As far as expanded endings to the four sentence we got in Mockingjay, I should admit this is a little farfetched. I just liked the idea of exploring the epilogue through the eyes of the other characters' interaction with Katniss and Peeta, so I went ahead. It's all for fun, hope you enjoy. (Thank you Suzanne Collins for your characters.)
This is rated T for moderate language and references to sexuality, so please read at your discretion.
p.s. And I know Peeta lives three houses away from Katniss (CatchingFire), but it's just more convenient for my story if he lives next door.
I wonder if there was anything more I should have said. Too late now. It's already evening. He's inside his house. Probably getting ready to sleep. He was up at sunrise today planting those primrose bushes. Either he's not sleeping at all or going to bed early. Maybe both.
My legs are covered with ash above the line where I took off my boots. I glance over to the door where they sit. I can see sooty prints leading from the door to the boots. The dead followed me home. I crawl over to the couch and cry myself to sleep.
Madge is waiting for me at my gravesite. She holds out her hands to me. I don't want to climb in, but the guilt forces my hands from my sides to meet hers. She pulls me with a strength I didn't expect, even in a nightmare, and I half-fall into the grave. Still holding my hands, she sits down, facing me and I sit opposite her. Although I'm not looking up, I know all the hands who shovel the ashes onto me. She stares into my eyes as we are buried together. I blink. Prim is holding my hands. Fire erupts from underneath our shared grave and envelopes us.
"Katniss. Katniss. Katniss."
Peeta is kneeling by the sofa, softly saying my name over and over again. I gasp for air, struggling to push myself up, but my arms aren't cooperating. He helps me sit up as I gulp in breaths. He's making a shushing noise, hands on my knees while he watches my face. My throat hurts; I must have been screaming. I'm damp with sweat. As I push the hair out of my face I can feel it's sticky with tears too.
"She's okay," Peeta says, turning to the door. I look over my shoulder and I see Greasy Sae shielding her sweet granddaughter behind her, early morning light spilling in the door behind them. Sae nods and leads the young girl into the kitchen, avoiding me. The girl smiles and waves anyway, then retreats back to her world.
He looks back to me. I glance down at his hands on my legs. He does too.
"Sorry," he mutters with muted embarrassment. He stands awkwardly, collecting a wrapped parcel from the floor by us. From the sweet smell, I can tell it's a loaf of fresh bread. As I inhale I notice the limp has returned. He's stronger but still has a way to go before he's himself again. Like me. I should have said more.
He moves to the kitchen and I hear him offer his assistance to Sae. I stand weakly and make my way to the stairs to clean myself up. Pulling my bedroom door closed, I see Buttercup sitting on the edge of the bed watching me. He sleeps on my bed whether or not I do. I guess to remind me I'm a poor substitute for his former charge. I stumble to the single dresser of clothes I have and don't even look as I pull out pants and a shirt. I drag my clothes along the floor as I shuffle to the bathroom.
The mirror confronts me harshly. I'm pale and sweating, my lips are thin from how tightly I clench my jaw at night. My eyes are glazed and my hair sticks up one side. I sigh and turn on the shower.
Descending the stairs, I can hear Peeta talking to Sae's granddaughter in soft tones. I stop to listen to him talk about the different types of flour, going into great detail even though I don't think the girl's really listening. It's just something soothing to hear. Like when he explained different types of bread to me before our scoring in the first Games.
I sink down to listen, and close my eyes. I can see him sitting across from me; still whole, face and hands unscarred by fire. I remember him telling me to laugh as though he'd make a joke and find myself smiling anyway. It was so comforting to be part of a team while the others were all against us. Someone had my back. I wasn't alone.
"Katniss? Is that you?"
"Yes," I call back to Greasy Sae. I get up and finish descending the stairs. Peeta is sitting at the table already. The three small bowls of flour that sit on the table in front of him have finger prints where the dreamy-eyed girl plays with the texture of them. Sae is dumping a pile of eggs on his plate and another on an empty place for me. She's eating her portion right out of the bowl. I like how she does what she pleases. I had to do what everyone else wanted for so long.
