Hello all!

It's been awhile since you all heard from me. I've been crazy busy and going through a few life changes so I haven't had too much time to write but I finally found some!

I started watched The Returned on Netflix and fell in love with the idea! I archived character death but, um, keep reading and you will see. If there is anything triggering or even the least bit violent, I will always post a warning before hand so no one is caught off guard!

Please let me know what you think.

...

It happens on a Tuesday.

A cold one, the wind chill falling far below normal for an overcast November afternoon in Panem, North Carolina. The sun is just starting to set over the cities square, most of the shops lining Main Street having closed for the evening and the few that were still open are welcoming the last round of customers. Peeta Mellark watches the dinner rush from behind the glass doors of Mellark's, the bakery having closed hours ago when, inevitably, he ran out of goods. Since the incident, it'd been that way; the whole town flocking to see the freak show and buying a few pies while they were at it.

"It's like I'm not even me anymore," Peeta complained once to his parents over a cup of coffee. "They come in to gawk."

His father huffs and his mother shrugs. "Well," she mumbled. "It's good for business."

The flickering streetlights take Peeta back to an easier time. He can recall so vividly the nights he would spend running the streets with his brothers, trying to make it home before his mother caught them out past curfew. They never made it. She would scream, their father would laugh, and in the end, the boys would always avoid being in too much trouble. "Boys being boys," their father would chuckle, his body tired and arms aching. The life of a baker was not an easy one.

"You won't be saying that when we find them dead in the streets," his mother would scold, drawing on about the dangers of the world but Peeta desperately wanted to believe there weren't any. Not in Panem, at least. He was safe in his perfect bubble. For a long time, that was true.

The streetlights stay on after a moment, the sun having officially set over the mountainous back drop, leaving the small town in its shadows.

Life wasn't so easy anymore and it wasn't until this moment that Peeta often felt just how hard it was. If only he could go back to a time when all he worried about was making it home before curfew.

Peeta's life at twenty-eight wasn't too much of what he had imagined for himself. He wasn't a big shot baseball player like he (and most of the town) had hoped. He still lived in Panem, still worked at the bakery. He's single, married to his work and bottles of vodka. He was lonely in all the worst ways. Sad and tired. Mostly tired of being sad. Yet he was making it and Dr. Aurlieus assured him that was something.

He was making it until that fateful Tuesday, that is.

Peeta is taking out the trash when he sees her.

He isn't sure it's her at first, his eyesight starting to fail him as he progresses through the years and his antidepressants making his head foggy. Knowing kids from the local high school sometimes roam the streets around this time, he chalks it up to coincidence. Coincidence that someone would look so much like... her.

But the closer Peeta moves, the more her features come to life. Her hair is braided down her back like it always was, a baseball cap keeping the dark tendrils out of her freckled face. Her father's worn down leather jacket is wrapped around her slender body as she picks at the bed of her fingernails without a care in the world. Peeta shuts his eyes again, as tight as humanly possible, like a child wishing bad dreams away, almost positive his mind was playing tricks on him. But when he opens them, she is still there, only now she's looking at 's then that he is sure it's her.

Her eyes, gray and serious with specks of green, wide and open, watching him. Alive.

Katniss Everdeen.

"Hey you," Katniss greets, smiling slightly. "I thought you might be getting out of work around this time and you'd want to go eat. I'm starved."

Peeta nearly faints, his heart in his throat as his eyes fill with tears. Her voice is so heavenly he wants to fall to his knees and cry. How many years had passed since he last heard it? God, he'd lost count, it'd been so many. Light Years, it felt like. He opens his mouth to speak but there's only air.

"Cat got your tongue?" Katniss jokes, slowly moving toward him. As she walks, she favors her right side, the slight limp that you could only catch if you really payed attention and Peeta was the only one that ever did. He stomach lurches forward.

"This isn't real," Peeta says, shaking his head. He's lost it. He has officially lost it and this is the world imploding on him. He hadn't had hallucinations, at least ones this vivid, in years. He tries to remember what Dr. Aurlieus taught him about his "episodes" and how to deal with them. He closes his eyes and counts to ten, repeating softly all the things he knows to be true.

"My name is Peeta Mellark. I'm twenty-eight years old. I live in Panem, North Carolina. I have two brothers. I have a niece." He pauses, the last truth always the hardest. "Katniss Everdeen is dead."

"Peeta," she, or rather it, whispers. "You're scaring me."

And then her hand laces through his, calming and scaring him all at once. Peeta swats her away before he has a chance to think anything of it. "Get away from me!"

"Peeta!" She cries.

"Who are you?" He demands, grabbing a piece of wood from behind the trashcan. Peeta quickly runs through all the possibilities in his head as he watches her retreat with sad eyes. He comes to two conclusions. He is dead or is dying. Either, at the moment, would be welcome. "Huh! Who are you? Who are you!"

"What do you mean, who am I?" Katniss retorts, retreating with one hand extended, almost as if she was approaching prey. "Peeta, it's me! Katniss!"

"What kind of sick joke is this, huh!" He yells, rushing towards her again. She stumbles to the ground in an effort to retreat. "Who are you? Who are YOU?"

"Have you lost your mind? It's Katniss! Katniss Everdeen! Your girlfriend!"

"No!" Peeta screams again, no longer too concerned with keeping the tears at bay and more concerned with what kind of mental break he was having. "That's impossible."

"Impossible?"

"Impossible!"

"How is it impossible?" She questions, crossing her arms, a gesture so familiar to Peeta he almost faints. "I'm here. I'm right here!"

