Part 1: The Spark
Chapter 1 – when the walls come stumbling down
I clasp the flask between my hands and stare into the fire. I'd put some hot milk in it to help me relax but the milk has grown cold and I still feel exhausted because I have slept terribly last night. Lying awake, dreading the days to come. Dreaming of Katniss, again. Katniss leaving me behind, the same dream every night. The same anxious feeling when I wake and realize the truth again. It was an act. It was all just an act. Our nights huddled together in the cave, her kisses, her caresses. They were not real. And still... I miss them so much.
It has been six months since we arrived back in district 12. First, there were a couple of weeks of festivities, where cameras and reporters were circling around us. Katniss just clung to me and didn't let me go until they left and she had to. Those weeks I tried to put up the act of being a happy couple, deeply in love. It was really hard and I worked on building the protective walls around my heart every night, just to have them broken down again during the day. To see her smile, even though I knew it was faked. To feel the warmth of her lips against mine. It was like living in a dream that felt like a nightmare at the same time. And now the day has arrived, the day of the victory tour. Where we have to start this whole charade over again. And I just don't want to.
The victory tour itself is bad enough. Parading ourselves in front of the other districts. People pretending to love us, to be happy for us, whereas in reality they despise us for killing their children. And we did, we killed their children. And for that, they have to applaud us. It is sick. And to make it worse, I know Katniss will cling to me again, effectively breaking down the walls I worked so hard on these past few months. And my heart will lie exposed and naked in front of her. For her to trample it. To crush it.
Nick, who came early this morning to have breakfast with me, appears from the kitchen and takes the flask from my hand, replacing it for a steaming mug of hot chocolate.
"You know, maybe this is a good time for you to mend things with her," he says.
I look up, incredulous. "How am I supposed to mend things?" I ask him.
"To be honest, Peeta, you were the one walking away from her." He says.
"Yes!" I say, my voice shaken from hidden anger, "because it wasn't real, okay! She lied to me!"
"I know that, I know." He says, holding his hands up in defense, "and I'm not saying that it's okay, but really, Peeta, you have to try to see it from her perspective too, she was trying to save you both."
I nod. But that is the one thing that makes this all so confusing for me. "Why, why did she fight so hard to safe us both if she didn't care?" I whisper and I bury my face in my hands.
Nick sits down next to me and puts a hand on my leg. "Because she does care, she does. No one can act that good, I know what I saw."
"Can you go over there and tell her that?" I say, nodding my head in the direction of Katniss' house.
Nick shakes his head. "Look, I don't know her well enough to tell you why she did exactly what she did. But I do know that this isn't working for you. You have to get over it."
"How do I get over it, Nick," I say, "this tour starts today, we have to kiss again, to hold hands. And nothing of it will be true."
"I don't think that nothing will be true. She cares for you enough to save your life, that is the truth I do know." Nick says. "That counts for something, Peeta. Maybe you should just focus on what is true, and see what you can do from there. Who knows, there might be a possibility for you to become friends."
"Friends." I say, tasting the word in my mouth. It sounds like a good word, a word I use for Nick, and for a few other guys from town. But can I apply it to Katniss? I nod slowly as Nick gets up.
"Listen, I have to go, I have school," he says and claps my shoulder. "You'll be okay, I know you will. See you in a fortnight and don't forget to enjoy yourself a little bit."
With that he disappears, leaving me to ponder over what he just said.
I get up and go to my large kitchen, where I spend most of my mornings baking bread and cookies. This morning I've made a badge of cookies and now I'm icing them with Prim's favourite flower, tiger lilies. Katniss told me she loved the icing on our cakes and since then I try to bake cookies with her favourite icing on top of it, at least once a week. Mrs. Everdeen says once a week is enough, because she doesn't want Prim to be spoiled. It is hard not to spoil Prim, though, because she's such a sweet girl. I try to focus on the icing while I think of the impossibility of Nicks idea. Become friends with Katniss. I don't know how to handle that and in my frustration I mess up one of the cookies. Irritated, I throw the cookie on the table, where it breaks and crumbles and somehow that reminds me of my own heart being shattered. Nick is right, this isn't working, I have to get over it. I grab the cookies and put them in a box and start cleaning the kitchen.
After I've done the dishes and dropped off a couple of cheese buns and the tiger lily cookies to Mrs. Everdeen, I take a loaf of bread and go check on Haymitch. Snow is slowly descending from the gray sky as I cross the few yards between Katniss' and Haymitch' house. When I enter I hear voices in the kitchen. A low growling one that must be Haymitch and the other voice I'd recognize anywhere. Katniss. For a second I hesitate, but I think about Nick's words and the inevitability of being with her today. I might as well get it over with. So I walk in the kitchen, and just catch the last thing Katniss says.