I can't think of anything to say while we eat, so I say nothing. Peeta and Sae have little to say to one another, but they try. The weather, the food, the rebuilding. Peeta helps her with the dishes, I think to avoid having to stay at the empty table with me. Sae collects her granddaughter and leaves. He follows her out the door with a glance back to me. I meet his eyes. Then he's gone.
I sit at the table for nearly half an hour before I realize the house is empty and silent. I can't stop thinking about how we're all that's left of what this place used to be. How cruel it is that only we two are abandoned here by everyone in life and death. More so for Peeta. I'm a reminder of how he gave everything for someone unworthy. He's a reminder of how who you are, even inside, can be taken away by a cruel game.
I push myself away from the table and find my boots. Buttercup strolls downstairs and looks for leftovers, but I have nothing to offer. I collect the bow and quiver from where I dropped it by the door and he leaves the house with me when set out to the woods again. The cat splits off for his own adventures as usual. I'll see him again in a few days. Neither of us have anywhere else to go.
Today is difficult, but not as much as yesterday. I'm only able to sit on my rock and wait for prey, but I'm ecstatic when I hit two squirrels chasing each other across a tree close by. I can give one to Peeta. I have to take him one. He brought bread this morning. I can't owe him anything more. My debt to him is more than I could repay in one lifetime.
I collect them and realize I've forgotten my knife to field dress the carcasses. I'll have to leave now to keep the meat salvageable. As I shuffle back to the house, I wonder if he'll even accept the squirrel. He didn't even try to talk to me. Will he want to see me? Things are so strained and confusing.
I finally cross the field to his back porch. I see smoke from the chimney and know he's in the kitchen. Baking. As he always is. An anchor in the storm.
My heart is pounding as I knock on the door adjoining the kitchen. What could I say to him? I wish Sae, her granddaughter, even Haymitch were here to cushion this discomfort.
"I brought you a squirrel."
Even through the screen door I can see he's eyeing me like I'm a madwoman. I hold up the two creatures to show him that I didn't lie. "For the bread. This morning."
"You don't owe me for the bread."
I look down at the squirrels. I don't know how to respond. I guess he wants me to leave. I turn to go.
He pushes the screen door open and holds it. I watch him carefully, then step inside his kitchen.
The heat is unbearable. The oven must have been on all day. There seems to be a rotating line of pans and dishes in the sink and the oven. At least a dozen loaves are cooling on wire racks all over the counters and another two dozen are wrapped in paper in a large pile on his dining table. I wonder if he followed Sae to my house because there's no room here to eat.
I put down the squirrels on his table to peel off my coat; I'm already sweating. I look over at Peeta. His shirt is damp and his hair is stuck to his forehead. All the windows are open in the cool spring air, but it's not helping.
He's looking at the squirrels. "You need to clean them?" I nod. "It's not so bad in the living room."
I stand mutely while he rinses a large bowl free of flour. He collects two sharp knives, a cutting board and a ream of wax paper and walks over to the living room. I follow him, grabbing the squirrel tails and pulling them along.
It's not so bad, but still warm. The smell of butter and flour are everywhere. He sets up a carving station on his coffee table and looks to me. I set down the squirrels, positioning them to start working. I look up to see he's already back in the kitchen. I began my work silently.
The TV is on. He uses it for background noise, like me. So our houses aren't silent tombs for the lonely occupants. It's an old movie, one I remember my mother and father watched with me. I tune it out and begin removing the tiny organs. I'm focused and meticulous. There's no point in hunting if I can't get useful meat from these animals. They're done and I'm ready to carve the meat from the bones when Peeta returns.
He's carrying two glasses of tea full of ice cubes. He stands far enough from me that I have to lean to take the glass even when he holds it out to me. We sip in silence and watch as the movie ends and a newsreel begins.
When the reporter tells the viewers to stay tuned for a special report from Two, Gale's smiling face flashes on the screen. The promo lets him say a few lines about how well things are going, but there are challenges and so forth. The reel cuts away and tells us we have to watch another program later to get the full story. A commercial about a new railway begins.
I sit silently, my fist clenched around the glass. At home these occurrences aren't painful. But with Peeta standing next to me it's horrifying. After all this, Peeta's the one left behind to pick up the pieces. It's thrown in his face over and over again.
