Catching Fire in Peeta's Point of View
Here it is, folks! I'm back again, with Catching Fire!
"Stop! Stop!" A familiar frantic voice booms in my head. "Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to present the victors of the Seventy-fourth Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark! I give you – the tributes of District Twelve!" I spit out the berry that I was so close to swallowing, turning on my heels to look at Katniss with a relieved smile on my lips. My smile falters, because Katniss' face is frozen in shock, her lips a dark red from crushed berries. There are no berries in her hand. I pull her down to the lake, cupping water in my hand to wash out her mouth.
"Come on Katniss, spit them out!" I almost shout at her. She shakes her head, blinking up at me.
"It's too late, Peeta." She mutters. I shake my head in frustration, gathering more water. Katniss collapses, her body crumpling in my arms. I try to shake her awake, but it is no use. She is unmoving, no beat in her chest. I cradle her as the tears form.
I startle awake with a gasp and Katniss' name on my lips. I glance around me in a panic, but I am in my own bed, in the Victor's Village. And Katniss is in the house beside mine, safe and alive. I fall back onto my pillows, waiting for my heart to stop pounding against my chest. Just another nightmare. I have different nightmares, but this is the one that is recurring, that keeps coming back to haunt me. Sometimes my nightmares are of the mutations from the arena bounding towards me with bloodlust in their human eyes and a snarl from their not human mouths. Sometimes I watch my family die in different ways, sometimes I am attending Katniss and Gale's wedding. But mostly in my nightmares, I watch Katniss die and am always too late to save her.
Once I've calmed down, I roll out of the bed and strap on my left leg, making my way down the hall. There's a breeze from my open window, and the moon light streaming in makes it easy to maneuver my way to the door. I turn the light on in the last room of the hallway, surrounded by scenes of my nightmares on canvases of different sizes. There's one half painted in the middle of the room, propped up on the easel. I sit on the stool in front of it and uncover my paints, dipping a paintbrush in the purple and creating small strokes across the canvas.
When I finally pull back from the finished product, sunlight is already filling the room and setting a new light on all of the scenes before me. I step back to look at the one I had just finished. Female, dirty hands cupped together to hold a handful of berries. Simple, but a reminder. She didn't die. She is alive and well. Maybe now the nightmare will stop haunting my sleep. I run a hand through my hair, but recognize too late that my hand is covered in wet paint, which is now streaked through my dirty blonde hair. I leave the painting to dry and wash the brushes in the bathroom, where I also run a bath.
The Victor's village isn't as grand as the Capitol, but at least there's running water. I soak in the bath for a while, body still tense from the nightmare I had suffered. I don't remember a day when I hadn't felt tense ever since returning from the Games. I had been under the illusion that everything would be better once returning, until Katniss' had revealed her true feelings. I rinse my face, trying to rinse away the memories. Of course it's no use and I can still picture her perfectly, clutching at the dull flowers I had picked for her, avoiding my gaze. The memories are always there.
I had pretty much perfected moving in and out of the tub without my left leg, although I have yet to perfect walking on the metal contraption. I dress myself and leave the house, making my way to the town as District Twelve wakes up. Snow has begun to fall and I have to pull my wool jacket tighter around me to keep the cold at bay. There are sacks of flour already waiting by the door of the Bakery, the delivery man been and gone. I hoist the first sack of my shoulder and carry it inside, where my father and mother have already started the baking.
"Good morning, son." I smile at my father, and then again at my mother. She nods curtly in my direction. Amazingly, my victorious return from the Games hadn't warmed her heart. Often, I find her eyeing up my left leg and the gait in my walk. There was one time when I thought I had seen the glistening of tears in her eyes, but dismissed it as a trick of the light. I know that there is some resentment, because I had revealed to the whole of Panem that my mother hadn't exactly been my father's first choice. My mother is a very proud woman, and embarrassing her like that is something she is having trouble forgiving.
"Morning. Where's Gareth and Lukail?" I ask, keeping my tone pleasant.
