"Come in, then." I said, opening the door further and leaning against it while he collected himself and stepped through, muddy boot prints on our wood floor.
"Is he here?"
"I don't know, I only just woke up." I corrected myself. "You woke me up."
"Well then, I'm sorry for ruining the princess' beauty sleep. Go and look."
His authoritative tone and the stoic expression on his face angered me, but nevertheless I abandoned my post and Gale by the door and ventured into the kitchen.
I waited for the blond mop of hair as I turned the corner but found only the morning sun piercing through the window and illuminating the back wall and our refrigerator. On the table sat a plate of cheese buns and I allowed myself a small smile. Next to them lay a note on fancy Capitol writing paper.
I've gone to the bakery, I need to see my father and do some baking. Be normal.
I'll come home at lunch time to see if you're home, but you should go hunting. It's been too long.
Enjoy the cheese buns; I know they're your favourite.
All my love,
I grabbed two cheese buns from the shiny Capitol plate and slinked back into the hallway. He hadn't moved an inch. He was just staring at the grandeur that now surrounded me; I supposed he was thinking of my home or his, of the children with dirty feet on the cracked floors.
I thought the same.
"He's gone to the bakery. I brought you a cheese bun."
Even Gale in his resolute state couldn't turn down Peeta's cooking, and grabbed it, though grudgingly. "I can't stay here." He said, eyeing the house again, the carpeted floor that crept up the stairs. "Let's go to the woods."
"Alright." I conceded. "Can you come in for a moment, while I get changed?"
He stepped back on to the porch. "I'll just wait here."
I eyed his muddy prints on the floor and felt a lurch of horror that he could sully something so clean. Something so Capitol.
My hands shook and bile lurched into my throat. I threw him the bun that had grown sweaty in my palm, and with his hunter's reflexes he caught it. "You have it. I don't want it any more."
I left the door open and cantered up the stairs, the noise of my heels slamming against the wood floors then the caress of the carpeted stairs on my bare feet sickening me.
I careened into mine and Peeta's bedroom and slammed the door shut. I slumped against the door for a second, breathing heavily. My heart pounded painfully, not least because of the talk that was to come. But I couldn't think of it, or I'd never leave the room.
How I would love to never leave the room.
I pottered into the en suite and found cushiony towels waiting. I ignored them and stepped into the shower. Puzzling over the location of the on switch I was horrified by the sudden gentle pattering of water that descended down on me, and the screen which appeared before me.
"Welcome Katniss," a robotic voice began. "Please select your settings."
The lukewarm water pitter-pattered down on me and I just couldn't take it. I slammed my thumb into the first setting and grew nauseous as I was enveloped in an artificial rose scent.
I hurled myself out of the shower and grabbed the stupid cushiony towel and hated the comfort of it against my skin. I brushed my teeth absent-mindedly and walked to the double doors I knew to contain my closet, though I hadn't yet seen it.
It was gigantic. Larger possibly than mine and Peeta's room. Ball gowns and fur coats and jewellery laden. I searched desperately for my hunting gear.
Finally, in a tumult of fabric, I found a plain black vest and some trousers, both plain in comparison to the finery around them but nevertheless more grand than anything I'd ever worn before in District Twelve.
I braided my wet hair as I walked down the stairs in new, uncomfortable boots and sighed in relief when I saw my father's hunting jacket and game bag folded on a small chair nearby the door.
Peeta was too good to me.
I slung it on and closed the door behind me, wondering briefly if I should lock it.
"You don't have to lock it, Katniss. No-one is desperate enough to be caught stealing from Victors' Village on Capitol camera." Gale said, his mouth tilting into a grimace.
"I didn't- I wasn't-" I closed my mouth. His eyes perused my outfit and I could see plainly in his eyes the distaste, until he reached my father's jacket. His eyes softened and under his scars and dirt, I saw my Gale. "What do you mean Capitol camera?"
"Katniss, you can't tell me you're too brainwashed not to realise your damn mansion is full of surveillance." The disbelief in Gale's voice kept me biting my tongue. "Let's go."
Gale's long stride took him yards in front of me in seconds, and I hurried to catch up with him.
"Will you slow down?"
He slowed infinitesimally at first then came to an abrupt stop just outside of Victors' Village. "We can't go to the woods today."
"Why not?" I protested.
"I shouldn't be surprised that you haven't noticed with your head full of Capitol shit." I had never heard Gale swear before…well, not in a normal situation. He'd hardened. "We have a new Head Peacekeeper. And aside from the fact it has everyone in the district starving; it also means that they keep an eye on the fence. I can still get under, obviously. But with you looking like that, we can't."
"We could sneak?"
"I could sneak. You're still under surveillance, remember?"
"We're not in the house!"
"Your camera crews are still here, filming the district. I wouldn't be surprised if they're keeping an eye out for you integrating with the community."
"Well, where can we go?"
We ended up at my old home. My mother and sister had gleefully moved into my Victor's home unlike Peeta's parents, and so my old house sat empty and alone.
I booted the bottom of the door and it creaked open.
Nothing had changed. Gale shoved past me and interrupted my nostalgia, sitting on the raggedy couch. I guess they didn't need it in the new house.
I joined him. "So…what did you want to talk about?"
He ran his filthy hand through his hair. "I don't know."
"Well, you're the one who showed up at my door. You didn't even say hello."
"You didn't say goodbye."
"What?" I balked.
