A/N: I hope you enjoy! Thanks to You May Call Me Goddess - Bitch Goddess for being my beta.
Disclaimer: I make no claims to own anything related to The Hunger Games; I just hate to see a story end.
I don't even need to open my eyes to know that it's way too early to be awake. Normally, I'd be able to see the sunlight through my eyelids, but that's only if it's up. I wait for a long moment before I finally open my eyes. This is the first time a nightmare hasn't caused me to scream. I guess I'm not sure if it would even be called a nightmare.
I was back in the arena from the first Games, looking for Peeta. But instead of finding him in the mud, he's nowhere. I walk around for what seems like hours just searching, but I never find him. I don't get frantic; I just keep walking and searching with my bow pulled taut and an arrow ready to fly. At some point, the string cuts into my fingers, but I don't even notice. It's only when I run straight into the force field at the edge that I'm suddenly pulled back to reality and realize I'm just lying in bed.
I leave my eyes closed, not quite ready to open them and start my day, but I don't think I want to go back to sleep either. The days have started to get easier. Especially with the routines Dr. Aurelius helped me implement. But the nights continue to plague me. Sometimes, I'm afraid the evening hours will forever be filled with my own terrifying memories, as well as the scenarios my mind conjures up.
Eventually, I force my eyelids open, not really feeling sleepy enough to put off the inevitable any longer. Without bothering to look at the clock or turn on any lights, I make my way slowly to the bathroom for my morning routine. I always start with a shower. Shampoo first; rinse. Next comes the soap for cleaning my whole body and shave my armpits at the same time; rinse. I wash my face at that point; rinse. I don't bother shaving my legs; what's the point? I grab the towel hanging on the wall and dry off. After my pat down, I squeeze as much water out of my hair as I can and wrap the towel around my body. I shuffle over to the sink to brush my teeth and hair. Once I untangle the knots, I pull it all back into my typical braid. I then hang the towel up to dry and go back to my room and the pile of clothes I laid out the night before as part of my evening routine. I quickly rub myself down with a special lotion that's been helping my skin heal from my burns. Then, after dressing, down to the shoes even, I head downstairs for breakfast.
It's been two months since Greasy Sae has been by to fix me food and make sure I eat. My routines keep me eating, and if I stray too far from them, Peeta or Haymitch notice pretty quickly.
Once I'm in the kitchen, I put a slice of bread in the toaster, grab an egg from the fridge, and fill my kettle with water. I crack the egg into a pan on the stove and put the kettle on the burner next to it. While the bread is toasting, the egg sizzling and the water heating, I grab a plate, mug, and utensils. After another two short minutes, I'm sitting down at the kitchen table with my buttered toast, over easy egg, and hot water with honey. Breakfast usually looks like this most mornings. Sometimes I do milk instead, or I might scramble my egg. Sometimes Peeta brings over a cheese bun.
After I finish eating, I wash all the dishes I used. I grab my bow, game bag, and my dad's old hunting jacket from the peg on the wall by the door. I step outside and make my way to the woods. I still haven't even looked at the clock.
The fences are still in place (for our safety) but are no longer electrified, and they now contain small gates the size of a door for easy exit and entry. I make my way to my favorite spot easily; the moon is full and bright still. I start setting traps in the usual places around me, and then sit and wait for the sun to rise.
I actually manage to take down a rabbit and a squirrel just as the sky starts to turn lavender. I openly grin as I see my arrow stuck straight through the rabbit's eye. It's the first time I've been able to do that since I started hunting here again. It seems like it's only been a few hours by the time my bag is nearly full, so I throw it over my shoulder, and head back towards town.
I stop by the Hob, which is no longer a black market, and trade some game for a few things. It must still be a little early because there aren't quite as many people out yet.
