Katniss Everdeen knelt in the soft, black soil outside her house, a pair of garden shears in her hand. The late summer sun was beating down on her back. She carefully cradled the primrose bloom in between her fingers, cut the stem with the shears, and placed it in the basket behind her. The basket was already filled with goldenrod and violets from the meadow. This was part of her daily routine, picking flowers, placing them in her basket, and arranging them for the dinner table. Day after day, after day. Dr Aurelius had said that having a routine would be good for her, and would help her recover faster. She wasn't sure if it was helping, but had been trying to stick to her routines for several weeks now, nursing the scraggly little primrose bushes into thriving plants. It made her feel good, she found, to help something grow, instead of destroying things, as had been the norm in the Games, and in the rebellion. These little flowers depended on her care, and being depended on was something she had all but lost since leaving the Capitol. The primroses were almost spent, their season started much earlier, first coming out in spring. These would be the last flowers of the season, but she could enjoy the greenery for a bit longer.
She was mostly on her own, now. Her mother was helping people in the other districts, and Prim...Prim was gone. Dead. Not even her cat, Buttercup, depended on Katniss. He always did curl up at her feet on the bed, though, seeking warmth and companionship. She had tried to be nicer to him, since she doubted Prim would have approved of them not getting along. He ran past her now, a blur of fur, chasing and pouncing on grasshoppers. He was the one thing in District 12 that had not changed, still a surly feline by anyone's reckoning. Mostly everything had been destroyed in the bombing, and now everyone was helping to rebuild the district. Housing was going up very slowly, but fields were being plowed and sown with seeds. It reminded her the fields she saw in District 11.
Now that she was on her own, she had no one to stay together for. She could completely fall apart, and it wouldn't affect anyone. Buttercup could manage without her. He would find some other human to feed him just fine. But then again, she wasn't completely alone. Her mother and Prim may have been gone, but Haymitch and Peeta were still in the village, and she saw them nearly everyday. Peeta did not always show up for supper. She always assumed that it had to do with the tracker jacker venom that still affected him, but she never asked. She remembered what Finnick had said what seemed like ages ago: that it takes ten times as long to put yourself back together than it does to fall apart. So, just for the sake of convenience, she tried to pick up the pieces of her life.
She wiped the sweat off of her brow. It was ghastly hot, in late August. Her sleeveless shirt hardly offered any comfort. All she had managed to do was get nasty sunburns on her arms and shoulders. She had found an old sunhat of her mother's to wear to at least protect her face. Animals were scarce, seeking out the cool caves and crevices that she couldn't reach. Not to mention, she was competing with the other wild animals for game. She had managed to catch a rabbit earlier in the day, which was fortunate.
She felt her stomach rumbling, and looked up from the primrose bushes. It was getting late, and she was ready for supper. Peeta would be over with bread soon, and she already had rabbit stew cooking inside. She didn't know how he could stand being so near the hot ovens all day. At least outside, a breeze would occasionally pick up and give her some relief from the sweltering heat. She quickly cut the last primrose, and instantly felt a sharp pain in her hand. In her zeal to get inside, she had sliced her hand open. It was not a deep cut, but it was bleeding a lot. She hoped it did not need to be stitched up. "Oh, damn," she grumbled, walking quickly to the water pump. She was dizzy as soon as she got on her feet, but she ignored it. The water flowed out luke warm. It had been so hot that cold water was hard to come by. She blinked as she cleaned the wound, and saw blisters all over her hands. She started, but bit her lip to stop herself. "It's not real." She blinked again. This time, red welts up and down both her hands, and stinging, burning, excruciating pain. She cried out and fell backwards, flat on her back.
"Katniss!" And then he was helping her sit up, methodically checking her head for any bumps or bruises or cuts, wiping her hands clean with a damp cloth.
"It's okay, Peeta," she said as he helped her to her feet. She wobbled a little, but regained her balance quickly. "I just thought I saw something that wasn't there."
Peeta Mellark stared at her, brow furrowed. He touched her face, brushing her hair away from her eyes. "You're sure? You didn't hit your head or anything, did you?"
"No, I just cut my hand." She shook her head. "I swear, these shears cut skin a lot better than stems." She chuckled half-heartedly, showing him her hand. "I should probably put something on it, it might get infected." Now there really was a welt on her hand, bright red and beginning to puff up.