"I'm going to take a shower. You can leave the squirrel in the icebox."
He says nothing more as he climbs the stairs to his room. I do as he says but leave him the meat from both. I'm not hungry anymore.
He doesn't return with Sae the next morning. Her granddaughter looks for him, stretching her fingers as they seek the silky flour. I don't offer any explanation. Sae lets me eat breakfast without speaking.
I set snares today. It's less taxing and I'm able to set four good ones easily. I wander around the woods with my bow for a short while, hoping for something slow. An unfortunate beaver waddles past and meets his demise. Cleaning the animal on an angled rock, I debate whether to offer half to Peeta. I decide against it. He does not want to see me. I wonder if he'll move back to town when the bakery is rebuilt. It would be easier on him. Maybe for both of us.
It's late afternoon when I walk back through town, game bag over my shoulder. Carts of the dead rumble past me towards the meadow. I look away. I don't want to recognize anyone.
I let myself into the empty house I'm forced to call home. The front parlor is orange in the late sun. I stop for a moment at the color. It's Peeta's favorite. I close my eyes, willing this pain to stop haunting me.
I stare firmly at the carpet to avoid seeing any more light. I stomp into the kitchen, counting the tiles until I'm at the sink. I dump the carcass of the beaver into the sink, yank out knives from a drawer and start carving. It takes me a long time to get the pelt off. It's distracting and I'm grateful. Finally I have a neat pelt, something to give away in town. I rinse my hands and locate the wax paper. I wrap up the meat for Sae to cook tomorrow morning.
Opening the icebox door, I'm surprised by a note tied to a boxed package. I set down the beaver inside and pull out the box.
Sae's shaky handwriting tells me she found this left for me when she stopped by at lunchtime. I open the package. Two cheese biscuits are tucked neatly inside. I can barely push the box back inside the icebox before slipping to the floor.
I'm alone when I wake up screaming. It's still dark out. I can't fully remember the nightmare, but I watched Finnick's throat torn by the reptilian monster more than once. My body aches from where I lean against the icebox on the floor. It must be very early morning, maybe two or three.
I stand up clumsily and stumble to the stairs. I still have blood under my nails from the beaver carcass and my clothes are grimy. I stop short at the window halfway up the staircase.
His light is on.
I stand and watch the shadow of the movement in the room facing my house. I can't tell what he's doing. Painting? Writing? I watch his form in the window.
It feels like an hour before I see him stand and the light clicks off in the side room. He moves along the hallway to his room and the light goes dark from his house. I walk up to my room and sit on my bed, facing his room. Is he dreaming? Is he lying awake? Is he watching my window?
Somewhere along my rambling thoughts I fall back asleep. In the dream I'm outside the observation window to Peeta's hospital room in District 13, but it's his bedroom on the other side. He's under his sheets but clearly having a nightmare. I can see the tense muscles twitching and his eyes darting under the pale lids. I look for the door to go inside and wake him up, but there's no way out of the booth. I bang on the glass, hoping he'll hear and wake up, but he doesn't.
Snow moves in front of the window. I'm frozen. He smiles sweetly at me, blood coating his lips. He looks over to Peeta's sleeping form. I start screaming.
He moves deliberately to Peeta's bedside and pulls a syringe from his suit coat pocket. It's full of a violently green liquid. I'm screaming until I can't breathe. I'm kicking the glass and pounding on the walls, but I can't get out of the observation room. I'm walled away from helping anyone.
The green liquid disappears into Peeta's vein and the reaction is instantaneous. He's awake I think, his eyes are open, but the agony is clearly preventing him from seeing or hearing anything but the horrors created by the venom. He thrashes. I think he's calling my name, but I can't tell for the slurring among the cries.
The thrashing slows. He's twitching, breathing raggedly. Slower. Slower. Then it stops all together. His blue eyes are open, trained on me, but they see nothing. He's dead.
Suddenly Snow is in front of the window again. He holds up another syringe. His fist punches through the glass and the needle plunges into my brain.