Walking back home I'm amazed at the progress District 12 has made. An outsider probably wouldn't even be able to tell that we had ever been bombed. There aren't nearly as many people or buildings as there used to be, but the ones that are here have worked around the clock to get life back to some semblance of normalcy; as if life in Panem could ever have been considered normal. We've all adopted routines. Some of us go through them with more enthusiasm, but whatever our feelings are, things still get done. I like to think that the population of 12 has always been resilient and will continue to be for generations.
The row of houses once known as the Victor's Village is a completely different place. All of the houses are now inhabited with families. Some houses have one big family in them and some are filled with groupings of people that no longer have a family. Peeta actually opened his home to Gale's family, their home having been destroyed by the bombing. I was surprised at first thinking it might make Peeta uncomfortable, but he and Gale had at least retained a mutual respect for each other. And Peeta understood Hazelle's need to return home to start over instead of rebuilding in a new District like Gale did. I thought of having them live with me at one point, but I didn't think I'd be able to handle that. I wonder if Peeta thought they would take the place of his own family. Some days I think he has trouble dealing with the noise of the kids and the full house, but that's usually when he escapes to my house. At other times, I think the innocence of children is helping to restore Peeta to his old self. I only wish the same could be said about me.
I do have my days where one of my routines suddenly means more than it once did. This morning's bull's-eye, for example, filled me with a sense of pride in my skills that I hadn't felt since before the first Games. I won't talk with Dr. Aurelius until the end of the week, but I think he'll be pleased with my progress.
When I walk in the door, I can already tell someone's here. I take my time hanging my stuff back up, knowing that there's only a small handful of people that would come see me this early in the morning.
I start heading towards the kitchen, but Peeta meets me halfway.
"I came to bring you some breakfast, but I'm assuming you've already eaten," he begins, and then turns around to go back to the kitchen.
"I have, sorry," I say. I follow Peeta to the kitchen, and the smell of baked goods greets me when I enter. He turns to me and leans against the counter.
"You're up early, especially if you've already been out hunting. What time did you get up?"
I can see him scrutinizing me, trying to make sure I'm getting enough sleep. He and I both know how disturbed our sleep patterns are, and that we may never get enough rest.
"I didn't actually look at the clock this morning, but it was probably a few hours ago." His expression doesn't change, but I can tell he's displeased. "I just couldn't get back to sleep, so I decided to start my day early." I don't know why I bother defending my actions; it's not any of his business. But then again, I guess it sort of is. We're both still trying to protect the other.
Slowly over the past year, Peeta and I have fallen into an awkward relationship. Dr. Aurelius told him about my idea for a memory book and he offered to help. At first, we worked on it separately. He would draw and I would write. Originally, we never shared what we had done, but when we finally merged our entries, we were shocked to see how many of them coincided with each other. That was when we decided to join our efforts and work side by side.
After a few minutes, Peeta nods his head, says 'Okay', and pushes off the counter. He starts to leave, but then turns back. "Will you want to nap, or should I still come by later?" he asks.
We have a loosely scheduled time that Peeta comes over to work on the book, and then he usually helps me with dinner, which we eat together. Haymitch will join us sometimes too.
"I'm not tired, actually, so sure, come on over."
He nods again and then disappears. A second later, I hear the front door close, and I assume he's gone to take his other baked goods to various homes and businesses.
I go to the sink in order to wash up from the hunt, and so I can eat one of Peeta's cheese buns also. After I savor every last morsel (those are something I can be enthusiastic about), I start working on the game that I kept for myself. For so long, I had been afraid that prepping and cooking my own food would remind me too much of the years I had spent doing it to keep my mother, Prim, and myself alive.
Even thinking of my sweet little sister for a split second is agonizing. She used to try to help me in the kitchen. I tried to teach her everything my father and mother had taught me about cooking with herbs and spices instead of curing ailments. Mostly she just watched me and we would talk about anything and everything. Sometimes she would use the time to work alongside me and make her goat cheese. I haven't been able to touch anything goat related since 'that' day.