Peeta hurried her inside the house and sat her down in the kitchen. "Don't move," he said, before walking away to retrieve everything he needed. Before long, he was sitting beside her, dabbing her hand slowly. She winced at the sting of the alcohol. "I should find you some new shears. Those rusty old things aren't safe," he said quietly. "I'll look tomorrow. Greasy Sae might be able to hook us up with some newer ones." He took a clean cloth, poured more alcohol on it, and continued dabbing at the cut. "It doesn't look too bad. I wish you'd be more careful. What if I hadn't been right there?"
"I suppose I would have spent a little longer lying in the dirt," Katniss replied, smirking.
He frowned at her, but there was something playful in his eyes. Katniss watched him carefully cleaning off the dirt and the blood. His other hand held her wrist and he gently stroked her skin with his thumb. She stared at the scar on the back of his hand. That had been her fault, biting down on his skin when she had meant to bite the nightlock capsule. He was so warm. Strangely, that didn't bother her, even while beads of sweat trickled down between her shoulder blades. There was a closeness now, in this moment, between them that there hadn't been for a long time. It wasn't that there was any animosity between them, but their relationship had been a little strained. She had always felt that this was just part of the healing process, and things would return to normal. Whatever normal was. Nonetheless, they both always knew what the other was thinking. They hadn't lost that connection, at least.
As if sensing her eyes on him, he glanced up, his blue eyes just visible behind his messy blond hair. She wasn't sure how it happened, but they were only inches from each other, and then her lips found his. He was kissing her back as his hand gently crept behind her neck, pulling her closer. She ran her fingers through his hair. She didn't know what had come over her, why she suddenly did this, why he was letting her do this. She didn't want it to ever stop. She wasn't going to pull away. She wanted more. But they broke apart suddenly, staring at each other, searching the other's eyes. She couldn't find any words and, for once, he couldn't either.
"Anyone home?" came Haymitch Abernathy's sing-song voice. He was very close. Standing right above them, in fact.
Katniss was mortified, but Peeta's face was unchanged. He had not taken his eyes off of her. She wondered if he even knew that Haymitch had walked in on them...well, gazing into each other's eyes. She was sure her face was flushed, partly from embarrassment, and partly from the heat of the moment. He reached his hand up and tucked her hair behind her ear, exposing a scar near her eye. Her hair had been all but completely chopped off after the explosion in the Capitol, and she was trying to grow it out again. It was difficult, because they had not cut it evenly, so she had to continually lop of sections of her hair to even them out with the others. It was getting longer, though, almost long enough to braid.
Haymitch sat down at the table, putting his feet up. He was already drinking whiskey out of a clear bottle. "So, we're eating, right? I hate to break up this little love fest, but I'm starving."
"It's not a love fest, Haymitch," Katniss snapped.
"Well, whatever it was," he said, shrugging. "I'm still hungry."
Katniss glared at him, then started to get up, only to be gently pushed back to her chair by Peeta. "I'll get everything. You shouldn't be moving your hand around too much until it starts to heal." He busied himself setting the table, and serving the stew and bread. She wished he would have let her do that. She would have enjoyed mostly anything better than chit-chatting with her former mentor right now.
"What happened to your hand?" Haymitch asked gruffly, gesturing with the whiskey bottle.
"It's just a little cut," she said dismissively. "Nothing to worry about."
"It wasn't little," Peeta said, returning to the table. "Here, let me wrap it for you," he said, quickly unrolling some gauze and handing the plates to Haymitch. When her hand was sufficiently bandaged, he deftly cut the gauze with the knife he kept in his belt, and secured the wrappings. "Better?"
Katniss nodded and dug into her stew. It wasn't the grand and glorious fare of the Capitol, but it was enough for the three of them. They had been sharing meals since Peeta returned. Katniss and Haymitch still didn't always see eye to eye, and Peeta was a good buffer. They kept up a polite conversation. Peeta, as usual, did most of the talking. When Haymitch finished the bottle of whiskey, he slowly made his way back to his own house. Peeta went with to make sure he made it. Haymitch had a bad habit of being falling-down drunk after their dinners. She was slowly cleaning up when he returned. "I thought you would have gone home," she said.
"I didn't want to leave without saying goodnight." He took the dirty plates out of her hands. "Let me." He washed the plates off in the sink and handed them back to her to dry. "Erm, about...earlier," he said.