"It's impossible because I buried you!" Peeta cries, wailing like a wounded child. His voice echoes off the bricks, his declaration playing in his mind a million times before, at last, there is quiet. He can no longer support his weight, his legs crumbling beneath him as he rests his head in his hands.

Peeta cries in a way he hadn't in over two years. The pain, though always there, had subsided significantly in the recent months. He no longer felt like the air was being sucked out of his lungs and was finally at the point where he could say her name without having an anxiety attack. He was healing. Or so he thought.

"It's an episode. I'm having an episode."

Peeta stares back at Katniss, her at him. The world is still and Peeta thinks about all the times in the past five years he has longed for this moment. The moment they would be reunited, in heaven or in hell, in this life or the next. And here she was.

"Am I dead?" Peeta finally asks when he finds his voice. "Did I fall? Did something happen to me?"

Katniss doesn't speak, looking as scared of him as he does of her. Her eyes glisten with tears and she shakes her head slowly. "Iā€¦ I don't know. I don't think so. Am I?"

He feels a wave of nausea pass through him, the way it always does when he has to answer this question. The weight on his shoulders is one he wants to crumble under. He closes his eyes, willing himself to stay upright.

"Am I dead?" She asks with a little less hesitation.

"You're supposed to be," Peeta mumbles.

"But I'm not." It isn't a question but it should be. Because Katniss Everdeen stood before him alive. Breathing, colorful, and untouched. Peeta hadn't seen her that way ā€” in person or in his dreams ā€” in years.

"I must be having a psychotic break," he says. Katniss sits on a pile of trash, her legs outstretched. "I'm having a psychotic break. You're a figment of my imagination. That or I'm dying and this is how I get to heaven."

"Which would you prefer?"

"What?"

"Would you rather be having a psychotic break or dying?"

"Dying." It takes no time at all for him to come to that conclusion. Death would be so much sweeter than the alternative. In death he would get to spend forever with Katniss and, truly, that is all Peeta Mellark has ever wanted.

"Well I don't think you're dying," Katniss concludes. "But I don't think you're having a psychotic break either."

"Then how do you explain this?" Peeta explodes, causing her to jump. Her head collides with the metal trashcan, loud enough to cause attention but, for once, there isn't any. "Shit, let me see."

"It didn't hurt," she mumbles as Peeta combs through her hair, feeling for any soft spots or knots. "You shouldn't yell so much. I don't remember you yelling so much."

"What do you remember?" He asks, taking a seat beside her.

He can smell the soft scent of wood on her skin that follows her everywhere. For months after the incident, the smell haunted him. It was trapped in his sheets, in his clothes, in his apartment. His mother finally had the apartment cleaned and her smell went with it. "You need to be rid of that girl," she said. "You need to move on, Peeta, and it doesn't help if she is still here with you."

His mother was right and after a few weeks he forgot the smell entirely. But now it was back, intertwined with day old trash, and he hadn't realized just how much he'd missed it.

"Nothing," Katniss says after a moment of reflection. "We were supposed to go to a bar tonight, right? With Finnick and Annie. Capital, was it?"

Peeta stomach lurches forward. Something in his face must give him away. "Did we ever make it to Capital?"

Her breath is so warm, her eyes so familiar, Peeta just takes a moment to look at her. Her lips are still coated in cherry chapstick, her face free of makeup except for the smallest bit of mascara. She's just the way he remembered her. Twenty-two and lively.

"Answer my question, Peeta."

And bossy.

"We made it."

He can't say anymore. He's never been able to.

Katniss looks down at her own hands, tracing the ridges and valleys of her palms like a child. Then, suddenly, she pricks herself with a shard of glass lying on the ground. And there is blood.

"Katniss, what the hell are you doing?" Peeta cries, grabbing ahold of the wound. "You could get an infection. You don't know where that thing has been!"

"Oh c'mon, Peeta," she mumbles. "I'm already dead. What's the worst that could happen?"

It's a joke but it's not funny.

"So I guess I'm picking up where we left off, huh?" Katniss concludes, her brow creasing, her eyes solemn. "Do I scare you?"

"Yes," Peeta answers honestly, wrapping her hand in a piece of his apron. "I don't know what you are."

"I don't know what I am either. But I feel like me."

Peeta nods. "You look like you."

"And I bleed."

"And you bleed."

"And you're sure I was dead? Like really, really dead."

He fights back the knot in his throat and nods. "I've never been so sure of anything in my life."

"Well goodness," Katniss sighs. "How are we going to explain this? What do we do? I should probably go to a hospital."

Peeta nods. "You should. Or maybe I should. We shouldn't rule out the possibility that I've lost my fucking mind."

"Or maybe I'm haunting you," she laughs. It isn't funny, it really isn't being the situation they're in, but Peeta laughs too, for the first time in a long time. She grabs his hand in hers. It's warm. "But here. I'm here. And you're there. And somehow this is happening."

Peeta still wasn't convinced this was more than a dream. Or maybe it was a nightmare. He was sure he'd wake up any minute, propelled by his own internal alarm clock and damned to another day on this earth without Katniss. But the two sit there for hours and nothing happens. And when the clock strikes midnight in the town square, and Katniss is still there holding his hand, he's sure he's not dreaming.

"You'll need to be up in four hours," she reminds him softly. His throat is so dry he can't respond. "You should go home. Get some sleep."

"I'm not leaving you," Peeta mumbles, scared that if she leaves, even for a moment, he'll never see her again. "I can't."

Katniss doesn't try to fight him on it and they spend another hour in silence. Finally, she speaks. "Peeta, what happened to me?"