I finish skinning and separating the cuts of meat. Then I wrap each piece and put it all in my freezer. I have some older stuff I'll be using for this evening's meal. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was start cooking for myself again, actually. When I first started trying out new routines I was shocked at how much time there was in the day. Then I was slightly appalled at how much time I spent sleeping or just staring into space. I quickly realized I needed to find more things to keep me busy for longer periods. Besides hunting though, there isn't much I'm especially good at. I don't paint or bake, and I'm not particularly fond of liquor. Plus, I didn't think drinking would aid in my recovery. It may work for Haymitch, but I felt like I owed more to Prim than that. That's when I thought of the idea for the memory book. It was something to keep my mind and hands busy, and it started out as a tribute to Prim's life.
That's really what keeps me moving forward and going through the motions. Knowing that Prim would disapprove of my habitual wallowing pushed me into action. It all started with those simple primrose bushes. Peeta helped me tend to them that first spring he planted them. When I saw him planting them it was like a spark was immediately ignited. It made me think of the spark Snow had claimed I created with my Nightlock. Unfortunately, my small burst of energy didn't take me as far as the rebellion.
It wasn't a month later that Peeta had gathered some of the blooms into a bouquet for me, along with some other wildflowers. At first, I was furious with him for destroying them, and because it was one of my worse days, I may have even slapped him. Amazingly, he stayed in control of himself, placed the bouquet on the table by the couch, and left the house. I collapsed on the couch and cried myself to sleep. When I woke up in the morning, my eyes immediately went the flowers that had gone without water all night and had wilted. At that moment, I wasn't sure whom I was angrier with: Peeta or myself. I reached out gingerly for the small bundle and brought them slowly to my nose. Even though they were droopy, I was still overwhelmed by the scent. Overwhelmed and rejuvenated. I pressed one of the primroses from that bouquet in between two pages, and that was my first entry into the book. On one of the pages it was pressed between I wrote down the reason my parents gave Prim her name.
It was one of my earliest memories. My father was holding Prim in a rocking chair as she fell asleep. She was barely a week old, and we were all in love with her. We were sitting in the front room, and my father was singing softly to Prim. It was a warm evening in late spring and we had all the windows thrown open, letting the breeze bring in the scent of the season. My mother was still in bed recuperating. The song got quieter as she fell into a deeper sleep. Without looking away from her face, he started speaking to me.
"You know, our little Prim was not always so peaceful at night. That's how she got her name." He continued rocking her in silence for a few moments before looking to me. "You see, Katniss, the evening primrose gets it name because it opens within less than a minute in the evening. And your sister here was just the same way when she was in Mommy's stomach. She would start kicking, stretching, and moving around as soon as the evening had come. Mommy was none too pleased, but all I could think of was the precocious little primrose that goes against the grain every night and opens just as the sun sets."
Thinking of my father and Prim has brought tears to my eyes. I brush them away furiously with the back of my hand, but it's no use; they just keep coming. This is exactly what staying busy is supposed to prevent. And this is just what the book was supposed to make easier. Even if I don't cry by the time we're done working on the book for the day, I always feel emotionally drained. Thinking of the past and writing down all of my happy memories leaves me feeling empty when I compare them to what my life is now.
I go to the sink and try to calm myself by splashing some water on my face. It doesn't help much, but it keeps my head clear long enough to clean the bloody mess I've made with the animals.
Once I'm done in the kitchen, I quickly turn my attention to my housework. Since I do this nearly everyday it never takes very long. I begin in my room dusting, picking up laundry, and picking up any trash. My bathroom is next which takes more time. Even if it doesn't need much cleaning the entire bathroom still gets a scrub. I do the bathtub, sink, toilet, and floors, all of it. I go straight to the living room, kitchen, and dining room next. I haven't been able to go into my mother or Prim's room for the entire year that I've been back. I don't go to the study, either, fearing I might be able to smell Snow still. Gale's mother, Hazelle, started checking on those rooms once a month. Just opening windows, and attacking the dust bunnies that accumulate over time. She, thankfully, makes the rounds to Haymitch as well.
