bad that you killed
him.
Coin has reached the mouth of the cornucopia. In one quick movement, she turns to
her left and falls behind the edge of the opening, out of my line of sight.
I curse under my breath and circle wide to get the target lined up again. I see Pollux
following my motion from the safety of the trees. When Im in front of the opening, I find
Coin running along the backside of the cornucopia, towards the guards gun, which lies
on the ground beyond the far edge of the large metal structure. Following her movement
with my bow, I wait for her to stop, so I can take aim. When she bends down, I know I
only have a moment to act. I draw in a deep breath to steady my arms. But she moves
much faster than I anticipated. Within seconds she has the gun in her hands and is facing
me again, an evil smirk on her face.
I quickly weigh my options. I can try to hit the gun, but if she fires first, Ill be dead
and shell survive. I can go for the kill, but a gun is quicker. As soon as I release the arrow,
shell fire. Of course, did I really ever plan on surviving this? No. I accepted that my life
was over when I devised this plan.
I look down the sight and take another deep breath. Ill only have one chance; I have
to make it count. My muscles tense as I anticipate the shot.
I blink one last time and when I open my eyes, Im shocked by the scene in front of
me. Coin is lying face down in the grass, an arrow protruding from her back. Did I shoot
her and not realize it? I look at my bow, but the arrow is still ready and loaded. I slowly
scan the open area. Who else has a bow? The guard is bleeding profusely on the ground,
trying to make a tourniquet; the camera crew is huddled together near their aircrafts.
Cressida? Pollux? I turn to Pollux, but hes still holding the camera. My confusion must
be apparent because he points to the left of me. I turn around and see a large figure
rushing straight for me.
I raise my bow in his direction and aim for his chest, but before I can release the
arrow, hes cursing at me.
Dammit, Katniss. Put the bow down!
I recognize the voice before I can make out the face. I lower my bow, but the anger I
feel now is only slightly less than what I felt for Coin just seconds ago.
How dare you, Gale! She was mine! I needed to kill her. How dare you do that to
me!
Hes still running straight towards me at full speed. When he reaches my side, he
grabs my arm and pulls me behind him, causing my arrow to fall to the ground.
Stop it! I scream, hitting him with my bow and slowing his progress slightly.
He turns to look at me with intense eyes. Weve got to get out of here. The other
guards will be back soon.
As angry as I am with him, I have to admit hes right. I stop resisting and sprint with
him towards the woods. Were just a few feet from the tree line when the three guards
return to the clearing about two hundred yards to our right. It takes only moments for
them to assess the situation and then theyre chasing after us.
We break through the tree line and continue, although our progress is slowed by the
underbrush. Gale pushes me in front of him. Faster, Katniss!
I pump my legs harder, trying to put as much distance between us and the guards as I
can. But after a minute, I hear them. Theyve crossed into the woods and are snapping
twigs as they come barreling straight for us. Theres no way were going to outrun them
theyre gaining every second.
I stop suddenly, causing Gale to run into me.
Ugh, he grunts. What are you doing?!
Up, I say breathlessly pointing to the large tree on our left. I rip off my cast and
hope my arm is strong enough to climb the tree.
He glances back at the guards and must agree with my plan because he holds his
hands out for me. I place my foot squarely in his palm and grab the overhead branch as
he lifts me. I pull myself up, pleased that my arm doesnt hurt too much, and then watch
him reach for the branch. The guards are closing in. They continue sprinting for us as
Gale flexes his arms, but then one stops and aims for Gales back with his gun.
No! I scream at the top of my lungs. The guard ignores me and presses the trigger,
releasing a deafening sound. Gales body lurches forward with the impact, but he doesnt
fall. I reach down and grab the straps of a backpack hes wearing, pulling him into the
tree. He collapses in the crook of the branch on top of me.
Where are you shot? I ask with panic, searching his body.
He rolls to the side, freeing my legs. Im fine. Keep climbing. We need to get higher.
I do as he says, checking behind me every few seconds to make sure hes following me.
Once were well above the ground, I pause briefly to watch the guards. Theyre close to
the base of the tree, and it will only be moments before theyre shooting at us. We need to
put as much space and as many branches between us as we can. I reach to a limb above
me, haul my body up, and then turn around to help Gale. Hes turned slightly so I can see
his side, where blood has soaked through his shirt and is dripping to the ground far
beneath us now.
Gale, youre hurt, I say.
Im fine. Go! he yells. I reach down and help him climb to my branch before
continuing upward. But my progress is suspended when a loud gunshot breaks the
silence, causing bark to fly off the trunk not even a few feet from my head. Glancing
down, I see the guards standing next to each other, aiming at us. I carefully leap from
branch to branch to circle around the trunk, putting it between me and the guards. Gale
follows, and we continue to climb higher.
As we move, the guards must reposition themselves because bullets are now coming
at us from multiple directions. I stay close to the trunk and choose an upward route with
plenty of branches to protect us.
How are you feeling? I yell down to Gale without slowing.
I told you, Im fine!
Youre bleeding!
Its not serious!
I doubt that by the amount of blood, but now is not the time to argue with him.
I place my boot on the next branch, ready to push myself higher when it explodes on
me. One of the guards must have hit it perfectly, causing the entire limb to crumble. My
body begins falling awkwardly, bouncing off the thick branches. I frantically clutch small
leaf-covered twigs trying to find purchase on one of them in order to stop my downward
plunge, but they just snap with my weight. My broken arm strikes a small branch and the
pain shoots through me like an electric current. I scream out and twist my body, trying to
better position myself to grab hold of something, anything with my good arm.
Im vaguely aware of Gale moving gracefully like a wild animal accustomed to living
in the treetops. And then, the next think I know, my free fall ceases. His hand has caught
the back of my shirt. Hes holding me steady with my limbs dangling carelessly in front of
me.
Quickgrab the branch Im on! he yells.
Im staring straight down and confused. I cant tell where he is. I reach above my head
blindly, but feel nothing other than pain in my broken arm. A bullet whizzes past my
head and hits the tree trunk, not even five feet from me.
To the left!
I follow Gales command, but still feel nothing. Another gunshot echoes through the
forest.
A little higher. Stretch Katniss!
And then I hear a frightening sound as my body descends a couple inches. My shirt
has started ripping in Gales grasp.
Hurry! he yells at me anxiously.
I scramble with a renewed burst of energy. I arch my back and reach as far as my arm
will go. Finally, I feel the welcomed roughness of bark. My fingertips grasp it for dear life
and then I slowly work them higher and higher until my hand is wrapped around the
sturdy branch. Twisting my body, I reach up with my other arm.
More gunshots sound and I feel splintered bark raining down on me when Gale says,
Hold on tight. I need to get a better grip on you.
He lets go of my shirt and slides his hands up the sides of my body until hes under
my arms. Then he braces himself against the trunk and heaves me up to the branch hes
on. I crumple on top of him, panting.
Are you okay? he asks.
Yeah, Im fine. I say breathlessly, relaxing my tense muscles.
He raises an eyebrow.
What?
Nothing.,he smirks, looking at my body resting on his lap. I could sit like this all
day, but there are armed guards down there intent on killing us. We should probably get
moving.
I take a deep breath and then push off Gales chest to a standing position once more.
My free fall took down a lot of the leaf cover we had so I quickly determine a new route
and start climbing. Within a few minutes, I notice that the gunshots are all landing well
below us. I pause a moment and glance at Gale.
Do you think were high enough?
Yes, nothings come within ten feet of me for a while now. Lets find a good place to
rest.
I spot two wide and close branches radiating from the tree just a few feet above us. We
quickly make our way there and then settle into our safe haven, sitting on one branch
with our feet on the other.

I rest my head against the trees trunk and take a few deep breaths. Gale touches my
temple, causing me to jump.
Sorry, he says. Youre bleeding. Let me wash that out for you.
Its just a scrape. Youre the one whos been shot. Lets start with that.
He turns to the side, so I can see the blood soaking through his shirt. I swallow and
nervously reach for the material. It is times like this when I really need my mother or
Prim. I am not cut out for blood and gore.
How bad is it? he asks.
Umm Im not sure yet. Theres a lot of blood, though.
I tentatively reach for the material and pull it away from his body. Its tattered,
presumably from the bullet entering and hopefully exiting. Im debating whether to rip
the shirt open from the tattered area or pull it up when he sighs loudly.
Do you think we can do this today, Katniss? Its only a matter of time before the
guards start climbing.
I scowl even though he cant see me, and then ease the shirt up from his waist. He
tenses.
Does that hurt? I ask with concern.
Uh, no.
Youre clenching every muscle in your body.
He gulps. Its not every day a girl undresses me.
I reflexively blush and am thankful hes looking the other way. I continue sliding his
shirt up until Im just under his ribs. I see raw flesh, but its hard to ascertain the amount
of damage with all the blood.
Theres water in the backpack, he says, as if reading my thoughts.
I reach for the backpack hes left in the crook of the tree, when a new and terrifying
sound stops me cold.
Gales on his feet immediately. What the hell?
I instinctively know the sound. Its a sound that has haunted my dreams for the past
two years. I cover my mouth with my hand and tilt my head to the sky. Welcome to the
Hunger Games, Gale. Theres no way theyll let us leave this arena alive.


CHAPTER
TWENTY - THREE
ONE OF THE guards had just started climbing the tree when the incredible noise
reverberated throughout the arena. He turns back to his colleagues, looking for direction.
They motion for him to continue, and one of them steps away from the tree to
investigate.
Katniss, whats that sound? Gale asks again.
Mutts, I say simply, and Im taken back to the Games. Its the same high-pitched
yipping sound the wolf mutts with tribute eyes made when they were communicating
with each other, intent on tearing us apart limb by limb.
Can they climb?
They couldnt climb the cornucopia, but I think thats because it was metal and their
paws slipped off. They may be able to climb a tree, I acknowledge, fear slipping into my
voice.
I give Gale his bow and begin counting our arrows. We only have nine left between
the two of us.
Use these sparingly, I say, handing him his quiver.
How many mutts do think there are?
More than nine.
He nods, fully understanding the dire situation were in. We wait, alternating our gaze
between the woods where the yipping sounds are increasing in intensity by the second
and the guard climbing up the tree, approaching us quicker than we thought possible.
My fear suddenly evaporates and is replaced by guilt. Yet another person I love will
die because of me.
Gale, why did you come here. You should be in the Capitol. This was my battle.
Hes on-edge, tense, preparing for the impending combat. He still thinks we might
survive.
You know, most people would say Gee, thanks for saving my life, Gale, but not you.
You have to turn everything into a fight. He continues scanning the forest.
I could have killed her, I say defiantly.
Probably. But she would have killed you in the process. He shifts his position,
possibly eyeing something in the distance.
So you risked your life to save me, only to leave us both in the hands of merciless
mutts that will make our last few moments of life a living hell.
I dont plan on dying. And it would be nice if you didnt give up so easily, he spits
out at me.
His eyes dart to the guard who is not far beneath us now. He raises his bow and aims
for the guards chest.
No, not his chest! I scream. Theres been enough death already.
Hes trying to kill us! Gale yells back with equal fervor.
Hes just following orders. He doesnt know who Coin was. Please Gale, a non-lethal
wound.
He grunts, but shifts his aim lower and hits the guard squarely in the thigh, as I had
done earlier with the other guard in the clearing. The shot knocks the guard off balance
and he stumbles from his perch, but quickly catches himself on an adjacent limb. He pulls
the arrow out of his leg and begins tending to the wound.
Happy? Gale asks, scowling at me.
I never have time to answer, though. The noises surrounding us become earsplitting;
the yipping is now mixed with the thunderous rhythmic resonance of massive legs
pounding on the ground in a unified gallop. The guard who ventured into the woods to
investigate is sprinting towards us, fear contorting the features of his face. Behind him is
the pack of wolf mutts. They cover the distance to us in mere seconds. The other guard on
the ground begins screaming and runs back towards the clearing with his partner. Six
mutts follow them, leaving four at the base of our tree. One begins climbing towards us,
deftly hopping from branch to branch at an unbelievable pace.
I take aim, but its eyes meet mine. Sadness overwhelms methey look like Rues eyes.
Of course they would use Rue to kill me.
Shoot it! Gale yells from behind me.
I release the arrow, but the mutt quickly ducks behind the trunk, easily avoiding
injury. It then moves along branches in the other direction, approaching the guard below
us.
The guard kneels on his good leg, leaving the other one extended at an awkward
angle. Raising his weapon, he shoots at the mutt, hitting it in the shoulder. The hit does
nothing to slow it down, though. The mutt lunges for the guard and bites into his arm,
causing him to cry out and drop the gun. He pounds on the mutt with his other arm
without effect. The mutt turns around and begins descending the tree, dragging the guard
with it the entire way.
Just then, we hear more gunshots. We shift our gaze to the other guards who have
reached the clearing. Theyve stopped running and are now pointing their weapons at the
mutts. They begin unleashing a firestorm of gunshots. Miraculously, one mutt actually
goes down. Even from this distance, we can see the determination on the guards faces.
They think they can win.
I focus back on the four mutts at our tree. The one with the guard has reached the
ground. Why is it dragging the guard, rather than killing him? This is not the behavior I
expected.
My muscles flex as I anticipate another mutt climbing the tree for us. Gale and I raise
our bows, ready to defend ourselves, but then the unexpected happens. The four mutts
gallop toward their pack mates in the clearing. Our tree is no longer under siege by either
mutts or guards.
We stare at the scene unfolding before us, completely baffled. The four mutts meet
the larger group. The guard from our tree is dropped on the ground; he scurries
backwards under the protective gunfire of his colleagues. Another mutt falls to the
ground. Now its down to eight mutts against three guards. But the mutts dont attack the
guards. They just stand there, keeping the guards in the clearing. Its almost like theyre
trying to help us
Lets go! I yell at Gale.
We rapidly descend the tree. I lower myself to the ground and quickly draw back an
arrow, not quite ready to believe the mutts wont attack us. Gale follows suit. For at least a
minute, we stand poised, waiting for the thunderous footfalls to approach, but none do.
Im still contemplating the strange turn of events, when Gales reaches into the backpack
and pulls out a compass.
We need to get out of this arena, he says, making note of our direction. Then he
grabs my hand and starts jogging deeper into the woods, the very direction I took the first
day of the Games. We keep glancing behind us every few seconds, expecting either guards
or mutts, but, unbelievably, we seem to be alone.
About an hour later, Gale finally slows. He stops by a fallen tree and lowers the
backpack. Unzipping the bag, he pulls out a water bottle and holds it in my direction.
Thirsty?
I nod and greedily take it from his hands, but stop myself before taking a drink. We
should clean your wound first, I say, nodding to the thick cake of blood coating his shirt.
Im fine. Well deal with that when were out of here.
I purse my lips, but say nothing. I suppose he is fine since he had no problem running
for an hour, but I cant help but worry there might be significant damage with all that
blood.
I tip the bottle to my lips; the cool water soothes the burning in my throat. I down half
the bottle and hand it back to Gale, feeling guilty for drinking so much. He swallows the
rest in three long gulps and then pulls out the compass again.
Watching him with the compass and seeing his backpack and all the essentials it
contains, I suddenly feel grossly unprepared. I absently rub my now throbbing broken
arm, while I think about the meager supplies I brought with mea few warm clothes and
a water bottlewhich are still in the clearing. I guess that is just another indication of
how I anticipated this would all turn out.
Gale pockets the compass, reaches into the backpack, and pulls out my cast. He must
have picked that up while we were at the base of the tree, waiting to see if the mutts would
return for us.
He hands me the cast. Looks like you could use this, he says, eyeing the black and
blue marks that have started forming.
I thank him and quickly clip it over my arm.
Ready? he asks.
I nod. Gale keeps a slightly slower pace this time, so Im able to actually think about
other things as we make our way through the woods. Like how he ended up here. When
did he arrive to the arena? How did he know I would be here? And why did he come? Do
the Nationalists know hes here? I desperately want to ask him these questions, but not
here where they are undoubtedly listening.
Instead I focus on the best thing that has happened today. Actually, the best thing that
has happened in the past week. Coin is dead. Even though Im still incredibly angry with
Gale for killing her, at least we finally got our revenge for Prim and Peeta, and the horrific
plans she had for our country. Even if we dont make it out of here alive, that was
completely worth it. A satisfied smile spreads across my face.
After a few more miles, the setting begins to change. The fresh, clean scent of the
forest gives way to a pungent, sulfuric odor. The gentle fluttering of the lively green
canopy becomes stagnant black pillars beckoning to clear blue skies above. Weve entered
the area of the fire. The destruction is impressiveevery tree has been completely
charred, not a single piece of normal bark remains. The ground is littered with branches
from the large trees, occasionally interrupted by a seedling rising no higher than my
knees. The only other source of life is small ferns growing in the shadows of the downed
limbs. I involuntarily shiver as I remember the fireballs that were hurled at me and the
severe burn that I sustained.
Gale glances at me out of the corner of his eye, no doubt remembering this scene play
out on television. You okay?
Yes, lets just get out of here, I answer, picking up our pace again. But we only run
for a few minutes before I hear the faint electric hum that I became so attuned to in the
Quarter Quell.
Stop! I yell, grabbing Gale by the back of his shirt.
What? he asks, startled.
Were at the edge. The force field is up.
How do you know?
I lift a small rock from the ground and throw it towards the humming sound. It hits
an invisible wall, throwing off sparks and bouncing back to us.
Well, thats unexpected, he says, furrowing his brow.


CHAPTER
TWENTY - FOUR
I CONTINUE STARING at the invisible wall. Were so close to freedomI can almost reach
out and touch it. Gale and I look at each other, panic in our eyes.
If I had some wire and lightning, I could take it out, I mumble, as I begin pacing.
He gazes up to the cloudless sky and says, I think the guards will be here long before
lightning. Then he slides back his shirtsleeve and raises his wrist, complete with
communicuff, to his mouth. If anybodys out there, we could use a little help. Target is in
sight, but inaccessible.
And like magic, the humming stops. I pick up a rock and lob it in front of me. This
time it goes straight through and lands with a thunk on the soft grass beyond. I grab
Gales hand and pull him over the threshold. As soon as were through, we hear a loud
zapping sound and then the humming begins again. I pick up the same rock I just threw
and toss it in the direction we came from; this time it bounces back to me. The force field
is up and running again.
Who exactly were you talking to? I ask.
Gale shrugs. Im not sure. The only person I told about this plan was Haymitch. But I
just broadcasted that out to all the Nationalists.
So someone must be in the control room. It has to be the same person who used the
mutts to help us escape from the guards.
Gale nods and begins walking towards a river that lies a few yards in front of us.
I follow behind him. Theres only one person who knows how to do that.
We both say his name at the same time. Plutarch.
Haymitch must have asked for his help, I say, stopping at the waters edge. But I
cant believe Plutarch would be willing to risk so much just for us.
Gale grins and leans down to unlace his boots. I can. He always had a soft spot in his
heart for you.
I blush. Please. I drove him crazy. The annoying mascot with a multitude of
demands and no real skills to advance his agenda.
Gale shakes his head and rolls his eyes. No one ever thought that." He removes his
boots and socks and ties them to the backpack. Stepping into the water, he unbuckles the
communicuff and then picks up a large rock from the stream. Placing the communicuff
in the water, he covers it with the rock and says, We are officially off the grid now. Time
to disappear into nothing.
He reaches his hand out to me. Are you ready to become nonexistent?
I stare at him, unbelieving. Not only is Coin dead, but we escaped the arena alive and
Gale thinks we can just disappear.
Gale, theyre going to find us. We assassinated the President! Theyll either kill us on
the spot or haul us off to prison.
They have to catch us first, he says with a wink. Since it will probably be quite a
while before they even realize weve escaped the arena, we should get a significant head
start. Well walk in the water so there wont be a trail.
Theyll know were following the river!
But the river has multiple branches. They wont be able to follow every possibility.
Eventually, theyll lose interest and assume we died out here.
Could this really work? Can we just walk away from here and never have to face any
of this mess again? Never step foot in the Capitol again? Never see Paylor or listen to her
plans for the Nationalists? That thought stops me in my tracks. That was Gales future.
What about your role with the Nationalists? I ask quietly.
He sighs. Come on, lets go. We can talk as we walk.
I start towards him, but then notice his bloodied shirt. No, first we need to clean
your wound and make sure you dont have a bullet in your side.
I remove my boots and socks, attach them to the backpack like Gale did moments
ago, and then join him in the water. He sits on a rock, lifting his arm to give me access to
the injured area. I try raising his shirt like I did earlier, but it doesnt move. The blood has
glued it firmly to his side.
I scoop up some cool river water in my hands and let it flow over his side. Working
delicately, I use the water to help ease up small sections at time, wary of how much it
must hurt him.
Seriously, we dont have forever. Just pull it off! he says.
Its going to hurt!
Im a big boy, Katniss.
I pull a little harder, cringing as it tugs on his skin. Suddenly, he reaches down and
grabs his shirt from around my hand. He yanks it hard, freeing it from his skin and the
wound beneath. The effect is instantaneoushe jumps up screaming and hops from one
foot to the other, causing water to splash around us. He removes his shirt and covers the
gaping wound with his hand. Fresh blood begins flowing down his side and into the river.
I stand back and watch him, satisfied. Maybe next time youll listen to me.
Not likely, he says through gritted teeth.
He kneels down in the river so the water runs over the wound, cleaning it out. The
cool water must also ease the pain because, after a few moments, his face relaxes. He then
stands so we can assess the damage. Surprisingly, its not too bad. It looks like the bullet
grazed his side, leaving an open gash along its path, but never actually entered his body.
I wade back to the shore and unzip the backpack. Do you have any antibiotics in
here? I ask.
Yeah, there should be some ointment.
I rummage through the contents, amazed again at how prepared Gale is and how
unprepared I was. Hes got iodine, matches, burn cream, gauze, bandages, some spare
clothes, knives, ropes, flashlights, and tarps, not to mention a tent and sleeping bag
strapped to the outside. I pick out the antibiotic ointment, some gauze, and a bandage,
and then return to Gales side.
Pulling around the edges of the gash, I can see that its not even very deep. I use his
shirt to dry the wound and then rub some of the ointment on it. I quickly apply the gauze
and bandage and then return the ointment container to the backpack before pulling out a
shirt and tossing it to him.
Okay, are we finally ready to move? he asks, joining me at the bank.
I nod and pick up the backpack, but he grabs it from my hands before I can put my
arms through the straps.
Its my turn to carry it, I say.
You can carry it tomorrow.
And with that, we take the first steps of our trek to freedom. The water is up to my
knees, but the ground is mostly sand with a few small pebbles so its easy to navigate. As I
watch small fish dart out of our way, I reflect on the turn of events. Im completely
shocked by how this day turned out. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect Gale to be
by my side through all of this. Of course, while his presence is comforting, I cant help but
feel guilty.
After a few minutes, I decide to bring up the conversation from earlier. So, your role
with the Nationalists
I think its unlikely I have a role with them anymore.
Why?
He looks at me like Im crazy. Because, as you so bluntly said, I assassinated our
President. Even if everything comes out about Coin, the Nationalists arent going to want
someone who appears so heartless and cavalier on their side. Its not good for their
image.

I cringe at his words. That was his future. That was what he wanted to do.
After a few moments of walking in silence, he continues. Plus Paylor gave me an
ultimatum. She said either I needed to show up last night to help her or she would
seriously doubt my loyalty to the party.
You didnt help her?
Well, since I cant be in two places at once, no.
I stop walking at stare at him. You were here last night? You came with us?
He laughs and grabs my arm to keep us moving. Yes. How did you think I got here?
Walked the 200 miles from the Capitol?
But how did you know?
You just need to accept the fact that Im always one step ahead of you, Catnip.
I roll my eyes. Seriously. Did you follow me?
Last night, no. I was loaded into the helicopter well before you.
The river has become deeperup to my thighs nowand the ground beneath us has
changed. I have to focus on keeping my balance as my feet slide across and between slick
rocks lining the riverbed. Between steps, I say, But you did follow me at some point?
Yes. A few nights ago when you claimed to be helping Tallis upstairs. I saw you
talking to Cressida.
And she just gave away my whole plan? I ask incredulously.
As hard as it is for you to believe, everyone wants you to survive, Gale says, moving
through the water more gracefully than me. So, this little suicide mission of yours didnt
go over so well with Cressida. Even before I called, she was planning on telling someone.
Maybe Plutarch.
I groan.
Exactly. You should be thrilled it was me. I allowed you to carry out your absolutely
foolish idea, saved your life, and am now helping you fade away forever. Plutarch would
have locked you up or shipped you off to District 13 until everything died down.
Hes right. I am lucky. But why did he do it? I sigh because deep down I know exactly
why, and it breaks my heart. He gave up everything for me. But Ill never be able to give
him what he wants. He deserves so much better. Someone who will love him
unconditionally, someone with less emotional turmoil, someone who can look at him
without automatically feeling immense guilt.


