Hello again, lovelies! I'm back and this time with a new chapter from the new and updated story. This chapter has not been edited yet and I would really appreciate me if you told me about any typos etc. I would also love to get some feedback on my new way of writing and on the chapter, of course. I'll try my best to update regularly. Happy New Year's!
For the new readers: I posted this story back in 2012, but after reading through it recently, I found that my writing has developed (at least, I think so) and so I decided to renew every chapter and post it again. And for the record, English is not my native language but I'm trying my best.
As soon as I've jumped out of the tub, I quickly slip on some pants and the warmest sweater I could find. To have the luxury of turning on a tap and having a limitless supply of hot water at our fingertips feels surreal. In the old house, the one in the Seam, all we had to bathe with was a small, wooden tub which my mother had to boil the water for it to be warm. To save time and warmth, I often bathed in cold water.
A lot of things have changed since I came back and Prim, my mother and I moved into the brand new house in the Victor's Village. For instance; We're not short on food anymore, nowhere near going hungry, really.
I make my way down the stairs as quietly as I can, avoiding the step that squeaks every time. Entering the kitchen, I can't help but peak out the window. It's snowing lightly, just white powder snow. Through the occasional falling snowflake, I can see a flicker of light in Peeta's kitchen and I know he's up baking.
Pulling on my old leather boots with a small huff, I straighten my back and grab the already-packed game bag. I'm still not used to the light, non-creaking door of my new house. It feels abnormal, strange. But somehow, it also feels safe.
I'm safe. I'm home. Peeta and I survived against all odds and my new house is just one of many things that keep reminding me of the terrible horrors I've been through. That Peeta and I and all of the other hundreds of children have been through. All of the other children that didn't make it out alive.
The wasted lives of the innocent children - those who were killed merely for entertainment to the Capitol residents - affects me more now than ever. Now that I've participated in killing some of them. The thought makes me sick to my stomach.
And it's almost strangling when I walk through town. Those who knew me as nothing more than the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Everdeen now know me as Katniss Everdeen The Girl On Fire, one of the victors of the 74th Hunger Games. And their studying and curious looks only makes it worse. It makes me feel hunted, makes me feel like a prey. But not an innocent prey, more like a murderous prey that is just unlucky enough to be under someone in the food chain.
It makes it hard for me to breathe. Reminds me everyday more than my new house, that I'm here now for the sake of twenty-two children who were just as unlucky as I was. They're dead. Gone. Their loved ones will never ever get another chance with them again. It makes me sick and I have to swallow down the nauseating feeling in the pit of my stomach.
All of these thoughts haunt me every single time I walk through town which I, unfortunately, need to do now to eventually reach the familiar woods at the outskirts of the district. Just like now. I can easily spot the young toddlers, staring after me with wide, curious eyes as I walk past, but I pretend not to notice them. I also feel the burning stares of some of the merchants, but I pretend not to see them either.
It isn't until I spot the familiar fence that's supposed to keep us locked up like a flock of sheep, that my body finally allows itself to lower my guard and to breathe normally again. My legs pick up the pace automatically, getting instructions from my brain that I didn't even register myself. I nearly break into a run, eager to get away from all the whispers and judging stares, and it takes nearly everything in my body to suppress the urge to flee.
My ears, that are nearly expertly trained by now, sharpen as soon as the fence is close enough for me to touch. But I don't. Because, still after all these years, this is not something I can allow myself to be sloppy with. Just one tiny mistake can end with a fetal outcome.
When there's no evidential hum of electrical current going through the metal chain, I duck through the opening at the bottom of the fence. My breath lingers in the air, creating a tiny cloud of fog. The winter is fully blooming in District Twelve.
It doesn't take me long to locate the hollow tree hiding my bow away from prying eyes. I wander around between the trees, checking up on the occasional snare I pass. After I came back, I'm free from compulsory school and I have a lot of time on my hands. And with Gale working in the mines every day except for Sundays, the task of checking the snares has fallen on me.