"Look, if you wanted to be babied, you should have asked Peeta."
"Asked me what?" I ask as I cross to the table. I put the loaf of bread on it and extend my hand towards Haymitch, indicating to give me his knife, while I meticulously ignore Katniss.
"Asked you to wake me without giving me pneumonia," says Haymitch, while he gives me his knife. He has been drinking all night, by the looks of it. His clothes are filthy, his hair matted against his forehead. He must have been dreading this day as much as I have. He is soaked with water, which tells me Katniss woke him up by giving him a bath.
I smile at that and kneel down to the floor, where a bottle still filled with white liquor stands and I clean the knife in the liquor. While I get up again I dry the knife with my shirt, slice the bread and give Haymitch the first slice. He likes the crust of the heel the most.
Then I finally acknowledge Katniss as I lift my head and look at her. She stands next to the open window, ready to escape. There are dark circles under her eyes and I know what that means. She hasn't been sleeping well either. She's wearing hunting gear, indicating she came from the woods, probably via a stroll to the Hob, the black market of district twelve. I already knew she went hunting, because she wasn't there when I dropped of the cheese buns just now. Katniss hunts every day, I bake, Haymitch drinks. This is how we cope. We, survivors of the Hunger Games, although I think the term victims is more suitable, considering the fact that we do not sleep.
I hand out a slice of bread to Katniss. "Would you like a piece?" My voice sounds hollow.
"No, I ate at the Hob," she says. "But thank you." She sounds as hollow as I do. How am I supposed to fix this, because she obviously doesn't want anything to do with me. I sigh before I answer.
Haymitch has pulled of his shirt and tosses it away. "Brrr. You two have got a lot of warming up to do before show time."
Katniss just shakes her head at that and says, "Take a bath, Haymitch," before she jumps out of the window and disappears.
I take a chair and slump down next to Haymitch who mutters at Katniss, "I just did."
He scowls at me and says, "you have to do a whole lot better than that, you know that, right?"
I put my elbow on the table and let my head rest in my hand, while staring in the distance.
"I know," is all I can say.
"You know the capitol wasn't too happy about your stunt with the berries," Haymitch says. "I've told Katniss already, your only defence is that you were desperately in love."
He holds up a hand as he sees I want to reply. "No, let me finish. I know you were desperately in love with her, Peeta, I know you feel rejected. But now is not the time to swallow in your sorry sixteen year old problems. I'm telling you, being desperately in love is still your defence. You can't let it show, you're a great actor, you'll be just fine. It is only a couple of weeks." He says and he gets up and stumbles upstairs. Presumably to take that bath Katniss referred to earlier.
This is the second time today that someone told me to get over myself and deal with Katniss. Be it in a more drunken and harsh way. Still, Haymitch made his point clear. I don't exactly know what the capitol thinks of us, and what it means that they aren't exactly happy. But they do have all the power and the possibility to do us harm. And despite everything, I have to face the fact that I still love Katniss and the idea of any harm becoming her just makes my heart ache.
The thought pulls me up short. I still love Katniss. Building walls for six months didn't change that at all. I still want to take her in my arms and hold her, to protect her, to keep her safe. Somewhere in my heart, buried deep down under layers of doubt, I can still hear her voice in my mind. Put you somewhere where you can't get hurt. And all that this comment implied. Her love for me, her wanting to keep me safe from harm.
I asked her what part of it all was an act and what wasn't. She never answered me that. But her voice enters my dreams often, all the things she said to me, the way she looked at me. Her eyes shining with such a beautiful expression. I've never seen her look at anyone like that, this look is only reserved for me and even if I try really hard, I still can't see anything but love in it. It only adds to my confusion when I think about her and the happiness she seemed to portray on the night of our reunion. A part of me can't believe that it was all just an act. Not all of it, she'd said.
Maybe Nick is right and I have to take the option of becoming friends with her. Maybe things will be easier if we are friends. In that way, we can stop acting, at least, to some extent. I am so scared, so scared for the walls to come stumbling down, but I know this is the right thing to do and I'll just have to face my fears. I slowly get up from the table to go back to my own house. Soon my prep team and Portia will be there to get me ready for the camera's and I don't want to keep them waiting.
With a new resolve I open the door of Haymitch's house and walk back to my own house through the snow.