The sun is just setting over Panem when I get the news.
Jedi. On this planet.
Prim is the one who delivers the news. She heard it from the other kids when she was walking home. One of her friends allegedly saw them on their way to school that morning.
I feel a chill run through me. Jedi aren't bad, necessarily, but their business belongs to the Rim planets, the ones in the Galactic Republic. Traditionally, those of us stuck in the Outer Rim get left alone. It has its advantages, since even with the war the galaxy has been in these last few standard years, Panem has mostly been left out of the crossfire. On the other hand, being left alone means we're left to our own devices, our own resources. And that means people resort to awful things. In some places, like Tatooine, and even some of the other districts here on Panem, there is slavery. In my district, District 12, there isn't any of that. But there is poverty, and starvation, if you don't know how to keep yourself alive.
I do. As the oldest, I do everything possible to keep my family alive. Especially my little sister, Prim, who is the only person in the world I'm sure I love. I do this in two ways. In my spare time, I hunt in the forest that surrounds our little district. Most are too afraid to go into the woods, with the wild banthas and other animals roaming around, but not me. I've been going out there since my father took me as a little girl.
The other thing I do is smuggle illicit objects on the black market. Sometimes it's spice, other times it's products that have been banned by officials who are too far away to enforce their own rules. It's frowned upon, even around here. But when the choice is to smuggle things in or watch the people you love whither away, what choice do you have?
That's why Prim's news is so disheartening. Jedi mean enforcement. It's possible they've landed here on accident, but more likely, they're here because the Galactic Republic, probably fueled by the war, sent them here. And if they're here, more trouble is surely not far behind.
My friend Gale, who is my smuggling partner, is there when I hear the news. Immediately, I look to him, searching his face for his opinion. In it, I see the same concern that I feel. But he shakes his head, and puts on a straight face.
"Don't matter," he says. "They won't have any impact on us."
I shoot him a look, because I'm skeptical. He knows I am. Silently we work things out between us. We're just going to have to figure how to operate with them around.
It's not long before we discover why they're here. The war has finally reached our planet. Clone troopers, clad in their white uniforms, flood in. They're primarily here to fight with the Separatists that have recently planted themselves on our planet, hoping to win us over to their side. At first, everyone at the old black market we call the Hob recedes for a while, afraid of bringing unwanted attention, and therefore unwanted trouble, upon ourselves. But eventually it becomes clear that they aren't too concerned with us, and slowly, business creeps back in. In fact, when some of the Clone Troopers do discover our existence, they begin frequenting it themselves, dabbling in all sorts of vices that get their minds off the battles they wage on the outside.
It's funny watching them when they're gathered together like this. With their helmets off, you can see why they're called Clone Troopers. They really are exactly the same.
But this is all good luck for Gale and me, who profit directly off their business. Because the Hob is where we sell our bounty. Every few weeks, we sneak out on our ship, and meet up with suppliers on nearby planets. It's risky work, because between the nature of what we're doing being illegal, and some of the competition in the field-the Hutts on Tatooine, for example, like to try and dominate the market-we could easily be shot down or arrested on a daily basis. But it's good money, and keeps our families alive, so how can we turn it down?
We didn't always do this, though. For a long time, all either of us could do to survive was hunt in the woods that surround our district. That's how we met, in fact. I was a scrawny 12-year-old, alone and the head of my family after my dad died in an accident and my mother was lost to us emotionally. My father used to hunt when he was still alive, and since he left us, I had slowly been piecing together everything he taught me, and more, so we wouldn't starve to death. I met Gale one day when I was examining his snares. We were naturally suspicious of each other at first, but we worked out an agreement: he would teach me snares if I would teach him how to use a bow an arrow. It's an old weapon, especially compared to the blasters those with more money can afford, or even the lightsabers the Jedi carry. But it gets the job done, and you can't really complain when that's all you need.
So Gale and I began working together, and eventually began to trust each other. After a while, we began pooling our spoils and selling together. That's how we got the money for the ship. We began setting aside a little bit of each sale, after we had bought enough food to keep our families fed, and eventually we were able to afford one. And owning a ship can change your life in a District 12. We still hunt, though, in between runs. Because every little bit helps when you live in a place like this.
It's on one such hunting excursion when I first meet the Jedi.