"Lukail is with that woman," my mother snarls in distaste. I have to suppress the smile that twitched across my lips, because I knew exactly who the woman was. Lukail had been getting romantically involved with a young woman from the Seam, which my mother obviously disapproved of greatly. But I'm certain Lukail is very serious about this woman, especially if he's staying over the night. My father crosses to where I am, enveloping me in a brief hug.
"Gareth is still in bed." He explains, planting his hands firmly on my shoulders and looking me square in the face. I know what he sees. Dark circles under my eyes, the strain in my expression, my tight smile. His face softens in concern. "Nightmares again?" he asks softly.
"Yeah." I mumble. "They've gotten worse the past week. Tomorrow's the start of the tour," I sigh heavily and my father nods in understanding. I bring in the rest of the sacks of flour and start on my icing. Without the bakery, I wouldn't have much to do with my days so I often dropped by to help out in the morning. Sometimes, I stay all day and it's just like before the Seventy Fourth Hunger Games, before I became a Victor.
The Victor's Tour. A train ride across Panem to remind the other Districts who had won, to remind us all that the Games never go away. It also means being in close proximity with Katniss again, which I have mixed feelings about. Ever since the cameras had been packed away and sent back to the Capitol, any kind of relationship or friendship I had had with Katniss had frozen. We hadn't had any kind of real conversation, just forced sentences when in the company of one another. But the whole of Panem will be expecting us to hold hands and kiss sweetly, because the whole of Panem aren't aware that our romance was a fake. Katniss had made me a pawn in her survival of the Games, and I had fallen for it because I had wanted to believe so badly. The thoughts still formed a tight lump in my throat and made my body tense in anger. I wonder when the whole farce will be over.
Perhaps in a year or two when they realise we don't even talk to one another and there are no plans of marriage. When she marries her so called cousin, I push the angry, poisonous thought from my mind. Tomorrow, Portia and the others will be arriving to preen me and dress me once again. In a away, I realise that I'm kind of looking forward to seeing Portia, as we hadn't had much contact since my return to the District. There had been a few phone calls in the past month, mainly of Portia telling me how excited she is to see me again and how excited she is to see my paintings. I have a feeling she might not be so excited when she finally sees them, because they are all dark subjects. The content of my nightmares.
I stay at the bakery most of the day and serve at the counter, since my father's joints are giving him trouble and my mother is busy by the oven. The day passes in quite a blur and by the time I've left with two loaves under my arm, there's already a few inches of snow on the ground. I limp back towards the Victor's Village, wanting to get back to the warmth of the fire before the snow gets any heavier. I also want to sleep.
I set the loaves down on the kitchen counter, slicing some off the end of one and covering it in goat's cheese, making myself some tea to go along with it. I sit by the fire for a long while, cradling the hot cup in my hands and drinking the tea slowly. Eventually, I fall asleep.
I wake in the morning, the embers in the fire already burnt out. The only indication it had been lit is the small wisp of smoke finding its way up the chimney. For a while I stay where I am, staring ahead of me in wonder. It's the first night in weeks I had gone without a major nightmare. I don't even remember what I had been dreaming about, if I had dreamt at all. I get out of the armchair, working the stiffness out of my body and the kink in my neck. Not exactly the most comfortable place to sleep. I almost fall forward when I step onto my left leg, but manage to catch myself on the arm of the chair.
Sometimes, I forget I have a fake leg. It seems like to kind of thing one would always remember, but I've found it's quite easy to try and walk, only to find myself hindered by the metal strapped to my half a leg. Especially when I'm groggy. I sigh heavily and stretch it out, before stepping on the leg carefully.
On the way out of the house I pick up the loaf of bread that I hadn't started to eat myself and take it to Haymitch's house. It's snowing again, and the air is still cold. I have a constant worry that the metal of my fake leg is going to freeze over and I'll be stuck, nearly helpless. With my hand on the door, I steel myself for the stench inside. The first time I had entered Haymitch's house, I had thrown up. The man never tidies up and leaves his rubbish where he drops it, I have no idea how long all of it has been laying in the house but I'm sure there's a lot of it is moldy. I had tried tidying up a few times, but Haymitch always finds out and makes a slur of profanities at me until I leave.