CHAPTER
TWENTY - FIVE
THIRTY HOURS LATER, as the sun dips below the horizon on our second night of freedom,
we finally feel like weve put enough distance between ourselves and the arena that we can
leave the river. Until this point, weve walked nonstop, mostly in silence, snacking only on
the small amount of food Gale brought with him from the Capitol. Im exhausted, cold,
and hungry.
As I step out of the water, I cant help but feel a bit of trepidation, though. Are we
really far enough away? Of course, we havent seen or heard any sign of human life since
last night. And even then, all we saw was a flurry of helicopter activity, both coming and
going to the area around the arena. Never did an aircraft circle above the forest as though
people were searching for us. It makes me wonder if someone is still helping us, amid the
chaos that must be ensuring within the Capitol.
Gale seems to have no second thoughts about stopping. He begins pitching the tent,
so I head off to find us a quick meal. Within a few minutes, Ive caught a rabbit. Its not
much, but Im too tired to look for anything else. I return to the campsite to find a small
fire and Gale adding iodine drops to a bottle of water. Its nice having him as my partner
herewe work so well together, dividing tasks without even speaking. I can only imagine
how much easier the Games would have been with him by my side. But I quickly banish
that thought because its not fair to Peeta.
After our meager dinner, we extinguish the fire and move into the tent. Spending all
that time in the cool river left me with a damp chill deep in my bones. The fire suppressed
it momentarily, but it returns with a vengeance now that were surrounded by the cold
evening air. Gale unzips the sleeping bag and lays it on top of me, but I shiver
nonetheless. Thank you, I say, my teeth chattering.
Dont get mad, he says.
Whwhat? I ask between shivers.
He slides his body next to mine, his chest against my back, and wraps his arm around
my waist. Youre freezing. This is purely to prevent hypothermia. I am gaining no
personal pleasure from this whatsoever, he says.
Im pretty sure thats not true, but I dont push him awayhes right, I am freezing.
The warmth of his body slowly seeps into mine, allowing my muscles to relax. In no time,
the shivering has stopped and my exhaustion begins to take over. Right before my eyes
close, I remember to pull out the picture of me and Peeta for my nighttime ritual. I hold it
to my face and allow a few tears to spill down my cheeks before I return it to my pocket
for safe keeping.
The next morning, I awake feeling completely refreshed. I dont recall a single
nightmare or even waking up once during the night. I havent slept that well in a week
not since the last night Peeta was alive. I consider that thought, trying to make sense of it.
I believed Peeta was the only one who could stop my nightmares. But what if any warm
body will do? What if it wasnt specifically Peeta? That notion fills me with sorrow, and I
immediately feel guilty for having Gale so close. Hes snoring lightly, his arm still hugging
my waist.
I push his arm off and slide away, waking him up in the process. He blinks a couple
times, clearly confused as to where he is. But, by the smirk that appears on his face, I can
tell he quickly put everything together.
Well, good morning, sunshine, he says, stretching his arms above his head.
Good morning, I reply stiffly, sitting up.
He turns towards me. So, Id say its a pretty safe bet we successfully evaded any
Capitol guards. We are now free to go wherever we want. Whats your preference?
I shrug. We hadnt planned this far ahead. Are Gale and I really going to live in the
woods for the rest of our lives? Live as best friends in the woods for the rest of our lives?
The absurdity of this situation is becoming more and more obvious as reality sets in.
Gale, whats the long-term plan? I blurt out.
Whatever do you mean? he asks with a sparkle in his eye.
Were just two friends who are going to live in the woods together forever?
Friends, he rolls the word around on his tongue like it has a bad taste. Thats one
way to go.
Panic grips me. No. Gale. Dont tell me you gave up everything to save my life, then
dragged me into the woods, and now expect something more from me. Something you
know I cant give you.
First of all, I didnt drag you out here, he says, sitting up next to me. This was part
of saving your life. And as I recall, you were a pretty willing participant. Maybe having
bullets flying at your head gave you some clarity. His voice is starting to rise.
This isnt going to work, I say, shaking my head.
What do you propose then?
I clench my jaw and fold my arms over my chest. We go our separate ways.
Youd rather have a sad, lonely existence all by yourself than have me by your side?
You must really despise me. A mixture of pain and anger registers on his face as he
begins rolling up the sleeping bag.
I take a deep breath and choose my words carefully. You know I dont despise you.
Youre a good friend. My best friend. But, I dont think thats what you want. I know how
this will end, Gale. Ill hurt you. I dont want to do that.
Look, Im not expecting anything from you, he says, jamming his left foot into his
boot, much more violently than is required. I did this because I was worried you were
going to die in the arena. I wasnt willing to accept that. End of story.
I purse my lips. It would be great if what he says is true, but I have some serious
doubts about his level of honesty right now.
Besides, he continues, Theres the chance we wont have to live in hiding forever.
You want to stroll back to 12 and see if we just can blend in? I ask sarcastically.
Haymitch and I have a deal, he says, lacing up his boot. If things ever change such
that we can return, hell leave us a note in the cabin by the pond outside of District 12.
Well thats kind of an important detail, I raise my voice now. When were you
going to share that with me?!
I just did!
I narrow my eyes. What other plans or deals do you have worked out?! I shout at
him.
He meets my angry stare with equal ire. You need to calm down. I think youre
losing sight of that fact that you got your revenge on Coin and I SAVED YOUR LIFE!
You should be happy right now! Or is that part of your planto be miserable until the
day you die?!
I storm out of the tent, unable to deal with him anymore. After donning my boots and
grabbing my bow, I head into the woods. I need some space from Gale and some time to
think.
I loudly stomp through the underbrush, effectively scaring off any prey. Who does he
think he is? He spied on me back in the Capitol and then followed me here and started
calling all the shots. I didnt ask for his help and I didnt need it. This was between me and
Coin. He even took that brief moment of satisfaction from me. That moment when she
realized she was going to die at my hands. I huff loudly and take out my annoyance on a
nearby tree, kicking it hard enough to dislodge a large piece of bark. After a few more
kicks for good measure, I sink to the ground to catch my breath.
My aggression towards the tree did the trick, and I feel my anger begin to fade
slightly. I groan loudly as reality sinks in. Gale and I are in the middle of the woodswell
need to rely on each other to stay alive. But were going to have to come to an agreement
for this to work. I rest my bow against my leg and run my fingers through my hair.
Taking deep, cleansing breaths, I eventually lower my blood pressure and unclench my
muscles.
Standing, I pick up my bow and head farther into the woods, as stealthy as usual now.
Focusing all of my attention on hunting is exactly what I need. It clears my head and
relaxes my body. After killing two squirrels and a wild turkey, I revisit my current
situation with Gale, this time with a level head. He does have a point. I have yet to thank
him for saving my life. And as annoyed as I am that he screwed up my plans, his
interference led to the outcome I desired, while keeping me alive. But were really going to
have to work through our relationship issues. He needs to understand that I am not
looking for that now or probably ever. My heart belongs to Peeta, and I will never be able
to get over what happened.
When I get back to the campsite, Gale is sitting in front of a crackling fire, boiling
water. A sweet aroma wafts through the air. I peer into the pot and see mint leaves
floating inside.
Shall we start this morning over? he asks, peering up at me from his spot on the
ground.
I nod with a small smile and drop my catch. Thank you for saving my life, Gale. And
for killing Coin. You knew how important that was to me even though I never told you.
Now was that so hard?
Dont make me take it back, I say, lowering myself next to him.
He smiles. Youre welcome. Want some tea?
Yes, please. Turkey or squirrel for breakfast? I ask, pointing to the game lying next
to me.
Turkey.
After our bellies are full, we sit in front of the fire deciding what to do.
Im thinking maybe we should head towards District 12. We can stay in the cabin, so
well be close to home. Maybe we can even sneak in and talk to Haymitch, he says.
I nod. Thats a good plan. I dont like the idea of being so out of touch with whats
going on in the country. I take a deep breath, uncomfortable with what I know I need to
tell him.
He raises his eyebrows and looks at me expectedly.
My heart is broken, I say, dropping my eyes to the ground as blood rushes into my
cheeks.
I know.
I doubt it will ever heal.
I can understand why youd think that right now.
You dont believe it? I ask, meeting his eyes.
He shrugs. Life is unpredictable. I have no idea whats going to happen to us in the
next hour, let alone ten years from now.
I dont want you to expect something from me.
I dont, he says with a smile.
You promise?
Yes... Im hopeful, but I dont expect anything.
I groan. Please dont be hopeful either.
Ok, Im not hopeful, he says with a laugh.
Youre lying.
Yes.
I tug on my braid and furrow my brows as I analyze our conversation. He knows
where I stand and hes not expecting anything from me, although hes hopeful something
might develop between us. Im not pleased with the last part, but this is better than our
conversation could have gone.
Hey, he says interrupting my thoughts. Im not going to pressure you. If youre not
interested, youre not interested. I have to accept that. If you change your mind, Im sure
youll let me know, he adds with a smirk.
I take a deep breath and slowly say, Okay.
Shall we get going?
We take our time packing up our gear and set out on a leisurely pace, heading east.
The mood is better than the last two days. Were not as anxious about guards finding us,
and our fight this morning forced us to work through some of our issues.
In late afternoon, we find a nice flat area to camp. After eating a dinner of leftover
turkey and squirrel, we settle in for the night. Its significantly warmer than last night so I
push the sleeping bag off of me. Gale has removed his shirt and is lying on his back a few
feet away. Self-conscious, I turn on my side and slide the picture of me and Peeta out, kiss
it lightly, and then tuck it back away.
Whats on that piece of paper?
I cringehe saw me.
Nothing.
Then why do you kiss it every night?
I dont.
Every night weve slept for the past week you have.
Why does he pay such close attention to me? Its none of your business.
Did Peeta give it to you?
No.
Hmmm I dont believe you. Is it a love note?
No.
His family recipe for cheese buns.
I smile unexpectedly. No. Although that would be good, too.
The secret to world peace?
I chuckle. If it were, I wouldve left it with Paylor.
He laughs. Good night, Catnip. He sounds happy, relaxed, very much like the Gale I
knew from long ago. Not the one Ive been fighting with the past two years.
Good night, Gale.
I fall asleep within minutes, but unfortunately, it doesnt last long. My recurrent
nightmare of a mutt version of Coin invading our rooftop sanctuary at the Training
Center and tearing off Peetas head sends me into a screaming frenzy. I wake breathless,
my heart racing.
Doin alright? Gale asks casually from beside me.
Yes, I pant. I take a few deep breaths to try and slow my irregular heart rate. All of
my muscles are tense and a cold sweat is coating my forehead. I stare straight ahead into
the blackness, afraid of what Ill see if I close my eyes. I know its going to be a really long
night.
Over an hour later, Im still staring into the darkness, and my heart is still beating
erratically. Gales breathing has slowed, letting me know hes fallen back asleep. I feel his
warm breath brush against the back of my neck every time he exhales. Hes only a few feet
behind me. A few feet are what keep me from a peaceful night of sleep. I try to carefully
weigh my options, but the fear of another nightmare takes precedent. Without further
contemplation, I scoot my body backwards so I can feel the heat of his body on mine. The
effect is immediatemy whole body relaxes. As my eyes fall shut, I tell myself Ill move
away before he wakes up in the morning.


CHAPTER
TWENTY - SIX
THE NEXT THING I know, birds are singing loudly and sunlight bathes my face through the
window of the tent. Im surprised by how I feel this morningrelaxed and somewhat
peaceful. Nothing like Ive felt the past week or so. I smile, enjoying the warmth on my
skin, the familiar and joyful din of the forest, and my refreshed feeling. I roll onto my
back, but elbow something hard right next to me in the process.
Hmpf, Gale groans, rubbing his forehead. His eyes blink open, and he stares at
me.
I immediately scamper backwards, away from him. Of coursenow I remember why
I slept so well. He continues rubbing his forehead, but says nothing. Not even a snide
comment. I decide to escape while I can to avoid the inevitable uncomfortable discussion.
A few minutes later, Ive got a fire going and Gale emerges from the tent yawning and
stretching his arms above his head. I tense, wary of what hes going to say about waking
up with me pressed against his body.
Instead he heads off into the woods in search of breakfast ensnared in one of the traps
he set last night. Why is he not saying anything? Maybe hes worried he rolled next to me
during the night and Im angry with him. Or maybe he thinks I changed my mind and
this is me showing interest in him. I groan. Why does a good night of sleep have to be tied
to so much confusion?
In no time, Gale returns with two rabbits. He skins them and places them over the hot
coals before addressing me for the first time this morning.
Hows rabbit sound for breakfast?
Fine, I say slowly, waiting for whats next. But its not what I expect.
Theres an old trail about 400 feet behind us. Its pretty overgrown, but easier to
move through than this, he says, gesturing to the woods around us. It seems to head
east for a while at least. What do you think about following that?
Sure. Fine. Whatever, I respond, still expecting him to say something about our
close proximity this morning.
After a few moments of silence, he says, So, how long do you think it will take us to
get to District 12?
I shrug. How far it is?
Over a thousand miles.
My mouth drops open. I knew it was far, but that is more than I thought.
When I say nothing, he continues, Id love to get there before the first snow hits. This
tent isnt going to be much protection then. We really should be in the cabin.
We need to make it there in about three months, then.
He nods and furrows his brow, deep in concentration. Finally, he says, That should
be doable. If we walk fifteen to twenty miles a day, well make it. Maybe even get there a
little early.
A few minutes later, Gale has started packing up our gear, so I stand to help him.
Once were fully loaded, I grab the backpack from the ground and start to slide my arms
through the straps, but he tries to snatch it from my hands.
Refusing to let go, I maintain my hold and say, Gale, seriously, I havent carried it
once yet. Its my turn.
You can have it tomorrow.
Youve said that the past three days!
He shrugs and starts to put his left arm through the strap, but I pull the bag towards
me. Give it to me, I say, a little more loudly.
He lets go, but shakes his head. Its really heavy, Katniss.
Have you forgotten that Im a Hunger Games Victor? I think I can manage to carry a
backpack, I say with a roll of my eyes.
He holds up his hands in defeat. Fine. Its all yours.
I hoist it onto my back and stumble backwards slightly as the weight alters my center
of gravity. Gale stifles a laugh. Hes rightit is heavy. But its nothing I cant manage.
You ready? I ask.
Lead the way, Victor, he says with a chuckle.
After the first hour, Im thankful were on the old trail. The ground is much more
even than what weve been walking through, and we only occasionally have to climb over
fallen trees and decaying logs. Whenever we reach one of those, Gale gracefully hops over
it, while I struggle to haul myself up, drape one leg over it, and then pull the other one
forward. The weight of the backpack is taking its toll, but I refuse to let Gale know that.
Another hour later, I know Im slowing down. My legs burn, Im drenched in sweat,
and Im breathing heavily while Gale leisurely strolls down the trail in front of me.
You alright back there, Victor? he yells to me.
Fine, I shout back with more intensity than the situation merits.
He jogs back to my side and opens one of the zippers. Handing me the water bottle,
he says, Looks like you could use a drink.
I stop momentarily and take the bottle from him, draining it completely in four long
gulps, not even caring that he doesnt get any.
Thanks for saving me some, he says, turning the empty bottle upside down.
I ignore him and start walking again. He stays next to me now, but I wish hed run
ahead so he wouldnt see how winded Im becoming. I have no such luck, though. He
maintains his position right by my side the rest of the day, smirking at my strenuous
effort, but not offering to carry the backpack. When we finally select a campsite for the
night, I collapse. Im not sure my muscles have ever been this sore. I dont have the energy
to hunt down dinner. In fact, I dont even have the energy to eat, so I just crawl into the
tent and immediately feel myself drift away.
Sometime in the middle of the night, the horrific dreams come and I wake up
screaming again. I hear Gale stir, but he says nothing. I take deep breaths and try to ease
myself back to sleep, but it doesnt work. Even with my severe exhaustion, the fear is too
overwhelming. Eventually Gale begins snoring, and I dont give a second thought to
curling up beside him. His arm drapes over my waist, and Im temporarily concerned he
woke up, but the snoring continues. My eyelids become heavy and the sweet serenity of a
peaceful sleep overtakes me.
In the morning, the uncomfortable situation from the day before presents itself again,
as I wake to find Gale staring at me, his arm still around my waist. He says nothing and
neither do I. Instead, we get up, busy ourselves with breakfast, and then pack our gear,
talking only when needed.
The fully loaded backpack lies on the ground with Gale and me both looking at it. He
raises his eyebrows, offering it to me again. I turn my back on it, becoming suddenly
interested in making sure the fire is completely out, effectively giving it to him.
Not feeling so victorious today, huh? he says with a grin.
I ignore him and start walking along the old trail.
He catches up with me easily. Why cant you just admit there are some things Im
better at than you? Like carrying heavy things?
I narrow my eyes, but remain silent.
What? There are plenty of things youre better at than me. Like sewing, and cooking,
and keeping our tent nice and clean.
I pause and glare at him, but hes already laughing.
Come on, you know Im kidding. Im a way better cook than you!
You can be so annoying, Gale Hawthorne, I say and walk ahead of him.
Right back at ya, Katniss Everdeen!
From there, our days begin to fall into a pattern. We always rise with the sun and after
a quick breakfast, hike for three hours before stopping briefly for lunch. We then hike for
another four hours and find a campsite for the evening. Gale pitches the tent and gets the
fire started while I hunt for dinner. I clean the catch and he cooks it. Overall, we make a
pretty good and efficient team, each of us taking the roles were best at.
And during the nights, I inevitably crawl into Gales arms. Initially, it only happened
after a nightmare, but as days go by, I turn to him earlier and earlier. Eventually, I avoid
the bad dreams altogether by snuggling against him as soon as he falls asleep. In the
mornings, I pull away and neither of us says anything. It works great for me, although Im
well aware of the mixed message my actions might be sending Gale. Luckily, he doesnt
appear to be making too much of it.
Weve been hiking for about a month now. Gales bullet wound has completely
healed, leaving only a small scar, and my arm has regained its full strength. I dont even
need to wear the cast anymore.
Between Gales mindless chatter all day and my complete exhaustion each night, my
mind rarely has time to focus on the pain in my heart. And I actually welcome that.
Thinking about everything Ive lost would be too overwhelmingId rather just focus on
the mundane details of making it through each and every day than think about the bigger
picture or what could have been.
The sun is hanging lower in the sky, but still provides warm, humid days for us. In the
evenings, however, we find ourselves adding extra layers of clothes in order to avoid the
chill, a clear indication that fall will soon be here.
One night, as were sitting in front of the fire, finishing up dinner, Gale asks, What
do you think is going on in the Capitol right now?
I shrug. Its probably still pandemonium. I would imagine Paylor, as Vice President,
is in charge of things, though. Its only a matter of time before shell institute change.
I hope so, he says with a touch of melancholy.
Do you miss it? I ask him.
He frowns. No, not the Capitol. But, I do miss helping the Nationalistsfeeling like I
was making a difference for the country.
I cringe because that was his future. Thats how he wanted to spend his life. Whyd
you do it? Whyd you give up everything? I ask.
He shrugs, and Im sure he knows exactly what I mean. Sometimes you have to make
tough choices in life, he says evasively.
You couldve tried to talk me out of it. Then you could have kept your position with
the Nationalists.
Would you have listened to me?
No, of course not. All that would have accomplished is me getting advance warning of
his knowledge, so I could modify my plan. I peel the last bit of meat off a bone, stuff it
into my mouth, and then lick my fingers. I feel guilty, I tell him honestly, not bothering
to respond to his question.
You shouldnt. It was my choice.
But you made a rash decision.
No. I carefully weighed the pros can cons and followed the path I could live with.
Believe me, it was not an easy decision, he says, tossing small twigs into the fire.
I think back to our last days in the Capitol. Is that why you were so grumpy before
we left?
He looks at me and grins. That was part of it.
If your decision made you so unhappy, maybe that was a sign it was the wrong one,
I point out.
He turns back to the fire. Just because you accept something, doesnt mean you wont
continue to struggle with the decision, he says like an old sage.
Are you still struggling with it?
Not as much. The fact that we killed Coin has helped. I feel like that was my
contribution to the Nationalists, even if Im never to able to work with them again.
I poke at the fire with a stick. Im sure Paylor would take you back
He laughs. And why do you think that? Shes a pretty by the rules kind of person.
Assassinating the President would not go over well with her.
True, but she likes you. Im sure shed be willing to overlook that.
She doesnt like me that much.
Yeah, right, I snort. She couldnt keep her hands off of you.
Even in the dim glow of the fire, I can see him roll his eyes. Lets talk about
something else, shall we?
What, I say, kind of enjoying how hes squirming with the new direction the
conversation has taken. You didnt like being the teachers pet in all the meetings?
Seriously, something else?
So, when did her infatuation begin? I ask, curiosity killing me.
He shakes his head. Why do you care?
I care about everything thats going on in my best friends life.
With an exaggerated sigh, he says, Its really none of your business.
Aww did you two have a falling out? I say, a big smile spreading across my face.
He rubs his chin and shakes his head again. You really want to hear about me and
Paylor?
My smile vanishes. I assumed there was nothing to hear. My blood pressure rises
slightly as I think about the two of them together. Not trusting my voice, I nod to urge
him to continue.
After taking a deep breath, he says, The problem was one night of bad judgment. In
the morning, we both agreed it was a mistake. It wasnt until the day I left that I found out
it meant a lot more to her than me.
My mouth is dry. I cant believe what hes telling me. When? I whisper.
The night we tested the safe word and then I found you and Peeta in bed together. I
was pretty upset. And drunk. Really drunk, actually. I called her up and one thing led to
another...
I stare at him incredulously. In my wildest dreams I didnt expect to hear something
like this.
Dont look at me like that. All high and mighty. You can sleep with Peeta, but Im
not allowed to sleep with Paylor? There was a lot going on right then. I was angry, upset,
and drunk!
Im taken aback by his words. What he assumes of me and Peeta. I lash out at him,
saying, First of all, your assumptions are wrong. And, secondly, she was the Vice
President. What were you thinking?!
I wasnt! I think weve fully established that at this point.
After a brief pause, he continues, What do you mean my assumptions are wrong?
His lips turn up slightly.
I think you know very well what I mean, I say, focusing my attention back on the
fire.
Really? His voice trails off as if hes considering some completely foreign idea. A few
seconds later, he adds,Not during the victory tour?
No.
During the Quarter Quell training?
No.
The night of the safe word test?
No.
Then he surprises me and lets out a hearty laugh. Poor guy!
I grab a rock and heave it at his chest. It hits its mark with a loud thud, knocking him
backwards, but he uprights himself immediately, still laughing.
We were talking about how Paylor couldnt keep her hands off of you, I remind
him.
He suddenly seems to be in better spirits. Why, is that jealousy Im sensing from you,
Catnip?
Ugh, I groan, standing up. Im going to bed.
A few minutes later, I hear the unzipping of the tent and then Gale steps inside. He
accidentally kicks my leg as he tries to climb over me. Sorry, he mumbles, finding his
spot. I sense him sitting up next to me.
Well, this was a fun night. I feel like we both know each other a little better, he
quips.
Very enlightening, I say.
He laughs and lies down on the ground. Unexpectedly, his body slides up next to
mine and he rests his arm on my hip. I tense immediately.
Oops, sorry, he says, pulling away his arm and pushing his body backwards a few
inches. My mistake. I forgotI need to fall asleep first. He yawns. Dont worry, it
shouldnt be long. Im pretty beat tonight.
My heart sinks. I knew it would come to this at some point. I was just being greedy
thinking we could continue the status quo without ever having to actually acknowledge
what was happening.
Are you mad? I ask timidly, my muscles still flexed.
About what?
Me lying next to you, I say, annoyed. Of course he knows what Im talking about.
He chuckles. Why would that make me mad? Because youre using me to stop the
nightmares of your dead ex-boyfriend? Hes trying to make light of the situation, but his
pain shows through.
I say, Ill stop. Im sorry.
Its okay, he responds with a sigh. Trust me, Id rather have that than the
alternative. All the screaming was really getting in the way of my beauty sleep.
And you need all the beauty sleep you can get.
Exactly.
He yawns again, and I press my body against his. He drapes his arm over my waist
once more.
Thank you, Gale. Youre a good friend.
Anything for you, he mumbles quietly, already half asleep.