I don't realize that's what he is, at first. He's isn't wearing his usual robes when I run into him. Instead, he's wearing a sleeveless undershirt and a loose pair of pants, the kind you can move around in. I spot him first, as he rests by a stream, trying in vain to get a drink of water. I've never seen anyone in these woods before. Only hunters come out here, those of us who have weapons to fight the wild creatures that roam loose. This boy, who cannot be much older than I am, seems out of place, and I wonder what it is he plans to do if he runs into trouble before I spot the handle of his lightsaber dangling from his utility belt, and I begin to piece things together.
For some time, I watch him silently, concealed safely behind a tree. He's strong and stocky, but he wears an easy-going expression on his face. His golden hair falls in waves across his forehead, and it glistens in the morning sun as he struggles to find a way to capture the water for a drink. The cloth he's using is too porous; water drains from it almost as soon as he lifts it from the water. It's almost pathetic to see him struggle. I debate whether or not to make myself known and show him how to do it. I've almost made up my mind, when the boy does it for me.
"If you know a better way, you should show me."
I must jump three feet in the air, that's how caught off guard I am. Which of course means I may as well give myself up, because even if he weren't speaking to me, the noise I made when he startled me gave me away. So, cautiously, I edge around the other side of the tree and immediately lock eyes with his own blue ones.
He smiles as I finally come into view. "Hello," he says in a friendly voice. "I was wondering if you were ever going to come out from behind there."
I don't say anything. I just frown as I try to figure out how he knew.
"Don't be alarmed," he says, as though reading my mind. Which, of course, it dawns on me, is probably exactly what he's doing. "I'm a- "
"Jedi," I finish before he can. "I know."
He seems a little surprised, but he smiles anyway. "You figured it out." My eyes fall down to the handle on his blade, and he seems to figure it out. "Of course. My lightsaber."
I'm not really sure what to say now. So I just stand there, sizing him up, wondering if I can find a way to escape from here, or maybe even somehow intimidate him into leaving. No such luck.
"Well," he says, "would you mind showing me how to get water?"
I stand there, wondering if I should, if I shouldn't. Would it be wrong not to show him? Would it be safe if I did? Everything inside me screams to run away, now. Instead, my legs move forward on my own. I wonder if he's somehow influencing me, because I know the Jedi are capable of mind tricks like that. The thought makes me even more apprehensive. I move toward him, anyway.
Wordlessly, I pull out my drinking skin, and show him how to gather up water and pool it in the center. The trick is that you have to have the skin from an animal that won't absorb the water and let it drain through the other side, like a bantha or something. I do this for the Jedi, taking a drink and then offering it over to him.
"Thank you," he smiles. "I guess my own methods weren't enough. I'll try to find something better for next time."
"What are you doing out here, anyway?" I blurt out.
"Exercising," he says. "I like to run through the woods. Being alone in nature helps me connect to the Force."
I nod like I understand, though he really could be speaking Wookie for as well as I understand him.
"What about you?" he asks, eyeing the bow I grasp in one hand. "Hunting?"
My frown deepens, feeling as though he's accusing me of something. "I have to feed my family," I mutter.
He says nothing, but his smile fades a little. He decides to change tactics. "What's your name?"
I don't answer.
He presses on. "My name is Peeta Mellark," he says. "I'm a Jedi Knight."
Still I don't say anything.
"What's your name?" He presses gently.
It takes me another minute to respond. "Katniss," I finally respond in a quiet voice.
"Well, Katniss, it's a pleasure to meet you," he says, offering me a hand to shake. I look down at it, then slowly reach out to take it. His grip is firm, and do I imagine it? Or does he offer me a shake in reassurance as well. I'm not sure. I probably just imagined it.
It's not the last that I see Peeta Mellark, Jedi Knight. Sometimes I see him in town, with another man with short brown hair who I soon learn is named Cinna, his former Master trainer who is now his partner in their business here on Panem. Often they seem to be working with the Clone Troopers and other officials here fighting the war we never wanted. More often than not, though, I run into him in the woods. In fact, it seems like it's becoming a more and more regular occurrence. Sometimes Gale is with me on these meetings. If I was cautious upon meeting Peeta, Gale is downright skeptical, and even a little hostile. His mood is always noticeably soured whenever we come away from interactions with the Jedi, but when asked, he only says he worries what they'll do to our business. But I can't help thinking something else is going on as well.
Peeta Mellark seems to pick up on this as well. It's only when we run into each while I'm alone that he really seems to say much to me.
One morning, I stumble upon him standing in the middle of a small clearing, eyes shut. Not knowing what to do, I wonder if I should interrupt him, or if it would be better to attempt to back away without alerting him to my presence. I should have known better.
