Just Get Me In
The late night security lights in the hotel corridor created furniture shadows, but offered faint illumination—not that Peeta needed it as he moved toward his target, his broad shoulders and mouth set in grim purpose.
He knocked on the door repeatedly over the growls and orders to go away on the other side, until he was pounding on it with his fist. He smirked at the sound of stumbling and swearing before the door finally opened on his mentor's glare.
"What do you want at this hour?" the older man demanded with a grizzly's gruffness, shaking his disheveled, thinning hair and knotting the complementary black silk robe around his waist.
Peeta held out his negotiating tool—a bottle of the Capitol's finest liquor he'd been able to procure through nefarious means. "I thought we should talk," he said simply.
The change in Haymitch's Seam-grey eyes as they fixed on the bottle was like a beam of sunlight breaking through storm clouds. He moved to let Peeta in, extending an eager arm for the amber-colored bottle. "Thought you and your girlfriend had me on the wagon," he huffed in a voice both bitter and hopeful.
"One glass," Peeta said, filling it from the bar area, "until we've reached an agreement."
"Hmph, what kind of agreement?" Haymitch asked, resisting the impulse to down the liquid in one gulp.
Peeta indicated the sofa in the seating area. From there one could look out the large window at the night-draped Capitol of Panem, twinkling jewel-like midst the mountains that surrounded it. "I want you to get me in with the Careers."
Haymitch chuckled as he tossed back the alcohol. "You want to be allied with the killers?" He looked up into Peeta's resolute face. "What happened to your wanting to protect Katniss at any cost?"
Peeta threw up his hands in frustration. "You saw her; she doesn't get it. If the Careers didn't hate her before for her high score, then they really do after the interview. And she thinks my embarrassing her by saying I love her is her biggest problem!"
Haymitch took in the stocky frame, nice face and soulful blue eyes of the young man before him. "The way you said that—it's not just a game plan, is it? You love her."
Peeta didn't respond, standing there with his memories—watching from a distance as the fiercely independent young woman daily defied the Capitol to feed her family, the little girl with pigtails who made the birds quiet with her singing...
"It would take a lot to convince her of that," Haymitch said, bringing Peeta back to the moment.
A slight smile broke through his stony demeanor, like a crack in a marble statue. "I don't have to convince her. She never has to see me again. All I have to do is keep the killers away from her. She's a survivor. She'll be fine on her own, hunting for food, living by instincts."
He looked out the window, seeking the darkest, plainest patch of night that he could find. "She doesn't know anything but a fair fight though, and she's never been hunted herself. I can protect her better with her enemies than if I'm with her, holding her back. Just get me in with them."
Haymitch's attention focused on the determined blond man, rather than the bottle he held. "Why should they want you?"
Peeta returned his gaze to the hollow-cheeked and hollowed-out man on the couch. "Tell their mentors I told that story of being in love with her to throw her off and I hate her too and can help them track her. I don't care what you tell them, just get me in."
His mentor shook his head, concerned for the fate of both his charges, who had affected him more than all the others he'd watched die over the years. "You'll have to prove yourself in the bloodbath."
"If they find out you've tricked them, they won't just kill you; they'll make you suffer. Are you ready for that?"
Another memory came to Peeta—that same young girl, gaunt and trembling in the rain, seeking food from his family's bakery trash bins, desperation on her face. Even at that young age, he'd been willing to take punishment to be able to give her a couple of loaves of discarded bread. Now...
He passed the bottle into the bony, wrinkled hand of the man who could help him protect her. "Just get me in."