When I wake up I'm gasping for air. The pale light of morning is coming through the curtains. I can see smoke coming from the chimney. Peeta is alive and in his kitchen. I close my eyes and hold my breath until I hear Sae coming in the front door, calling my name.
That day I collect two rabbits from the snares and reset them. I wander home the long way through town today, sometimes straight through the streets and sometimes hiding in the shadows to watch the recovery of the dead. Even now, months after I've returned there are still bodies to be found. The destruction is endless.
I trip over my feet home and call Dr. Aurelius as Peeta advised. I don't have anything I want to say.
"Has Peeta arrived safely?" he asks me after our obligatory hellos.
"Yes. Two days ago."
"And everything is…fine?"
I'm irritated at this response. It's stupid to think everything would be just fine. "It's fine," I say stubbornly.
"If anything…" he pauses for a long while to find the word "…concerns you, please call me. I know I said I'm not interested in staying in Twelve, but I will come to you if you need me."
"If he tries to kill me?"
"He won't do that, Katniss," Dr. Aurelius says firmly. "He's been working hard for a long time to get through this. But he does get distracted. I know it's a lot to ask, and I'm not asking you to babysit him, but if you see anything unusual, just call me. Please."
I stare out the window at the field between my house and the rows of still-empty Victor houses on the other side. I can't be responsible for him. "I don't think I can do that."
Dr. Aurelius sighs. "It's okay. Let's not talk about him. Let's talk about you. What are you doing to keep busy?"
I go into my tedious stories of hunting and walking. I mention seeing the bodies they dig up, but I can't summon any emotion and the doctor doesn't force it. It's all ash in my head.
We end our phone call with an empty promise that I'll call tomorrow. I'll call next week.
I pick at the leftover beaver meat sitting on the floor in front of my TV. There's a terrible singing competition show on. Most everyone makes me want to go deaf. I finish what I can and switch off the TV and drop the dish in the sink. I'll wash it tomorrow. I slip upstairs and prepare myself for another night of screaming.
The next day is the same and the one after. Peeta leaves bread on the porch for Greasy Sae to find but does not join us for breakfast. On the third day she's able to catch him and demand he entertain her granddaughter again.
This time he locates a baking pan in the recesses of my disused cabinets and fills the bottom with a half-inch of flour. He draws pictures with his fingers in the flour for her; a flower, a bird, a house. She takes the pan eagerly and goes to sit on the porch.
"Thank you, Peeta," Sae smiles as she chops potatoes.
He smiles at her and moves to sit at the table opposite me. I'm suddenly aware that I was staring and look away.
"How is the hunting?" It takes me a minute to realize he's speaking to me.
"Good. I've gotten a few rabbits and a turkey."
"Can I trade you for some?"
"You already leave me bread, take what you need."
"That's not really a trade. I'm making bread for everyone. They keep shipping me supplies from the capital. What do you need?"
I feel a little better that the bread wasn't a simple kindness from him; I can't bear his kindness. It still bothers me that he's making my favorite cheese biscuits. It feels personal.
I sit and think. What do I need? I've got a house. Food. A caretaker. Something to do. Well, one thing to do. It comes to me as Sae sets a small bouquet of wildflowers on the table that her granddaughter picked on the way over. Pink and white blossoms. Wild onion. Something to do is what I need.
"Can you draw for me?"
He's caught off guard. "What do you want me to draw?"
"The plants. In the book we were working on. We never finished it."
He furrows his brow, thinking. "Okay."
Greasy Sae's granddaughter comes in and shows him the drawing she's made. I think it's supposed to be him, but I can't tell. He smiles at her tenderly. "Thank you, it's beautiful." She flushes happily and sits down next to him.
"You're good with her. You're going to be good with kids," Sae notes as she sits down and dumps pan fried potatoes on his plate, then mine. "My kids were all about patience."
Peeta's expression has changed; something dark is on his mind. I don't want to know why it upsets him. Maybe whatever they did to him in the Capital made it impossible to have kids. Maybe Aurelius told him he isn't safe to be a father. Both are terrible, because Sae is right. He would be good with kids.
