Author's note: Takes place between the last chapter and the Epilogue in Mockingjay. Enjoy!
A wave of sweet warm air fluttered out of the oven as Peeta pulled out two loaves of bread. The bronzed baguettes were steaming as the blonde hurried to the window to let their hot air be whisked outside. It was summer and he didn't need anymore heat in the house. He was nearly regretting making the things at all as his forehead tingled with sweat, but it was too tempting and too much of a habit to resist. Peeta was a baker. And he always baked more often when he was upset.
Turning off the oven, he strolled to the other room and stripped off his shirt, plopping his back against the coolness of a leather armchair. He looked to the house next door that peaked through his paned window. It stood tall, silent and drab looking. As it too often did. Katniss hadn't left her front door for nearly a week now, but he had no doubt she never left. The woods were always more of her home anyway. It had been awhile since she did this. Vanishing like spirit. Only giving glimpses of shifting curtains and rapid shadows. There were periods of time when it would be almost 2 weeks till she spoke to him or anyone, and Peeta feared this was becoming another one of those times.
He ran his fingers through his hair, untangling the curls he hadn't bothered to fiddle with in days. He looked to the bread on the counter. The sunlight pooling through the window atop their golden crusts. He didn't need both loaves, but if he were to bring one to Katniss' door, it would be stale rat food by sundown. A part of him always felt stripped when she withdrew herself from the world. When he wouldn't meet her gray eyes, watch her long braid swish behind her, hear the song in her voice. He always felt an uneasiness begin to creep through his body. Whisper-like touches upon his mind that made him feel that if they didn't see one another soon, he too would slip back into that dreaded black abyss where his nightmares ruled.
Peeta slapped himself when the sound of a bumble bee made flashed the image of a syringe. He had gotten good at suppressing any of those memories by forcing himself to lie in his garden for hours amidst all the buzz. But today he felt especially uneasy. He needed to leave the house. Peeta rose and ripped off the heal of one of the loafs, stuffing it in his mouth as he gathered up a pack. He filled a canteen and stashed it in before surrounding it with an apple, a few oatmeal cookies, and a knife. The scent of the steaming bread made his stomach rumble, it was rosemary and was best eaten fresh. Peeta ripped the loaf half in half, the cushy hot insides burning his finger tips as he stuck it next to the canteen. He already had enough food to last him half a Hunger Games, but since he had fresh cheese in the fridge he couldn't also leave that behind. With a full pack on the counter he looked out to the sunny afternoon. It was a perfect day for a picnic. And if he was going to have one with just himself, that was all right. Peeta swiped his shirt from the couch and doused it with cold water from the sink before slipping into its icy arms. Goosebumps freckled his body and knowing the cold wouldn't last long, he dashed out the back door into the heat.
Several birds darted as he strolled out through his garden. It consisted mostly of herbs for his breads, but behind a garden of orange roses sat his chicken coop. Where they all waddled about, gossiping as they eyed him. He had recently gotten a hold of his own hens. He needed plenty of eggs for his baking and refused to buy them from the markets for fear they came from retired muttated Capitol hens. He plucked the only green grass from near a sprinkler and slipped it through the wire. The birds gobbling it up in seconds. Peeta headed for the gate that opened to a meadow lining the forest edge, but stopped to investigate his rosemary. He plucked off a spring and gave it a good whiff before sticking in his pack and heading out.
He looked to Katniss' home over his shoulder, if he didn't know any better he would have thought it was vacant. He sighed before heading out through the barren, brown grasses and into the shaded wood.
Peeta marched through the pine needled floor, the bare trees let through most of the sunlight and he decided a few seconds into his walk that he was headed for the river. It's sounds were only a hum in the distance, but he knew he could get there quickly. The cool condensation gathering around his canteen bled through his damp shirt. Tempting him to pour it over his head as he stepped into a patch of burning sunlight. He picked up the pace and trudged through the stale air, cutting down a hillside when he spotted a deer trail veering in the direction of the river. Luckily, the rushing sound of water came upon him as he rounded a corner and the shimmering blues of the stream popped into his sight. He sighed with relief as sweat rained down his cheeks.
Peeta plopped the pack against a tree trunk, kicked off his shoes and flopped his wet shirt to the ground before before splashing into the water. It was a shock to his burning skin, but quickly sucked all the heat from his body and as he fell onto his back. He wouldn't have been so carefree if the water hadn't been shallow and slow moving, he could simply stand up if he ever felt unsafe. He rolled over, letting the water rush through the waves in his hair. He let himself float for a moment before sticking his feet into the sand and headed for shore. He left a spattering trail of water droplets in the dirt as he wandered about to drip dry before starting his picnic.