"Hello again," he says without even opening his eyes. There's a smile on his face.
I nod, even though I know he can't see me, though for all I know he can. Maybe he has some weird ability to see what I'm doing even with his eyes closed. "Hello."
"We seem to run into each other often, Katniss," he says, opening his blue eyes at last and focusing them squarely on me. "It seems the Force is pushing us together."
I furrow my brow, not sure what he means, but say nothing.
"Katniss," he continues without explaining. "Would you be willing to let me follow as you hunt today? I would love to learn from you."
What is there I can really say to this except yes? I can't turn a Jedi down. It wouldn't be right.
"Okay," I agree quietly. "But… but you have to do exactly what I say. It's dangerous out here!" Of course, a Jedi who engages in battle would have no problem handling himself, but I say it to him anyway. It makes me feel a little bit better.
"Of course," he says. "You're the expert."
I nod, then turn and head back into the treeline. "Follow me," I tell him.
Peeta and I end up spending the entire morning together. He's awful when it comes to hunting-his tread is heavy, and when I point this out to him, it only seems to create confusion.
"I thought I was being quiet," he says.
I'm not sure how he can think so, when he's creating so much noise it's surely scaring off every creature around us. I decide to switch tactics.
"Have I showed you foraging yet?" I ask him, knowing full well that I haven't.
"I can try to be quieter, if you want, Katniss," Peeta offers.
"No. I have enough anyways. Beside, foraging is just as important." Peeta looks at me as if he knows this is a lie, and he probably does. I feel so vulnerable having him around, knowing he's probably reading my mind at any given moment. But he's hard to shake. He lets me show him how to forage anyway, studying me intently with every lesson I teach. Sometimes he seems lost in another world as he looks out at me from behind his long, blond eyelashes, and I wonder if he's really taking in what I'm telling him. But he repeats everything I tell him with ease.
When we bid each other goodbye, he asks me to meet him in that same spot the following morning. I agree, against my better judgement, then head home to my mother and sister.
When I enter our small house on the edge of town, Gale is there, too, home from his shift working in the carbon mines. When I show him the minimal gain I took in this morning, he scoffs.
"That's all?" He says. "That won't be enough to trade with around town."
"I know," I say. "But- " I stop myself, thinking Gale wouldn't be too happy to hear why I caught so little this morning.
He raises his eyebrows. "But what?"
"Well… " I search my mind, trying to decide the best course of action, then decide it would be best to go with the truth.
"You what?" He bursts out when I finish. "Katniss, you know how dangerous it is to get too close to the Jedi! This could really hurt us!"
"I know, Gale!" I try. "But he was so eager, and… and… " I stop, not really sure what it is I'm trying to say.
"Eager to turn us in, if he gets wind of our smuggling!" He shoots back.
"He won't find out, I insist.
"He better not," Gale says. He takes a moment to calm himself, though his face is still stony when he says, "We have an arrangement to pick up spice tomorrow. We need to take off as soon as I get out of work."
"Okay," I nod. "I'll be at the loading dock." I don't tell him that I agreed to meet Peeta tomorrow morning, before we go, but it shouldn't matter anyhow. I'll be done with him well before it's time to leave.
When I find our agreed upon meeting spot the next morning, Peeta Mellark is already there, waiting. His face lights up when he sees me. "Good morning," he says, his blue eyes trained on me.
"Good morning,"I nod back, feeling my cheeks burn a little. I kick myself for it, but I'm not sure why.
"Are you ready to go?" He asks. "I brought us something to eat." He holds out a package of something. Bread. But it's not like anything I've ever seen sold in town before. It's probably not a recipe from this planet.
"Where did you get that?" I ask.
"I made it," he smiles.
Of course. That would explain it. It's probably something he picked up on his homeworld, Coruscant, where the Jedi Temple is located. "I didn't know you could bake," I say.
"You learn lots of things when you're a Jedi," he says. "Not just the ways of the Force. Though that's most important. But that leads me to why I asked you to meet me out here…"
I look at him, waiting.
"Katniss," he starts. "Something about the time I spend with you… makes me feel different."
"What?" I ask, feeling startled. My heart inexplicably starts beating harder in my chest.
"Katniss," he goes on. "I think… I think you may be Force sensitive."
This takes me aback. First of all, it's not at all what I expected him to say, though I'm not really sure what I did expect. But second of all… second of all, he can't be right.