CHAPTER
TWENTY - SEVEN
THE NEXT MORNING, we wake as usual, neither of us mentioning the late night
conversation. I kneel in the tent and reach for my boots.
How would you feel about staying here today? Gale asks, leaning up on his elbows.
Why?
Im tired, he says with a yawn. Weve been hiking for a month and I could really
use a lazy day to sit around and rest.
I actually kind of like being tired as it prevents my mind from wandering to
unpleasant thoughts, but Gale does look exhausted. Plus, once we reach the cabin, Im not
sure what well do, so arriving one day later wont be the end of the world. I agree to his
plan and then continue lacing up my boots.
Once outside, I ignite a fire and warm some leftover turkey and katniss roots we
gathered from along the riverbank. Gale must be taking his relaxation seriously because
he has still not bothered to join me. After finishing my portion, I carry his breakfast to the
tent. When I unzip the door, hes lying on his back staring at the ceiling.
Hungry?
Yeah, thanks, he says, sitting up.
I hand him the food. Whats the big plan for your lazy day?
A nap.
Thats it?
He shrugs. What are you doing?
I guess Ill hunt a little. My bow could use some work. Maybe Ill go for a swim back
by that waterfall.
Scrunching his nose, he says, You should definitely go for a swimyour odor is
becoming overwhelming.
I laugh and then say, Im surprised you can even notice with the stench that follows
you around.
Good point. Ill add bath to my to do list for the day. He finishes his food and looks
at the sleeping bag.
So, are you starting with the nap then?
No, no. I should get up. Im going to place a few snares, he says, stretching his legs.
How long will you be gone?
An hour or two. Do you want to join me?
I shake my head. I think a little time apart would be good for both of us.
He grips his chest dramatically and pouts. Are you saying that youre tired of my
company after only a month?
I was tired of you after the first day, I say with a smile and exit the tent.
That hurts! he yells through the open door.
A few minutes later, I begin making the short trek to the waterfall, excited to finally
rinse away the layer of grime that has accumulated on me for days. When I reach the large
collecting pool, I lean over and dip my hand in the water. Its cool, but at least the sun is
shining brightly today, so Ill dry off in no time.
I strip down to my underwear and slowly enter the river. As I walk closer to the
waterfall, the pool deepens and I dive under. Goosebumps form when the icy tendrils
wrap around my body. I swim a couple laps to warm up and then stand under the stream
of water, allowing the pressure to scrub away the caked-on dirt. When Im finished, my
skin in cold and raw, reminding me of the damage my prep team always caused.
Shivering, I exit the water and quickly dress. The suns mid-morning rays shine
brightly on the opposite side of the river where I notice a large flat-topped boulder jutting
into the pool. I circle my way around the waterline, getting misted by a fine spray as I
walk under the waterfall. When I reach the boulder, I climb on top. Drenched in sunlight,
I recline on my elbows, keeping my face towards the warm rays. A while later, as the chill
in my body finally begins to fade, I see Gale heading down the path from our campsite.
When he reaches the edge of the river, he spots me along the other side and waves.
Hows the water? he yells.
Cold! I reply loudly, so hell hear me over the crash of the waterfall.
He pulls off his shirt and begins unbuttoning his pants.
Gale!
He looks up alarmed. What?
Could you keep your pants on?
No, theyll get wet! he yells from across the pool.
I really dont want to see you in your underwear!
Then dont look!
I scowl, but cover my eyes with my hands. After a moment I hear a splash. Are you
in the water?
Yes!
I open my eyes and find him bobbing in the middle of the deep part of the pool. His
hair is wet and matted to his head. Its significantly longer than he usually keeps it,
curling around his ears and falling into his eyes.
You need a haircut! I shout to him.
He gracefully swims closer to my rock. When hes only a few feet away, he asks, Are
you volunteering?
Do you have scissors?
A knife.
You trust me to cut your hair with a knife?
Its not like Ive got anyone to impress out here.
Hes got a point. I smile and lie back on the rock, closing my eyes. The rhythmic
splashing of his arms gliding through the water in an effortless backstroke lulls me to that
state very close to sleep. Im vaguely aware of my surroundings, but too far removed to
react. I sense a shadow drift over memaybe a cloud passing overhead? Suddenly, Im
being pelted with hundreds of tiny, frigid drops. Thats all I need to wake fully. I jump up,
convinced its raining, only to find Gale standing in front of me shaking his mop of hair.
I scream and reach for his arm to try and stop him, but hes faster than me. Laughing,
he wraps his arms around my waist and pulls me tight against his chest. Then, with one
long stride, were both airborne. I try to push myself away, but he holds me tight and we
hit the water moments later. My body goes under and the cold hits me like a jolt of
electricity. I quickly kick my feet. As soon as my head clears the surface of the water, Im
screaming at him.
Gale!
Hes to my left, still laughing.
What was that for?! I ask, my teeth chattering.
Swimming is more fun with someone else.
I narrow my eyes at him and begin making my way to the shore, although my clothes
slow me down considerably. He floats up next to me. Come on. Have some fun.
Its cold!
Youll warm up after you move around a bit.
Im getting out.
You used to be more fun, he says grumpily and then closes the distance to the shore
in a few strokes. Standing, he exits the pond giving me an unobstructed view of his
backside clad only in a threadbare pair of boxers clinging to every curve of his body.
Gale! You dont have any pants on!
Giving me a rude gesture with his hand, he walks over to his discarded clothing.
I turn my head, focusing on anything other than the half-naked man in front of me
and exit the pond soon after him. I sneak a peek in his direction, just as his pants skim
over his hips.
Walking purposefully toward him, I shout, You cant be mad at me! Youre the one
who threw me in the water!
His back is still to me as he buttons his pants. He doesnt say anything.
And besides, I continue, walking up right behind him. But what I see stops me
mid-sentence. How have I not noticed this before? The water glistens on his back,
accentuating the burnished patchwork that is his skin. Dark scarlet marks replace his
olive coloring, crisscrossing haphazardly and giving the sense of a macabre camouflage.
Reflexively, I reach out and touch a raised scar, tracing my fingers along its contour
from his left shoulder to his right hip. Gale stands motionless as I gently move my hand
along his back. Suddenly, Im transported to my dining room where he laid on our table
near death for days while my mother tended to him after his ruthless lashing. I recall
clearly how I caressed his cheek, his brow, his lips. How I kissed him while he drifted in
and out of consciousness. The anger I felt for the peacekeepers and Snow come rushing
back in full force. But its worse now because its compounded, magnified by Coin and all
the other atrocities weve been subjected to. In his back I see the deaths of my father,
Cinna, Rue, Prim, Finnick, and Peeta. My throat constricts, a gravelly sob escapes, and I
imagine losing Gale, too.
I slowly lower my lips to one of his scars, tasting his salty skin. I savor the warmth
against my mouth, the life emanating from him, as a tear slides down my cheek.
Abruptly, Gale turns towards me, his lips traveling across my cheek and finding my
mouth with a sense of urgency. His hands inch upward along my back to the nape of my
neck as his lips explore mine. The fury, the fire I feel is reflected back to me in the
intensity with which he holds me to his body. A deep need begins to develop inside of me;
its a throbbing in the pit of my stomach that gradually spreads and magnifies.
My bodys reaction surprises memy lips press against his confidently and
vigorously, matching him move for move. I run my fingers down his jawline, into his
beard, finally gripping his face resolutely. Tears continue to stream from my eyes, falling
to where our mouths meet. But even the moisture cant suppress the burning trails left by
Gales lips.
He moves his hands to the sides of my face and pulls away slightly. Pain resonates in
his eyes, and I feel the electric charge between us shift. Were no longer being driven by
rage and passion, but rather succumbing to what we both need. He slowly, tenderly kisses
the corner of my eye, my cheekbone, the edge of my nose, following the path of my tears.
I knot my fingers in his hair and close my eyes. Drawing his body even closer, I rest
one hand on his chest to feel his pounding heart, his life force.
Between kisses, he breathlessly says, I love you, Katniss.


CHAPTER
TWENTY - EIGHT
GALES WORDS BRING me back to reality. His confession of love brings visions of Peeta and
all the times he said those very words to me. The one time I said those words to him.
Gales fingers brush across my cheek, but I push him away. I bite my quivering lip.
What did I just do? What does Gale think? I glance up at his eyes, and the confusion, the
pain is readily apparent.
Katniss, he whispers, reaching for my hand.
No, I whisper, taking a step behind me.
He takes a step forward, pleading with me. Its okay.
No I slowly retreat another step. I suddenly despise myself. How could I do this?
What about Peeta? A dam breaks inside of me. I cry out in anguish as my body begins
trembling.
No! I choke out between gasps, and then turn and run back to the campsite.
I collapse on the ground, my back against a tree, overwhelmed by the extent of my
emotions. I see Gale watching me cautiously from a few feet away, but even the sight of
him appraising me doesnt slow down my tears or decrease the uncontrollable heaving.
My chest constricts, forcing me to take in air in ragged and uneven breaths. I become
light-headed, and I know Im on the verge of hyperventilating. Placing my head between
my knees, I will myself to breathe slowly through the wild bawling that has consumed me.
I dont know how long I sit like that, but eventually, my tears run dry and my throat
becomes swollen. Each gasp causes more pain than the previous, coming out in a hoarse
whisper. I raise my head, expecting to see Gale still watching me, but the woods are
empty.
I sit there with my back against the tree, staring into space, but seeing nothing, for a
long time. The sun moves from directly overhead to low on the horizon. At some point, I
remove the picture of Peeta from my pocket. Its still wet from Gale throwing me in the
water, so I carefully unfold it and lay it flat on the ground to dry. One small corner tears
off, and it feels like part of me dies as I crumple up that piece and toss it into the forest.
When its finally dry, I hold it up, staring at Peetas face. The guilt I feel is devastating.
Im so sorry, Peeta, I whisper. Im sorry I couldnt save you. Im sorry I didnt tell you
how much I love you when it wouldve meant something. Im sorry I kissed Gale.
The sound of a twig snapping breaks the silence around me. I jerk my head up and see
Gale leaning against a tree to my left and holding the game from his snares.
How long have you been there? I ask accusingly.
Long enough.
You shouldnt eavesdrop. My hoarse voice breaks.
You should talk to me about what youre going through.
Thats not going to happen.
Maybe I can help.
Not likely.
He sighs. Peeta and I had our issues, but one thing I know is he wouldnt want you
beating yourself up like this. All he ever wanted was for you to be happy, whether that was
with him or without him. Seeing you like this would crush him.
I say nothing in return, and after a few moments Gale moves to the fire pit and begins
cleaning the game. He brings me dinner, but I refuse it, having no appetite whatsoever.
That night, I hug my knees to my chest and pull the sleeping bag tight under my chin.
Gale is sitting up and I feel his watchful eyes on me.
Im sorry I messed up your picture, he says quietly.
He sounds genuinely upset, which moves meI choke back yet another sob.
He lies down, but I sense his hesitation. A moment later, he says, Youre going to
have to provide me some direction here. Ive got to be honestI have no idea what you
need right now.
Despite everything thats happened during the day, I smile weakly at his candor. He
doesnt know if I need him to hold me like usual or if that will send me into another
weeping fit. And how can I blame him for that? Why is holding each other every night
okay while kissing isnt? The answer is easy, for me at least. Its because holding each
other is a necessity to get through the night, not something associated with intimate
thoughts and feelings. I should probably make Gale aware of that, but Im too worn out
from the day to even broach that topic.
Instead, I turn around to face him and pull my knees to my chest. He wraps his arm
around me and places his legs underneath mine, pressing our bodies together. He tucks
my head into his chest. Im in a cocoon, my own personal cocoon that protects me from
the demons in my mind.
Gale kisses my hair lightly and then rests his chin on top of my head. Im sorry
youre going through all this, he whispers before I drift off to sleep.
The next five weeks go by uneventfully. Neither of us talks about my breakdown. The
first few days were quiet; Gale seemed apprehensive, afraid to say anything because it
might cause a recurrence of my emotional upheaval. Im embarrassed that he saw me in
such a state, but theres nothing I can do about it, other than hope he soon forgets.
Luckily, I have successfully limited my thoughts of Peeta to my one-minute nighttime
ritual once again.
The season has fully changed and fall is upon us now. The bright greens of summer
have been replaced by warm oranges and reds, and theres a brisk wind bringing in cooler
northern air. Were now wearing long sleeves and are able to see the frozen condensation
of our breath every morning when we start hiking.
The days have become shorter, too, which means were getting more sleep since the
sun is our alarm clock. But we arent concerned about making it to the cabin before the
first snowfall. The woods were in now look like home. The trees, the plants, the sounds,
and even the smells all scream of home. Were not sure when that happened, probably
because it was such a gradual change, but the excitement we both feel is palpable. It will
be nice to be in the cabin, to have a connection back to our lives.
We suspect we only have another week or two before well see the dilapidated fence
around District 12. Though we dont talk about it, I know we both wonder if well find a
note from Haymitch waiting for us there. Part of me wants one so Gale can return to his
life, his family. I know that Im not what he needs; he deserves much more than Ill ever
be able to offer him. But another part of me dreads such a note. I cant imagine going
back to my house in the Victors Village. To see Peetas empty house every day. If theres a
note, Im seriously considering moving to District 4 with my mother, so I can start anew.
Im sitting in front of the fire, contemplating these options while I feast on a goose
drumstick. With all the waterfowl migrating south, Gale and I have had some real
delicacies the last few weeks.
Gale, if you dont hurry up, Im eating yours! I yell into the woods.
Do it and youre carrying the backpack for the next week! he shouts back.
Grease drips from my hand onto my shirt. With my clean hand, I pull out my Peeta
picture to protect it from damage. I begin walking towards the tent to leave it there, when
I hear Gale ambling through the brush.
Cant you let a man relie
He stops mid-sentence and Im immediately on alert.
Gale? I ask quietly into the woods.
I could use a little help here, Katniss.
What is it?
Bring your bow.
I drop the drumstick and run back for my bow, which is leaning against a tree near
the fire. I hold the Peeta picture in my left hand between my pinky and ring finger, while I
grab onto the grip of the bow with my other fingers.
Please hurry, Katniss, he says urgently.
I quickly load an arrow and walk towards Gales voice. Hes standing perfectly still,
while not even ten feet away is a massive mountain lion, crouched and ready to pounce.
Its muscles tighten, its tail twitches. A low rumble resonates from deep within its chest as
it bares its sharp fangs.
Please shoot it, Katniss.
I raise my bow aiming for its chest just as a strong wind rips through the trees. The
delicate piece of paper between my fingers is pulled away. It floats effortlessly in the
breeze, gliding back the way I came. Im hypnotized watching it fade awaymy last
remnant of Peeta slipping from my fingers.
Katniss! Gale hisses, bringing my attention back to the dangerous situation before
us.
The mountain lions claws are pulsating, rhythmically extending and flexing. But I
cant focus. I look back to my precious piece of paper. Its dangerously close to the fire
now. Its surrounded by swirls of smoke and I become panicked. I cant let it be engulfed
by flames. I take a step towards it.
Katniss! Gale yells again. I jerk my body back towards him just as the big cat pushes
off the ground with its muscular rear legs, leaping towards Gale. I aim faster than I
thought possible and release the arrow. It impales the cat in the chest mid-leap, causing
its body to go limp and tumble to the ground.
I waste no time. I run to the picture, racing towards Peeta. The paper has settled on
the ground next to the fire. Im almost there, just eight more feet, when another gust picks
up the brittle paper and flips it into the flames.
No! I scream. Reaching the fire seconds later, I stick my hand into the embers to
retrieve my only link to Peeta. Pain doesnt even register. I pull out the blackened form of
the paper, flames surrounding both it and my hand. I wave the paper back and forth to
extinguish the fire. Instead, the paper breaks apart into tiny flecks of black ash. I stare at
it, hypnotized, my hand still blazing when Gale douses me with water moments later.
Are you crazy?! he asks, panic in his voice and eyes.
He grabs my hand and examines it, pulling up my shirtsleeve to assess the extent of
the damage. I still dont feel anything other than remorse. Peeta is truly gone now. Gone
from me forever.
Youre blistering, Gale yells and then drops my hand, running into the tent.
Seconds later, hes back with an armload of supplies. Im only vaguely aware of him
applying ointment and wrapping my hand in gauze.
How bad does it hurt? he asks.
It doesnt, I reply without feeling.
He gives me an incredulous look. Do you want some morphling?
Yes, anything to take me away from this place. To take away the emotional pain. To
make me forget what Ive lost.
I nod.
He draws yellow fluid into a syringe and injects it into my arm. I continue staring at
the now soggy ashes that were my connection to Peeta, while the medicine begins to take
effect.
I place my hand on the pieces and they begin to swirl around me. Faster and faster,
they wrap around my body, rising higher and higher. I try to grab them, but they flutter
away in a graceful dance. One by one they come together in a tight ball, radiating a
brilliant blue light from its interior. Its beautiful. I strain to touch it, but the pulsating ball
is just out of reach. Suddenly, the blue radiance is replaced by blinding white light. It
illuminates the entire night sky. And then Peeta is standing before me. He looks just as I
remembercurly blond hair, sparking blue eyes, easy smile, and muscular chest and
arms.
Peeta, I whisper, reaching for him. I step forward, but get no closer. Let me touch
you.
He smiles, but says nothing.
Ive missed you. I love you. Please come back to me.
He frowns at me, but again says nothing.
Talk to me, Peeta. Please, I beg.
His image begins to flicker, like a candle flame in the wind.
No. Dont leave me again! I scream.
He kisses his fingertips and points them in my direction.
No! Dont leave. I have nothing left of you! I cry out.
Then theres nothing but darkness. I weep into my hands.
This might hurt a little. My eyes blink open a couple times. Gale is sitting next to
me with all the medical supplies. Its bright outside, the sun directly overhead.
ItIts noon already? I ask confused.
Yes. You rather enjoyed your morphling trip, he says. He unwraps the gauze,
causing a stinging pain to radiate up my arm. I recoil.
Ill get you a pain killer in just a second. But no more morphling for you. I didnt get
any sleep last night with all your babbling.
I cringe. I have no idea what I might have said.
Once Im bandaged and medicated, Gale sets out to get us lunch. I wander around the
campsite, remembering bits and pieces of the night before. I see the matted and blood-
stained groundcover where the mountain lion must have landed, although its body has
been removed. I walk next to the fire pit and see the small pile of ashes, lying innocuously
on the ground. The sense of loss I feel with that little pile of ash is indescribable.
I continue wandering through the woods, focusing on the details of nature around
me, trying to keep my dark thoughts in the recesses of my mind where they belong. Along
the trail, I pass a nightlock bush. How apropros. I pull a cluster of berries and carry them
with me, rubbing the small, dark fruit between my fingers.
After some time, I find myself on a rock outcropping overlooking the valley below.
Its peaceful. I sit down and stare at the vast expanse of forest before me. From my
vantage point, it almost seems like everything is good with the world. Its hard to imagine
all the pain and suffering were forced to endure during our short lifetimes. But I know
that pain better than the average person. I look at the berries in my hand. I could end it all
right now. End it the way it began, really.
I pluck a berry off the stem and hold it in front of my face. Ive been fighting the
better part of the last two years to stay alive, and now Im considering the easy way out. I
weigh the pros and cons in my head.
Soundlessly, Gale appears beside me on the rock. I pick up the cluster of berries so he
has a place to sit.
Pretty view from here, he says.
I nod.
He snatches a berry from my cupped hand and tosses it into the valley below.
Tell me your favorite memory of Peeta, he says.
I look at him out of the corner of my eye. Why?
He plucks another berry and tosses it over the cliff. I think it will help.
I groan. Did I say something last night?
He stares straight ahead. Youre worried youre going to forget him. Another berry
goes flying into the valley. Im no psychologist, but I think you were using that piece of
paper as a way to hold onto him. You dont need that paper. You have so many more
memories up here, he says, tapping my temple.
Memories fade with time, I reply quietly.
Not if we keep them alive.
Tears sting at the corner of my eyes. I bite my lip and look to the sky to prevent them
from rolling over my eyelids and onto my cheeks.
Ill start. My best memory is after the Tracker Jacker attack when he risked his life
with the Careers to help you escape. If he hadnt done that, we wouldnt be sitting here
today. Ill always be grateful to him for saving your life then. Your turn.
I dont know.
Having a hard time thinking of a G-rated memory you can share with me, huh? he
says with a smirk, rocking his shoulder into mine.
I roll my eyes. No. As you are now so inappropriately aware, all of our memories are
G-rated.
A few moments later, he continues. Lets start with something easier. Tell me one
thing about Prim I dont know.
I tilt my head to the side and study his face. Finally, I say, She had a crush on Rory.
Really? he asks with genuine surprise.
Yeah.
They wouldve been cute together, he says, melancholy settling into his features.
We sit like that, in comfortable silence, for a few minutes. All the while, Gale
continues to empty my hand of the deadly fruit.
Eventually, I say, I miss Peetas sense of humor. He was witty. Youre just sarcastic.
He smiles and throws the last berry over the ledge.
I wasnt going to eat those, I inform him.
Good.


