I could tell something was bothering him from the pensive way he sat at the front door, legs pulled to his chest. He looked eerily like he did when we were first in the Capitol, sitting by the window in our lavish rooms at the training center. His look as he stares down at the sheets of rain pouring from the sky wasn't as dark as it was back in the Capitol while he watched the citizens of Panem celebrating our pending doom, but it still carried a heavy weight.
Silently, I slid down the opposite side of the door frame from him. Stretching my legs out before me, I made a point of resting my leg against the side of his, the fabric of our pants the only thing separating my burned skin from his prosthetic limb. Sometimes, I found it easier to let him sit in silence and ride out the darkness inside of him. There were moments when I saw a monstrous flash in his eyes, a look that so clearly wasn't Peeta. I would never admit it to him, but that look scared me more than anything else since the end of the war.
"Talk to me," I broke the silence softly, my head turning to follow his gaze into the rain. The strength of the rain limited our line of sight, and I couldn't tell if the lights in Haymitch's home were on or not.
His shoulders seemed to both shrug and remain completely still at the same time. It was something only Peeta could pull off. "I've been thinking about going to see the bakery," he admitted, though his eyes never turned toward me as he spoke.
Words churned in my mind and my throat, but I couldn't get them past my lips. We had both suffered so much, and he had come such a long way in his rehabilitation in the Capitol under the watchful eye of Dr. Aurelius. I did not want to risk saying something that would cause a backslide. I couldn't afford to lose Peeta again. I doubted either one of us could survive it.
Only then did he turn to face me. "The bakery burned in the attack on District Twelve from the Capitol," he said, the words thick on his tongue. "Real or not real?"
"Real," I told him. Studying his face, I tried to gauge his reaction, but he was devoid of any.
"My family all died in the attack," he stated next. I knew it would follow, but it still caught me off guard. The ease with which he said the words in a monotonous voice. As if he didn't believe them, as if it meant nothing if it were true. "Real or not real?" he asked, and his eyes caught mine. I saw a flicker of emotion then and realized how hard he must be struggling to keep it under control. It was hard to see Peeta suffer, but it was even worse to watch him try to hide the pain.
It was only a one syllable word, four letters long, but I couldn't speak it. If I said it, it would make it true in his mind. A part of me was surprised he hadn't asked before, in the first week of his return. Perhaps it was easier to ignore it than to face the uncertainty and the possibility it could bring. I was guilty myself of ignoring numerous calls from my mother since my return, so I certainly couldn't blame him.
"Real," I finally choked out as I leaned forward, arching my legs to slide myself closer to him. From the center of the doorframe, I placed my hands on his knees. Fumbling for the appropriate thing to do, I settled with squeezing his knees in what I hoped was a reassuring gesture.
A short, simple nod was his only response. His eyes would no longer meet mine. We both knew he knew the truth. Neither one of us wanted to admit it.
"Peeta," I whispered, but a shake of his head cut me off. He didn't want comfort, at least not in that moment. It would come later, once he could make sense of the truth and come to terms with it. So instead, I continued to hold his knees to let him know I was there.
"I think I should go see it," he said after a long silence.
A thousand protests arose inside me, but I squashed them all. Part of me knew he would only truly believe if he saw it for himself. After all, I hadn't really believed the truth about District Thirteen existing or District Twelve being reduced to rubble until I had witnessed both with my own eyes. "I think you should too," I admitted, though it killed me.
"Will you come with me?" he asked, his voice hesitant for the first time since his return. It was a rare change of events to have to be the strong one. To be the one to lend Peeta strength was a duty I took to heart and vowed to always perform. We had not been able to save him from the Quarter Quell, and I hadn't been able to save him from Snow, but I would never let anything happen to him again.
"Of course," I told him simply, because that was all there was to say. But after a second thought, I added with a sad smile a soft, "Always," just for good measure.