I ask Sae about her grown children and she starts to tell us about the three girls and two boys she raised; one daughter died in childbirth and left Sae the sweet girl at the table, but the others live elsewhere. I let her go on and tell us about their lives, who she'd heard from since the war and who she's waiting to hear from. She's not worried though; she knows they're okay. She just has this feeling.
Peeta helps her clean again, but before he leaves with a parcel of turkey he asks when he should come back to work on the book.
"Whenever," I stutter out.
He thinks for a while. "I'll come back at two." He closes the door.
I look around my house to find out where the clock I haven't smashed ended up.
"How's this?" Peeta holds up a drawing of the wild onion.
"The petals are a little shorter. See?" I hand over the pink flower I was toying with while I watched him.
"Hmmm. They're spread out, too," he murmurs as he takes it from me to examine closely.
He tries again. I watch that look of concentration. It's so familiar, we could be up in my room with my foot wrapped up on a pillow a year ago and I wouldn't be able to tell them difference.
"I picked these for you after the first Games. When we stopped the train for a break. Real or not real?"
I close my eyes. Of all the memories to salvage, he finds the one where he realized I lied to him. I feel his presence on the couch next to me. "Real," I say, looking up. His eyes are still trained on the book.
"Did I know they were onions?"
"No. I don't think so."
"It seemed like a weird thing to pick."
I surprise myself with a laugh. He looks up, eyebrows raised. "I'm sorry," I muffle my giggle. "I just pictured receiving an onion as a gift. It was…funny. Sorry."
He smiles. "They are good," he agrees. "But maybe not enough for a gift." He holds up the paper. "How about now?"
I hand him the book and he copies his work carefully. I watch him again. It's relaxing to watch him.
"Do you still have paints?"
"Yeah," he says, not looking up. "I'm still painting."
I nod. I had guessed as much. "Can you paint these pages sometime?"
"I don't think I should use paint. The paper might buckle."
I'm disappointed. Color would be a nice change from the gray ash color of the pencil.
"I'll see if Effie can send me colored pencils."
"You still talk to Effie?"
He glances up when he can hear I'm shocked. "Yeah, she was in the Capital while I was stuck there. A familiar face, you know. Didn't mind hanging out with me either. I think she was lonely since all her friends were dead too." He looks back to work.
"How long were you there?"
"After you left?"
"I think…yeah. How long…I don't know what day it is." I realize it as I'm speaking it out loud.
He stops working to look up. "You don't know what…day-day?"
I shake my head.
"It's May 26th."
"When did I come back here?"
"When did I kill Coin?"
I blink. "Is that Christmas?"
"Yeah. The 25th of December."
I process this all, trying to piece together my lost days and weeks. It's been a long time. Peeta moves to pick the paper back up, but stills his hands.
"Thank you. For killing Coin."
I meet his eyes. "You're welcome."
"I thought you really wanted another Hunger Games. With the Capital kids. It's not like I could blame you," he shrugs. "But I'm glad you didn't."
"I almost did," I reply honestly. "For her. But she wouldn't have wanted that. I couldn't do that in her name."
He picks the sketch back up and adds a few lines. "How's that?"
I take the book from him and examine it. "Good enough to eat," I smile.
"That was awful," he grins.
"I've never been very funny," I admit.
"Finnick was funny. Real or not?"
"Real!" I say. "He was always teasing me."
Peeta nods thoughtfully. "You and he scared me on the beach with the sunburn cream, right?"
"Yes, but-" I add this part proudly "that was my idea."
He smiles. "I guess you are funny." I think I'm blushing.
"His son looks a lot like him."
"You've seen Annie's baby?" He's surprising me a lot today.
"Yeah, she sent me a photo. I'll bring it to you. She named him Finn. Johanna says it makes him sound like a fish, but I like it."
"Where is Johanna?"
"She left for Seven while I was still in the Capital. She said she'd call to tell me when she's leaving there for good."
"Why wouldn't she stay?"
"There's no one there she loves."
I sit silently. These people I loved are still alive. They are living. Something about it hurts. It makes me feel like I've forgotten something important.
Peeta's voice cuts into my storming memories. "I'm tired. I'm going to stop now." He puts down the pencil he was working with and stretches his hands. "Do you want to work on something tomorrow?"