CHAPTER
TWENTY - NINE
ITS SIX WEEKS later, and were well into winter now. Luckily, were also at the cabin. The
first snow hit about two weeks ago, and its been coming down fairly regularly since then.
Tonight, were sitting in front of the fire enjoying a venison stew, compliments of Gale.
You know, I think you really are a better cook, I say, licking my spoon clean.
Of course I am.
And modest on top of that. I kick his foot lightly with my own.
He gives me a small smile and then leans back on his elbows, staring at the blazing
fire. He looks contemplative. Hes actually looked like that a lot since we arrived to the
cabin a month ago. Im pretty sure its because there was no note from Haymitch waiting
for us here. We dont talk about it, but I have a feeling he was disappointedno doubt
hes ready to socialize with someone other than me.
What are you thinking about? I ask after a few moments of silence.
Nothing.
I dont believe that.
He turns his head towards me. Im just impressed that we made it herethats all.
You doubted our skills? I say, drawing my hands to my chest and pretending to take
offense.
No not really. Its just that a lot of things couldve happened. Im sure no one
expected us to kill Coin, hike a thousand miles, and then settle into this cabin in the
middle of the woods.
Shaking my head, I say, I have to disagree. I think our friends and families would
expect nothing less than that from us.
He grins. Okay, Ill give you that although I think Peeta wouldve been pretty
disappointed had he seen you with the nightlock berries.
I cringe, thinking back to the emotional wreck I was. And I know hes right. Peeta
wouldve been horrified by that. As horrified as Gale was. Although Gale didnt act like it
was a big deal, I know exactly how hard it hit him because the next time I went to that
rock outcropping, the nightlock bush was absent, a large hole in the ground where it
stood the day before. Im pretty sure Ill never see another nightlock plant again, as long
as hes around.
Peeta would be grateful to you, I say quietly.
Gale shrugs off my comment and goes back to staring at the fire.
Despite how awkward it was at first, Gale and I have started talking about Prim and
Peeta, as well as our fathers, regularly. Im surprised by how much it does help.
Remembering even the most mundane detail keeps them alive in my heartmakes me
feel like we continue to cherish them even though theyre no longer with us. Im sure this
plays a huge role in my dramatically improved mood. And although Ill never admit it to
Gale, I know hes responsible for my emotional wellbeingIm not sure what would have
happened to me without him.
The rest of the evening is quiet. Gale remains deep in thought, so I head to bed early.
The next morning, I wake up with the sun as usual, but Gale is already sitting in front
of a roaring fire, lacing up his boots.
Youre getting an early start, I say with a yawn.
Yeah, I dont like the way the skys looking. Im worried a storm is brewing, so Im
going to head out a little early.
I nod in response. Gale and I have had to start alternating hunting days because the
permanent layer of snow quickly soaks through our summer hunting boots. If we take a
day off, they usually dry completely before the next trip.
Unfortunately, its during Gales hunting days that loneliness begins to creep in,
always making me anxious for his return. I try to busy myself with chores, but theres
only so much to do. Today, I sweep the cabin, clean the hearth, make soup, patch a hole
in one of the walls, and then make myself some tea. I take my cup and settle onto the cot,
looking out the window for Gale. Its been snowing all day, but the flurries from this
morning shifted to a full-blown snowstorm about a half-hour ago, just as Gale predicted.
Im now having a hard time making out the tree line, which is only about ninety feet from
the cabin, through the shifting wall of white flakes.
I look around the cabin for something else to do to occupy my mind, but theres
nothing. Tapping my fingers impatiently on the windowsill, I focus on how much better
things will be once spring arrives. Well be able to hunt together and spend time outside,
rather than being cramped in this tiny cabin all day.
I gaze expectantly out the window again. Hes been gone three hours, which is how
long it generally takes. I tell myself Ill give him one more hour before I go out looking. I
walk over to the table and reorganize our supplies for the third time today. I move the
burn cream behind the antibiotics and then decide they both belong on the other side of
the large box of matches, next to the bandages. Its when Im contemplating moving the
ropes that the door finally opens.
Gale stands in the doorway, but what I see causes me to gasp. Hes pale, wet, and
shivering uncontrollably. White powder dusts his hair, his eyebrows, even the tip of his
nose. Panic grips me. Ive never seen him so pale; he looks like a ghost. His limbs move
slowly, much too slowly, and his eyes droop, but stare at me unblinking. Something
terrible must have happened while he was hunting.
I know he needs immediate help. I think back to what my mother used to do for
patients like this. Step one was always removing the wet clothes.
I rush to his side and pull him into the semi-warm cabin, shutting the door behind us.
He moves stiffly, as if in slow motion. His clothes are soaking wet and partially frozen in
areas. I pull him farther inside towards the fire and begin unbuttoning his shirt. In the
process, I break off small icicles that hang from the buttonholes, causing them to fall to
our feet and shatter.
What happened? I ask, fear in my voice.
II His teeth are chattering. He cant complete a sentence.
Shhh its okay, I say. I pull first one arm and then the other out of his frozen shirt,
dropping it in a pile on the floor. His undershirt is drenched too, so I pull it above his
head. When I touch the pale skin of his chest, its frigid. His fingers are blue. I begin
rubbing them in my own hands to warm them up.
He continues to stare blankly ahead. What if he doesnt make it? What will I do
without him? How will I survive without him? Hes the reason Im still here.
I fight the fear rising in my chest. We made it all the way from the Capitol only for
him to develop hypothermia when were in a place as familiar as our homes in the Seam. I
cant let him down. I need to focus my attention on him, do everything I can to help.
I lean over and unlace his boots and then remove them and his socks one at a time.
Ppants, he says.
I still, my eyes fall on his pants. Yes, theyre soaking wet, half frozen, and need to
come off, but yet I pause.
He reaches down and fumbles with the button, but its clear his hands arent working.
He cant even grasp the two pieces of fabric; his fingers keep slipping off, probably
because they have no feeling in them whatsoever.
Finally, his head moves slightly and he looks at me beseechingly. PPlease
I take a deep breath. He could die. I cant lose him. Its just a pair of pants. I reach
towards him, quickly undo the button, and then lower the zipper. I ease the material over
his hips and down to the floor. After helping him step his legs out one at a time, I kick the
pants so they join the discarded shirts on the floor. His boxers are soaking wet too, but I
have to draw the line somewhere.
I grab the sleeping bag from the cot and wrap it around his shoulders. Then I drag the
cot over, so its directly in front of the fire, and help him lower himself into a sitting
position. Hes still shivering uncontrollably, his lips blue.
Ill get you some soup, I say, afraid that Im not doing enough to help.
He nods.
I bring a bowl over and try to pass it to him, but his hands are shaking so badly, hell
end up wearing half of it. Instead, I tilt the bowl up to his mouth and encourage him to
take a drink. After two good gulps, I lower the bowl.
GGood, he says.
I tilt the bowl back up and offer him some more. Once he finishes, I rub his fingers
between my hands again, trying to restore blood flow. Im pleasantly surprised to find
them less blue than they were a few minutes ago.
Are you feeling better? I ask.
He nods and points to the bowl.
I end up feeding him two more bowls of soup before he indicates hes had enough. By
then, his shivering has significantly decreased and his lips are pink again. His toes are still
blue, though, so I take off my socks and place them on his feet. Theyre snug, but will do
the trick.
Thanks, he says quietly. Its the first full word hes been able to get out without
stuttering. That small realization brings me more joy than it probably should. Hes still in
danger, I know that, but this has to be a positive sign.
I grab his hands and begin rubbing them again, but he recoils.
What? I ask, alarmed.
Hurts stinging. He closes his eyes and his face becomes distorted in pain.
Can I do anything to help?
He shakes his head. I run to our supplies and try to find something that will work, but
the only possibility is pain killers. Im hesitant to give him those. What if he falls asleep
and never wakes up? I settle for sitting next to him, my arm wrapped around his back, my
leg pressed against his, hoping some of my warmth will spread to him.
An hour later, his body finally relaxes and his eyes become clearer, more focused.
You should lie down, I say. I pick up his legs, help him move them onto the cot, and
then pull the sleeping bag around to cover his whole body.
I watch him, hesitant about what I should do. My body heat would probably be
helpful, but if his skin is still sensitive, I dont want to hurt him.
Are you joining me? he asks.
Without a second thought, I climb onto the cot next to him and wrap my arms
around him for once. Hes still much colder than usual. I move even closer and hold him
tighter in my arms.
Hmmm I should get hypothermia more often, he says.
I smile. Thats a good signhe must be feeling better.
A few hours later, Im momentarily disoriented when I wake. Early evening light
steams through the window, but it doesnt hit us like normal. I sit up and notice that
were on the other side of the room, in front of the fireplace. Then I see Gale next to me,
with the sleeping bag pulled up under his arms, tufts of chest hair sticking out above the
edge. His normal skin tone is back and his fingers are nice and pink. I touch them
tentativelywarmer than mine.
His eyes open lazily.
How are you feeling? I ask.
Much better.
Are you still cold?
He shakes his head.
Any pain?
He wrinkles his brow, considering my question. One of my toes hurts, but I think Ill
survive.
Which toe?
He laughs. Does it matter?
If youre going to lose a toe to frostbite, you dont want it to be your big toe, I say
seriously.
He laughs again. Youll be happy to know its the little toe on my left foot. A pretty
inconsequential appendage, actually. I should be able to get along just fine without it.
I smile. Are you making fun of me?
A little bit. He rolls over so hes facing me, our bodies only inches apart.
I was worried about you, I say soberly.
He props his head up on his elbow. I was worried, too. I didnt think Id make it back
here.
What happened?
I was tracking a deer along the river. I got really close to the bank. I knew I was
tempting fate, but I almost had him in my sites. Then, quicker than I could react, the shelf
of ice I was on gave way, dumping me into the river.
How far away were you?
He shrugs. Probably two miles or so. It was a really long walk back.
In my mind I see the scene as he describes it. What if he had been carried away in
rapids or was dumped under a rock? What if he had collapsed on the way back?
Hey, Im fine, he says touching my face. You should be smiling, not frowning.
I nod. Youre right. Youre here and youre fine. Well, other than the little toe on
your left foot, I say with a grin. I am happy.
He smiles, his hand still on my face. My heart skips a beat, taking me by surprise.
Im momentarily stunned by my bodys reaction. Rather than consider the meaning of
it, I jump up to distract myself. Would you like some tea?
Sure, he says chuckling, clearly enjoying the moment.
At the table, I gather the tea pot and some dried mint leaves. I step around the cot to
collect snow from outside, but as I walk past Gale, something on the floor distracts me.
Its his boxers. My cheeks become warm as blood rushes into them.
Um, Gale.
Yeah.
Do you have any clothes on under the sleeping bag?
He smirks. Theres an easy way for you to figure that out.
I roll my eyes, but the feeling developing inside of me is unexpected. Even when Gale
and I kissed in the woods, it wasnt like this. That was an emotional maelstrom brought
on by years of anger, resentment, and grief. This is me reacting to Gale. Reacting to my
naked best friend who is only a few feet away.
Are you blushing, Catnip?
No, I lie and dart outside to get the snow for the tea. While Im there I grab an extra
handful and place it against my flaming cheeks. I try to process what just happened. Does
Gale really bring out those feelings in me after everything thats happened? Is this
something I want to act on? Or is this just a reaction to his near-death experience?
Unfortunately, I dont know the answer to any of those questions.
When I reenter the cabin, the boxers are noticeably absent from the floor, but Gale is
back on the cot with the sleeping bag pulled up to his chin. A boyish grin on his face.
Sorry. Didnt mean to embarrass you. I just woke up at one point and had wet
underwear on. It was cold and uncomfortable. You know a good nurse would have
taken them off for me.
Ive never claimed to be a good nurse, I reply, busying myself with the tea. I sneak a
peek at Gale from the corner of my eye and see him assessing me. Does he sense that
something has changed?
When I turn around to face him fully, I know that he does. His face is differenthe
looks really hopeful. Beautiful and hopeful. I immediately know the answer to two of
my questions. Yes, Gale can bring out those feelings in me after everything thats
happened, but no I cannot act on them because if things dont work out, I couldnt bear
the pain it would cause him. Unless I am absolutely confident that I am his for the rest of
our lives in every way that I know he wants me, I wont risk it. Right now, thats not a
commitment Im able to make.


CHAPTER
THIRTY
WINTER HAS FINALLY given way to spring. Budding maples and dogwoods brighten the
barren tree line, while blooming coreopsis and columbine paint the ground with shades
of yellow and pink.
But most importantly, the warmer weather means were able to spend the majority of
our days outside again. Weve finally escaped the stifling cabin. Today, weve decided to
try fishing in the pond using Gales homemade fishing poles. Im impressed by his
ingenuity in making them. With tree branches, strands of twine from one of our ropes,
and needles from two syringes, he was able to create makeshift rods that look like they
might actually work.
I stare out at the water as Gale baits his hook with an earthworm.
Want me to bait your line? he asks.
I can do it, I say, grabbing my pole from the ground.
I add a worm and then cast my line so it joins Gales near the center of the pond. We
stand there silently for a few moments.
You think this will work? I ask.
He shrugs his shoulders.
After another five minutes, I say, Maybe the waters too cold and the fish arent
biting.
Weve been out here less than ten minutes. Could you have a little patience?
I wait another ten minutes and then pull my line from the water. I could have caught
a couple squirrels in the time weve been standing here.
You done? Gale asks.
Yeah. Ill go shoot us some lunch while you continue to demonstrate your patience.
He says nothing. This has become the norm since we arrived at the cabin. He rarely
jokes with me anymore, despite my repeated attempts, unless hes making some
suggestive comment or innuendo. And, of course, that has been occurring more
frequently since the boxer incident. Im beginning to wonder if the only satisfaction he
gets out of life is seeing me blush.
While he wont explicitly say hes unhappy, his serious and focused demeanor makes
it clear that hes not having much fun. Its probably even more noticeable to me because
Im actually enjoying myself here. Its the simple life Ive always wanted.
While Im winding the line around my pole, Gale starts walking backwards, holding
his line with his hand.
Youve got something? I ask with surprise.
He nods.
He continues walking backwards, pulling his catch closer to the shoreline with every
step. When its almost on dry land, I can see that its a large catfish. I take Gales fishing
pole from him, and he walks into the water to grab our lunch. After removing the hook,
he holds it out for me to see.
Looks like hes had a rough life, Gale says, pointing to a mangled fin on the fishs
back.
Aw do you want to release it? I can imagine you feel a certain connection to it, I
say with a chuckle.
He rolls his eyes and lowers the fish to the ground. Of course because Im He
holds out his hands, welcoming me to finish his sentence.
Disfigured just like him, I say, still laughing. Gale rolls his eyes again. He never
thinks my jokes about the little toe on his left foot are funny. Lucky for him, though, the
antibiotic ointment prevented an infection, so he merely lost part of that toe to frostbite,
not the entire thing.
You know, you find yourself much funnier than you really are, he says, pulling a
knife out of his pocket and severing the fishs spinal cord, causing a quick and relatively
painless death.
You just dont know good humor when you hear it, I say matter-of-factly, picking
up my fishing pole and walking to the edge of the pond. Perhaps I should give this
another try.
Is that so? he asks, following me.
I nod and cast my line into the middle of the water.
The next thing I know, something cold hits the side of my face. I reach up with my
hand and wipe off a glob of mud. I stare at it in disbelief and then turn to find Gale
smiling broadly.
He raises his arm and pelts me with another handful; this one lands directly on my
forehead.
Now that is funny! he says, laughing. Ive missed that sound.
I drop my pole and immediately reach down to grab two handfuls of mud for myself.
I throw one in Gales direction, but he easily dodges it. While hes bent over reloading his
fists, I sprint to his side and smear the other handful on his head, working it into his hair
like shampoo. But when I turn to run, he catches my waist and pulls me onto his lap.
No! I yell. I laugh and try to extract myself from his grip. Let me go! I shout.
Smiling, he says, Yeah, right. And then he proceeds to plaster the wet, slimy dirt on
my neck. I feel it ooze down my shirt and onto my chest.
Reaching to my side, I pick up more mud and chuck it at his face. It hits its mark
perfectly. Take that! I say in triumph.
You hit my mouth! Gale sputters, letting go of me so he can wipe his face.
I scramble to my feet, but all the digging in the ground for ammunition has left the
area very mushy, wet, and slippery. I feel my left leg sliding in front of me; I lean forward
to try and counterbalance its effect, but then my right leg splays out to the side. The result
is me ending up face first in the mud. I roll over and see Gale laughing heartily. Despite
my predicament, Im happy that he seems to be enjoying himself. Its been too long.
Wow, you just caused way more damage to yourself than I couldve ever done. He
walks over to me and leans down by my side. Are you okay? he asks, trying to be
serious, but he cant stop smiling.
I imagine what I must look like to himIm a pig wallowing in a giant puddle of
thick, slimy, brown sludge. I laugh at the thought, causing mud to spray off my lips. That
only makes me laugh harder.
Gale reaches down and wipes the mud mask from my eyes. Only you can look
beautiful, even when lying in a mud pit.
That stops the laughter. His hand sweeps across my nose and then lips, lingering there
a little longer than necessary. I stare at his face. His lips are full and inviting; hes biting
the lower one like he does when he aims his bow. I know hes lost in thought. My heart
beats double-time. I swallow and take a deep breath, forcing the rationale side of my brain
to take over. I cannot kiss him. I close my eyes and repeat those words to myself three
more times.
Luckily, when my eyes open, Gale is gone from my side. Hes in the pond, scrubbing
away the dirt.
Despite the awkward ending to our mud war, it was nice to see him relax, let loose,
and be playful again. Maybe things are about to change. Maybe Ill get the old Gale back.
You plan on cleaning yourself up? he asks as he exits the pond.
I nod, but my heart drops with the realization that hes back to serious Gale.
Later that day, after our clothes have dried and weve had a filling lunch of catfish, we
sit side-by-side in the clearing next to the cabin. I lean back on my elbows, with my legs
extended in front of me, concentrating on the cheerful melodies of the songbirds. Tilting
my face up to the sun, I close my eyes.
Without thinking, I say, Are you happy, Gale?
What? he asks, clearly surprised by my question.
Are you happy? I open my eyes and look at him.
He shrugs. Im alright. After a brief pause, he continues, But I can think of a few
things that would make life better.
Like what?
He turns to me with that suggestive smirk of his. I think you know one of them.
I ignore how his comment causes my heart to race. What else would make things
better?
It doesnt matter.
Yes, it does.
He stares at me with a very annoyed expression. Let it go, Katniss.
You want to go home. Its a statement, not a question. I know my assumption has
been correct all along. Hell never be happy living in the woods.
Like I said, it doesnt matter what I want. Ive accepted this. His voice is deep and
low. He doesnt want to have this conversation.
Haymitch could still come.
Sure.
Over the next few weeks, things remain about the same between us. Gales down and
Im fairly content, my only complaint being Gales attitude.
Its early morning and Gale lies motionless next to me, our faces inches from one
another. His lips are parted slightly as he breathes evenly in a relaxed sleep. I can imagine
running my fingers through his long hair. Waking him with a kiss. I sighwhy am I
considering giving into temptation yet again? Im starting to become alarmed by the
frequency with which this is occurring. And part of me is wondering why I continue to
fight it. I mean, if living in this cabin is the extent of our future, would it really be that
terrible for something to develop between us? He clearly wants it. My body clearly wants
it. And a relationship is one thing that would bring him some bit of happiness.
But then, like always, this train of thought brings feelings of guilt. Guilt for the life
that Gale is missing. I still hold out hope that Haymitch will pay us a visit. That hell tell
Gale he can go home or to the Capitol, see his family, have a career in politics
everything he wants and deserves. Of course, if that time comes, Im not sure what Ill do.
Theres nothing left for me in District 12 other than reminders of all the pain Ive
endured. And theres no way Ill return to the Capitol. That leaves me the options of
another district or the woods. Right now, Im leaning towards staying here in this little
cabin. Its simple and easy. And it will always hold good memories for meold memories
of my dad and Gale, as well as new memories of the grumpy Gale.
He stirs next to me. Sometime during the night, his fingers found mine and he now
holds my hand against his chest. He opens his eyes and looks at me.
Giving in to him, to us would be so easy. One kiss is all it would take. I feel my
resolve crumbling and force myself to remember that Gale deserves better. He deserves
more. As much as my body is screaming at me to kiss him, I know the immediate
pleasure hed receive would not outweigh the long term damage I could cause. I remain
steadfast in my determination. I wont give him any sign of hope because it will just make
things harder when Gale can finally move forward with the life he deserves. The life that
wont include me.
You look like you want to kiss me, he says with a gleam in his eye.
Ill never understand how hes able to read my mind. In your dreams, I say, pulling
my fingers from his.
No, my dreams are way more interesting than a kiss, he replies with a smirk.
So, we start out the day as usual. I roll my eyes and stand, intent on lighting a fire.
The day progresses like every other day. We eat breakfast, we hunt, we eat lunch, and
then we relax outside for a while. Gale is working on some of his snares as I try,
unsuccessfully, to mend a hole in one of my shirts. As I do that, I whistle a tune
absentmindedly, stopping occasionally to hear the response from the mockingjays. After a
relatively easy string of notes, I stop, but the forest is quiet. Gales head snaps up. I whistle
an even easier set of notes, but again, were surrounded by silence.
Gale and I jump to our feet, bows in hand. Something unusual has disturbed the
birds. That is often our first indication we may be in danger. We scan the scenery around
us, but see nothing. We edge back towards the cabin, keeping watch the entire time.
When were a few feet away, I hear snapping twigs, pounding footsteps, and heavy
breathing. Its a person. Gale and I hold our ground, ready to defend ourselves if
necessary.
But when the figure steps out from the trees, Gale and I drop our bows and run to
him with open arms. Its Haymitch. Hes finally come for us. And he looks like he barely
survived the hike here. His face is ruddy, and sweat dampens the front of his shirt, despite
the cool spring weather.
Gale shakes his hand and I hug him. We havent seen another person in over ten
months. My attitude towards Haymitch has always been mixed, part respect, part disgust,
but I couldnt imagine being any happier than I am right now seeing him. Gale can move
forward with his life. He can be happy again.
Haymitch rubs his chin. I didnt think Id find you here, he says honestly. I cant
believe you made it back from the Capitol. The shock is apparent on his face.
Poking me in the ribs with his elbow, Gale says, Well, we did have a Hunger Games
Victoryou didnt think shed just let us die out here did you?
My mouth drops at the complete shift in his mood.
Ignoring me, Gale invites Haymitch into the cabin. He drags the small wooden bench
to the middle of the room and then sits next to me on the cot, as Haymitch lowers himself
onto the bench.
So, can we go home? asks Gale, his nervousness visible on his face and in his
tapping foot.
Haymitch meets our eyes, first mine and then Gales. Yes, but, there are a few things
you need to know first.
What? I ask suspiciously.
He rolls his neck and sighs loudly. Gales tapping becomes even quicker.
There was a trial.
That was expected, Gale says, shrugging his shoulders. The pace of his tapping
betrays his relaxed faade, though.
True. Haymitch pauses and looks around the small room, apparently taking it in for
the first time.
You two have really made yourselves a nice little place here. Very homey, he nods
approvingly.
Just wait to see what we do when we get back to the district, Gale says with a smile.
His words hit me like a sack of bricks to the chest. I jerk my head to the side so Im
staring at his profile. Why would he assume wed do anything together once we go back?
Why would he assume Im going back? But I know the answer. Ive always known. Its
because hes had an expectation this whole time. Out of the corner of my eye, I see his
incessant tapping and its driving me crazy.
I lift my foot and slam it down on his. Could you sit still?! I yell at him.
Haymitch tries to stifle a laugh.
Gale pulls his foot out from under mine. Whats your problem?! He glares back at
me.
Must have been a fun ten months, Haymitch says, shaking his head. Its a wonder
you two didnt kill each other.
I narrow my eyes at Gale. I certainly dont want to argue with him about me future
plans while Haymitch watches.
What happened at the trial? I ask gruffly, bringing us back on topic.
You were found He looks between the two of us again and then finally finishes,
guilty of killing Coin.
I feel the blood drain from my face. How can Gale go back with a guilty verdict?
The tapping starts again. I glower at Gale, but he ignores me, all of his attention
focused on Haymitch now. But you said we can go back.
Yes, he says, rubbing his chin. You were found guilty with extenuating
circumstances. We showed the video from Coins office. And you had a lot of witnesses
speaking on your behalf. Renel, Cressida, yours truly.
So, what does that mean? Gale asks.
It means you killed her. But everyone can understand why you would do it after what
she put you through.
Will we be sent to prison? I ask.
Doubtful. Everyone assumed the two of you died in the forest. It was determined that
if you were ever found alive, another hearing would be held for sentencing.
So, you have no idea whats in store for us? I ask incredulously. And you expect us
to just waltz back home?
No, I expect you to waltz back to the Capitol for the hearing.
Easy for you to say when youre not at risk of being locked up for the rest of your
life! I yell at him.
Haymitch holds his hands up in surrender. I know, I know. Its a risk. But the trial
was televised and youd be amazed at the level of support there was for the two of you.
Everyone still loves the Mockingjay, even after that ridiculous promotion. It really didnt
take long for people to put two and two together and realize Coin was threatening you.
He shifts his weight on the bench and looks at Gale. Plus, through some carefully
calculated media leaks, we were able to show the country Coins plan of an unprovoked
nuclear attack on Eurasia. Needless to say, after that, most people were relieved you killed
her so we werent thrust into the middle of the next world war.
Gale nods. So what kind of sentence do you think well get? he asks. I can tell hes
already weighing the risks and rewards.
Haymitch shrugs. Maybe nothing. Maybe house arrest. Hard to say. But I dont think
it will be anything too bad. Its going to be a jury of your peers, not the Cabinet, which
should be helpful. There are still a few staunch Coin supporters in the Cabinet. He yawns
and rubs his red-rimmed eyes. I just now realize how exhausted he looks. I cant even
imagine how crazy things must have been for him the last few months.
He continues, Honestly, I think people are going to be thrilled to see you alive,
Katniss. There was an overwhelming sense of sorrow when you werent found. Youre still
the image of whats good what our country can become, whether you like it or not.
My jaw clenches in disgust. With finality, I say, I dont like it. And, Im not going
back to that. I cross my arms over my chest defiantly.
Gale says, Come on, Katniss. Dont make a rash decision. Lets think about this.
Gales right. As nice as this place is, do you really want to live here forever?
Haymitch asks, gesturing to the small room. Plus an election is in full swing right now.
No ones going to force you to do anything. After the hearing, you can fade away again.
I glance at Gale. He looks pensive. Haymitch raises an eyebrow, waiting for an
answer.
Can you give us a minute? I ask him tersely.
He nods and stands. After he walks outside, I turn to Gale. What are you thinking?
It would be nice to return home. I could see my family again. You could see your
mother
Not if we end up in prison.
You heard Haymitchwere not going to end up in prison.
I heard him say that he doesnt know what the sentence will be.
Katnissbe reasonable. We cant live here forever. We have to grab this opportunity.
Its our chance to get our lives back!
I jump up from the cot and stand facing Gale with my hands on my hips. Why
exactly cant I live here forever? I ask, glaring at him.
Because that would be a miserable life! Never interacting with anyone else ever
again? Wed go crazy!
I stare at him in disbelief. I dont like other people. Do you even know me at all?! I
ask, my voice rising.
He groans and rolls his eyes. I know you better than anyone. And, while this may
seem ideal now, it wont last. How are you ever going to have a family out here? Kids need
to go to school!
His words leave me speechless. I have no plans to start a family, to have kids. Where is
this coming from?
He stands and reaches for my hand, but I step back, avoiding his touch. Dont touch
me, I say with quiet, brewing anger.
You are beyond frustrating, Katniss! He abruptly turns and stalks to the window.
We stand like that for a few minutesme shooting daggers at his back, he gazing out
the window, no doubt trying to get his anger under control.
Is prison your only concern? he eventually asks, not bothering to turn around.
Because if so, I promise I wont let that happen. If imprisonment is our sentence, well
escape again. Run away. Ill get you out of there.
I gulp at the intensity of his words. He turns around, meeting my gaze. You trust me,
dont you?
My anger begins to ebb as I take in his determined, beseeching face.
But we worked so hard to get away from the Capitol, Gale
Things are different now. Were not going back to the same place. And its only for a
few days. Then we can go home.
You could go by yourself. Tell everyone I fell off a cliff or got eaten by a bear, I say,
still grasping for an option that will allow me to avoid the Capitol.
You know I wont leave you.
But Ill leave you. Im planning on leaving you the first chance I get because you and I
want very different things out of life. I cant tell him that right now. Not with everything
going on.
So, youre just going to put your future, your happiness in my hands? Thanks a lot,
Gale. What a great friend you are. I tug on my lip and look at the white ash in the
fireplace. I want him to be happy. But Im not sure I can go back to the Capitol.
I face him again, and the pleading in his eyes is overpowering. He gave up everything
for me. How can I deny him this?
Excitement flits across his face. He senses that hes close to changing my mind.
Please, Catnip. I want this.
And, in that moment, I know my answer. I owe him so much. Ill never be able to
repay him for everything hes done. Even if I agree to this, Ill come up short. So, there
really is only one thing I can say.
Fine.
He engulfs me in a bear hug and kisses the top of my head. After a few moments, I
hear Haymitch clear his throat from the doorway.
When do we leave? Gale asks.
Tomorrow. Ill make the plans right now, he says, punching buttons into his
communicuff. He walks back outside and from the window, I see him talking animatedly
to someone on the other end. Plutarch? Paylor?
Thank you, Catnip, Gale says quietly, wrapping his fingers around mine and
breaking my concentration on Haymitch.
I shrug and unwind my fingers from his. Youd do the same for me.