The trek to check every snare is long. It takes a lot of energy out of me. Both because of the cold and because I haven't spent nearly as much time in the woods as usual these past months. The new fur coat from Cinna is excellent at keeping me warm, but it's heavy and makes it a task to move around. I ponder taking it off, but I know I will catch a cold for sure.
By now, my muscles are clenched tight against the cold. My joints are stiff because of my slow pacing and the bitter cold. I've already been in the woods for an hour and I have yet to attempt some real hunting. My family and I have no use for it now. We have more money than we know what to do with. But Gale and his family depend on today's haul and I have absolutely no idea if he'll make it out here today.
As soon as the thought of hunting has crossed my mind, my hunter experienced ears pick up a distant sound. Slowly turning around, I spot a doe about thirty feet away from me, carelessly munching on a tree branch.
Quietly, as quietly as I can manage, I step closer. Each step is carefully measured, carefully placed. I crouch behind a huge rock, big enough to disguise body from my neck and down. Inhaling deeply, I focus my eyes on the soon-to-be dinner as I pull an arrow from my quiver. The doe still has no clue that I'm near and I count this as an important advantage.
Taking another deep, calming breath, I draw the arrow. I aim for the target, making sure the shot will be deadly. Finally firing, I watch as the arrow drills through the air but there is no way I am prepared for what happens next.
The doe makes a loud screech as the arrow pierces through its skin and this exact thing brings another memory back to me. It reminds me so much of Marvel's yell of surprise and pain as my arrow went straight through his skin in the Games. It feels so real that I find myself back in the arena, still distraught from seeing Rue wounded. And then I scream.
I throw the bow away from me as if it had just burnt me. Another strangled scream escapes me as I scramble away from the stone but bump straight into something behind me. The worst-case scenarios run through my already messy mind.
"Hey, hey. Catnip, it's okay. You're okay. You're safe, Katniss." Gale.
I turn around faster than I think I could, throwing myself into his arms. He crushes me tight to his chest, rubbing my back comfortingly. Our friendship has been strained since I came back from the Capitol. Different. We barely spend time together anymore whether it's hunting or spending time in the Seam.
"I… It… The Games, I-" I gasp out, still struggling to catch my breath. The memory was so vivid that I honestly felt like I was back in my worst nightmare, having to experience it all again.
"I know," Gale whispers and pulling away to hold me at an arm's length. "I know. But you're safe now. It was just a doe. Let's get you home, okay? And we can check up on the rest of the traps on the way back."
So that's what we do. I'm still shaken up, still afraid to close my eyes for more than a second so Gale decided he would carry the doe alone. I put up a pathetic fight of protest and soon gave up, knowing I wouldn't be much help anyway. We walk and Gale points to an occasional snare, and I go to check it wordlessly. This continues until we have three rabbits, two squirrels and the doe.
That's when Gale decides it's enough and suggests once again that I should get home. But I don't want to go home. I don't want to go back to my new house and be reminded of what happened in the woods. Don't want be reminded of my nightly terrors. I can't stand the thought.
So I don't go home. Telling - or more like demanding - Gale to take the doe and two of the rabbits with him home, I decide that I'm going to trade. Going to the Hob is one of the last things on my mind then because I don't know how many more stares I can take today. That's why I find myself outside of Mellark bakery.
As my mind registers where I am, I'm consider running away before anyone discovers me. But then I scold myself for even letting the thought cross my mind. I have been doing this for years now and this shouldn't be any different. And as I tell myself this as a mantra, I knock on the back door.
Fortunately for me, it is Mr. Mellark that opens it. He looks pleasantly surprised when he sees me - I haven't stopped by to trade for a while - but he grins nonetheless. If he notices that the squirrels were caught in a snare and not killed by my bow, he doesn't let it show. He smiles softly as I tell him that all I need in return is some cinnamon rolls to take home for my sister.