"I'm sorry," Katniss blurted out. She didn't really know why this was so awkward. She had kissed Peeta many times during the Games and the Victory Tour. But this one was different. She kissed him because she wanted to. "I wasn't feeling well—I was delusional, and hungry, and—"
"You don't have to apologize to me," he said. "I know what it's like to not be quite yourself." He gave her a small smile. "I should get going." He turned to go, with his hand on the doorknob, then stopped. "You'll be all right, won't you?"
Katniss bit her lip. She still wasn't quite sure what was going on in her head, let alone in her heart. She didn't want him to go, but she didn't want to give him the wrong idea either. She missed having his strong arms around her, the feeling of safety, the peace that a full night's sleep would give her. They had finally found the comfort of friendship again in each other, but until today, it had never been any more. Peeta had always given her space and she had done the same for him. She still didn't know what made her kiss him like that. But it was the same feeling she had when they shared a kiss on the beach during the Quarter Quell. That was the last time they had been that close, she realized. "I'll be okay," she finally said. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"First thing," he said, smiling. "Maybe we can work on the book some more." He smiled and gently closed the door behind him.
Katniss exhaled slowly, looking around the empty room. She missed having people around her. This was the first time in her life that she was living alone, and the house given to her was far too large for one person. One of the good things about the Hunger Games was living in communal quarters. They had their own bedrooms, of course, but they took all their meals together. She shuddered and shook the thought of the Games out of her head, and then got ready for bed. She looked out the window, for the light in Peeta's bedroom. The electricity was not yet entirely reliable in the district, so candles were still the standard after dark. Electricity was to be saved for more important things like communication between the districts. The small flickering glow from a candle appeared and, satisfied, she climbed into bed.
Within minutes, she heard the soft padding of feet on the floor, and felt the familiar pressure at the end of her bed. Buttercup curled up beside her feet, and his steady breathing lulled her to sleep.
Morning came too quickly. She had had nightmares, and had tossed and turned, but had at least gotten through the night without waking up screaming, in a cold sweat. That wasn't to say that she hadn't woken up, however. She was never able to sleep through the night. She dressed quickly and went out to hunt. When it was this hot, it was especially important to get out early in the morning. That is, if one wanted to actually catch anything. The sun was barely up and fog stretched out over the town. Once she had gotten to the woods, she checked the traps she had laid out. Two more rabbits. That wasn't bad. She would have to try and trade it for something in town. Maybe she could find another pair of garden shears that were less dangerous and less rusted. Katniss spent the next two hours tracking a family of deer, but was unable to get any of them, by the end.
Sweating profusely, she washed her face off in the creek, and headed back to town. Some of the farmhands were already out, plowing and planting for a late year harvest. She wondered what they would plant. Pumpkins or onions maybe. Another crop of lettuce would be nice. Behind the field were several rows of apple trees. The children would often be the ones gathering the ripened fruit in the afternoon, as there was no school to keep them occupied.
The village square now housed an open air market, which was a stark contrast from the Hob. The market was teeming with people trading and buying. She found Greasy Sae, but unfortunately she did not have anything like new garden shears, so Katniss traded one of the rabbits for a bushel of apples. Maybe Peeta could make some sweet rolls with these, she thought as she approached his house. She knocked on his door and stepped inside. "Peeta?" She deposited the rabbit, apples, and bow and arrows by the door, stepping further inside. She had never spent much time in his house. He always seemed to come to her. His furniture was very dark, very modern-looking, compared to hers. Peeta had very few possessions, it seemed. Everything would have been destroyed in the bombing, since his family was unable to get out. She had offered many times to help him search through the rubble for his belongings, but he had always refused. He would lie, saying that there really had been nothing there of his own, having been the youngest of three boys.
She noticed that the television was damaged, cracked in the middle. She wondered if he had done that in a fit of rage. Peeta wasn't an angry person at all, but occasionally the tracker jacker venom took hold of him, and he could hardly control himself. She walked into the study, which he had turned into a workshop. Several canvases were set up, some half-covered with paint, others filled with pencil sketches. Some were absolutely terrifying, filled with images from her own nightmares. Others she didn't want to tear her eyes from, because they were so beautiful. She recognized Annie and Finnick's wedding. He had painted the dancing, captured the movement and the joy of that moment. It was so short-lived. One painting in the room was complete. It was Prim. She was in a meadow, surrounded by flowers. Katniss bit her lip, trying to suppress the flood of emotion that was threatening to come out. She turned and walked out quickly.
