In between the lines

Chapter 1

In the morning, he sits stoically as I clean the cuts, but digging the thorn from his paw brings on a round of those kitten mews.

He must hate me even more when I do this. But I'm all he's got. And he's all I got too. My thoughts wander towards Peeta. Sure he is back. But I don't have him anymore. He's scarred and hurt because of me. So he's not mine to have. I take the last thorn from Buttercup's leg and we just stare at each other. The realization that we are alone sinks in. Alone and defeated. Prim, the one person I'm sure I love. Prim, the one reason I volunteered for the Games. Prim, my sister, is gone. I will never hug her again. I will never braid her hair again. I will never tell her to tuck in her duck tail again. I will never have to put her life before mine again. Buttercup curls up next to me and I rest my head on a pillow.

We both end up crying again, only this time we comfort each other. On the strength of this, I open the letter Haymitch gave me from my mother, dial the phone number, and weep with her as well.

I wish I could hug her. I was always so preoccupied with surviving and keeping Prim alive that I never realized how much I needed my mother. With Prim gone, I probably need her more now than ever. I find the strength to apologize to her for all the years in which I resented her for leaving us to care for ourselves. I finally understand how she felt, how hopeless she was. We say our goodbyes and she wishes that I get better soon. That if I progress enough under Dr. Aurelius' care they might let me travel to visit her. I tell her it could be possible, although I doubt I'll ever be allowed to leave District 12. And even if I am, I'm not sure I want to.

My stomach is growling and I sit and hope Greasy Sae is still in charge of making sure I am fed. If not I'll have to get food myself, and I don't feel like it. It's a strange thought from a hunter, but I am not sure whether I feel more like a hunter or the prey right now. Thankfully, I don't have to wait long and I hear the door open.

Peeta, bearing a warm loaf of bread, shows up with Greasy Sae. She makes us breakfast and I feed all my bacon to Buttercup.

He doesn't deserve it for the attitude he's given me over the years. But he was Prim's and I must take good care of the only living thing she's left me. The thought of her sends me into a daze. I finish my eggs, not because I have an appetite but because Greasy Sae would not let me be otherwise, and find my way back to the sofa. My last attempt at hunting was a big failure filled with a mix of sickness and nostalgia, so I don't try hunting again. Not for now, anyway. I also avoid my bedroom as much as I can. Burning the rose may have helped to erase the last trace of Snow in my house, but I swear I can still smell it when the day is calm enough. Peeta is the only reason I found my bed last night. But he didn't stay nor did I expect him to stay. We're broken and being together can only make us worse. So Buttercup spent the night with me instead. While he can't ward off my nightmares like Peeta could, I know he'll keep guard on me during my worst nights. It's what he would do for Prim.

I am tempted to turn on the tv. My mother said they would be showing District 4 on a special about the rebuilding of Panem and that she might be interviewed alongside the group of doctors working on the new hospital. I change my mind when I realize seeing my mother's complexion and her blonde hair will only make me think of Prim and the aching will consume my day. I decide for a walk, though there isn't much to see in town yet but ashes. Maybe I should check on Haymitch, make sure he's not lying in a pile of his own vomit somewhere. I grab my boots in the kitchen and notice Peeta is washing my dishes. If that's a hint that I'm letting my house fall apart with me, I pretend I don't see it.

It's drizzling and the touch of each drop on my skin is refreshing. It turns to rain when I am almost at Haymitch's doorsteps but I just stop and let it soak me. I don't know if I hope the rain will wash these scars away, but I stand there for at least five minutes with my eyes closed. Haymitch yanks the door open. "What the hell are you doing, sweeheart? You'll get pneumonia," he says while he puts a clean towel around my shoulders and ushers me inside. I don't know why but I am overcome by shock when I notice the towel not only is clean but smells nice. Actually, the whole place smells nice. I squint thinking I'll find vomit in the corner or liquor spilled on the table but I don't see anything familiar. "Haymitch, have you been cleaning?" I blurt out in disbelief.

"Your boyfriend seems to think I care what this place looks like." He grabs a bottle of white liquor and pours it into a glass. I'm about to protest that Peeta is not my boyfriend when I register a pattern.

"He's cleaning over at my house too. Isn't that strange?" I ask him.

"Must be part of his therapy or whatever, to become some sort of housewife. But maybe if you keep your place messy enough he'll lay off my business. So why don't you work on that, Mockingjay?" He gulps the rest of the liquor and pours some more. He must not be in a mood for chatting and neither am I. The only reason I'm here is because I had to get out of the house. So I just sit in the kitchen watching the heavy rain outside while Haymitch is occupied with soaking his own feelings with alcohol. It must be late afternoon when the rain stops because I can finally see the sun setting in the horizon. Muted like sunset, I think. Peeta's favourite colour. I wonder if he's stopped to appreciate it since the hijacking, and I scramble to find a different thought when I reckon the answer must be no. Because the old Peeta is gone, so it must not matter that I told him orange was his favourite. Because the new Peeta can prefer whichever colour he fancies.

Haymitch is passed out, knife in his hand as always. I think he'll never lose this habit. My stomach is growling so I decide to go home. I wonder if I should make sure that Haymitch eats, but waking him up from his drunken state is too much of a chore. He'll just scowl and fall back asleep. I make my way towards home, watching the grass. I feel the need to avoid that sunset with all my being. But in my effort to avoid one thing that makes me think of Peeta, I find another. The first dandelion of the spring. Bright yellow and soaked in all its glory. I take it from the ground and twirl it in my fingers. I like green because of the woods. But now I wonder if the new Katniss, the fallen Mockingjay with melted skin, prefers bright yellow more than anything. I walk to Peeta's house and smell the bread. I really am hungry, but it's not the reason I am here. He must have seen me from the window because before I knock, Peeta opens the door. I am a bit startled, as I seem to suddenly forget why I came. He frowns, probably wondering the same thing. That's when I hand him the dandelion and run away.

I shut the door behind me and run up the stairs. I wonder what Peeta will make out of what I just did. He probably doesn't even know why I had picked a dandelion off the grass. He'll think its a peace offering, that we should be friends. Truth is I don't know why I did it. We shouldn't be friends. All I ever did was lie to him, fool him, hurt him. Perhaps I am being unfair to myself. I did do everything I could to protecting him. Then I failed, I realize. No. I hope he doesn't read anything into it. I like his company, but I don't deserve him. Haymitch said so. I decide to head back downstairs and make a fire in the living room and cover myself with a blanket. Although they warm me up, the embers take me back to the City Circle. And suddenly Prim is on fire. I want to put it out but I am burning too. My skin is melting. These scars are proof. I am screaming but no one can hear me. At least I thought no one could. Peeta runs from the door into the sofa and holds me tight.

"It's ok, Katniss. It's ok. It's over now," he says looking straight into my eyes. It calms me as his blue eyes pierce through my soul. I wonder why he's here. Maybe to ask me about my strange behaviour minutes ago. But he doesn't say anything else. He just holds me until I fall asleep. When I wake up he's not there anymore.