I'm still not entirely ready to go home by the time I have said goodbye to Mr. Mellark and to my own surprise, I decide to stop by at Peeta's. Although we're acquaintances now, I still haven't stepped a foot into his house. Peeta seems just as surprised at my sudden visit when he opens the door.
"Katniss! Hey," he greets me and rubs his neck awkwardly. Again, the thought of fleeing crosses my mind.
I smile stiffly, "Hi. I… I went hunting today. We still have something left from when mother went to the butcher two days ago and I thought… That you maybe wanted a fresh rabbit?"
It feels weird talking to Peeta again, especially when I'm the one who has taken the first initiative. It feels even more surreal to be this formal when talking to him. After sharing so many intimate moments together in the Capitol, you should think we would be at least friends by now.
"I- Thank you. What do I owe you? I mean, I bet you have more many than you need, too, right?" He smiles lightly, testing his waters it seems. I nod.
"No, it's okay. I don't need anything. I've already stopped by and traded with your father," I hold up the bag with cinnamon rolls as evidence. "Picked up something for Prim."
He nods silently and watch as I fish the rabbit out of the game bag I have slung over my shoulder. He stares at it as if it's a foreign animal, but reaches out to take it from my hands anyway. He looks down at the white-furred animal before looking back up at me. His cheeks are lightly tinted pink by now and I don't know if it's out of embarrassment or the cold.
"I… I don't actually know how to skin this. My father usually took care of it," he admits, smiling sheepishly.
And that's the only indirect invitation I need. Sighing, I step inside of Peeta's house for the first time since the two of us came back from the Capitol. I don't know why it comes as such a surprise that his house looks like an exact replica of mine, but it does.
Peeta leads me into the kitchen, telling me to use whatever I need. For a moment, I just lean against the counter with my back to him while trying to collect my nerves. It shouldn't be like this, I think to myself. We should be friends.
But we're not. And as I awkwardly move around to find the sharpest knife he has, I do nothing to try to fix it either. I have no idea how. Peeta is the one who usually deals with social part of whatever it is between us. So I keep quiet.
"Katniss", Peeta speaks up, so suddenly, that I whirl around at the sound of his voice. The corners of his mouth twitch. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you. It's just… How have you been?"
Miserable. Tired. Scared. I can't even sleep through the night without being awakened by my own screams. I can't even shoot a doe in the woods without getting flashbacks to my worst nightmares. I just wish for it all to be over.
All of these thoughts mixes together in my head, but saying those aloud will only make me look weak. Peeta looks like he has handled it well. He's nowhere near looking as healthy as he did before the Reaping. Still, he looks to be in a better condition than I am.
"I've been… Good. I have a lot of free time on my hands," I indicate toward the rabbit and my game bag. "And we have food now. Lots of it."
Peeta looks at me skeptically before nodding. "Yeah. I know the feeling. I, uh. I have been painting to make the time pass faster."
Painting? I know for a fact that Peeta is artistic. In the arena, I saw what he could do with randomly selected things from the nature. At school when we were little, I saw his drawing in art class. But painting? Where would he get paint from?
As if he has just read my mind, he smiles half-heartedly, "I have had a lot of time on my hands. Effie sent me some stuff from the Capitol."
I nod, still not too keen on being reminded of the Capitol. What happened in the woods still haunts me and I am not particularly looking forward to going to sleep tonight, knowing for sure that the same memory will terrorize me in my sleep.
Peeta doesn't say anything else and neither do I. The silence is strangling and I suddenly don't know what to do with myself. Finishing with the rabbit, I don't even bother with finding something to clean my hands with and quickly wipe my hands on my pants. I regret it immediately, knowing Cinna won't be happy.
"I should get home. I've been gone all day," I say, and I inwardly curse the way my voice wavers. "Prim probably wants her rolls before they're cold."
His face falls at my words before he puts up the mask that he has become an expert in doing by now. And that makes my heart sting painfully. Because I know it's my fault.