The whole house smelled like baking bread, but it got more and more tempting as she neared the kitchen. She saw he had an enormous oven and a fire was blazing inside it right now. Peeta must have been up very early. She sat down, watching the flickering firelight, almost mesmerized by it. She suddenly heard the creaking of floorboards and turned around to face the person coming down the stairs. "You should lock your front door. Anybody could just walk right in."
He smiled. "As long as it's just you, I'm okay with that."
"I brought some apples for you," she said. "By the door. I traded one of my rabbits for them."
"Thanks," he said, unloading them into a bowl on the table. "What brings you here so early? I figured I wouldn't see you for hours still."
"I don't sleep that late," she said defensively. "You were certainly up early."
"I haven't been sleeping very well," he said, frowning, taking out some fresh dough and beginning to knead it. "A few hours here and there. And at a certain point, I figure that I should just get up, if all I'm going to be doing is lying in bed with my eyes open." She didn't realize he was still that bad. She remembered that he hardly ever slept when they invaded the Capitol. She could still see him lying there, eerily awake.
She decided she needed to change the subject, get their minds off those miserable times. She could never truly get it out of her mind, but Peeta didn't have to suffer it too. Although, she doubted he did not also carry these thoughts with him always. "What kind are you making? It smells delicious."
He gestured toward the oven. "They're strawberry tarts. I used the last of the berries that we had. They were so ripe, there was nothing to do with them but cook them."
Her mouth was watering. "I hope you're going to share."
"Always," he said, smiling. He pulled them out of the oven and set them aside. "Wait until they cool. Can't have you burning yourself, especially with one hand out of commission already." He sat down across from her and they sat quietly and a little awkwardly for a few minutes. "How is your hand?"
Katniss stretched it out and flexed it. She had applied more salve and changed the bandages in the morning. "Feels better. I probably won't be digging out in the dirt for a few days, though." Peeta kept his eyes on her. "What? Why are you staring at me?"
"I think things are getting better," he said.
She furrowed her brow. "What do you mean?"
"I'm not sure," he said. "But after yesterday, I feel like I know you again. Like I've been wandering around in this fog for so long, and I've finally come out of it." He averted his eyes for a moment. "Does that make any sense?"
It did. The way he had held her, the comfort of his warmth, her hunger for his lips: those were all so familiar. She just nodded. She didn't regret what had happened, but she wasn't sure if she was ready for that kind of relationship. Maybe she should just trust her instinct, go with her heart instead of her head.
"I know I haven't been the most reliable friend lately," he said. "But if you need me, I'll always come running. You know that, right?"
She smiled. "I know. Me too." He handed her a tart. She bit into it and a rush of flavors hit her tongue. "These are amazing, Peeta! They might be my new favorite."
She thought she saw him blushing as he piled the rest of the tarts onto plates. He covered one with a cheese cloth. "Bring this to Haymitch. I have to get to the bakery. We've almost got all the debris out, so we'll be able to start rebuilding it soon."
She gathered her things at the door, balancing the plate on one hand. "That's good news. Maybe I'll come by and see you—see the progress you've made, I mean."
"That would be nice." He held open the door, waiting for her to exit first. "Otherwise, I'll see you for supper?"
She nodded, walking out. Peeta followed her out, then turned down the path to the square. Katniss watched him go, unsure of what to do next. She guessed it was only nine or ten in the morning. She left the plate of tarts by Haymitch's door. He was almost certainly still asleep, as he rarely was able to sleep at night either. What a trio they were, wide awake at night and in a haze during the day.
She whiled away the hours slowly, first cutting and arranging the flowers from the day before into a wreath, and then going through her book, writing bits here and there about her fallen friends. She stopped when she reached Prim's page. It was blank, except for her face. Peeta had drawn her so perfectly in every detail. It was as if she was still alive, staring back at Katniss, demanding to know why she wasn't moving on with her life, why she was still in mourning. Prim was the person she knew best in all the world, but she couldn't find words when she finally put her pen to paper. Primrose Everdeen was my sister,she wrote. She was the kindest, gentlest person I have ever met. She was a healer: she extended life, and did not destroy it. She died in the rebellion. The next part she did not write, but it was in her mind: Gale's bombs killed her.