"I want to start another book!" I nearly shout it.
He looks at me cautiously. My hysteria is barely contained. "I lost months. Months," I'm shaking. "I need to remember."
"Katniss, you need to breathe."
I'm hyperventilating. I look at Peeta in terror. "Breathe in," he says slowly.
"Breathe out. In. Slower. Out. There you go. In slow. Out slow. In….out…."
The rhythm brings me down. "I want…to start…another book."
"What kind of book?"
"I want to remember."
He's quiet for a long time. "I don't want to remember all of it." A stab of pain hits me. I wouldn't want to remember loving me either. "I know I need to, Katniss. I just…it's going to be bad for me."
"You're right, I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking about that."
"No, I mean I'll do it. It's just going to be bad."
"You don't have to. You shouldn't if it-"
"I should. I need to." He sighs. "I'm going to go now."
It is bad. It's worse, actually. For both of us.
I started that night, writing the story of why I went into the Games in the first place, falling asleep on pages wet with my tears. I wrote about his father bringing me cookies and telling me he would look after Prim. When Peeta read it the next day, he cried into a pillow for half an hour and went home without working in it at all.
When he came back on Thursday, he told me. "I miss my dad a lot." I nod. "And I'm sorry for my mom. Your mother was always first in his mind."
It was my turn to cry. "I'm so sorry, Peeta. It made things so hard."
His eyes were getting red, so he looked out the window. He shrugged. "What can you do? You love who you love."
He sat down and wrote about his father helping him and Delly make bread people from dough. How his mother signed him for wrestling after his oldest brother accidentally dislocated his shoulder in a scuffle.
I write about Cinna; he writes about Portia. We sit next to one another and cry. The day I write about my father and he has to help me upstairs when I cry myself into exhaustion.
He pours my limp figure on my bed and drops a blanket over me. As he turns to leave, I put my hand on his arm. "Will you stay?" It's a barely audible whisper.
I want him to tell me "Always." That I'm forgiven. That I can forgive myself. But he can't.
He lays down silently on the opposite side of the bed from me. He doesn't hold me, but his body rests close enough I can feel the heat from his skin. I roll to face him, letting the tip of my nose brush his shirt sleeve. I fall asleep breathing him in.
It gets better. We still cry, but I think we're running low on water. The new book is nearly 100 pages in just these few weeks. The photo of Finn is on the cover for now. It makes me smile. Peeta smiles too, but there's something sad in his smile. I'm still too afraid to ask.
Haymitch chases a goose into my yard while we're in the middle of a passage about the war. He carries the thing inside when he heard Peeta crying.
"What did you do to him?" he eyes me suspiciously.
"It's not her, I was thinking about Mitchell. I killed him."
The goose squawks and struggles, and Haymitch sighs as he set it down outside to chase later. He comes to Peeta and sits next to him. "My boy, my boy," he murmurs, patting him gently on the shoulder. "You're the only one in this room who's not a murderer."
My insides contract. He is right, of course. I may not have had a choice when it came to survival, but if I was truly selfless I would have died before murdering any of the children I had. Only Peeta is strong enough to do make a sacrifice like that.
"What is this thing?" Haymitch asks, picking up the stack of pages we've tied together with string.
"It's a book. About us. All of us," I answer.
He unties the bundle and reads quietly, flipping from page to page. Peeta sits, watching his shoes. I watch Haymitch. I've not seen him much. I think he might be sober.
"I can fill in some things. On Coin. And Snow. You're missing some details from the Dark Days, too." He's speaking so softly I can barely hear him.
"Yes," is all I can find.
"Tomorrow. I'm going to go get that damn goose. And a drink," he says, stomping out the back door and yelling after his bird.
Haymitch does help. Somedays he's sober, somedays he has to be dead drunk. Holding Maysilee's hand while she died took him a full bottle of liquor to tell. The stories he has of Effie are my favorite. For as proud as he is that she can't stand him, there is a fondness in their partnership.
"Do you miss her?" I ask him, teasingly.
He considers the question. "Sometimes. Annoying that woman was the only delight I had these past few years. The woman before her was a brick wall; couldn't get a rise out of her."
"You should call Effie. I have her number," Peeta says.