Silently, he takes the rabbit from where it's lying on the counter and puts it inside the fridge. He turns around, his eyes suddenly very interested in his feet. Exhaling shakily, he looks up at me with a small shrug.
"I'll walk you to the door then."
And he does. He keeps his distance, letting me walk ahead of him but the clanking of his metal prosthetic gives him away. That also tugs painfully at my heart.
I consider myself having it bad with the nightmares and not being able to hunt without screaming my throat dry. But I'm safe. I'm whole. Peeta lost something in those Games that he will never get back. That will be an reminder for the rest of his life.
So when I open the door and step outside back into the cold, I turn around to face him. I want to say something - anything - but as I open my mouth to do so, no words come out. But as always, Peeta knows exactly what to say.
"Katniss," he says quietly, almost a whisper. "Thank you. For stopping by with the rabbit. And skinning it. Just… Thank you."
And then he pulls me into his arms. Holding me against his chest, much like Gale did earlier in the woods. But this is different. This means something. Peeta and I have had less contact than I have had with Gale for these past six months.
Eventually, much too soon, he lets me go and steps away. I long after his warmth immediately. I bite my lip, seeing the sadness pooling in his brilliantly blue eyes. I have never been good with my words and we both know this - heck, all of Panem know this. So I do the only thing I can think of, I kiss him on his cheek.
My lips only lingers on the skin of his cheek for a second, but it's enough to leave them tainted with a pretty pink color when I pull away. He looks startled, like a deer right before it's about to get shot. And somehow, I find that adorable.
"Bye, Peeta," I smile, turning away to walk to my own house across the street.
When the shock of me willingly kissing Peeta sets in, I almost stumble down the stairs. Public display of affection is as far away from me as a person as it can get. Affection, nonetheless. The only one I voluntarily show affection toward is Prim and occasionally Gale. No one else.
Still disorientated from being wrapped up in Peeta's embrace and what just happened, I don't notice the small group standing on my porch. They look so disorientated and even more so when they spot me. Their eyes shine with curiosity as they meet mine before flickering toward Peeta's house. I can easily see them piece it together in their heads.
I groan inwardly, immediately wishing that the ground would just swallow me whole. There is nothing I want less than for my prep team to gush about my relationship with Peeta - when in reality, there's nothing as much as a friendship to talk about.
"Katniss, dear!" Effie squeals, clapping her hands together in surprise. "I see you have been visiting Peeta. How have the two of you been?"
What happens next is merely a blur; trying to avoid Effie's prying questions about Peeta and I, my prep team scolding me for not taking care of myself these past months, the sting every single time they rip a hair from my body. I know they mean no harm and it's their job, so I clench my teeth together, filling my mind with the thought of finally seeing Cinna again.
With the new house, warm water was not the only thing that followed. There are a lot of new electronic devices but for me, the phone is the most useful one. I don't use it often, only occasionally when Cinna has time on his hands and calls for me. We've been working on my 'talent' for the past few months.
Every year for the victory tour, the annual winner has to showcase a talent. Me, having no talent but hunting - which is illegal- Cinna has been helping me with so-called talent. I'm supposed to have taken an interest in clothes or rater designing them. Of course, the real artist is Cinna, but Panem will - if everything goes as planned - not suspect a thing.
So when a knock on the door brings me back to reality, I can't help the sudden giddy feeling spreading around my body. I wait impatiently for Octavia to finish whatever task she started and when she finally gives me the okay, I throw on my clothes and burst through the bathroom door.
I'm about to shout his name to express my joy of seeing him but I'm met with an empty hallway. And then I hear the voice that is even worse in reality - it makes goose bumps raise on my skin - and I have to suppress the shiver that is about to run down my spine.
"Hello, Ms. Everdeen."
So.. What did you think? Was this better than the old chapter? Should I continue? Please share your thoughts with me, whatever they might be. Haha. I love you all and once again; Happy New Year's!