"No," I say. "The Jedi would have found me when I was just a baby and taken me away to train if I were, wouldn't they?"
"In most cases, yes," he agrees. "But sometimes we miss a case, especially if someone is born way out in the Outer Rim. Like you."
I'm silent, turning this over in my mind.
"If you'd like… if you're open to it, I'd like to start training you."
This has my attention. I turn to look at him, and find those eyes trained intently on me, trying to make out my reaction.
"Can you do that?" I mumble.
"No," he admits, and the corners of his mouth twitch up in an embarrassed smile. "Technically, you're too old. And even if you weren't, it should be a Jedi Master training you. But what's the harm in seeing how it goes?"
I don't respond for a long time, because this is a lot to take in. "I… I need time to think about it," I tell him at last.
"Of course," he agrees. "Take all the time you need. Let me know what you decide."
I nod, and he turns to go, leaving me alone with my thoughts.
"You WHAT?!" Gale practically yells when I tell him later that afternoon, after we've taken off and are safely cruising through space. "Katniss, I told you, we can't trust them!"
"I know, Gale!" I say. "But what if it is true? What if he's right?"
"What if he's not?" He shoots back. "What if he's wrong, and you're left looking silly, or even in jail because the authorities find out about our side business?"
"He said he felt something!"
"Yeah, I'll bet he did," he mutters. I don't know why, but this makes my blood boil. It's something about what he's implying. Something I don't like very much.
"You don't know him!" I insist. "You won't give him the time of day, so you don't know what he's like. He's not that bad, Gale."
"So now you're defending him? Because the little Jedi has a crush on you and wants to train you so he has an excuse to spend time with you when he's not supposed to?"
My mouth drops open, shocked at his words. But no words come out. Because I have none. I furrow my eyes and glare at him. His own grey eyes glare back at me in return, not backing down. "How dare you," I hiss, and turn around to leave, slamming the door behind me.
I spend the rest of the trip in the cargo hold, angrily trying to work through what he said. Of course, he can't be right. Everyone knows the Jedi aren't allowed to fall in love. And Peeta… he seems so honest. So earnest. He doesn't seem like the kind of person to take advantage of anyone. Of course, he's not! If he's saying he detects something in me, he has to be right. Which gets me thinking…
If Peeta is right, if I do have Force potential… that could change my entire life. I could change everything with that ability. My family's life. I wouldn't have to smuggle anymore. I could go off to Coruscant, and even if it's too late to become a Jedi, surely there's something they could find for me to do there. By the time we've landed, I've made up my mind.
"I'm doing it," I tell Gale firmly when I finally come out. I brace myself for his anger, but he just sighs.
"I sure hope you know what you're getting yourself into, Katniss," he says.
After we make it back home, and safely delivered our load to the sellers at the Hob, I immediately seek out Peeta Mellark. After a bit of questioning, I find out where his quarters are. The Jedi Master we often see him with, Cinna, answers the door when I knock.
"Um, hello," I say. "Is Peeta here?"
As if on cue, Peeta shows up behind him. "Katniss?" He asks.
"Yeah. Hi," I say. "Can I talk to you?"
Cinna looks curious, but steps aside and disappears back into their quarters, leaving us alone.
"I hope this is good news," Peeta says.
"It is," I nod. "I'm going to do it. Let you train me, I mean."
Peeta's face lights up. "Really?"
"Yes," I say, nodding again.
"Katniss, that's great! Can you meet me tomorrow morning? We'll start right away."
"Okay," I agree. "I should be getting home now."
"Right," he says. "Did you just get home from your trip?"
Startled, my eyes widen. He knew?
"Don't worry," he says. "I won't tell. But you should consider something safer." And with that, he closes the door.
Well, that was unexpected. And completely infuriating. How dare he be so superior, when Peeta has grown up in a life where he has never known want, or starvation? I'm mad, but I try to shake it off, because I agreed to train with him starting tomorrow. Besides, he said he wouldn't tell, didn't he? So I decide to let him go, though I might still find a way to say something about it tomorrow.
We meet early the next morning. For the first time, Peeta is wearing his Jedi robes in the woods. It seems a little out of place, especially, after seeing him so often in his exercise clothes, but I suppose it makes sense, with this being Jedi business.
"Are you ready?" He asks me.
"Sure," I shrug. I'm feeling a little worried that this won't get well, but I don't tell him.