I immediately head for the kitchen, but notice the smell of coffee in the air. Amazing how I'm able to smell it through everything else rotten. I wade through the rubbish and head her voice as I near the door. I freeze for a moment, clutching the load of bread in my hand. Okay, no need to panic. We'd done this plenty of times. The formal conversation, the stiff looks. I head through the door, just as she says my name.
"Asked me what?" I ask making my way to the table, where Haymitch looks dazed and hung-over. I put the loaf of bread on the table and hold my hand out to Haymitch expectantly, knowing he'll have the knife at his side as per usual.
"Asked you to wake me without giving me pneumonia," Haymitch mutters as he passes me the knife. I notice the water dripping from his hair and running down his face. I allow myself a smile, picking up some of Haymtich's white liquor to clean the knife. I trust nothing in this house to be clean, except the man's alcohol. I wipe the knife with the tail of my shirt and begin slicing off some of the bread. I hand the knife back to Haymitch, noticing Katniss out of the corner of the eye. I make myself look at her, ignoring the grey eyes that could lock me down in an instant, the blush on her cheeks that I'm sure is from the cold, the soft lips that I've kissed plenty of times and find myself missing every so often.
"Would you like a piece?" I ask.
"No, I ate at the Hob," she replies in the stiff, formal tone we use with one another now. "But thank you." She adds.
"You're welcome." Again, the stiff and formal tone. No hint of the moments we had once shared in a cave.
"Brrr. You two have got a lot of warming up to do before show time." Haymitch adds in. I avoid looking at either of them, spreading butter over the slices of bread.
"Take a bath, Haymitch." Katniss says, jumping out of the window and landing nimbly on the ground. I throw some slices of bread down on the table in front of Haymitch, and notice him staring at me. When I turn to him, he raises his eyebrows.
"Do not say a word." I say slowly, biting into my bread. He opens his mouth, looking like he's about to say something. "Not. A. Word." I repeat, pointing my finger at him. He raises his hands in surrender, picking up his breakfast and biting into it. We finish our breakfast in silence; Haymitch giving me pointed glances every now and then. I dump a large cup of strong coffee in front of him.
"Drink this. Have a bath. Everyone will be here soon." I say sternly.
"How lucky I am to have two kids looking after me," he mutters into the murky depths of coffee. I ignore his sarcasm. It was odd, our almost friendship. It had taken me a couple of weeks to actually come round and see Haymitch, after knowing he had helped Katniss cook up a plan. Eventually, I came to my senses. He hadn't been doing it to spite me; he had been doing it to keep up both alive. I could hardly stay mad, when I had attempted to plan with Haymitch to keep Katniss alive. So I forgave Haymitch, and I forgave Katniss. Except I couldn't bring myself to talk to Katniss about it, it was like the years before the Reaping all over again.
"Right, I'm going to get ready. I'll see you later," I call as I leave the house, hoping he doesn't fall asleep. I'd been visiting Haymitch most days, taking him some fresh bread every so often as a change from the rubbish he eats. Katniss also takes him fresh meat, and together we seem to be boosting his diet. I had considered trying to wean him from the alcohol, until the one time he had run out of alcohol. He had spent the day cowered in the corner of his bedroom, arms over his head as he screamed at things that I couldn't see. It had been terrifying, and an experience that I never wanted to repeat again.
I step into the house and light the fire again, to warm the house for when Portia and the others arrive. I set some cookies and others foods out in the kitchen for them to pick up, knowing that there will be a bunch of people arriving with cameras and lights and all kinds of technical equipment that requires a lot of manpower. The filming of my interview will be set up in my painting room upstairs, rather than bringing the paintings downstairs. Once everything is ready I run myself a bath and dip into the almost scorching water. I allow myself to relax now, before the Prep team arrives with their months' worth of chatter, before the cameras are trust upon us once again, before I have to pretend I'm in love with Katniss.
I've only just hopped out of the tub and strapped my leg back on when they arrive. They don't bother knocking or waiting for me to reach the door, within minutes the three cheerful, oddly colored and oddly dressed people who make up my Prep team burst into the bathroom.