CHAPTER
THIRTY- ONE
THE NEXT MORNING, Im awakened by a loud and unfamiliar sound, at least for this place.
I rise in a panic, elbowing Gale in the process. He grunts, but sits up next to me.
Sounds like the helicopter, he says with a yawn.
Sure enough, through the window, I see a helicopter lowering itself to the flat meadow
surrounding the pond. It takes me a moment, but then everything falls into place.
Haymitchs visit, the hearing, our trip back to the Capitol. I groan and lie back on the cot,
covering my eyes with my arm.
But a low rumbly and nasally snore causes me to sit back up immediately. Haymitch
is still asleep. In the middle of our floor. And Gale was supposed to be down there with
him.
What are you doing up here? I ask accusingly, as my memory returns.
Your screaming was keeping us up last night. Haymitch was ready to throw you
outside.
I feel my cheeks reddening. He saw you come up here?
Oh yeah. He might have made a few choice comments, too, he replies with a smirk.
This day just gets better and better.
Are the two lovebirds up? Haymitchs rough voice drifts up to us from the floor.
I push Gale off the cot, and he lands on the ground with a loud thud.
Seriously, Katniss? he groans. Why do I have to get hurt because youre
embarrassed?
Im going to talk to the pilot while you two work through your little lovers spat,
Haymitch says with a wink towards Gale before heading outside.
I narrow my eyes. What exactly did you two talk about last night?
Guy talk. You wouldnt be interested. He stands and starts assembling our
backpack. Cars, planes, guns
For some reason, I dont believe that at all.
Maybe you shouldnt have fallen asleep first, then he says, shrugging his shoulders
as a smile plays across his lips.
Ignoring him, I help gather the last few supplies and then we head outside to meet
Haymitch and the pilot.
After boarding the aircraft, I look out the open door to our little cabin in the woods. I
cant believe were leaving the serenity of this place to go back to the Capitol. The pull of
the cabin, the longing I feel to stay, is strong. Haymitch was rightGale and I have built a
nice place here. And although our relationship is anything but typical, we somehow
managed to make it work. At least to work in a way that made me fairly happy. I glance at
Gale and notice the spark in his eyes that I havent seen in months. The thought of going
home, really going home, is what makes him happy. Unfortunately, I worry the role he
expects me to play in that significantly contributes to his happiness.
I sigh and look the opposite direction as we rise higher and higher into the sky, away
from the comfortable life we had constructed. Gale reaches the short distance between
our seats and laces his fingers through mine. This is the second time in two days hes
done that and it makes me even more uncomfortable now than it did yesterday. Its as
though hes somehow losing sight of our boundaries with all the excitement. I frown and
pull my fingers free, but he just places his hand on my leg and squeezes my knee.
I knock his hand off and lean my head against the window to try and get a little more
sleep. When I wake, I quickly realize I must have slept the entire trip because the tall,
shiny buildings of the Capitol are visible on the horizon. And Gales hand is wrapped
around mine again.
I turn our hands over and stare at them in disbelief. Gales alternating glances
between the approaching Capitol and me, his face aglow.
What the hell?! I ask, pointing at our hands.
His face takes on a questioning look. What? he mouths. Then he points to headsets
attached to the seats in front of us. He drops my hand and puts on the headset in front of
him. I follow suit and immediately hear his voice in my ears.
Whatd you say?
Stop holding my hand!
Why?
Because we dont do that!
I hold your hand every night, he points out.
Thats different! My anger is rising. I always knew our nighttime ritual would come
back to hurt me.
Not really
Yes, because
Just as Im about to explain exactly how its different, an unexpected voice rings in my
ears. Sorry to interrupt, but well be landing in five minutes. Make sure your seatbelts are
buckled and tightened.
I pound my head against the back of the seat. The pilot and probably Haymitch have
heard everything we just said. I catch Gale laughing quietly beside me.
Hows it different? a familiar gravelly voice booms.
Yes, Haymitch heard, too. Life was so much easier when it was just the two of us. I
angrily snatch the headphones from my head, throw them on the floor in front of me, and
scowl the short remainder of the trip.
As we fly low over the city and between buildings, Im surprised by the changes that
have occurred since we left. Scattered throughout the rubble and debris are construction
crews loading up piles of cement, metal, and wood into large eighteen-wheeled trucks.
And around nearly every damaged building is a spider web of scaffolding littered with
people in hard hats and bright yellow vests.
Reluctantly, I put my headphones back on to ask Haymitch a question.
Whered all these people come from?
Mostly the districts, although a few Capitol folks have stepped up. The Cabinet
agreed to redistribute some of the defense funds to encourage rebuilding. Weve gone out
to the districts and recruited quite a few people who would otherwise be out of work.
Are the districts being rebuilt, too? Gale asks, as the helicopter makes a sharp left
heading straight for the Training Center.
Yes, although the degree to which varies by district. Twelve has actually made the
most progress, he says with a hint of pride.
The pilot pulls up on a lever and the helicopter quickly rises and crosses over the
Training Center. I watch the familiar rooftop refuge pass below us and a melancholic
nostalgia sweeps over me. This is going to be harder than I anticipated. I bite my lip and
try to keep my emotions in check.
A few minutes later, we land in a clearing behind the Training Center, and Haymitch
tells us that our regular rooms are ready. Apparently, plans for our hearing are still in
limbo, but were required to stay on the twelfth floor until we hear otherwise.
Gale and I head towards the back door of the Training Center while Haymitch walks
in the other direction to circle around to the street in front. Before we even reach the
door, the pilot has ascended and is flying straight towards the Presidents mansion.
Gale pulls on the doorknob and holds the door open for me. I take a deep breath and
enter the Training Center once again. Silently, we walk to the elevators. I press the up
button and stare at the cold, gray metal doors. They open and I enter automatically. My
body is taking me to the right place without my mind having to think at all. In the
elevator, Gales hand brushes against mine, causing me to meet his penetrating gaze. He
raises an eyebrow, and I know hes offering me whatever I need. His hand. His arms
around me. A shoulder to cry on.
I take a step closer to him. He drapes his arm around me and pulls me tight to his
side. I sigh because its becoming increasingly obvious how much I rely on Gale. Whats
going to happen when he moves forward with his life and I do whatever it is I decide to
do? Ill be forced to find my inner strength. Ive had it before, surely I can get it back.
Maybe that will actually be good for me. Ive been taking the easy way out for too long
now.
The door opens, breaking me from my reverie. Gale slides his arm off my shoulder
and twists his fingers around mine. This time I dont object.
We take a step into the common room. It looks exactly like it did the last time I was
here. The strobe light is still sitting on the coffee table. The same pale orange placemats
line the dining room table. The curtains are closed, just like Peeta had done before we
watched the promotion.
Gale exhales loudly. Lets go to my room.
Why would I do that? I ask, confused.
Its bigger.
Weve been living in a tent and the cabin, I think were used to small spaces.
Come on, he insists, pulling me in the opposite direction from what Im used to.
I resist.
Katniss, do you really want to go in there? he asks gently.
I pause. My room. The room where Ive shared countless nights with Peeta. The room
where we spent our last night together. No, I absolutely do not want to go in there.
I turn slowly and allow Gale to lead me to the suite.
Once inside, Gale throws the backpack on the dresser while I investigate the large
space. In all the times Ive stayed in this building, Ive never ventured into this room. Its
at least twice the size of mine and has a sitting area with a couch and two side chairs
facing the large picture window. The curtains are drawn revealing a panoramic view of
the city from the river to the Presidents mansion. Opposite the door to the room is a
narrow hallway that leads to a large bathroom, complete with double sinks and a bathtub.
As Im admiring the marble vanity, I hear the elevator open. Gales voice echoes
through the space, but I cant make out the words. I backtrack through the hallway to see
whos out there.
But I stop at the threshold. Standing in the foyer is Paylor, the forerunner for the next
President of Panem. And shes looking at Gale with dark, provocative eyes.


CHAPTER
THIRTY - TWO
PAYLOR IS SO focused on Gale that she hasnt noticed me yet. I silently slink back into the
shadows of the room to watch their reunion. I always thought she was simply
unprofessional whenever it came to him, but my opinion of her has now plummeted
knowing what happened between the two of them. I have no doubt shed make a great
President, but shes not someone I want to be social with. Or someone I want Gale to be
social with, for that matter. I inwardly groan. I need to stop thinking like that. If things go
as expected, Im leaving him in a few days and he can hang out with whomever he wants.
I suppose I can at least hope he finds a more suitable woman, though.
They walk to the dining room table where she sets down two large, brown paper bags.
Pulling out the chair at the far end, she sits and nods for Gale to take the chair beside her.
Her fingers are on his arm instantaneously. He doesnt pull away, but he doesnt look
pleased either.
Im glad youre alive, she says simply.
Gale nods. Do you have any insight into what our sentence will be? he asks.
No. That will be determined by the jury. She doesnt even try to reassure him like
Haymitch did yesterday.
Gale finally looks at her fingers on his forearm. After a few moments, he says, What
are you doing here, Constance?
Constance? It dawns on me that I never knew her first name, nor did I ever have the
need to use it. I suppose she and Gale would be on a first name basis, though. I roll my
eyes at the thought.
Can I see you tonight? she asks.
I gasp at the forwardness of her question. Luckily, neither of them appears to have
heard me, as theyre both concentrating intently on the other.
After a pause, Gale replies, No, and finally pulls his arm away.
Because of her?
Yes.
She shakes her head. Youre a couple now?
He looks to the floor, breaking away from her gaze.
She laughs. Thats what I thought. When are you going to realize she doesnt
reciprocate your feelings?
The pain on Gales face is visible, even from my vantage point, feet away. I cringe. Of
course he continues to hold out hope, regardless of my determination to do nothing to
encourage such ideas.
Despite his hurt expression, Paylor doesnt soften her tone. Instead, she says, You
know Im not necessarily looking for a long-term commitment, Gale. If you ever change
your mind, even if its in the middle of the night, give me a call.
My mouth drops open. She runs her relationships, if you can call it that, the same way
she runs her business. Shes brutally honest, succinct, and leaves nothing open to
interpretation.
Ill keep that in mind, Gale murmurs, standing. She follows his lead and walks
purposefully to the elevator.
As the doors open, she says, Ill send up some toiletries later. She steps inside the
small space. Youll need to clean up before the hearing. No beard. A haircut.
The doors begin to close, but Gale sticks his arm in to stop them.
Constance?
Yes? I can hear the hopeful tone in her voice.
Did you help us escape?
No. The hopeful tone has vanished. I simply ordered the guards to look for you
north and west of the arena because surely you wouldnt be stupid enough to head east,
back towards your district.
Gales mouth twitches, as though hes stifling a smile. Thank you.
So she was in on it, too. Im beginning to wonder exactly how many people Haymitch
talked to.
Once the doors close, Gale walks back to the table and opens the paper bags Paylor
left on the table. I move over to the sitting area in the bedroom, so he wont know I was
listening. A few moments later, he enters the room.
I come bearing gifts, he says, placing one of the brown bags on the dresser and then
carrying the other one towards me.
Gifts?
New clothes. From Paylor. He pulls a shirt out of the bag and throws it at me. Its
nice. Really nice, actually. Soft flannel in muted browns and greens, not the typical colors
of the Capitol. Gale reaches back into the bag and draws out another item. This time its a
pair of sturdy canvas pants. He throws those at me, too. He continues reaching in and
throwing things at me until Im covered by two long-sleeved shirts, three short-sleeved
shirts, two pairs of pants, and countless pairs of socks.
Alright, enough already! I finally yell at him, laughing at all the clothes. Im actually
shocked by Paylors generosity towards me. And the fact that she bothered to get clothes I
would like, rather than the easy to find, typical Capitol attire.
Were not quite done, he says with a wicked grin, staring into the bag.
What else could possibly be in there? I say, still laughing.
He folds down the top of the bag and throws the whole thing at me. I catch it in the
air. Sitting down opposite me, he doesnt take his eyes off my face as unroll the top of the
bag. When I part the two edges, its immediately obvious why hes so interested in my
reactionPaylor even included pajamas and undergarments.
I set the bag at my side and dont give Gale the satisfaction of the embarrassed
response hes expecting. Its nice to see she was thorough, I say matter-of-factly.
He laughs anyway and then says, Im taking a shower.
When Gale returns, I take my turn in the shower. I let the hot water stream down my
face and my back. I check the fancy dispensers, but theyre still empty, so I opt for the
utilitarian block of soap instead. This is the first time Ive bathed with actual soap since
the last time I was in the Capitol, months ago. Concentrating on removing the ground in
dirt and grime helps take my mind away from Gale, the hearing, and whats going to
happen between us. I scrub the creases around my elbows and knees until theyre raw and
tingling. Then I move up to my hair, massaging shampoo in and rinsing it out until the
water finally runs clear.
After toweling off and dressing in my new clothes, I exit the bathroom to find Gale
standing at the picture window, looking at the streets of the Capitol below us.
He turns and faces me. Haymitch should be here shortly. Apparently the hearing has
been scheduled.
We walk into the common area and sit in chairs opposite each other, waiting for
Haymitch.
Whatd you think of my conversation with Paylor? he asks, placing his left foot
across his knee.
How would I know what you talked about? I make a conscious effort not to fidget in
my chair.
Because you were watching us, he says straight faced.
No, I wasnt, I lie.
He leans forward in his chair. I saw you, Katniss.
I roll my eyes. Would you have said the same things, if you didnt know I was
watching?
Yes, he responds without hesitation.
I sigh.
Would you prefer I take her up on her offer?
I consider his question carefully. No, realistically, the thought of that makes me sick.
But, I dont want him to know that.
Youre a grown man. Youre free to do whatever you want, I say evasively.
That doesnt really answer my question.
Im spared from further comment by the elevator doors opening and Haymitch
stumbling through, his face ruddy.
It appears hes been busy celebrating our unexpected resurrection. He staggers to the
couch and sits down clumsily. Once hes finally settled, Gale asks, Whats the news?
He holds up a finger, lets out a loud belch, and then finally addresses us. The hearing
starts in three days. Until then, theyll be selecting the jury.
Is there any particular reason youre so drunk? I ask with disdain.
Im a working man now. I only get one day a week to drink. Sunday. Thats today. I
wasnt about to let you two distract me from that, he slurs.
Good to know, Gale says. So, where will this hearing be?
In the Cabinets chambers in the Presidents mansion. Ill come by and pick you up
that morningmake sure you get there safe and sound, right on time. He lets out
another belch and lies back on the couch with his feet dangling off the end. You dont
mind if I rest here for a bit, do you?
I ignore him and go back to the bedroom, turning on the television when I reach the
sitting area. Every channel focuses on the presidential campaign. Debates, interviews, and
promotional commercials are in a continuous loop. After only an hour, I know Paylor
will win the election. She has the right presence. She appears intelligent, compassionate,
and honest in front of the camera. The other candidates are constantly caught in lies and
end up droning on and on trying to save their reputations, but only making the situation
worse.
During a particularly heated discussion between Paylor and Maxim Groll about the
stockpiling of nuclear weapons in District 13, Gale brings me dinner. We eat silently as
we watch the ground-breaking events unfolding in our country. Im amazed that the
Nationalists were able to pull off their plans flawlessly. Im sure most of the credit goes to
Paylorshe doesnt seem like someone who would accept failure. Or rejection.
You ready for bed? Gale asks, breaking my concentration.
I nod and after turning off the television, climb into my side of the bed. Gale watches
me from the dresser. He opens a couple drawers and then throws something at me.
Did you forget about your pajamas? he asks.
I grip the soft, cotton pants in my fingers and then eye the tank top lying next to me.
It would be nice to finally sleep in something other than stiff hunting pants. And theyre
really no different than my normal clothes, just more comfortable. Without a second
thought, I retreat to the bathroom and change, again marveling at how nice Paylor was.
When I emerge, Gale is already in bed with the sheets pulled up to his chin. I slide
under the covers and he wraps his arm around me, pulling my back against his chest. The
bed is indescribably plush compared to the hard ground and flimsy cot weve been
sleeping on. I tug the sheets up to my neck and revel in the flowery fragrance that wafts
over me.
Hmm clean sheets, I mumble.
Hmm clean Katniss, Gale whispers in my ear.
I laugh and turn my head towards him. Hes right, though. Rather than the mix of
body odor and smoke that I normally get from him, I breathe in a gentle clean scent. Its
refreshing.
Much better, I agree and then drift off to sleep.
Light streaming through the window wakes me in the morning. I yawn and stretch
my legs.
Good morning, I hear from behind me.
Morning, I reply. I roll over as Gale scoots away from me. When he stands, I notice
that hes got nothing on but his boxers, which has become the norm since his brush with
hypothermia. Apparently, in Gales mind, that event broke down a boundary that had
existed between us before then.
I immediately turn back over. Didnt she get you any pajamas? I ask.
Nope. Unlike some people, she prefers me without pajamas.
And there it isthe inappropriate comment of the day designed to completely
embarrass me.
I pick up a pillow and throw it blindly in his direction.
Not even close, he tells me, as a dresser drawer bangs closed.
I hear him pad off to the bathroom, and then the shower starts. I move out to the
common area in search of breakfast, but stop when I pass the hallway to the bathroom.
The door is wide open, steam rolling into the hall. I shake my head at his increasingly
casual attitude towards modesty and discreetness.
I quickly avert my eyes and scramble into the common area. Haymitch is already up,
eating breakfast.
I join him and reach for a roll from the center of the table.
How you holding up? he asks gruffly.
Fine, I reply buttering my roll. I take a bite and am pleasantly surprised by the taste.
Its still not the old Capitol food, but its better than the flavorless, highly rationed food
from District 13 that Coin brought with her.
Whats going on with you and Gale? he asks.
I pause, roll halfway to my mouth. Nothing, I say quietly, dropping the roll, my
hunger having suddenly evaporated.
Hmm, he murmurs, but leaves the subject alone.
I notice another paper bag on the table. Whats that? I ask, pointing to it.
Shrugging his shoulders, he says, Someone dropped it off this morning. Said it was
from Paylor.
I reach across the table and pull it in front of me. Opening the bag, I see its the
toiletries Paylor promised yesterday, including a razor for Gale and nice pair of scissors.
Looks like she was serious about him cleaning up.
I close the bag and walk back to the bedroom to find Gale in the bathroom at the end
of the hallway, dressed only in a towel and standing in front of the sink.
More gifts from Paylor, I announce, holding up the bag.
What is it?
Razor, scissors, toothbrushes you know, luxury items, I say with a smile. I cross
into the bathroom and drop the bag on the counter. He opens it and pulls out the razor
and a canister of shaving cream.
Youre really going to shave off your beard?
Why? Do you like it?
I shrug. It could use a little grooming...
He coats his left hand with shaving cream and begins covering his face. Ill grow it
back after the hearing, he says turning his face upward and to the right, making sure his
neck has been fully lathered.
Is Haymitch up? he asks, running the razor up his neck.
I turn around, place my hands on the vanity, and then hoist myself onto the counter
so Im sitting facing him.
Yeah. He looks much better than yesterday.
I watch Gale methodically rid himself of all his facial hair. Although his beard had
gotten a little unruly, I know Im going to miss it. And his long hair. Theyre both part of
him. My memories of the past ten months have a bearded, long-haired Gale, not the one
slowly materializing before my eyes.
What do you think will happen at the hearing? he asks, interrupting my thoughts.
I sigh. Who knows? Hopefully we wont have to speak, though.
Youll do fine. Everyone loves the real you, not the manufactured Mockingjay. He
drops the razor on the counter and then splashes his face with water, phase one of the
transformation complete. He rinses the razor and holds it out to me. Would you like to
use this next?
Im good, thanks, I say absently.
He reaches down and lifts the bottom of my pajamas revealing my very hairy shin.
Really? he asks with a raised eyebrow.
I swat his hand away. Yes, really, I say with an exaggerated scowl.
He laughs and then pulls the scissors out of the bag. Clutching a handful of hair, he
starts chopping away haphazardly, leaving a ragged clump that sticks out awkwardly.
Alarmed, I grab his hand. What are you doing?
Paylor said I needed to cut my hair.
Yeah, cut it. Not hack at it!
He shrugs. Its not so bad.
My eyes grow wide.
Is it?
I nod.
He runs his fingers through the clump he just mangled, assessing the damage.
Hmm My mom always did this for me.
I grab the scissors from his hand. Sit, I order, pointing him towards the commode.
Ive never actually cut anybodys hair, but I watched my mom do my dads hundreds
of times. And surely I can do a better job than Gale.
I layer small pieces of hair between my fingers and run the scissors along the top of
my hand like my mother always did. Im afraid of taking off too much so I go slowly. But
after forty-five minutes and with a pile of wispy brown hair on the ground, Im pleased
with the final product. I left it a little longer on top so it still falls across his forehead and
curls over his ears. Paylor will just have to live with that.
Youre all set, I say, setting the scissors on the counter. He stands up next to me and
we both admire his reflection in the mirror. He turns his head to view different angles and
then finally smiles.
I like it. Thanks. Picking up the scissors, he turns towards me. Can I repay the
favor?
No! I say adamantly. My hair is fine.
Its getting kind of long
I pull my braid to the front. Hes rightits almost to my waist now. I wrinkle my
nose and contemplate what hes suggesting. Impulsively, I hold my braid out to him and
say, Do it quickly.
I was kidding! Im not cutting your hair! he says, looking alarmed.
No, youre right. Its too long. Just cut it straight across.