While I wait for the laundry to be finished, I eat a sandwich for lunch and wash it down with a glass of milk. By the time I finish putting away the small amount of laundry there are still too many hours left before Peeta will be over. I end up outside in my backyard, checking on the seedlings I started last week at Peeta's insistence.
It was actually Prim's idea to start a garden here since we didn't really have much room for one in the Seam. But with everything that was going on at the time, silly things like gardens got pushed to the back burner. Plus, as a victor, it wasn't like I was in need of the food a garden would produce. There isn't much action yet, but I water them anyway. I find myself actually looking forward to the time when they will grow larger and require more care. It'll give me something else to do to stay busy. With that thought in mind, I start mapping out a large space where the garden should be. It will probably still be another month or so before I can put the plants in the ground, but I could at least start getting it ready for them.
I didn't pay attention to how long I had been working, and Peeta walks around the house to find me with a shovel in hand. From the corner of my eye, I see him smile slightly and shake his head.
"Katniss, what are you doing?" I can hear amusement in his voice.
"I'm starting my garden, like you suggested," I tell him in between using my shovel to make a large rectangle in the ground. I've made a small ditch around the perimeter, and I plan to start digging up the grass inside it over the next few days.
"I did suggest that, but I didn't expect you to 'dig in' with such gusto."
I roll my eyes at his stupid pun. "I finished everything else, and I needed something to do."
He watches me finish the rectangle, and then takes the shovel from me. "Come on, let's get inside. It looks like it's about rain."
I look up at the overcast sky, wondering when it became so cloudy. "Great, I just watered the plants."
Without missing a step, Peeta walks over to one side of the rickety table where the plants are placed. "We'll just move them under the eave so they don't get too much."
I lift the other side and we put the table against the house next to the stairs leading from the back door. It's not five minutes after we get back inside that the rain starts.
I go straight for the book, and sit in an armchair in the living room with it. I open it and just start perusing random pages. My fingers linger over the primrose, and many of Peeta's sketches. After almost a year of making entries, we've recorded many of the more important things. Now we document any small detail we can think of. I wish we had started with the small things first because those seem to be the hardest to recall now. Like the exact color pink of the ribbon I had put on Lady when I gave her to Prim. And what the sunset looked like when Peeta and I spent the day on the roof right before the Quell.
Peeta walks over to stand behind me and brushes his fingers across the picture he drew detailing Finnick and Annie's wedding cake.
"That was a great cake," I comment.
Peeta walks around to sit on the couch next to my chair. "Yeah, it was, and a great day too." He sighs and stares off, remembering the past, but I look at him uncertainly.
"Wait. Were you there?" He nods his head slowly. "I never saw you," I whisper.
"I stood in the back. Haymitch convinced them to at least let me see the ceremony, and then he snuck a piece of the cake back to me." That drunkard never ceases to amaze me.
"I had no idea. I'm glad you got to see them so happy."
He smiles faintly. "Me too."
I close the book and place it on the coffee table. I walk into the kitchen, needing a drink and needing to shake myself from my stupor. I bring my glass back filled with water, with another one for Peeta. He takes a gulp and clears his throat.
"So what should we work on today?" he asks me as if I've been thinking about it all day. But I haven't thought of much so I just shrug my shoulders. But then, just like a bolt of lightning, inspiration strikes.
"Actually, I managed to get a rabbit through the eye today. I think I'll write about that, even if it is a little gruesome." I grab a new sheet of paper and a pencil.
"That's awesome, Katniss." Peeta is grinning a little largely for my taste, but I know he's just excited about my improvement. "Do you want me to sketch a picture for you?" His grin becomes a little wicked.
"Uh, no thanks. That might be going too far." Peeta's attitude is so infectious it's hard not to join in with a small smile.
"Well, I think I'll just work on some of the unfinished sketches then." He walks over to the desk where we keep the book's things and grabs the colored pencils Dr. Aurelius sent with the fancy paper. We're both silent for a while as we work diligently.