We start off with a few basic breathing techniques. Peeta says this is supposed to help me clear out my mind so it's freer to tune in with the Force. He's right about clearing it out-after doing this for a little bit, I do feel calmer. But do I feel in touch with the Force? I don't know. Having never tried it, I have no idea what doing so is even like. But I trust Peeta.
After some time of this, he decides to move on.
"Okay," he says, placing a medium sized boulder in front of me. "Katniss, I want you to shut your eyes, and reach out with your feelings to find this rock."
I just look at him.
"Just try it," he encourages me.
I sigh, but decide to do just that. Shutting my eyes, I utilize his technique to clear out my mind again. Then, I try reaching out for the boulder.
So I try again, but still I feel nothing. I try harder, clenching my eyes shut tightly as if this will somehow help. But still I feel nothing.
I open them, and look over at Peeta. He's studying me hard.
"Did you feel anything?" He asks.
I shake my head. "No. Well, I don't think so, at least," I say.
He frowns, his face clouded in concentration while he thinks about this.
"Okay…" He says at last. "Maybe the best thing would be for you to watch me do it."
"Right," I nod. "That sounds like a good plan.
Peeta turns his full attention to the boulder, holding his hand out. Within seconds, the boulder lifts clear off the ground, eliciting a loud gasp from me. Peeta lets the boulder fall back to the ground as he turns back to me, biting back a smile at my reaction.
"How did you do that?" I ask.
"With the Force," he says like it's the simplest thing in the world. "You just concentrate. With practice, you should be able to feel where the boulder is and do what I just did."
I look at the boulder, feeling skeptical that I'll ever be able to do that.
"Why don't you try it again?" He encourages me.
We spend the entire day practicing this, but by the time evening starts to fall, I still haven't improved. Peeta seems a little confused, but isn't too worried.
"It's just your first day," he tells me. "Give it time and you'll have it."
But he's wrong. Because we try all day, every day for the next week straight, and I make no improvement. If anything, I'm almost laughably bad at reaching out with my feelings. After the sixth day, Peeta finally admits he doesn't understand why I'm showing no signs of improvement.
"I really thought I felt something in you," he says as he drops down next to me, drawing his knees up against his body. "I know it."
"So I'm not going to be a Jedi." I don't know why, but something about this makes me sad.
"Don't say that," he says, looking me straight in the eyes. "We'll figure it out." He holds my gaze for a moment, before I turn away, blushing for some reason.
After another minute, I let out a sigh. "I wouldn't have minded being a Jedi," I admit. "I envy your lifestyle."
He regards me a moment before answering. "And why is that?" he asks with a smile.
"Mostly because it could give my family a better life if I were one, I guess," I says. "But also because you don't marry. And I never want to get married."
Peeta seems surprised by this revelation. "Not ever?" He asks.
I shake my head. "No."
He's quiet for a minute, looking like he's turning something over in his mind. "But Gale… " he starts, but doesn't finish the sentence for whatever reason. But I know what he was going to ask. Not because I could sense it through the Force, but because it's the same question I know everyone wants to ask us.
"No," I shake my head. "He's just my friend."
"Really?" He seems puzzled, but strangely relieved. Now it's my turn to study him.
"Do Jedi really never fall in love?" I ask. "Ever?"
"We're not supposed to," he says. "But sometimes Jedi will defy the code. There are rumors about Master Skywalker and Senator Amidala… " He stops himself, as if he's just revealed something he shouldn't have. He glances at me, then stares straight ahead. "Never mind."
Huh. That's interesting. Senator Amidala is the pregnant senator from Naboo. I don't watch the Holonet too often, I'll admit, but it occurs to me that I don't know who the father is. Is it possible it could be a Jedi? Not that it matters. Whatever those two do, it has no impact on my life.
Peeta is looking at me. It's a weird look, one I don't know what to make of. "Katniss," he says in a thoughtful voice. "You should get married. I wish I could."
"Really?" I look over at him, surprised. The Jedi are so dedicated to their lifestyle, it's hard to imagine any of them ever regretting anything about it. I look over at him, ready to ask him more, but the minute my eyes lock with his, something shifts between us.
It grows silent; both of our breaths are quelled, mine hitched in my throat. I can't break my gaze away from his. Something flips over in my stomach, and I realize my heart is pounding. I see Peeta gulp. Then, maybe it's the Force moving us, or maybe it's something else entirely. The space between us disappears and his lips are on mine.