Haymitch raises her eyebrows. "She gave you her phone number? Hunh. Would have thought you were a little young for her."
My eyes dart to Peeta. He gives Haymitch a withering look. "She's lonely there, Haymitch. She'd love to hear from anyone."
"I'm sure I'm at the top of that list." Regardless of his protests, Peeta is able to write down the phone number for Haymitch. I wonder if he will call.
"Have you talked to her…recently?" I ask, trying not to sound too nosy.
"Last week. I asked for the colored pencils. She's going to have to look for them; most of the non-essential stuff has been lost in the shuffle."
"Oh." I wonder what answer I was looking for.
"Do you want to call her?"
"No. Thank you."
Peeta leaves. He doesn't stay every night. Only when I ask. I want him to ask.
I switch on the TV to listen to other people talk while I boil a soup Greasy Sae left. I sit in front of a documentary about genetic manipulation and its impact on the local fauna for an hour before I realize I'm not paying the slightest attention. I drop my dirty bowl in the sink and go to bed.
I wake up with a start. I hear screaming. It's not mine.
I've left the window open every night since Peeta and I shared my bunk on the train. His window is open too. I know where the screams are coming from.
It's dark outside. As I run down the stairs, trying to find my boots in the dark, Dr. Aurelius' words come back to me. If anything's not safe…I shake my head. He came to me. I have to go to him. I owe him.
I sprint the short span between our houses. The front door is locked. I run to the back. It's locked too. I don't lock my doors. I skirt around the side of the house and find an unlocked window and crawl into his living room.
The screams are coming in short cries, along with outbursts. He's yelling for help, but he's saying his own name. I reach his bedroom door and notice my hands are shaking.
"Peeta?" I whisper as I push his door open gently.
It's as though I stepped into my nightmare. He's lying under the sheets, his face pale and sweating, glowing in the thin moonlight. I expect to see Snow hovering over him with a needle. I even look around.
"You've got to kill him." It's muted by his sleep-paralyzed lips, but I can understand what he's saying. "He's not safe. You've got to kill Peeta."
"No," I whisper, slipping to his bedside and touching his arm. "No, he's safe. We can trust him."
I'm confusing his dream. His brow furrows. "No, no, no, no." They grow to a scream. "He's going to kill her!"
"Peeta! Wake up!" I cry out, gripping his shoulders. I shake him with all the strength I can find in my frail bones. "Please wake up!"
His fingers are clutching at my ribs in my nightgown and his eyes are searching my face frantically. I can't tell if he's breached the chasm between sleep and wakefulness; his eyes are wild and glazed.
"Katniss," he breathes. "It's not safe." He tries to sit up.
"Shhh, it's safe," I whisper, kneeling beside the bed. "You're in bed. You're in your house. You're in Twelve. You're safe."
"Are you safe?" he asks, squeezing his eyes and rubbing the heel of one hand against his temple. I think he's waking up.
"I'm right here."
"Are you safe?" he asks. He looks at me. His eyes are still glassy.
"I'm safe," I say slowly. "I'm safe with you." Even asleep I want him to believe that.
He nods. "You kill him if you're not safe. You kill Peeta." His eyes flutter closed and his fingers release their grip on my nightgown.
I watch him sleep for a long time. It's peaceful now, eyes fluttering beneath the translucent fair lids. When I'm content he'll stay asleep, I stand and lean over to press a kiss to his forehead.
"No," I tell his dream. "No."
He doesn't remember last night and I don't tell him. Looking back, he'd locked all his doors to keep people out and I broke in against his wishes. Maybe he didn't want to risk my showing up at all hours, wailing over the book and seeking solace. He's never come back to me for comfort.
I'm focused on the empty hole inside me when he repeats the question.
"The girl from District Five. You called her…Sly? Fox?"
"That's it. Should we write that down?"
"She was sly as a fox. Let's write that down. She outsmarted us all."
"I killed her."
"You are not a murderer."
I see now what Dr. Aurelius meant. Peeta drifts off, staring at the rug with a tortured look on his face. I watch helplessly as he disappears into the memories in his mind, real and planted. I lean over, palm open on the couch cushion he sits upon, hovering my body near his.