CHAPTER
THIRTY - THREE
REALLY? YOU WANT me to cut your hair?
Yes. Do it. I point to the base of my neck and say, Right here.
He gently holds my braid straight out behind me and raises the scissors. I bite my lip
as he opens the blades and places them around my hair.
Youre positive?
I nod, and then before I can even change my mind, a two-foot long piece of braided
brown hair lands on the floor. He runs his fingers through my remaining hair, unwinding
it and causing wavy locks to rest on my shoulders and frame my face.
I barely recognize the two people in the mirror. From the look on Gales face, Id say
he feels the same.
You dont like it? I ask, smoothing down stray pieces with my hand.
I wouldnt say that, he whispers.
What would you say?
He gulps. You look older.
Our eyes meet in the mirrorhis are intense and appraising.
I dont like the direction his mind seems to be going, so I try to make light of the
situation. Thats ridiculous. Its just hair.
Then, I pivot on my heel and rush out of the bathroom before Gale can say or do
anything else.
The next couple days go by slowly with our confinement to the twelfth floor. Other
than eating and sleeping, our only other option for activity is to watch the televised
campaign coverage. But after a day, were fully up to speed on the issues, where the
candidates stand on the issues, and how the voting process will be implemented. As
boredom sinks in, my mind inevitably wanders to thoughts of the hearing. I wish I could
be as confident as Gale that everything will work out perfectly fine.
And, to make matters even worse, the usual bickering between me and Gale has
escalated, probably due to the tedium of our days, my uneasiness about the hearing, and
the continuous electrical current that has been running between us for months. Ever since
we arrived at the Training Center, Gales had a less than modest attitudeleaving the
bathroom door open whenever hes in there, entering the bedroom wearing only a towel,
holding my hand whenever we happen to be within a few feet of each otherbut hes
becoming even more cavalier now. Hes started running his fingers through my short
hair, stepping up behind me and wrapping his arms around my waist while I brush my
teeth, kissing my forehead when he tells me goodnight. Whenever I grumble about his
lack of humility or pull away from his touch, he provides no reaction whatsoever. Hes
not embarrassed, hes not angry, hes not sorry. All of his affectionate contact is doing
nothing for my steadfast resolve.
Im thankful when the morning of our hearing finally arrives. Haymitch shows up as
promised and leads us down the elevator to the foyer of the Training Center. When the
doors open, were met by two armed guards standing motionless across from us.
What are they doing here? I ask Haymitch, angrily.
You have more important things to worry about, he says, pulling me to the front
door. The guards follow closely behind us.
They have us under surveillance?! I thought you said things would be different!
Well, you two did assassinate the President. You didnt think thered be no security,
did you?
Lets focus, Katniss. Anything we need to know or do? Gale asks Haymitch
nervously, reaching for my hand. This is the first sign of apprehension Ive seen from
him. Maybe hes finally realizing what a bad idea this was.
As we cross the small space between the Training Center and the Presidents
Mansion, Haymitch looks at our intertwined hands and replies, Yeah, no hand holding.
No kissing. No mushy stuff. Everyone still thinks youre cousins. And, most of them are
still grieving over the whole star-crossed lovers thing and what happened to Peeta.
I inwardly recoil at his comment. By the implication of what hes saying. Does he
really think Im not grieving anymore? That I dont think about Peeta every single day?
Gale drops my hand and says, Got it.
Haymitch glares at me, And itd be great if you could grow your hair back in the next
fifteen minutes!
No one cares about my hair! I snap back at him, but the look on his face tells me it
has him concerned.
When we circle around to the front of the Presidents mansion, Im shocked by the
sight. There are throngs of screaming people lining the steps, the sidewalk, even the road.
Media vans have pulled onto the grass. Under shade tents, news reporters hold
microphones and read from teleprompters as cameramen record them.
The crowd begins chanting, Set them free! Set them free!
Along the sidewalk, people have signs painted with sayings like Katniss for
President! or The Mockingjay saved our country! My favorite is Justice for Peeta! If I
werent so scared by the sheer volume of people and out of control situation, I might
actually find their support heartwarming.
Other people have cameras and are snapping photos of us as we push our way along
the sidewalk. Haymitch grips my shoulder firmly and pulls me alongside him as he
elbows his way through the masses. Every few seconds, I check behind me to make sure
Gale is keeping up. He smiles whenever our eyes meet, but I can see the fear in them. Hes
finally worried about how all of this will end.
When we step through the doors of the mansion, its like weve entered another
world. A sane, quiet world. The guards close the doors behind us and I lean against the
wall to calm my nerves. Gale stands in front of me.
You okay?
I nod. You?
He nods back.
After a few minutes, another guard leads us up the grand staircase to the floor above.
We walk along the entire length of the mansion to the opposite end, and then he opens a
massive wooden door for us. Haymitch walks in first, followed by me, and then Gale. The
room is already full and everyone turns to us as the heavy door slams shut. Silence falls
over the room, immediately followed by hushed whispers. Looking straight ahead, I
follow Haymitch up the blue-carpeted aisle to a table and chairs at the front of the room.
This is where you two will sit.
I pull out one of the chairs and take a seat. Gale joins me.
Ill be right behind you, Haymitch, says pointing to an empty seat only a few feet
away.
I nod, and then look to the collection of chairs on our right. Theyre currently empty,
but must be where the jury will sit. I place my hands on my lap and notice theyre
shaking. Gales foot is tapping. I close my eyes and take a couple deep breaths.
The sound of wood scraping on wood causes my eyes to snap open. A plump, middle-
aged man with salt and pepper hair is seated behind the desk at the front of the room. The
crowd behind us falls silent immediately.
Good morning, the man says. Im Art Grimbel, the Chief Justice Officer. Ill be
presiding over this hearing.
He then goes into a long-winded explanation of the purpose of the hearing and asks
Gale and I to confirm that we understand our convictions and why were here today.
Twenty minutes later, he finally allows the jury to enter.
They file in one by one through a back door. I look at each persons eyes to try and get
some sense of what theyre thinking. A few people meet my gaze and smile shyly, others
blush and glance away. Two men narrow their eyes and flare their nostrils. The
nervousness I felt earlier is only intensified after that. What if Haymitch was wrong?
What if we dont just get a slap on the wrist?
As soon as all ten jurors are seated, Grimbel begins summarizing our earlier trial. At
key points, he plays video footage of the actual trial and we get a glimpse of what was
going on here while we were trudging a thousand miles through the woods. If I had to do
it all over again, Id still opt for the trudging.
After an hour, I begin to lose focus. The big words and legal terminology are too
much, so I concentrate on the jury instead. Theyre all watching Grimbel intently. A
woman in the front row is leaning forward in her seat, her arms on her knees. I cant help
but wonder what shes thinking.
I warn you, what you are about to see is graphic and disturbing. Grimbels words
surprise me. I look back at him and then the video monitor.
It shows the door to Coins office. And then me and Peeta entering the office. I gasp,
realizing what were going to be forced to watch.
Close your eyes, Gale whispers from beside me.
I want to, but I cant. Im like a moth attracted to a light bulb on a dark night. I know
the damage this is going to cause, but I cant look away.
The scene seems to play in slow motion. The conversation I had with Coin. That brief
moment when I looked back at Peeta and she grabbed the gun. My body flying through
the air, trying to protect him. The bullet landing in his chest. His body crumbling to the
floor. Me scurrying over to him. My anguish as I realized what happened. My tortured
cries. Gale and Avery entering the office. And eventually, Gale carrying me away as a
crying heap.
My face remains emotionless the entire time. I wont allow all these people, all the
people throughout the country watching this on television, to get a glimpse into my soul.
To see what this has done to me. But, unfortunately, no amount of resolve can stop the
silent tears from falling. I continue staring straight ahead, as I feel the drops roll down my
cheek and onto my shirt. I dont wipe them away, I dont move a muscle.
Gales hand finds mine under the table and he gives me a quick, supportive squeeze.
Lets take a break, Grimbel says once the video footage turns to static. Meet back
here in ten minutes.
Gale turns towards me and puts his elbows on the table. Are you okay?
I dont answer him. I continue staring straight ahead, sitting absolutely still. Im afraid
any movement, any words will open a dam that Ive effectively constructed over the past
few months.
Haymitch appears at the front of the table and looks at me with his head cocked to the
side. She okay? he asks Gale.
I dont think so. He leans over, turns my chair towards him, and then wraps his
arms around my back, pressing my head into his chest.
Haymitch sucks in a loud breath.
Its fine, cousins can hug each other! Gale whispers to him through clenched teeth.
When Gale finally lets me go, I catch a glimpse of the jurors. Half of them are
watching us. But its not scorn playing out on their faces, its sympathy. Im not sure why,
but that little realization helps me regain my composure. Its almost like were on the
same team, like theyre hurting right alongside me. In fact, one woman pulls a tissue out
of her purse and dabs the corner of her eye. She then calls a guard over and whispers
something to him while handing him another tissue. He brings it to me and drops it on
the table. I glance at the woman who is now pretending to be preoccupied with the hem
of her shirt.
Gale senses the shift in my mood. It will be easier from here on out.
Maybe, I say. Depending on what sentence they deliver.
He doesnt answer, letting me know he shares my fear.
But the rest of the day is easier, as Gale predicted. Cressida, Renel, Haymitch, and
even Tallis speak on our behalf and ask for leniency. Im somewhat surprised Paylor
doesnt, but then again, Im sure she doesnt want to risk her chances of becoming
President. Grimbel also shows the video of us in the arena. Although I still harbor some
resentment because I wasnt the one who killed Coin, watching Gale do it on the video
does provide me with an immense sense of satisfaction.
By late afternoon Grimbel informs us that its time for the jury to deliberate. They
walk out of the room the same way they entered. Grimbel follows them, leaving me and
Gale alone at the front of the room. I turn around and see the spectators filing out the
back door
Haymitch is still seated. Want to go back to the Training Center? Its no telling how
long theyll be.
I shake my head. I cant image working our way through the massive crowd right
now. Instead, Gale and I walk to one of the large windows on the side of the room and sit
on the wide ledge, half facing each other. From here we can just barely see the mob
outside and the media frenzy thats ensuing. Im sure one of those reporters is currently
describing my reaction to the video of Peeta being killed. Soon the whole country will
know.
Were alone in the room except for Haymitch, so Gale rests his hand on my thigh. I
cover his hand with my own, thankful for his presence. We offer each other sad smiles,
but say nothing.
A little while later, Tallis brings us food, but Gale and I only pick at it, neither of us
having much of an appetite. Its beginning to get dark outside and were reconsidering
heading back to the Training Center when Grimbel finally emerges from the door at the
front of the room.
They jury is ready, he informs us. Ill let the media know that well reconvene in
fifteen minutes. If hes aware of their decision, he gives nothing away.
Those fifteen minutes are torture. Knowing that our fate has been decided by other
people and we can do nothing about it is simply unbearable. Im just hopeful that with the
amount of support weve seen today, things will go in our favor.
Finally, the room is full again with spectators, Grimbel, and the jurors. Grimbel calls
the room to attention and then introduces the head juror, a middle-aged women with
short, curly blond hair and wire-rimmed glasses.
She clears her throat and holds a piece of paper in front of her. Her cheeks are red and
she looks anxious, which makes me even more nervous. Reading from the paper, she says,
We the jury, sentence Katniss Everdeen Her voice squeaks. She takes a deep breath
and starts again. We the jury, sentence Katniss Everdeen to forty hours of service to her
country. She looks up from the paper and smiles at me.
The room behind me erupts in thunderous applause and cheers.
Community service. Thats it! Haymitch was right. I exhale loudly and cover my face
with my hands. I spread my fingers and look at Gale, whos beaming.
You can go home, I whisper.
We can go home, he corrects me.
I cringe slightly at his words, as Grimbel raises his voice. Quiet, please! Quiet!
After a few moments, the clamor dies down and he continues. And the sentence for
Gale Hawthorne?
The head jurors cheeks become even redder, and she clears her throat again. The
jury was unable to reach a unanimous decision and would like to reconvene deliberations
tomorrow morning.
Grimbel nods assent and says, Very well. This concludes todays session. Have a
good night everyone.
I sit paralyzed in my chair. Gales sentence isnt the same as mine? It hasnt been
decided? What does that mean? I search frantically through the jurors faces, trying to
make sense of it. But no one will meet my eyes. Even those who have been kind since first
thing this morning. Panic sets in. I suddenly realize theres a very real chance that Gales
sentence could be much worse than mine.


CHAPTER
THIRTY - FOUR
NO! I SHOUT, jumping up from my chair. I sprint to the door where the jurors have just
started leaving the room.
Give me his sentence! He can do the forty hours of service! I yell. My whole plan has
been to get Gale back to a normal life, but this jury is going to ruin that if they send him
to prison. I can go to prison. Its not like I had much of a plan anyway.
The jurors stare at me in shock. Maybe fear. Theyre frozen in their spots, hesitant to
move.
Please, I say, moving from one to the next, hoping someone will take pity on me.
Please, Ill take his sentence!
Suddenly, strong arms wrap around my waist and drag me to the middle of the room.
The jurors exchange nervous glances and then scurry out the door. I tilt my head to see
whos restraining me. Its one of the guards who has been sitting in the corner of the
room all day. At least I gave him something to finally do.
Sorry, Ms. Everdeen, he says amicably. But we cant have you scaring the jurors.
Once everyone has cleared the room besides me, Haymitch, and Gale, the guard lets
me go and apologizes again.
Feel better after your little outburst? Gale asks, rolling his eyes as he stands up.
No, I grumble.
I appreciate the sentiment, but I dont need you to take my sentence.
I walk over to the window to assess the number of people still outside. Its a large
group, but appears to be dwindling. We should be able to leave in a few minutes.
I turn back to Gale and Haymitch, who is still sitting, rubbing his forehead like he has
an enormous headache.
I thought we were getting the same sentence. How can they do this? I ask.
Well, I was convicted of murder. You were only convicted of accessory to murder.
Pretty big difference, Gale explains like hes talking to a child.
What? I ask with confusion.
Did you not listen to anything Grimbel said today?! Hes becoming exasperated
with me.
I caught things here and there, I say to defend myself when in all actuality, I paid
very little attention. At the time, it didnt seem like it mattered.
I focus on Haymitch. Why didnt you tell us this? You made it seem like we were a
package deal!
He shrugs. I didnt expect it to play out like this.
Didnt expect it to play out like this?! Gale could end up in prison! When it should be
me! I was supposed to kill Coin, not him!
I shift my furious glare from Haymitch to Gale and then back to Haymitch. Neither of
them says anything.
I clench my fists in anger and look out the window again. The crowd has thinned
substantially. Im sure its only a matter of minutes before my crazed outburst will be
shown throughout the districts, if it hasnt already aired.
Ready to go? Gale asks softly from behind me.
I turn and walk down the aisle toward the door, not bothering to see if either of them
follows. After stomping through the hallway and down the stairs, I open the main door to
the mansion and am met by a flurry of flashes. I shield my face and aggressively push my
way through the masses, not caring what they think anymore. I pick up speed until Im
sprinting across the lawn. A few photographers keep pace with me and try to snag
another photo as I stop to open the door of the Training Center.
Are you going to follow me inside, too?! I lash out at them angrily. They shrink
back, and I groan, realizing this will not help the situation. I yank open the doors and take
the very familiar trip up to the twelfth floor, by myself this time.
I go immediately to the bedroom, change into my pajamas, and fall onto the bed, still
fuming.
A few minutes later, Gale enters the room and lies down next to me. I stare at the
ceiling.
Its going to be okay, he says.
Really? You dont mind spending the rest of your life in a prison cell?
It probably wouldnt be for the rest of my life. Maybe a few years.
I turn on my side so Im facing him. Why are you taking this so lightly?
Why are you taking this so hard? he counters. Frankly, Im surprised to see how
much you care, he adds with a smile.
Your life shouldnt be over because of me!
It wont be over, he says quietly, reaching for my hand.
After a few moments, he continues, Does this mean youll wait for me if Im
incarcerated? Youre not going to find another guy while Im stuck there?
Hes trying to be funny, but Im not in the mood for it. I scowl in his direction.
He drops my hand and moves to the edge of the bed to unlace his boots. You know,
he continues, This could be my last night as a free man for a long time.
I watch him out of the corner of my eye. He lifts his shirt over his head and throws it
on top of the dresser. Then he reaches down and unbuttons his pants. So, we should
probably make the most of it, dont you think? I dont look away, like I normally do,
when he steps one leg and then the other out of his pants.
How did things end up like this? Gales life could essentially be over because of his
stupid decision to help me. Even if hes not sentenced to prison, I plan on leaving him,
knowing it will break his heart. Either way, he loses. How I can I do that to him? Am I
really that callous? But what is the alternative? Unfortunately, thats the easiest question
to answergive in to what he wants. Commit to him. Forever.
Gale crawls back into bed and cups my chin with his hand. Whats going on in that
head of yours?
You dont want to know, I murmur.
He lowers his face so that his lips are mere inches from mine. I think I do.
I gaze into his gray eyes and know that Ive already made the decision. I hook my
hands in his hair and pull his lips to mine. The effect on my body is immediateall the
restraint Ive had the last few months dissolves, leaving me wanting and eager. He shifts
his weight so hes poised above me, balancing on his elbows. My heartbeat becomes
irregular, my breathing shallow. I deepen our kiss, trying to quench the insatiable need
that is building inside of me.
My fingers move on their own. Exploring every part of his body. Every part that has
teased and tempted me for the past few months. They move down his neck, over the well-
defined contours of his chest and abdomen, and then around his waist to the scars
crisscrossing his back. He groans deep in his throat and lowers his body on top of mine. I
gasp as the weight and heat of him sends a shiver down by spine.
I feel his lips curl into a smile.
Why did you make me wait so long? he whispers into my ear.
I gulp as he nibbles on my earlobe and then traces gentle kisses down my neck to my
collarbone. He follows the curves of my body, his fingers trailing behind his lips.
My legs wrap around his, trying to pull him even closer. My back arches, inviting him
in. He greedily accepts the hollow at the base of my throat and then moves his lips lower,
his fingers gently pulling my tank top out of the way.
My fingers dig into his back as a scorching heat in my belly begins to flood the rest of
my body. He lifts his head and grips my face between his hands.
I. Love. You, he says, punctuating each word and boring his eyes into mine.
My body reflexively tenses at his words. I try to turn my head, but he holds me steady,
forcing me to look at him. His eyes, which were dark with passion only seconds ago, have
turned cloudy, allowing me to see the full depth of his pain. I inwardly chastise myself for
my reaction. I curl my fingers around his hair and pull his face to mine, trying to erase the
damage I've caused. I tug eagerly on his lips, but he doesn't respond.
Gale, I whisper. Kiss me please.
He pushes himself up on one elbow and regards me quizzically. I grab his arm and try
to pull him back on top of me, but he doesnt move. Instead, he says, I think we should
revisit this when youre not so emotional.
What? I ask breathlessly.
I dont want our first time to be out of anger or guilt or whatever it is youre feeling
right now.
Right now Im feeling a lot of things but anger and guilt are not on the list. Okay, if
Im honest with myself theyre on the list, but very low on the list, under a lot of other,
more urgent feelings.
I sit up and try kissing him again. I trace my fingers along his chest, over his
abdomen, but he doesnt respond. I run my hand along the top of his boxershe draws in
sharply, but doesnt make any attempt to rekindle what we had a few moments ago.
I flop back onto the bed in defeat.
Sorry to disappoint, he says with a smirk, lying down next to me.
I roll away from him, but he sidles up right behind me and pushes my short hair off
my neck. He kisses my shoulder and then drapes his arm over my waist in our normal
sleeping position. You know, I could get used to this new side of you, Catnip.
I lock my fingers around his and pull them to my belly. He slides ours hands upwards,
under my shirt, and Im momentarily optimistic that hes changed his mind. But then he
stops at the base of my ribs. I sigh. He laughs.
Eventually, my heart rate slows and Im able drift off to sleep.
The next morning, Gale wakes me by kissing my cheek, eliciting a deluge of memories
from the night before. I was so willing to commit to him last night. Do I still feel that way
today? Do I have a choice now? As hard as leaving him would have been before, it will be
nearly impossible now. I broke my rule. I gave him hope.
I decide to put that topic on hold as the memory of the more pressing issue
resurfacesGales sentencing. I roll towards him and notice that hes glowing.
You shouldnt look so happy. This could be the end of your life.
Dont be so dramatic, he says and then kisses me squarely on the lips.
Apparently, in Gales mind, weve broken through another boundary and he can kiss
me wherever, whenever he wants. Because, of course, in his mind were together now. In
his mind, I hurdled that boundary first and at full speed, clearing it like a top-notch
athlete. I take a deep breath.
Hmm you were a little more receptive last night, he muses.
I lightly kiss him back. Sorry, Ive got a lot on my mind right now.
He climbs out of bed. Im taking a shower. Care to join me?
I feel the blood rushing to my cheeks. Um I think Ill pass, I finally mumble.
Thanks, though.
He grabs my arm and drags me across the bed so Im right next to where hes
standing. Leaning over, he kisses me again, lingering a bit longer and causing my heart
rate to ratchet up a couple notches.
Are you sure I cant change your mind. This could be my last hour as a free man.
I roll my eyes. Youve already used that one.
He laughs and saunters to the bathroom, happier than Ive ever seen him. Much
happier than he should be given the news were waiting to hear.
Once were both showered and dressed for the day, we wait in the common room for
word that the deliberation is complete. We turned on the television at first, but quickly
found all the stations had switched from campaign coverage to our hearing. After Gale
got another good chuckle at me harassing the jurors, I turned it off.
Weve been sitting in silence for three hours now. At least four times an hour, Gale
gets up, paces between the couch and the window for a couple minutes, and then sits
down next to me again and holds my hand.
After his most recent excursion around the room, he says Maybe we should just go
over there.
Youd rather sit in that awful room than here?
What if they forgot to call us? Maybe its already been decided and we just didnt
hear about it.
Im sure theyll figure out a way to let us know.
Maybe its on the TV. Can we turn it back on?
I groan. If they show me again, Im turning it off immediately, I warn.
Just as I press the power button, the elevator dings. We both spring to our feet. My
palms are sweating, my stomach is churning, my mouth is completely dry. The
anticipation is like a thick fog of noxious fumes, threatening to suffocate me.
Finally, the doors open and Haymitch steps out.
So? Gale and I ask at the same time.
He holds his hands up in front of him. I dont know their decision. All I know is
theyre announcing it in half an hour. We need to head over there now. That is if you can
manage to keep your composure today, sweetheart.
I scowl at him, and then we all board the elevator. The trip over is similar to the day
before, although I get the impression that the journalists are giving us a slightly wider
berth, probably afraid Im going to snap at any moment. When we enter the Cabinets
chamber, I follow Gale to the front, but Haymitch grabs my arm.
Not so fast. Youre sitting with me today.
I glance to Gale anxiously.
Dont worry. Ill be fine, he says.
When were both seated, he turns his chair around and leans towards me. I follow his
lead. Placing his mouth against my ear, he whispers, If this turns out badly, wait for me
where I shot the doe. Do you remember that bluff?
I nod.
Take the backpack and grab any other supplies you can get. Make sure no one
follows you. Ill meet you as soon as I can.
I nod again, but my throat constricts. Despite his fairly confident exterior, hes just as
afraid as I am. He has to know theres no way hell be able to escape, though. Theyll have
guards watching him all the time. Hell never get the opportunity to slip away. Hell
probably be taken into custody today. Right after the sentence is read. My stomach drops
as that realization hits. He may be taken away from me forever in just a few minutes. My
hands begin shaking. Gale brushes my leg lightly and then turns around. I close my eyes
and concentrate on taking slow, deep breaths.
A few moments later, Grimbel enters the room and welcomes everyone back.
Looking directly at me from above the rim of his glasses, he says,Ms. Everdeen. We are
happy to have you here today; however, should you feel the urge to have another outburst
like yesterday, you will be removed from the premises. Do you understand?
Feeling like a reprimanded schoolchild, I nod solemnly. Gales shoulders bob up and
down in front of me and I know hes laughing. I fight the urge to kick his chair.
Grimbel continues to make a few more announcements. The whole time my
nervousness escalates. I look down in shock at my foot tapping on the floor. Its in perfect
time with Gales foot a few feet in front of me. I slam my hand on my knee to stop it, but
my shaking palm and twitching fingers are too distracting. Instead I wrap my arms
around my chest and let my foot tap rhythmically with Gales. Haymitch sighs loudly at
my side, but I ignore him.
Finally, the guard opens the door and the jurors march to their seats. The head juror
stands and pulls out her sheet of paper.
We the jury sentence Gale Hawthorne to 200 hours of service to his country.
I cant believe it. Community service. Thats it. All that worry for nothing. I cover my
mouth with my hands. Haymitch squeezes my shoulder. Gale turns around and smiles at
me. The immense sense of relief is liberating. I feel like a hundred pound weight has been
lifted from my back. Gales life is not over because of me.
After Grimbels closing comments, the spectators slowly begin milling around the
room. A few news crews approach us, but Haymitch successfully sidetracks them so we
dont have to be on camera. I want to talk to Gale, but theres a constant stream of people
approaching us to tell us how brave we were, how proud they are of us, how sorry they
are about Peeta. After twenty minutes, Im about ready to just walk away from everyone
when I recognize a face in the line. I excuse myself and approach Cressida.
Thank you, I say simply. Im not sure where wed be today without her.
No, thank you. For everything you did for our country.
You know I had a selfish motive.
She smiles. I dont believe that was your only motive. Youre a good person.
Sorry to interrupt. An authoritative voice sounds behind me.
Cressida nods politely and bids us farewell. I turn around to find Paylor standing
there.
We need to talk, Katniss, she says, guiding me towards the door. In private.