I feel something stir inside me. Something curious, and warm, that slowly begins creeping through the rest of my body and out through the tips of my being. I'm only vaguely aware of the way my hand comes up and clutches desperately to the sleeve of his robe. It leaves me wanting more, and more, feeling like this hunger might not ever be satisfied.
And then it's over, just like that.
Peeta is pulling away, looking at me in shock, in disbelief, like he's just done the most reprehensible thing he could possibly do. "I'm so sorry, Katniss," he says, climbing to his feet. "I'm so sorry. Please forgive me."
My eyes drop to the ground, confusion now clouding my mind. "No," I say, shaking my head. "No, I shouldn't have done that." And I'm on my feet as well, unable to look him in the eyes. "I can't do this," I say, stumbling away. "I can't do this." And I leave him behind in that clearing, wanting nothing more than to get as far away from this scenario as I can.
I don't see Peeta in the woods again after that. Day after day slips by, before an entire week has passed since the incident. Good. It should be that way. Still, I can't shake the funk I've been in since it happened.
"What happened to your training?" Gale asks me on one of the days he joins me in the forest.
I'm silent a long time before I answer. "He was wrong. I don't have any potential." Gale gives a grunt, but doesn't say anything beyond that. I'm grateful.
It's the middle of the night when my mother wakes me up, drawing open the windows in our room. A dull glow illuminates the room, coming from outside.
"What's going on?" I ask, swinging my feet to the floor and walking over to join her at the window.
"Something's happening," she murmurs. "There's news on the Holonet that the Jedi have revolted across the galaxy."
Alarmed, my eyes dart immediately in the direction where I know Peeta and Cinna are living. "What do you mean, a revolt?" I ask, my voice sounding urgent.
"The Clone Troopers have had to move in to contain them," he explains. "The Jedi Temple on Coruscant is in flames. Many of them have been killed to prevent them from hurting others."
I feel sick. Somehow, I know Peeta is in danger. I turn away from the window, searching immediately for a change of clothes and my pair of boots. I have to get to him. Maybe there's still a chance…
"What are you doing?" My mother asks.
I don't bother answering. "Keep Prim safe," I instruct, and slip out the door before she can try to stop me.
The air is heavy as I make my way down the street. I can feel the tension in the air. People stare from their windows as I pass. I'm the only one who has the courage to do this. Most will stay hidden safely in their homes. But I can't help wondering how safe they really are.
I'm not alone for long, though. A familiar figure soon catches up with me. "What are you doing?" I ask Gale. "You don't even like them."
"I'm not letting you go out there alone," he tells me. "And I know there's no stopping you. So I'm going with you."
"Fine," I frown. But I can't help feeling a little relieved that my hunting partner will be covering my back.
My stomach twists the closer we get. I'm afraid of what we'll find. Sure enough, as their abode comes into view, I see a figure stretched out in front, face down. Something rotten twists inside my and my hand comes up to my mouth, but still I press on, running the last remaining yards between us.
It's Cinna, with a smooth blaster hole planted squarely through his heart. The surprised look on his face suggests it happened before even he could sense it coming. I press his eyes shut, apologizing to him in my mind for his fate. There's nothing more I can do for him besides this, and one question remains unanswered.
"The door is open," Gale says from behind me. We share a glance before I climb to my feet, steel myself, and head inside.
It's dark inside. All the lights were off when the attack happened. "Hello?" I call out in a soft voice, not wanting to draw unwanted attention. If the Clone Troopers truly have turned on the Jedi, then helping them would surely result in death.
No one answers. I creep quietly into the depths of the house, calling out again.
"Well, don't step on me."
I gasp, trying to make my eyes focus in the dark. "Peeta?" I call out softly.
Yeah," he says, his voice soft and coming from somewhere near my feet. "You here to finish me off?"
"Where are you?" I ask, searching for him.
"Here." It takes me a moment, but finally I pinpoint where his voice is coming from, and kneel down on the floor next to him, feeling where his head is.
"What happened?" I ask.
The Clone Troopers. They turned on us. I don't know more than that. But I feel something very dark happening in the Force."
I nod. "Can you get up?"
"No," he says weakly. "They shot me in the leg."
I can't help feeling worse. "I'll get you home to my mother. She can fix that. It could have been a lot worse," I tell him.
"I think they thought it was a lot worse. I fell down and laid still so I could throw them off."
That makes sense. "Do you think you can stand?" I ask him.
"I think I had better try."
Fortunately, Gale joins us. Peeta puts an arm around each of our necks, and together, we hoist him up. Peeta lets out a loud groan as his weight lifts his leg.