He gasps when he snaps back, startling me, and I fall on his injured leg. His yelp of pain coincides with his hands roughly grabbing my arms just below the shoulders. He has strength even in his weakened state, and he pulls me from the falling position and shoves me back against the arm on the sofa. His eyes are wide, pupils dilated, and he's breathing hard as he watches my face.
"I'm sorry. I fell. It was an accident. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to. Peeta, I'm sorry."
His eyes snap back to blue. He realizes he's pinning me. "Oh no," he whispers, letting go suddenly. I slide lower into the couch. I can feel tingling where his fingers were on my arms.
He gets to his feet, staggering. He bumps the coffee table and pencils spill and scatter. His eyes are still on me, where I slouch on the sofa.
"You didn't hurt me. I'm okay. I'm safe," I whisper.
But it's too late. He's run out the door and disappeared.
I let him have five days. I work alone. Sae had been tapering off her visits as I grew stronger with his help. When she comes by to check and finds me alone again, she tsk-tsks, but cooks me a huge meal to keep me going.
When the wild dog soup runs out, I go to his door. My plan is to ask for bread, offer to catch squirrel, but when I knock I realize I don't smell any flour or butter.
He opens the kitchen door and I don't see any loaves on the counter. No stacks of parcels to go out. Only a canvas duffel bag by the front door.
"What are you doing?" I slam open his screen door and walk inside without an invitation.
He doesn't answer me right away. "I'm…going to go. For a while."
"Where?" I sound demanding and my voice is strangely high-pitched.
"I don't know yet, I just need to go. For a little while."
"We haven't finished the book."
"I'll come back, Katniss. I just…need to go for a while." He's so quiet.
"You're leaving me."
"No! I...I need more time. I came back too soon."
"You didn't hurt me!" I'm lying; there are bruises hidden by my sleeves. But I know he wasn't attacking me. I hurt him. The only thing frightening me was the idea of him leaving. "We'll be okay here together!"
"I've got to go." He breaks away, frantic, and walks to the front hall, picking up the bag and hauling it over his shoulder.
"Please no!" I run in front of the door, blocking his path. "We have to finish the book," I beg, fighting the madness welling up.
"Katniss, move." He's wavering, his expression fretful. I push forward and he takes a step back.
"I can't work on it alone!"
"I'll bring you more things. I'll get more memories and bring them back to you. Okay?" He's begging me now.
I shake my head. "No." That's not what I want.
"It's just for a little while. Just a little more time."
I dart forward and wrap my arms around him. He stumbles and drops his bag. I firm my grip on him and close my eyes as his body stiffens.
His form is familiar. I know the smell of his skin. The warm feel of his breath on my forehead. The scratchy chin where his blond stubble pokes my temple. He's held me so many times, but each time is new. It's been so long I didn't realize how I ached for human contact.
"Please hold me."
He reluctantly complies, slowly moving his arms around me. I wonder if he's trying to steady me or himself. Finally they encircle me. I sigh into his neck. "Stay," I whisper against his skin.
He breaks free before I can knot my fingers behind his back and grabs his bag. He dashes around me and is at the door when I cry out.
"I'll come back!" he says, his bottom lip quivering. "I promise!"
He moves as fast as he can, but I can still run faster than him. Even so, he's stronger than me and despite my pulling on his arm or bag he's able to reach the entrance to the Victor's Village with little trouble. Aside from my own tears making him cry.
He flags down a passing supply cart for a ride to the train station. The driver looks worried at our tear-streaked faces, but doesn't ask questions. He tosses his bag into the back and climbs in after it.
"I'll come back," he says desperately.
"No you won't," I cry. "You'll leave me here alone."
He reaches out and pulls my fingers from where I grip the cart. He holds my hands in his. "I'll stay with you. Always." He pulls me closer. "I promised you. I remember."
I can't help myself. I'm so hungry for him. I lean my face up and kiss him. He starts as though to jerk away, but stops. He leans into our kiss, gently but with a matched hunger. He pulls away and touches my face.
"Go," he says to the cart driver. His fingers slip from my face and he takes my tears with him as he goes.