CHAPTER
THIRTY - FIVE
I FOLLOW PAYLOR out of the room and into a nearby stairwell. Its small and musty-
smelling, like it hasnt been properly aired out or cleaned in years. When Paylor shuts the
door, I blink a few times, trying to adjust to the relative darkness. A few stray beams of
light filter through the opening in the center of the stairwell allowing me to slowly begin
to make out details. The banister is metal, very functional, not ornate like the rest of the
mansion. The walls are unpainted cinderblock. I look to my left at the flight of stairs
going down and notice theyre wooden and look very old, each step covered in a thick
layer of dust.
Suddenly, Im nervous. Ive never felt threatened by Paylor, but being alone with her
in this place that is clearly never used is a little unsettling. I turn back to face her and find
shes holding her chin between her thumb and forefinger, as if contemplating where to
start.
Im happy the hearing turned out so favorably for you and Gale, she finally says,
completely surprising me.
Um, thanks, I reply, shifting uneasily from one foot to the other.
I hope you realize how lucky you are, she continues. How lucky Gale is.
I nod.
You know he has great potential, dont you? She folds her arm across her chest.
I nod again, suddenly wary of where this conversation is headed.
Hes a natural leader. Would make one hell of a politician.
I swallow, trying to clear the lump that is forming in my throat.
Had he been incarcerated, theres no way he could have come back from that. As it
is, its going to be an incredibly difficult uphill battle for him to restore his reputation. Do
you understand what Im saying, Katniss?
I nod. Shes clearly blaming me for everything and wants me to fully realize how close
I came to ruining his life. Like I need her to tell me thatI think the same thing every
day.
She continues, I want him on my campaign. The polls look good; Ill likely be the
next President. That should help him. Give him the exposure he needs.
I have no doubt shell be the next President, and Im not at all surprised she wants
Gale by her side.
She tilts her head, studying my reaction.
Why are you telling me this? I ask. Seems like Gale is the one who needs to hear it,
not me.
A wry smile spreads across her face. Yes, one would think that. Unfortunately, your
influence over him is a bit hmm shall we say, all encompassing?
I recoil at her words, not quite sure what shes insinuating.
Youre a bad influence, she says simply, presumably to help me understand.
Youre mistaken, I say, suddenly defensive. I dont tell him what to do.
No, but he makes bad decision after bad decision whenever youre around.
Bad decisions like following me to the arena.
Do you really want to be responsible for causing any more damage to Gales life?
she asks.
Her words slice through my heart. I know shes right. Hes lucky he wasnt killed by
Coin or one of the guards. Hes lucky he doesnt have to live a secluded and isolated life in
the woods. Hes lucky hes not being taken into custody right now. But things should get
better. Were essentially free. He can go wherever he wants. Do whatever he wants.
I wont cause any more damage, I say too forcefully, but Im not sure whether its to
convince myself or Paylor.
She smiles. Sounds like were on the same page, then. Abruptly, she changes the
subject. Where are you doing your service requirement?
I-I dont know.
How would you like to visit your mother in District 4? Volunteer at the hospital
where she works? Ive already called hershes very excited to see you.
I swallow around the lump that is growing even larger. Okay.
And Gale can volunteer on my campaign.
He wont stay without me, I say quietly.
Im sure you can find the right words to convince him she says, tightening her lips
slightly. Because we all just want whats best for Gale, right? Give him the chance to get
his life back in order. A successful career. A family.
I stare at her impassively.
Or are you ready for that Katniss? Have you already moved on from Peeta after such
a short time?
Her words hit hardgo straight to that permanent void in my chest. Shes right.
What have I been doing? How did I kiss Gale last night? She knows that Ill never be able
to love Gale the way he deserves to be loved.
Do you think youll be able to convince him to stay? she asks.
I nod numbly. I just need to get out of the suffocating stairwell. Away from her
probing eyes.
Are you sure?
Yes, I finally answer in a hoarse whisper. Smiling, she opens the door and leads us
back into the hallway where people are milling around, still excited about the outcome of
the hearing.
She looks over her shoulder at me, Oh, by the way, a helicopter is waiting for you
outside the Training Center. Dont be long.
I jerk to a stop. I need time to think about how Im going to break this to Gale. What
Ill say. How Ill handle the pain Im going to cause him. Theres no way I can leave right
now.
A warm hand presses against the small of my back and then Gale is at my side, our
shoulders touching.
Whered you and Paylor go? he asks, watching her walk away from us, shaking
hands and smiling as she passes people in the crowd.
She wanted to talk to me. Tell me how happy she was things turned out well, I say in
a monotone, not quite believing what Im about to do to him.
He cocks his head to the side, inspecting my face. He knows theres more to the story,
but apparently chooses to ignore it for now.
I thought we could go back to the Training Center and celebrate our new found
freedom, he says, with that suggestive smirk of his.
I nod because we need to get out of here. Get alone so I can break the news to him.
He leans in to me and brushes my hair from my face. His lips caress my ear as he
whispers, I promise I wont disappoint you today.
That comment breaks my concentration and causes blood to rush to my cheeks. He
smiles at my reaction, before leading us down the hallway. We pass Paylor and I see the
scorn brewing in her eyes. She knows I havent told him yet.
As soon as were in the elevator at the Training Center, his lips find mine, taking me
by surprise. I respond without thinking.
He cradles the back of my head with his hands and pushes me against the wall with
his body. His fingers begin moving down my neck, over my shoulders. Then they stop at
the top button of my shirt.
I pause, the rationale part of my brain finally taking control again. Gale, we need to
talk.
We can talk later, he whispers, undoing the first button and moving down to the
second.
I gulp and know I have to fight the intense feelings washing over me. As much as I
want to, I cant let this happen. I have to listen to Paylor.
Gale, really, theres something I need to say.
It can wait. He nuzzles my neck.
The elevator stops, dinging as the doors slide open. He moves his hands down to meet
mine and walks backward into the common area pulling me with him.
I take a deep breath. I need to tell you about my conversation with Paylor.
Thats what you want to talk about? That can definitely wait, he says, turning
around, dropping one of my hands and pulling me towards the bedroom by the other.
No, its important.
It cant be as important as what I have in mind.
He stops when we pass through the threshold of the bedroom and kicks the door
closed.
Now where were we? he asks, his fingers reaching for my buttons again. I grab his
hand and hold it steady against my chest.
Paylors arranged for me to do my community service in District 4. At the hospital
where my mother works.
That was very kind of her, he says, kissing my cheek.
I nod.
When do we go? His warm lips continue to press against my face, moving closer
and closer to my mouth.
I gulp. Today, I whisper.
Hmm, he murmurs, his free hand sliding up my neck.
I go today, I say more forcefully. Immediately, actually. The helicopter is waiting.
He freezes and stares at me with piercing eyes. Im coming with you.
He drops his hands and moves to the dresser. He begins frantically pulling clothes out
of drawers and piling them into the backpack.
Gale, stop, I say quietly.
He ignores me and continues stuffing clothes into the bag even though its apparent
theres no way everything will fit.
Gale, please, lets talk about this.
He finally stops and turns to me, his distress apparent.
Are you trying to leave me? he asks accusingly.
Its just
Yes? Please explain it because I sure dont understand! His voice is rising.
Its complicated
No. Its really not. I love you. You feel something for me. Usually, thats enough
for a relationship!
Its not that simple.
What the hell are you talking about?! Yes, it is. Our lives are finally simple. No ones
threatening you. Were free. We can go home! He bangs a drawer shut and moves on to
the next one. This is what weve been hoping for! And now you dont want it? Youre just
going to run away from me when things are finally going our way? He slams the drawer
without having pulled anything out. Sometimes I think Ill never understand you!
I sit on the bed quietly, while he begins pacing in front of me, his face becoming red
with anger.
After three trips across the room, he finally breaks the tense silence. Whats your
plan? Stay in District 4?
I shrug my shoulders. I dont know. I havent really made a plan beyond the next
week or so.
Do you want to live in our little cabin? Is that the problem? You dont want to go
back to the district?
Maybe, I admit honestly.
With or without me?
I bite my lip. Of course I want him there, but Paylors words echo through my mind.
WITH OR WITHOUT ME?! he screams, causing me to cringe. His eyes dart
around the room. Hes agitated and angry. Very angry.
I-I dont know."
And when do you think you will know? he asks with contempt.
Please dont be mad at me. Im trying to help you, I say quietly. I dont want to hurt
you. I dont want to ruin the rest of your life. You have promise. You could have a great
future. You could find a nice woman who can give you what you need.
He rubs his eyes and groans. You know I dont want anyone but you! And what kind
of future could I possibly have if youre not by my side?!
No, Gale, please. You said you didnt have expectations.
Im so tired of this Katniss! He throws the backpack on the bed. I see the way you
look at me. The way you reacted to me last night! I know how you feel because I feel the
same way. The only difference is that you refuse to let yourself be happy. If someone else
isnt creating turmoil in our lives, you have to manufacture it for us!
No, I refuse to hurt you! I scream back at him, clenching my fists at my side.
And youre doing a stellar job of that! he spits out. He punches the wall, leaving a
large dent in the drywall, which causes me to flinch. Weve spent practically every
moment of the last year together. Weve seen the best and the worst in each other, and I
am sure, surer than Ive ever been about anything else, that I want to be with you for the
rest of my life. Youre telling me you dont feel the same?
I watch him with a blank face, willing myself not to break down. He stares at me for
what feels like minutes as his face transforms from anger to disbelief.
Good to know. So, what? We say our goodbyes and go our separate ways?
I remain silent. He continues staring at me until I can no longer meet his eyes.
Okay, then. Goodbye. Have a fantastic life, Katniss, he says slowly, fury seeping into
each word. Then the door slams, and I wonder if Ill ever see Gale again.


CHAPTER
THIRTY - SIX
ITS BEEN FOUR days since I left Gale. Luckily, during the day, Im busy with my volunteer
work at the hospital, so I dont have much time to think about what I did. Thats where I
am right now, scrubbing dirty plate after dirty plate. Im grateful to Paylor for at least
arranging my service to take place in the cafeteria, rather than the patient wards. Im not
sure I couldve dealt with sick and injured patients for a week.
Of course, dealing with my coworkers is another story. The hushed whispers started
the minute I walked through the door and havent let up since. I try to ignore them the
best I can, but Im beginning to lose my patience with these people.
Can you hand me the detergent, please? I ask Lyndi, a young brunette who seems to
be the ringleader of the gossipers.
She holds the bottle out to me above the metal barrier between our sinks, but
continues grasping it as I try to pull it away.
I heard you killed one of Coins guards with your bare hands, she says, her eyes
wide. Did you?
No. I pull the bottle harder and she lets go.
Is your own mother really afraid of you?
No.
Is it true you and your cousin had an illegitimate child while you were living in the
woods?
I glare at her. No, I say with as much vehemence as I can put into a two-letter word.
Thats too bad, she says, turning to the other girls. Id sure be willing to have his
baby. They all laugh like shes the funniest person in the world.
I fight the urge to spray her with the hose. Instead, I say, Sorry, youre not his type.
For some reason, gangly, catty, and loathsome doesnt really do it for him.
I step to the row of sinks on the other side of the room. I dont bother looking behind
me, but by the silence, Im assuming I struck a nerve. The rest of the day is blissfully quiet.
No more inane questions and no more whispering. Perhaps I shouldve insulted Lyndi
earlier.
Once my shift is over, I head back to my mothers house. I really wish I could work
around the clock because its in the evenings when feelings of guilt begin to consume me.
Katniss? my mother asks from the kitchen when I open the front door.
Yes.
Are you hungry? Ive made dinner.
No. I turn left down the hall, intent on changing out of my uniform and then
retreating to the woods, like I do every night.
But as soon as I slide my arms through my hunting jacket, my mother is standing at
the doorway to my room.
Please join me for dinner, she says quietly. Weve barely talked since youve been
here.
Sadness makes the wrinkles of her face appear even deeper. Shes been trying to work
on our relationship ever since I arrived, but I keep pushing her away. Ive never relied on
her for anything, and I dont need her now. All I need is some time alone in the woods.
Im kind of busy, I say, lacing up my boots.
Weve got enough game to feed us for a week.
She walks across the room and reaches for my hands. I tense at her contact.
Im worried about you. Are you okay, Katniss?
Her words cause my head to snap up. Ive always been the strong one. The one who
can get through anything. The one who kept our family alive when she was weak and
incapable.
Where are you going after fulfilling your service requirement? she asks.
I pull my hands from hers. I dont know. I grab my bow from the closet. Ill be
home late, I say walking towards the door, intentionally ignoring her sigh.
As soon as I enter the forest, I take a deep breath and try to relax. These woods are
somewhat calming, but they definitely arent my woods. The trees are differentconifers,
not the deciduous maples, oaks, and poplars Im used to. Plus every surface is green; the
grounds littered with ferns, the tree trunks are covered in moss, and even the rocks are
coated with feathery green lichen.
Like usual, I stay out as long as I possibly can. But when the sun sinks below the
horizon and the fireflies begin flitting in front of me, I know I need to return before
twilight turns to night. I walk slowly, my dread increasing with each step because Im well
aware of whats in store for me.
As predicted, tonight is no different than any of the others. Without Gale by my side,
I havent been able to sleep more than a couple hours a night. I wake up screaming and
theres no one around to comfort me. Even more disturbing is the fact that my
nightmares have changed. While I still have, and will probably forever have visions of
indescribable torture inflicted onto me or Peeta at the hands of Snow, Coin, or various
muttations, its the nightmares involving Gale that hurt the most now.
Thats the nightmare I had tonight. There were no words or sounds in that dream,
just Gales grief stricken face when he realized I was leaving. Im still breathing heavily
when I hear a sound outside my room. The hall light turns on and I see the shadows of
feet in the small gap under the door. I expect my mother to enter the room, but she stays
out there, in the hallway. After a few minutes, the light turns off and she disappears.
I take a few deep breaths and try to fall back asleep, but I know its futile. All I can
think of is how much I hate myself for the pain Ive caused Gale, especially after
everything he did for me. Thats what plays through my mind over and over again, as I
stare into the blackness for hours.
When the sun finally rises, I crawl out of bed, completely exhausted. I hear my mother
in the kitchen and smell a familiar scent, but one that is out of place in this setting. I pad
into the kitchen and find her standing in front of the stove. Stepping beside her, I see
bacon sizzling in the frying pan next to a pile of scrambled eggs. Bacon is a delicacyone
reserved for the wealthyand something Ive only ever had in the Capitol.
Whats this? I ask.
I thought we should have a nice breakfast.
Why?
Because its your last day of service. After a moment, she quietly adds, And I dont
know when Ill see you again.
The emotion in her voice makes me uncomfortable. As well as her very kind gesture.
The bacon must have cost her a weeks salary. And the eggs arent cheap either, although I
suspect she was able to trade some of the game Ive been bringing home for those.
Please sit, she says pointing to the small table in her cramped kitchen.
I do as she suggests and allow her to pile eggs and bacon on a plate in front of me. She
gives herself a small helping and then sits across from me.
Wheres Gale? she asks, pushing food around on her plate.
The Capitol.
Are you planning on meeting up with him?
No.
I stuff a piece of bacon in my mouth so I have an excuse not to elaborate on my
answer. The warm, crunchy saltiness is delicious.
She looks up at me. Youve always been best friends, and I was under the impression
that maybe something more had developed since he helped you in the arena.
I choke on the bacon. Does she really think Im going to talk to her about Gale? Ive
never talked to her about anything. Suddenly, the food doesnt taste quite as good now
that I realize shes using it as a way to make me talk.
I take a sip of water.
I guess I was wrong, she says shrugging her shoulders.
Yes, I agree, shoving my fork into the eggs.
So, youll be leaving tonight then?
I pause, fork halfway to my mouth. I hadnt planned on leaving. I have no money and
the thought of hiking across the country by myself isnt very appealing. Plus I have no
suppliesId be lucky if I made it a week or two.
No, I say in response to her question.
Her eyes light up in surprise.
But soon, I say to make her aware that our living situation is not a long-term
solution.
After finishing our awkward breakfast, I quickly shower and head off to the hospital.
When I enter the cafeteria, the shift supervisor pulls me aside. He offers me a full-time
job, saying he recognizes a good work ethic when he sees it. Its probably more that he
appreciates an employee who would rather wash dishes than gossip with coworkers. As
much as I dont want to spend any more time with Lyndi or her gang, I know I need the
money if Im ever to leave this place. I reluctantly agree to his offer.
The next six weeks go by uneventfully. I remain antisocial with my co-workers, I
avoid my mother as much as possible, and I get very little sleep. My body is becoming
haggarddark circles line my eyes and clothes hang off my wilting figure. But, Ive finally
saved up enough money to buy a train ticket. Although Ive struggled with where to go, I
think the answer was always in my heartthe cabin by the pond is the only place for me.
Hopefully that is the one place where Ill be able to find a little peace.
My mother walks with me to the train station early in the morning. When I told her
my plan, she appeared supportive, but I know she questions my decision. Most people
would not choose to live that way, but then again, she knows Im not most people.
The train whistle blows and I take a step towards the door, but she touches my
shoulder.
I hope you and Gale are able to work through your issues, she says. Youre good for
one anotheryou two remind me of what I had with your father long ago.
The unexpected and causal mention of my father takes me my surprise. I try to turn
away to hide the effect her words have on me, but she holds me tight and continues, I
know youre independent, but sometimes its nice to have someone by your side. To share
in the joys and help each other through the difficult times Her words drift off and I
know shes thinking about my fatherwhat shell never be able to have again.
I nod and fight off the memories of the joys and difficult times that Gale and I have
already shared. I cant think of those, of him, its just too painful.
She smiles and wraps her arms around me in a hug. Eventually youll realize what
youre looking for, she says before letting me go.
Her words confuse meIm not looking for anything. I start to ask her what she
means, but the whistle blows again, this time as the final warning. I pick up my bag and
dart onto the car just before the door closes. I stand there looking out at her as we pull
away. Concern etches the lines around her eyes and mouth. It bothers me that shes
concerned about meI havent seen that since before my father died.
The train trip is uneventful. I spend the entire time in my cabin, not once venturing
out to meet the other passengers. When were finally approaching the District 12 station
late on the seventh day of the trip, I open the curtains to see the place I left over a year
ago. It looks very different, but is still recognizable.
We pass by the mine and I notice that its open again, although it seems like
significant improvements have been made. The entrance appears more substantial and
the elevator is now made of metal, not wood. A string of men stand in line to descend
into its depths. But unlike before, these men look happy, content. Like they chose this job
to support their families, not that they were forced into it.
Beyond the mine, I can just barely see the houses of the Seam. Most are still in rubble,
although it looks like one is being rebuilt.
In town, all of the storefronts have been restored, except for the bakery. I eye the
wreckage that remains and remember the family destroyed by the revolution. My boy
with the bread. I wonder what hed be doing right now if he were here. Would he reopen
the bakery? Probably. Hed either do that or start painting fulltime. I smile, remembering
his stunning creations.
After exiting the train, I move to a road on the outskirts of town to avoid most of the
people. Im not interested in seeing or talking to anyone. When I get to my usual hole in
the fence, I slip through and easily make it to the cabin, even in the dimming light.
Its refreshing to be back in my woods. The woods that I know as well as the back of
my hand. Inside the cabin, I empty my backpack and sit on the cot, expecting to feel the
sense of tranquility I used to have here. But I dont. I scowl as I try to place the emotions
running through me. Perhaps its just exhaustion from my lack of sleep for weeks and the
long trip. I curl into a ball and cover myself with the well-worn sleeping bag we left here,
pulling it up to my chin. But I immediately recognize Gales scent. Groaning, I throw it
on the floor before tossing and turning for hours until I eventually fall into a nightmare-
riddled sleep.
Im thankful when the sun finally begins rising and I can go outside. I sit along the
bank of the pond and watch the pink sky gradually change to orange and then fade to
blue. But even the beauty of nature doesnt shake that annoying feeling thats tugging at
me.
I spend the rest of the day hunting and then cooking my catch. The night progresses
the same as last night. When the suns rays land on my face on the second morning in the
cabin, I finally place the nagging feeling. Its loneliness. I never thought I needed anyone
else, but after a week of seclusion on the train and two nights in the cabin, Im bored and
lonely. Even though I rarely talked to my co-workers or mother, apparently their presence
was welcomed.
I groan at my realization. This is going to make a simple life in the woods significantly
more difficult. Giving in to my emotions, I decide to head back to the district. Maybe Ill
run into Sae. Plus, I have a little extra money and could use a few supplies anyway.
Two hours later, I pass under the hole in the fence and make my way to the Hob. Its
no longer a provisional campground for the homeless, but rather back to a marketplace.
And its active. Opposite the Hob is a new wooden structure that looks temporary. I slip
around the edge of the building and look through a window. The walls are lined with
bunks, each with a small trunk at the foot of the bed. It appears to be a more suitable
homeless shelter.
I move to the back of the building and follow the alley, planning to visit the site of my
childhood home, but when Im two houses away, what I see takes my breath away and
stops me dead in my tracks.