I begin like I always do with writing the date. Then I describe the way the woods looked early in the morning with the dew still hanging heavy on the foliage and a small amount of fog lingering around the tree trunks and my ankles. I had been crouched low, with my back against a tree for nearly twenty minutes, just waiting and listening. I heard a soft rustle in the leaves to my right and pulled my bow all the way back. It didn't take me long to spot the unsuspecting creature making his merry little way among the leaves and fallen branches. Slowly and silently, I raised my arms, my muscles engaged with the effort of keeping the arrow pulled back, but still relaxed because that's the key to the perfect shot. I timed it just right and on my exhale, I let the arrow fly. It was the best I've felt while hunting since being back.
I pause and look up to see Peeta staring at my face.
"Wow,' he breathes. I look around confused for a moment.
"What? Is something wrong?"
He shakes his head to break the spell he's apparently under. "No, nothing. It's just…you're face just now was so animated." He gets that mesmerized look on his face again. "It was fascinating, that's all."
I narrow my eyes at him skeptically, but then he shakes his head again and goes back to whatever sketch he had been completing.
We both finish up after a few more minutes and then make our way to the kitchen to start cooking. I stare at the cabinet filled with canned goods from the Capitol, trying to decide what to make. Peeta opens the refrigerator and grabs the meat I threw in there this morning.
"This is what we're using right?" he asks, bringing it over to me and the cutting board lying on the counter next to me. I nod and he joins me to stare at the cans. "What are we making?"
"I have no idea," I say and sigh.
I probably should start planning meals, but it's hard to think too far in advance. After another minute, I end up grabbing a can of mixed vegetables and hand them to Peeta. I grab a pot while he opens them and then dumps them in. I set the stove on low to heat them slowly while I start on the meat. I combine flour with some seasonings and cover the cubes of meat in the mixture. Peeta already has a skillet waiting with oil heating up. I place the meat in the pan, turning each piece frequently to get it brown on all sides. While those finish browning, I mix a little broth from the fridge that Greasy Sae made with a little more flour and pour that over the meat. I cover the pan, turn the heat down slightly, stir the vegetables, and then wait. I go to help Peeta who is already at the sink cleaning the few dishes we used for prep.
"Do you have any extra bread? It might be nice with the meat and gravy."
"Yeah, sure," he says as he rinses and dries his hands. He looks out the window to make sure it's stopped raining. "I'll be right back."
While he's gone, I grab our glasses from the living room and refill them. I grab plates and utensils and set it all on the small table in the kitchen. When it's just Peeta and me, we sit in the kitchen instead of the formal dining room. I go back to the stove, stir the vegetables, and check the meat. Peeta comes back in the front door while I'm seasoning the vegetables. I can hear him stomping and wiping his feet to get the water off. He brings the loaf back to the kitchen, grabs a knife, and starts cutting slices for us. The days of me being frightened around Peeta with a knife have long since passed.
I grab the butter dish and a slice of bread and start spreading. I can smell the thyme Peeta has used to flavor the bread and it's too hard to wait. I take a huge bite before Peeta can object.
"You're lucky I grabbed a large loaf," he says sternly, but his eyes are smiling so I know I'm not really in trouble especially when he grabs a slice too.
We put the rest of the bread and butter on the table. Peeta sits down in one of the chairs, and I make myself comfortable on the counter while we wait for the meat to finish cooking. Silence fills the kitchen, but it's not entirely uncomfortable. Instead of letting my mind wander, I try to focus on the task at hand, and even think of the next few days and what I might cook.
"It'll be nice if the garden is a success. Then we'll have some fresh vegetables instead of having to use so much Capitol food," he says, breaking my train of thought. Apparently, his mind was on the food track as well.
"Yeah, I hope I don't kill anything. I was even thinking I might can some if we have an abundance."
"Have you ever canned anything before?" he asks while giving me a smirk.