"Quiet!" I shush him. "They can't know you're alive."
"How are we going to get him home like this, Katniss?" Gale asks me. "If we run into anyone, he's going to be recognized for sure, and then we'll all be shot."
"Don't worry," Peeta tells us. "Clone Troopers are weak-minded. I can use the Force to cover us."
"Of course you can," Gale mutters, but he doesn't protest it any further. Together, we steal Peeta out the house, planning to take back streets and shortcuts. But soon it becomes clear he won't be able to make the entire journey back to my house. We're forced to reevaluate.
"The ship," I tell Gale.
"No," he shakes his head immediately. "We can't put him there."
"What other option do we have?" I ask him. "It's much closer. He won't make it anywhere else, and there's no where else we can even trust. Besides, we can make a quick getaway there if we have to."
Gale still looks unhappy with the idea, but he gives in. Carefully, we sneak Peeta to the loading docks, and manage to get him aboard undetected.
"I take back my comment from earlier," Peeta tells me as we create a bed for him down in the hidden storage compartments we normally use for smuggling. "It's a good thing you have this."
I smile, stroking his hair back. "You just hang tight. I'll get my mother here as soon as I can." Then I slip back off into the night, running as fast as I can to get my mother and sister, who are healers and will know how to help him.
When I get them aboard, I sit anxiously on the passenger benches just above the storage compartments, waiting for my mom and sister to emerge with news. Gale paces back and forth in front of me.
"What do we do if the authorities find out we're harboring him, Katniss?" he asks me after a while.
I look up at him, working things out. "We'll figure something out."
He shakes his head and continues pacing.
When my mom and sister finally emerge, I nearly pounce on them with anticipation. My mother makes me sit back down before she tells us what's happening.
"We've bandaged his leg up," she tells us. "I gave him something, and he's resting peacefully now. We'll just let him do that for a few days and see what happens," she says.
And we do. The days slowly tick by. I don't want to, but everyone, Peeta included, makes me leave the ship for a little while. If anyone notices us loitering longer than usual, they could become suspicious, and then we'd be in trouble. Still, I spend as much time there as I can.
Gale and I are lounging in the cockpit, listening to news updates on the signal receptor when he says it. The announcement that the Galactic Republic has just been reorganized into the first Galactic Empire, with Chancellor Palpatine, now Emperor Palpatine, who someone manager to survive an attempt on his life, leading it, has just played. He lowers the volume and looks ahead thoughtfully. "Maybe we should just turn him over, Katniss," he says.
"What?!" My head jerks towards him, angry.
"It might be for the best. We can't keep our families in danger just to protect him."
"How could you even say that?" I spit. "You hate them as much as I do!"
"Yeah," he agrees. "But I hate the thought of my family being tortured for their association more."
"No!" I nearly shout. "We're not doing it!"
"Okay," he relents. Nothing more is said between either of us the rest of the afternoon.
But it turns out Gale might have been on to something. Because when a group of Clone Troopers show up that evening, wanting to inspect our ship because they had heard rumors we were harboring deadly fugitives, it's almost a miracle we're not caught. Thankfully they didn't have the foresight to think to look for hidden smuggling compartments. We get out of it safe, but the same question is on all our minds: how much longer?
"Katniss," Peeta tells me when I bring food down to him later. "I've been thinking… maybe you should just turn me over."
"No!" I say immediately.
"But it would be for the better. You can't keep your family in danger forever for me."
"No, Peeta. I won't do it, and I don't want to hear any more about it."
Impulsively, I lean forward and press my lips to his. I feel that same thing stir inside of me, but this time it's quieted by how warm his lips are. I pull away, Peeta looking up at me with conflicted, sad eyes, and feel his forehead.
"Peeta, you're burning up with fever."
Immediately, I run for my mother and sister, and bring them back. When the come up from the compartment, I can tell from the look in my mother's eyes that it's bad news.
"It's badly infected," she tells us. "And there's blood poisoning. He's going to need his leg amputated if he's going to be saved."
"Can you do that?" I ask immediately.
She looks me straight in the eye before she shakes her head. "No, Katniss. He needs professional help."
I turn to Gale. "We have to get him out of here."
He shakes his head. "No, Katniss. It's too risky."
"He'll die, Gale!"
"Our families could die, Katniss!"
"I know!" I say. "But… but… " I fall down on the bench and rest my head in my hands.