CHAPTER
THIRTY - SEVEN
I DIDNT EXPECT to see him again, but the silhouette in front of me is unmistakable. Hes
holding up a wall of supports as someone else nails it in place. I stand there mesmerized,
watching him command the scene. Hes clearly in charge, telling others what to do, but
theres camaraderie, too. Theyre telling jokes and laughing as they work.
What is he doing here? And how can he be happy? He actually looks more than
happylike hes totally in his element. Ive been miserable since I left Gale and now hes
here building a house and laughing like he hasnt a care in the world.
My chest tightens as I watch him. Ive been distraught for two months over the pain I
caused him. Ive rehearsed in my mind over and over what I would say if I ever saw him
again. How I would apologize. But, I always thought he would still be angry. I never
imagined finding him like this.
Two children are approaching me from the other end of the alley, so I slip behind a
tree and then quickly haul myself onto one of its lower branches. From here I can observe
Gale without much risk of being spotted.
I sit in my perch the rest of the day, watching him erect walls, pour cement, and pipe
in plumbing. The whole time I cant help but wonder where he learned how to do this.
And what hes doing here. Hes supposed to be helping Paylor with her campaign. At
dusk, he walks around and gives everyone an envelope, which they accept with grateful
smiles.
After Gale has disappeared down the main road, back towards the Hob, I lower
myself from the tree and backtrack to the hole in the fence. I climb through and make the
hike to the cabin. Once there, I think about what happened today and how I feel about it.
But all I can come up with is confusion. Confusion over why Gale is back in District 12.
Confusion over why I sat in a tree watching him the entire day. Confusion as to exactly
what Im feeling for him right now.
The next morning, after yet another sleepless night, I grab my bow and set out to find
breakfast. I quickly kill a squirrel and return to the cabin to clean and cook it. While
finishing my meager breakfast, I contemplate a plan for the day. I could go for a swim or
set some traps. Or go back to the district. As soon as the thought crosses my mind, my
feet begin moving, carrying me down the familiar path in about half the time it normally
takes. I slink through the alley again and take refuge back in my tree, just as Gale and a
number of other people arrive at the partially-built house.
This stalking becomes a routine for meroll out of bed with the sun, quick breakfast,
hike into the district, hide in a tree all day, and then hike back to the cabin, killing dinner
along the way.
Ive been doing it for four days now. Im in my usual spot mid-morning when I yawn
loudly, my lack of sleep catching up with me. Or, frankly, it could be the fairly boring
scene playing out in front of me for the fourth day straight. I think about what Ive
accomplished since Ive been back. Ive watched Gale. Ive seen that hes happy. Ive
learned that he knows how to build a house. Ive seen that he seems to have an admirer
who stops by for lunch every day, although he always turns her down. But thats it. I still
dont know what happened in the Capitol or between him and Paylor. Am I ever going to
get that by watching him from afar? And watching him doesnt fill the hole in my chest
that appeared the day I left and grew bigger and bigger each and every day after that. In
the last week, its tripled in size with him so close, but still unreachable. I miss talking to
him. Laughing with him. Sitting next to him.
I realize I need to come up with a plan. I cant continue to stalk him. Maybe I should
just go talk to him. Weve been friends for years; surely we can work through what
happened that last afternoon the afternoon I broke his heart. I sigh because I cant
imagine him forgiving me. I wouldnt blame him for not forgiving me. I dont forgive
myself. I gave him hope and then took it away without even a backward glance. But then
again, he seems so happy. Maybe hes already forgotten about it. Maybe hes found
someone else. Maybe we can fall right into our old routine. With that thought, I quickly
lower myself from the tree and walk purposefully towards the house before I can change
my mind.
When I reach the front of the property, he spots me. His eyes narrow, and he purses
his lips. He has on clean clothes and has grown a short, well-groomed beard. It doesnt
appear hes had a haircut since the one I gave him in the Capitol. He looks like the Gale
Im used to. The Gale from our cabin. He stands before me staring, and I have to remind
myself that things have changed.
I approach him cautiously. When Im about five feet away, he says, What do you
want? His tone is not welcoming.
I pause at both his attitude and question. What do I want? Why did I come here? Why
have I been spying on him? I dont have time to think of answers to all of these questions
with him staring at me, though.
Can I help? I ask.
Help?
I nod. Build your house.
Why?
Thats another good question. What am I doing? Two months ago I left Gale, only to
show up here unexpected. What kind of mixed messages am I sending him?
When I dont respond, he says, Youre just a helpful townsperson coming by to work
on my house?
I recoil at his malevolent tone. Friend? I suggest quietly.
Friend?! Hes now glaring at me with wide eyes, as if he cant believe what I just
said. And why would we be friends?
Weve always been friends
He shakes his head in disgust. Im really not interested in being friends with
someone who treats me the way you did.
He turns on his heal and stalks away from me, running his hand through his hair.
Hes leaving me; walking out of my life this time. I cant let him go.
Im sorry! I yell to his retreating figure.
He slows, but doesnt face me.
Gale, Im sorry. I mean it!
He twists around to look at me. What exactly are you sorry about?
Im sorry I hurt you.
And now you want what?
Things to go back to the way they were.
Back to friends?
I nod slowly.
Youre unbelievable, Katniss!
He turns and stomps around the side of the structure, leaving me standing in the
middle of the front yard as his construction crew tries to busy themselves after clearly
witnessing our interaction.
I spend the rest of the day across the street, sitting on a pile of wood that used to be a
house. Gale glances in my direction periodically, but never approaches me. At the end of
the day, he passes out the envelopes and walks back towards the Hob without saying a
word to me.
The next morning I return to my spot before anyone else has arrived. I dont really
have a plan, but I figure Gale cant ignore me forever. And sitting here is better than
sitting in the tree or by myself back at the cabin.
Less than half an hour later, Gale strolls up the street chatting with one of the other
guys whos been working with him. The other guy nods to me as they pass by, but Gale
continues staring straight ahead, as though I dont even exist.
Completely annoyed by his behavior, I yell at his back, Good morning, Gale!
He raises his hand in a rude gesture and continues inside the framed structure. I
smile. A rude gesture is better than nothing. I feel like I might be making some progress.
By mid-morning, Im bored. Gales been working on the backside of the house all day
so I havent seen him once. I pick up a small stone and lob it in front of me. Then I grab
another one and toss it, trying to hit the first one I threw. By the time Ive thrown five
pebbles, my accuracy is perfect, and I need something else to occupy my mind. I look up,
just as the man who walked in with Gale this morning steps in front of me.
Im Lee, he says, sitting down.
Katniss, I say, shaking his extended hand.
He nods. Of course he knows who I am.
Do you still want to help with construction?
Yes, what can I do? I ask eagerly.
See George over therethe guy with the hat and suspenders? he says, pointing to a
large, dark-skinned man whos leveling concrete.
Yeah.
You can help him.
Okay, great, I say, actually excited that I have something to do.
After an hour, its clear that George is a no-nonsense guy. He provides instructions,
but thats all. Theres no conversation whatsoever, which I would normally like, but I was
hoping to learn something about Gale. Like where he learned construction and why hes
doing it, rather than helping Paylor get elected.
Every now and again I try to entice George into conversation.
So, how do you know Gale? I ask.
He grunts in reply.
Are you originally from District 12?
Grunt.
Do you have a family?
Grunt.
If he hadnt taught me how to level concrete earlier, Id seriously wonder if he were an
Avox.
When George pulls out his lunch pail, I know its my chance to ask Lee for a new
partner. I walk through the construction site trying to find him. When I get to the back of
the house, I see Gale talking to someone. I peak around a beamits the girl with shiny
blond hair whos been coming here every day. Today she has on an expensive-looking
yellow dress that shows off way too much of her long legs.
I walk closer to hear their conversation.
Im not sure, Gale says blandly.
Oh, okay, she says in a sickeningly sweet, high-pitched voice.
I move closer to see her better, and accidentally trip over a pipe jutting out of the
floor. Luckily, my hand lands on a nearby beam, preventing me from falling on my face.
Both Gale and the girl turn to see the source of the commotion.
I wave nervously. Sorry. Gale, have you seen Lee?
Ill be right with you, Katniss, he says, turning back to the girl. Actually, lunch
today would be fantastic. And he grins from ear to ear.
Oh, wonderful! Ill set everything up. Just come out when youre ready!
I watch as the energetic girl skips to a basket and blanket lying on the ground, not far
from her. She rolls out the blanket and then begins pulling out various dishes and setting
them on the blanket. All the while, shes humming.
Whos Ms. Perky over there? I ask, nodding in her direction.
Colette, he says. You should know her. She was in your class at school.
I shrug. I dont remember many people from school, probably because I wasnt close
to anyone, other than Gale.
Why do you need Lee? he asks.
Ive been working with George this morning and I was hoping to move on to another
partner.
Gale rolls his eyes. Why are you working with George? he asks with a sigh.
Lee said I could, I reply smugly.
And why dont you want to work with him anymore?
I think Ive mastered concrete leveling. Its time to move on to something more
challenging.
He actually laughs and then says, You know I dont want you here, right?
Yeah, but Im working for Lee, not you.
Lee works for me.
Sounds like you two have some issues to work through.
The corner of his lip twitches a little and I think hes on the verge of smiling at me.
But then he quickly plasters the frown back on his face.
I dont know where Lee is. Probably at lunch. And thats where I need to go. I have a
date, he says, nodding towards Colette.
I didnt bring lunch with me so I just relax under a shade tree while I wait for Lee. I
slouch back like Im taking a nap, but keep my eyes fixed on Gale and Colette the whole
time. The conversation must be riveting because she keeps touching his hand and
giggling.
Finally they finish, and Gale gets back to work. A few minutes later, I see Lee walking
down the street. I stand up to head in his direction, but Gale intercepts him. Im
temporarily worried Lees going to get yelled at because of me, but he just ends up
laughing at something Gale says and then continues walking in my direction.
Ready to get back to work? he asks when he reaches me.
Sure, I respond, following him. After a moment, I ask, What did Gale say to you?
He said I had to work with you.
Why?
Because I brought you in. He didnt think itd be fair to submit any of the other
employees to your attitude.
My attitude? I stand with my hands on my hips. Gales the only one whos had an
attitude the last two days.
Lee laughs. Lets just get to work, okay?
We spend the afternoon framing a room while Gale works on plumbing in the
adjacent room. I desperately want to ask Lee some questions, but Gales within ten feet of
us the entire time and I know hell hear our conversation.
Hey, can I get a hand here? Gale asks over his shoulder to no one in particular as he
holds two pieces of wood together in a T-shape. Lees talking to someone, so I crawl
through two beams of the frame and stand at his side.
What do you need?
He glances up at me and his lips turn downward. Hes clearly unhappy that Im the
one helping him. Can you just nail these together?
Of course. I quickly pound in two nails, pleased that Lee already taught me proper
technique.
Hows that?
Fine. He keeps his voice even, but by the way hes inspecting my work, I think hes
rather impressed. I smile.
Need anything else? I ask.
No.
The rest of the afternoon is quiet. Gale doesnt ask for any additional help, but he also
doesnt wander far enough away for me to talk to Lee privately.
Once were packed up for the evening, Lee says, See you tomorrow, Katniss.
Youre coming back? Gale asks me with a scowl.
Of course. Im a valued member of the team.
No. Youre not. Youre not even a member of the team, Gale says with annoyance.
Id have to disagree, Lee says. Shes pretty handy with a hammer.
I beam at his compliment, as Gale rolls his neck and then pinches the bridge of his
nose between his thumb and forefinger.
See you tomorrow, I say.


CHAPTER
THIRTY - EIGHT
IN THE MORNING, Im the first to arrive at the worksite again. Its easy since I dont really
sleep and have nothing else to do. I left the cabin before dawn and made it here just as the
sun began rising.
Lee walks up a few minutes after me.
Eager to get started? he asks.
I shrug. I didnt have much of anything else going on.
You look tired.
Sleeps overrated.
He shoots me a questioning look, but says nothing. I follow him inside the structure
and then we weave our way around wooden beams to reach the room we were in
yesterday. I watch him while he adjusts his tool belt.
Wheres Gale? I ask.
Waiting for a shipment at the train station.
He hands me a tool belt, complete with hammer, screwdriver, and a collection of
different sized nails. Put this on. Itll make you look like you belong here.
Thanks, I say fastening the clasp. But, youre going to lose your job if youre not
careful.
He laughs. I dont think Gale really means anything hes said to you.
I wouldnt be so sure of that.
Lee stops hauling a large wooden board and locks eyes with me. What exactly did
you do to him?
I shrug and grab onto the wood to help him move it. Its not important.
Well, I hope my assumption is right because Ive got good money riding on this.
I drop the board, and it narrowly misses my foot as it slams to the ground. What?
Come onthe boss has some serious girl problemsyou didnt think wed all just
ignore that did you?
Youre betting on what our issue is?!
And the outcome, he says with sly grin.
I cant believe what Im hearing. I try so hard to be a private person and now theres a
bunch of people, mostly guys, I dont know and theyre all talking about me and Gale.
How do I get myself into these situations?
This is wrong, I say. You shouldnt take pleasure in other peoples misery.
Oh, lighten up. Im sure the miserys not going to last much longer anyway.
As angry as I am with these people, I cant help itmy curiosity gets the best of me.
Whats everyone saying?
Well, there are a few guys who didnt know Gale from way back and they still think
youre cousins. For the most part, they believe the issue has to do with moneyyou took
what you could after the hearing and then left him high and dry in the Capitol.
Thats ridiculous! Neither of us had any money. And even if we did, Id never do
something like that!
Thats why Im betting you broke his heart, he says, pulling another board in front
of us.
I freeze. Is it that obvious?
Im right! he says, excitement bringing his face alive. Well, it seems you have some
big time groveling to do if Im to make any money off of this.
And thats really what its all about, I murmur.
He laughs and starts nailing two pieces of wood together.
Half an hour later, Im still inwardly fuming over what I learned when Lee lifts his
head and says, Looks like the groveling can begin. I follow his gaze and see Gale walking
down the street, pulling a handcart loaded with sheets of drywall.
After Gale stores the drywall along the side of the house, he comes to the room where
Lee and I are working. He watches me carefully as I line up large boards. His silent,
watchful eyes start to annoy me.
Whats your problem, Gale? I ask, dropping the board a little harder than necessary.
Lee clears his throat. I glance in his direction and he mouths the word, grovel.
I roll my eyes.
Gale finally says, Youre working with me today, Katniss.
I cant hide the smile that reflexively spreads across my face. Why?
I dont need any more gossip at the worksite, he says, giving Lee a disapproving
stare. Its good to know hes heard whats going on, too.
I follow Gale outside. You really shouldnt let your employees talk about you behind
your back.
It wasnt a problem until you showed up.
Of course. Im the root of all your problems
He clenches his jaw, but remains quiet as he directs me to a sawhorse behind the
house.
We spend the morning working side-by-side, sawing and hammering. Just like
always, we make a great team, effortlessly dividing up work and knowing, without
exchanging a word, when the other person needs help. By mid-morning his gruff exterior
has softened a littlehis face is back to a neutral expression, rather than the scowl hes
been wearing for the past day and a half.
I pause in the middle of sawing a board to wipe sweat from my brow with the back of
my hand.
Here, he says, handing me a water bottle. Its the same bottle we used for months in
the woods. Between the familiarity of that and the first kind gesture hes made since Ive
been here, I feel my confidence growing. Perhaps hes ready to talk to me.
When did you learn to build a house? I ask, handing the bottle back to him.
He removes it from my hand and takes three long gulps of his own before saying
anything.
Ive picked up a few things here and there, he replies, placing the bottle on the
ground and picking up his hammer.
I follow him to a nearby frame hes assembling. Why arent you in the Capitol?
He stops hammering and turns to me. Why would I be in the Capitol?
Helping Paylor with her campaign
He appears genuinely confused. I finished my service requirement over a month
ago.
You didnt want to stay?
Why would I stay? He picks up a nail and puts it between his teeth as he moves to
the next support.
Paylor wanted you to be involved in politics.
She wanted a lot of things from me, he says through gritted teeth, around the nail.
What do you want?
He spits out the nail. Whats with the interrogation, Katniss?
Im. just trying to figure out some things.
What things?
I shrug.
Clearly something is going on. You can either tell me or keep asking these elusive
questions and try to piece it together yourself.
Are you happy? I ask, tilting my head to the side as I study his profile.
Piece it together it is, he mumbles under his breath. Im happy with all aspects of
my life except one.
He turns his face so his eyes meet mine, challenging me to ask the follow-up question.
I remain quiet the rest of the morning.
Around lunchtime, I glance up from the piece of wood Ive been sawing to find
Colette, in a pink sundress, walking our way.
Annoyed, I ask Gale, Does she come here every day?
Yes. She seems to be quite smitten by me, he says and then strolls down to meet her.
I ignore his comment and stalk off to my shade tree. Today, he sits closer to her. She
folds her legs underneath herself and leans into him, her shoulder touching his. He says
something and she giggles before handing him another sandwich. He says something else
and she giggles again. Im beginning to question her sense of humor because hes really
not that funny.
After lunch, Gale and I are taking turns digging a hole for a new post. I watch him as I
rest. Hes shirt is soaked through with sweat, clinging to his arms and chest. His muscles
ripple, as he hauls up large shovelfuls of dirt. Theres a small crease between his brows as
he concentrates on what hes doing. After tossing the dirt aside, he glimpses my way and a
small smile slowly spreads across his face when he realizes Ive been watching him.
What are you looking at?
I blush. You really shouldnt lead Colette on like that.
Who says Im leading her on? he asks, digging the shovel back into the hole.
Seriously? You cant be interested in her.
Why not? Shes beautiful and nice. Plus she makes an amazing chicken salad.
Hmm thats very important.
A few moments later, I say, Do you two have anything in common?
He stops what hes doing and stands the shovel in front of him. He rests his arms on
top of the handle and eyes me thoughtfully. Why do you have so much interest in this?
I drop the conversation.
That evening, as were wrapping up our work, Colette comes prancing down the street
again. I give an annoyed sigh, but Gale perks up and runs down to meet her. She lights up
and begins talking enthusiastically with him. He nods at something she says, and she
actually hops and claps her hands. I roll my eyes, wondering how long Gale will put up
with this. Then, he reaches towards her face and tucks a strand of hair behind her ear.
My mouth drops open. I had assumed this was all to spite me. That he wasnt really
interested in herhe was just getting back at me for everything Ive done to him. But the
way his hand lingered on her face makes me wonder. My blood pressure rises as I realize
my simple annoyance at Colette is turning into something stronger. I kick a nearby tree,
irritated that my emotions are betraying me. I told Gale that I didnt want him, I told him
to find someone better, but yet as soon as theres the first indication he might have, I cant
handle it. What is wrong with me?
Gale and Colette turn and walk down the street together, without a word or even a
backward glance in my direction. I thought we were making progress today, but
apparently Gales mind has been on other things.
I take my time getting back to the cabin. My sudden shift in mood towards Colette
bothers me more than it should. I told Gale I wanted things to go back to the way they
were. To friends. As a friend, I shouldnt expect his world to revolve around me.
Shouldnt expect him to remember to say goodbye to me when hes got what exactly is
Colette? An admireryes. More than that? I didnt think so, but now Im not so sure.
Back at the cabin, I use my long night to think about the situation. I know I miss Gale.
Really miss Gale. In the Capitol, I was ready to spend my life with himit wasnt until
Paylor interfered that I changed my mind. Did I let her feed my insecurities? Did I run
away too quickly, too willingly? I let her convince me that I could damage his life, that I
wasnt good enough for him. But what if thats not true? What if that wasnt even the life
he wanted?
I think back to the past two months and how empty Ive felt. It wasnt until I
unexpectedly found Gale a few days ago that my life took on purpose again. He brings out
the best in me. Unfortunately, he also tends to brings out the worst in me, but that in and
of itself must mean something. What would I do if he and Colette got married? Thinking
about that question is what finally sets my course. I know what I need to do. The
butterflies in my stomach are a clear indication of how worried I am about his reaction,
though.
The next morning, Im still nervous as I arrive at the worksite. Gale is already there,
pouring cement into the holes we dug yesterday.
Good morning, I say.
Morning, he replies, not bothering to look up from what hes doing.
I wrap my tool belt around my waist and stand by his side.
What can I do?
Make more cement.
I haul a heavy bag of mix into my arms and then pour the correct amount into a
bucket. I place the hose in the bucket and watch Gale as I wait for it to fill.
Whered you and Colette go last night? I ask, trying to sound nonchalant.
He smiles at me. You sure have a lot of interest in Colette.
Just wondering what guys and girls do for fun around here these days.
Same thing theyve always done.
That doesnt make me feel any better. Entertainment has never really been an option
in District 12, which means dates inevitably lead to something I dont even want to
consider having happening between Gale and Colette.
Youre about to overflow, Gale says, nodding towards my bucket.
I jerk my head up and snatch the hose away, just as the water reaches the top. Hes
still watching me when I turn back around to face him.
Guess you had a great night, then, I say. I fight to keep my face impassive, but the
pain I feel is real. What if Im too late?
He opens his mouth like hes about to say something, but clamps it shut before any
words escape.
I lean down to pour the excess water out of the bucket. When I start mixing the
cement, he says, No, I didnt. I went straight to the shelter and fell asleep early.
Then he walks away and joins a group of guys who have just arrived. He begins giving
out assignments for the day and laughing with them like he always does.
I revel in that one little parting comment. That comment gives me the strength I need
to move forward with my plan. There is definitely still hope.
On cue, Colette approaches the worksite at lunchtime. I know this is my chance. Its
now or never.
Gale is in front of the house, while Im along the left side. He glances to me and then
to her. I close the gap to him in a few short strides and stare into his eyes determinedly.
His mouth parts, but he remains quiet. I hold his face firmly in my hands and lower my
lips to his. Hes passive at first, his lips providing no resistance against mine. But, as I kiss
him with more urgency, he responds. When he lays his hands on my hips, I pull away.
What the hell? he asks.
I glimpse at Colette, whos only about twenty feet away now. She has stopped
suddenly, her mouth gaping. Then I see Gales crew; theyre staring at us, too. And Im
pretty sure Lee just gave me a thumbs-up.
I dont approve of Colette for you, I say.
And why do you think your opinion matters?
Because I have someone else in mind.
His eyes widen, but he cant say anything because Colette has started approaching us
again.
She seems baffled, her eyes darting between the two of us. Eventually, she focuses on
Gale and says, Hi Gale. I brought lunch. She looks at him expectantly, Are you free
today?
Gale turns to me. Im not sure. Katniss, am I free for lunch today?
Our eyes meet with a burning intensity. My answer here reveals my true feelings, our
future. I lick my lips and face Colette. Im sorry Colette, but Gale has other plans.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Gale suppress a smile. I grab his hand and hold it
firmly.
Her eyes move from me to Gale, and then back to me, confusion clear on her face.
I step in front of Gale and he wraps his free arm around my waist.
Y-You two? she says. But youre cousins!
Gale laughs. Were not cousins.
She wrinkles her nose and focuses on me. What about Peeta? You loved Peeta. How
can you do this to him?
Peeta would want us to be happy. He would wish us well.
Gale squeezes my hand.
BBut I brought chicken salad, your favorite her voice trails off.
Sorry, maybe some other time. Maybe the three of us can hang out sometime, Gale
says, trying to lighten the mood.
Sure, of course, she replies, already walking backwards. Ill be in touch about that.
Then she turns on her heel and practically runs away from us. I think I hear her sniffling.
I kind of feel bad, I say, turning to face Gale.
Dont worry about it. A few of the guys have had their eyes on her since shes been
coming around here. Shell find someone else in no time.
I think she had her heart set on you, though.
And what do you have your heart set on, Katniss?
I bite my lower lip. You, I whisper.
Really? he asks with trepidation.
I nod.
Prove it.
I stand on my tiptoes and kiss his lips gently.
He pulls away. That doesnt prove anything. Youve kissed me before only to rebuke
me in your next breath.
We stand there staring at each other intently. He doesnt trust me. I desperately want
him to believe me. But after everything Ive put him through, I dont blame him. I chew
on my lip, considering my options. But I know theres only one thing that will prove it to
him. Its the one thing he wants. The one thing he needs. The one thing that I hold closest
to my heart. This time I wont say it too late.
I love you, Gale.


EPILOGUE
MY NERVOUSNESS OVER how Gale would react was unfounded. As soon as I told him the
words hed waited years to hear, the closeness we once shared immediately returned. Im
grateful, and somewhat surprised, that he forgave me so easily considering what I had
done to him. Of course, every now and again, hell still hold it over my head if we have a
disagreement. He knows Ill immediately relent as soon as he reminds me of the
afternoon in the Capitol when I brutally broke his heart. I think I will forever feel guilty
about that.
The day I finally admitted my true feelings, Gale moved into the cabin with me. We
lived there for three months while we finished his houseour house. As soon as the final
shingle was hung, we had a small, traditional District 12 wedding ceremony with our
families and Haymitch. Ill never forget the way he looked that day. He was my Galethe
man from the cabinwith the largest, ear-to-ear grin I have ever seen. His exuberance,
his bliss were infectious and still are today.
I was relieved to finally fill in the gaps of those few months when we were apart. Deep
in my heart, there was always the fear that Gail had run to Paylor for consolation after I
left, but he admitted that he never even considered seeing her in that way again.
Surprising us both, she sent a beautiful wedding giftan exquisite handcrafted set of
matching bows, his and hers. Ive only seen her once since that time in the stairwell,
though. It was two years ago when she was visiting the district during her re-election
campaign. I was in the back of the crowd, leaning against a wall when her eyes met mine.
The hint of a smile spread across her face and she nodded politely. Im not sure Ill ever
truly understand hergenerous one moment, driving me away the next. Perhaps she
really did just want what was best for Gale and genuinely believed that required me
leaving.
It also surprised me to learn that after I left, Gale had spent only one day on Paylors
campaign before realizing he no longer felt the passion he once had for politics. Against
Paylors wishes, he transferred his service requirement to the rebuilding effort.
Apparently, before I ever knew Gale, he and his father were very active in construction
and actually helped build a number of my neighbors houses in the Seam. The
construction crew he selected in the Capitol specialized in novel building techniques in
order to provide low-cost, high-efficiency, environmentally-friendly construction to
maximize the use of our limited resources.
After he completed his service with that company, he applied to the Cabinet for a
grant to assess the feasibility of bringing those same building principles and sensibilities
to the districts. They agreed, giving him funds to complete one house as a trial. Because
he was so successful with our house, the Cabinet agreed to hire him to rebuild additional
houses in the Seam. Gradually, his team grew and now, five years later, he owns the
largest construction company east of the Capitol and has crews in three districts. I split
my time between helping him and hunting, providing enough game for us and all of his
employees.
By far, my favorite day of the week is Sunday, just like it was years ago, because its the
day that Gale joins me in the woods. Sometimes we hunt, sometimes we sit lazily on our
rock enjoying blackberries, and sometimes we spend the afternoon in our cabin, enjoying
each others company and reliving the memories of when we fell in love.
My hunting time will decrease over the next few months though, as were currently
expecting our first child. I didnt think Id ever see Gale more pleased than he was on our
wedding day, but I was wrong. The morning I told him I was pregnant, he broke down in
tears of joy. And now he cant keep his hands off my ever expanding belly. He constantly
rests his head on my lap, talking to our child and even singing. Although hes completely
tone deaf, Im awestruck by the overflowing love he showers upon us.
Im feeling particularly tired today, so I curl up in bed while I wait for Gale to come
home from work. His most recent project is renovating some houses in the Victors
Village because a few of the more wealthy townspeople are hoping to move up there.
Since I have no desire to even step foot in that place, Ive been spending more time in the
woods, which is starting to exhaust me.
Just as my eyes are about to close, I hear the front door open.
Gale? I ask.
He appears in the bedroom doorway moments later. One look at me in bed and he
rushes to my side, placing his hand on my forehead. Are you okay?
Im fine, I reassure him. Just tired.
I notice that hes holding one hand behind his back. What have you got? I ask
nodding to his arm.
He beams. A surprise.
Surprise?
Yes, from the construction site.
I flinch. You know I dont want anything from there.
Why dont you look at it before you make that decision?
He brings his arm around, and hes holding a thick leather bound book. I know what
it is right away. I open the cover and run my fingers along the delicate drawing on the
first page. I immediately see his face as he concentrated on bringing my vision to life. Its
the plant book that Peeta and I worked on so diligently.
Still want me to throw it out? he asks.
I shake my head. I had forgotten about this, I whisper. I continue flipping pages,
remembering how he looked when he drew each and every image. Remembering the
conversations we had and the way we laughed when his drawing looked nothing like I
thought I was describing and we had to start over again.
But unlike the picture I so desperately clung to in the early days, I know this isnt an
extension of Peeta, its just a way to help me remember him. A way for our child to see
what a great artist our friend Peeta was. Ill cherish this forever.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, Gale unlaces his boots and then crawls next to me.
When he lays his head on my lap, I place the book on the side table and watch my
husband absently rub his hand over my belly.
If its a boy, I think we should name him Ezekiel, Gale says.
I run my fingers through his hair. This is about the fiftieth name hes suggested.
Maybe, I murmur, knowing theres no way Ill agree to that.
Or Zachary
Thats better, I say quietly, my eyelids drooping.
He wraps his fingers around mine and squeezes. Thank you, Katniss Everdeen, he
whispers, pulling his head up alongside mine. I grin at the use of my maiden namehe
only does that when hes recounting a playful moment from our past.
For what?
For making me the happiest man in the world, he replies, kissing my cheek.
Thank you, Gale Hawthorne, I say, mirroring his words, as he lays his head on my
shoulder.
I feel his lips curl into a smile. For what?
For convincing me to finally let myself be happy.
He laughs softly. I think we may owe Colette for that.
Well, thank you for going above and beyond the call of duty to make me insanely
jealous, I say with a yawn.
I do what I can, Catnip. He wraps his arms around me in the way he always has,
comforting me, and helping me drift off to a calm and peaceful night of sleep.