"No, but it can't be that difficult. I'm sure Sae will help me figure it out. She has to have done it at some point."
"We can learn together," he says, leaning back in his chair. "If you don't mind, that is." He's still careful not to impose too much; he knows I mainly prefer solitude.
"No, that's fine. I'm sure I could use the help." It's a comfort to know that Peeta is there for me, even though I'm not the most welcoming person.
I check the meat after another minute, and decide that's it's done. We both grab our plates and dish ourselves some vegetables and meat with gravy. We settle at the table and begin our meal in silence again. I've gotten so used to silence it's almost unnerving when I venture into town or to Peeta's house with all the kids there. It's no one's fault really; I just spend too much time in the woods or alone in my house. Another few minutes pass while we eat, and then Peeta drops his fork on his plate and looks at me.
"I'm sorry, Katniss," he begins with a guilty look. But he continues before I can even ask why. "I don't think I ever really thanked you. For feeding me, and letting me spend some time here everyday," he elaborates.
"You feed me. You bring me bread and stuff all the time," I add, slightly embarrassed by his gratitude. He brushes me off with a wave.
"Regardless, I still appreciate it. I guess it was just so easy to fall into this habit of working on the book and then staying for dinner that it never entered my mind to thank you. So, thank you, Katniss. It really helps me unwind."
Still feeling a little flushed, I nod my head and mumble, 'your welcome' before continuing to eat. I think about what Peeta said though, and I'm struck at how true his words are. It's taken little to no effort on my part to create and maintain this companionship. I might even call it a friendship if I were a little more friendly, but sometimes I feel like I'm a little cold towards Peeta without really meaning to be. I'm reminded of our time on the victory tour and just before the Quell. What we had then is very similar to what we have now; a camaraderie based on our need for each other in order to survive. I look up at his arms, neck and face still riddled with scars, and think about how there is no one in the world quite like us. And how there is no one else that could do for us what we do for each other. It's then that I reach over and place my hand on his. I don't squeeze it or weave my fingers through his; I just rest it there. He looks at my hand, astonishment on his face. This is probably the most intimate contact we've had since I kissed him in the Capitol, and we were still fighting for our lives. Only we're still fighting; it's just a different battle this time.
"In that case, thank you, Peeta." He's still looking at our hands, but my eyes are trained on his face, almost pleading with him to look at me so he can see the sincerity in my own. "Thank you, for coming back here, and for staying with me." His eyes finally make contact with mine.
"Always," he murmurs.
Peeta heads back to his house after helping me wash the dishes from dinner and clean up the kitchen. I wander around for a few more minutes putting things back in place, or straightening things that aren't crooked. Finally, I make myself stop and head upstairs for my evening routine.
I change into pajamas, and lay out an outfit for the morning. I brush my teeth, and wash my face. I leave my hair in the braid because otherwise it gets tangled while I thrash about in bed. Suddenly, the fact that I woke up so early catches up with me, and I'm exhausted. I burrow under the covers, and foolishly think that because I'm so tired I'll fall right to sleep when my head hits the pillow. Of course, that's not the case though.
Not two minutes after my eyes close, I'm back in the Capitol on the day I attempted to assassinate Snow. But instead of the moment I kissed Peeta and pulled him back to reality, I'm staring at Prim in all her beautiful innocence trying to help those poor children who were not much younger than her. I open my eyes to try and snap back to reality. It doesn't work, though, and the scene plays in my head over and over. I press the heels of my hands into my eyes and hum loudly trying to block out the memories. I rock from side to side, and end up humming the Hanging Tree tune. Tears start sliding down my face as visions of my father and Prim swirl together in my mind. Somehow, in the midst of rocking, weeping, and humming I sink into a fitful sleep.
A/N: It's been a long time since I've written anything, but I hope this wasn't too terrible. I know you've all read a thousand post Mockingjay stories, but I hope this is deifferent enough. I love reviews like Finnick loves Annie, so click that little link. ;)