"You- you let everyone but me, even him say goodbye, but they turned me away. You didn't want to see me." He sang in a childish bitter voice. "What could I possibly have done that you'd go off to your death without saying goodbye? You whispered your sweet nothings to Cray but you had no time for me! After everything I've done for you, the way I told you I feel!"
"I didn't tell them you couldn't see me," I argued. I thought back to the mess I'd been in after Hubris had visited. "They were cleaning me up; they probably didn't want you to see me like that. And they had to retain Cray."
"Don't use the guilt card on me Katniss. Cray walked out of there a free man, I saw it myself. And they held me back, because you didn't want anyone else."
"You don't know what you're talking about. He raped me one last time in the Hall of Justice. The only justice I've had is that he's now in Snow's prison in the Capitol, and there was still a hefty price to pay for that."
"Yeah, there was. The starving people of District 12 can vouch for that."
"You have no idea Gale, no concept of what I've done!"
"Neither do you! You don't realise you've made our lives hell!"
"Well mine was hell anyway!" I stood up and turned away from him, trying to collect myself so that he couldn't hear the tears in my voice. "You think I'm so selfish. You don't know how it is to sell your last dignity to a man because you're dying, and the people you love are dying, because the only other person you loved is dead!"
"Of course I know! My father died right alongside yours! I watched Posy wilt and know suffering as a child instead of living happily and growing up a happy child. Her first memories will be of her brother coming home beaten and tired from the same place that killed her father! And it'll be the same damn place that kills me too, if the goddamn Capitol doesn't first."
"You're working in the mines?"
"Yeah. I can't poach like I used to. The Hob is closed, there's no-one to sell to. If I catch anything we eat it, and when I can't? Well, we starve. And you in your Capitol finery have the gall to tell me you've suffered."
"I've suffered, Gale! I've killed people!"
"And as a reward, you've got a Capitol that loves you, all the grandeur, and thirteen districts rallying around you like you're some sort of martyr when you're just a whore."
"Thirteen?" I ignored his jibes. Rallying around me I might understand; I knew I'd become a martyr to those oppressed. But District 13 had been blown to pieces.
"Oh, you missed that trick, did you? District 13 is alive, and they've got plans for you, Katniss. If you'd pick your lazy ass up from all your riches and listen!"
Plans with Peeta, for children and a life away from the Capitol, a life of love and normalcy and blond haired angels around our feet.
Plans with Snow to be his puppet to please his Capitol throne, or his other plan of whoring me out to the highest bidder if I didn't meet his demands.
And now, plans with a district that stopped existing 75 years ago, to use me as their puppet and martyr me?
"I've heard enough, Gale. You don't know me at all."
I turned again and left my childhood home, storming through the Seam until I reached Victors' Village.
The unlocked door slammed against the wall as I pushed it open.
I turned and Gale stood outside. "What, Gale?"
He threw something at me and I caught it easily. "I don't want your bourgeoisie bread."
He turned on his heel and I stared down at the ruined bread, oily and covered in coal dust.
I walked to the kitchen and threw the cheese bun away before stopping in front of the table.
There was a new note.
I came by but you weren't here. I'll see you tonight.
All my love,
I couldn't please anyone. Least of all, myself.
Allowed some alone time after Gale's departure and Peeta's absence, I found myself in the kitchen. The smell of warm bread and the not often seen sunlight shining through the windows, I imagined quietly a place in which I could raise children.
I had never wanted children. The hours of endless screaming that my mothers' patients endured; the sickly babies buried by their fathers after a particularly cold winter – the burden of love seemed too much to bear. Better to be alone and have only myself to be responsible for. Better only to have myself to disappoint.
But here in this quiet space as I watched dust motes swirl around our new home, I sank to the floor and crawled like a child under our kitchen table, and closed my eyes. I imagined the warmth of being a mother, of having a being inside me that was entirely mine and Peeta's, made of love. I imagined having a physical being made of the love I felt for Peeta.
I felt a tear slide down my cheek and for a second, cling to my chin like a climber on the edge of a cliff.
I imagined bundling our children up and taking them to the woods. I imagined the warm summer months where we could teach them to swim in the lake, and the sun setting as their hair dried in waves like Rue's did.
Rue. I imagined my child pierced by the spear of the Capitol.
I imagined coming home and cooking with Peeta – such a far off dream, since I knew I wasn't the best cook – and our children clamouring for more of their Papa's cheese buns. I imagined curling up with Peeta at night and our child between us, tiny little breaths warm at my breast.
I imagined the love I would have for these tiny unborn beings, my overwhelming desire to keep them safe and hold them up to the best of life, and to look in their Papa's eyes and see the love he had for me and for them and the gift I had given him.
I then imagined what would happen. I would grudgingly give birth to our child. Peeta would be ever so happy. The cameras would come to our door and each private moment, each treasured moment, would be stolen. The whole nation would know how our baby looked as they waddled along and fell into Peeta's arms. They would grow into a beautiful child and their first day of school, terrifying, would be documented by the camera men of the Capitol. When they scraped their knee, the nation would see.
I had sold my child's life to the Capitol so that I wouldn't have to sacrifice myself. I had almost sold my child like I sold myself to Cray. And Peeta – beautiful, caring, loving Peeta – his most private moments with the children he longed for more than he could ever love me, they were gone too.
I began to think I'd made the wrong decision. The tears continued to fall.