Prim settles down next to me, and wraps her arms around me. "Katniss," she tells me, "we'll be alright. Take him to get help."
I look up at her. "It's risky, Prim."
"I know," she tells me. "But if you don't do this, you'll never be able to forgive yourself."
She's right. I look at my little sister, wondering when she got to be so wise. I gather her in my arms and give her a tight hug. "I love you," I tell her.
"I love you, too," she says.
I stand. My mother looks like she's on the brink of tears. Gale is frowning deeply. "I have to," I say weakly. "She's right."
My mother is the first to respond, nodding tearfully. "I know, Katniss," she says. Then she's hugging, me too. "Be safe."
"You, too," I tell her.
Gale looks me over. "Don't do anything foolish, Katniss."
"I won't," I say, shaking my head.
"I'll look after them until you come back." I nod. When Gale opens his arms, I walk straight into them. "Don't get yourself killed. If anyone can outrun them, it's you."
They file out in a single line down the loading ramp. I wait until they're gone, watching them as they slip out of sight before I begin the process of firing up the ship. "You'll see them again soon," I whisper to myself.
Once we've reached hyperspace, I put the ship on autopilot and crawl down to Peeta's compartment. "Peeta," I tell him, brushing the hair off his forehead, "I'm taking you to get help."
He looks up at me, surprised. "Are you sure?" he asks, attempting to sit up. I quiet him, making him lie back down.
"I'm sure. We've already taken off."
His eyes cloud over in concern. "Katniss, this could get you killed."
"I know," I sigh. "I know." I reach down and take his hand in mine, giving it a gentle squeeze before heading back for the cockpit.
The final battle occurs over our moon. We see the explosion light up the sky, even in the middle of the day. The reports come flooding in shortly after.
DARTH VADER IS DEAD. EMPEROR PALPATINE IS DEAD. THE GALACTIC EMPIRE IS DISMANTLED.
So the rebel forces have won out at last. The faces of Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, Han Solo, Lando Calrissian, and other war heroes are plastered all over the holonet for days.
"Do you think it's safe?" I ask Peeta.
He's quiet for a long time. I know he's searching his feelings. After twenty years with him, I understand his talent with the Force more than I ever would have imagined.
"Yes," he says at last. "Balance has been returned to the Force."
I know he's right. But it's still another month before I work up the courage. I've kept tabs on them the best I could over the years, enough to know they're still alive. But I haven't dared reach out to them in all this time, for fear of being caught.
Peeta and I landed safely on an outpost in space. His leg was amputated and he was recovering before his identity was discovered. We barely escaped with our lives, but not before our pictures were captured and blasted across the entire galaxy as dangerous fugitives, to be turned over to Vader himself once caught. I knew there was no way I could go home. My mother and sister, and even Gale would be brought in for questioning, but once they figured out we weren't there, they would be left well enough alone.
So Peeta and I drifted from planet to planet, asteroid to asteroid, dodging Imperial attention. We finally landed on the forested moon of Endor, which was left well enough alone by the Empire and galaxy at large. At least before they decided to build their second Death Star here.
We found a new community. Haymitch Abernathy, a cranky old war veteran who just wanted to get away from the disarray the galaxy had fallen into. Johanna Mason, a slave who had managed to escape Jabba the Hutt's clutches and hidden herself here. Annie Cresta, whose husband had been gunned down in the rebellion shortly after the Empire had formed, and needed a safe place to raise their son. And Peeta and myself. We raised our children, shielding them the best we could from the Empire.
It took five, ten, fifteen years to agree. But Peeta had wanted them so badly. And with the Jedi Order gone, there was no reason to abide by his vow of chastity. We wed a few years after we landed here. It took him some time to convince me to do even that. But Peeta Mellark snuck up on me. And eventually, I knew I couldn't be without him. There were nights where I was numb from the pain of being separated from my family. Only Peeta's arms comforted me on those nights. And then we started a new family.
Now, though, now it's all over. And it's still so hard to believe. But as I watch Mon Mothma and Senator Organa on the holonet, announcing the return of the Galactic Republic, it begins to sink it. I watch my daughter with my dark hair and Peeta's blue eyes, and my son, who inherited Peeta's blond hair and my grey eyes, playing together peacefully in the meadow outside our quarters. I pick up the commlink and call home.
Happy May the Fourth/Revenge of the Fifth! This was written for EverlarkianArchives's Moves in the Month of May challenge over on Tumblr. I've been dying to write this out for over a year now; hope you enjoyed it!