Peeta shook out his hair, leaving it looking like a wheat-field in a windstorm and plopped down in the shade. He dragged his pack onto his lap and began unpacking his goods atop its clean fabric. He ate half a cookie and an apple before tearing off a chunk of bread, the sweet rosemary scent wafting in the air. He pulled off a few springs of the plant from his pack and sprinkled it on top of the cheese before pausing. The bread and cheese would go so well together, but it was missing something. Berries. He knew there would be bushels of blackberries nearby. Peeta sat his lunch aside and headed off into the trees to search. It didn't take him long to find a thriving bush, spotted with luscious juicy blackberries. He filled his hands, staining them purple as he hurried back over to his spot, careful not to drop them all. He used his feet to drag out his wet shirt over the hot sand, then plopped them down. Peeta sat down once more, reaching for his bread and cheese when he noticed something peculiar. There was a large corner of the cheese missing, as if someone had bitten off a chunk. But he didn't remember eating it. Peeta glanced about for any sign of squirrel or other animal, when he slowly smirked.
"Strange...I don't know what ate the cheese." He glanced about the trees, knowing she could disappear anywhere when an acorn bounced off his head.
"Fox Face went that way." Peeta turned about to see Katniss sitting in the tree next next to his pack. Her face was peering out between branches, and her earthy clothing blended in with the colors of the pine.
"How long have you been up there?"
"Long enough to see you trip in the river."
"That was a dive!" She smirked slightly, her legs dangling over a branch.
"You're lucky I never hunted you in the Games." She picked at a pine needle in her hand. "I've been following you since you left home." Peeta smiled at the inkling of a playful look on her face, he never expected to see her cheerful so soon.
"Are you hungry?" Katniss hopped down, eying the bread in hand before taking a small piece. "I don't think this loaf turned out as good as it could have. But it's all right."
"It's good." She settled into the sand, reaching for a berry, her posture stiff. Peeta took a moment to study her. There were dark shadows below her eyes, like she hadn't had a decent sleep in days. Her braid was messy and though her face appeared sullen, she at least was trying. He hoped that if she was only going to worsen, she wouldn't have come out here. And the fact that she did on her own made Peeta glad he never phoned or visited her within the past week or so. It was always best to let her come to him.
When Katniss stretched out her legs in front of her, letting her green t-shirt fall flat against her body, Peeta noticed how thin she appeared. He wished he had brought her over baked goods during the week even if she would have ignored them. "Eat." Peeta pulled out several cookies and rested them on her lap. She bit into one, her eyes on the river. Peeta bit his lip, knowing to choose his words carefully.
"How are you doing...Katniss?" She gave him a quick glance, a scowl flashing across her face.
"I'm fine." Peeta picked at his bread. His blue eyes locked on her.
"Katniss." She gave him a glance from behind her loose hair but said nothing. Peeta sighed, he knew what it was like breaking out of a mental prison. An ungrounded world where nothing seems concrete but the fear and pain. "You should really eat something." She popped a berry in her mouth. "I'll go get us some more. Be right back." Peeta wandered off. He stayed there for a few extra minutes, trying to figure out what to say or not to say. When he decided it'd be best to stay quiet on the matter for now, he turned back.
Peeta stepped out from behind the treeline, his hands full of berries. Katniss was slumped against the tree. Her eyes closed. Braid over her shoulder. He smiled, slowing his pace. When his foot landed on a dry branch. The snapping sound threw Katniss to her feet, and Peeta had just enough time to duck as her hunting knife flew through the air, stabbing into a pine inches from his head. The berries fell to the ground as Peeta locked eyes with Katniss. Her expression almost as shocked as him. Apprehensive fear crossing her face. Peeta's mouth was agape as the knife stopped swaying in the wood.
"I hope that was an accident..." Katniss swallowed, her breathing quickening.
"I- I'm sorry. I..." She flicked her eyes to meet his own before hurrying over and plucking the blade from the tree. Peeta let out a slow breath, his heart racing and blue eyes locked on her.
"Katniss, we need to talk about this. I can't have you throwing knives every time you get startled."
"You don't understand." She snapped.
"Look, you know I-"
"You don't know anything." Her posture stiffened and Peeta glanced from the blade to her eyes.
"Katniss, put the knife down." She glanced to the blade. "I didn't even say anything." Her nostrils flared as the look in her eyes grew into that of a cornered deer.
"You didn't have to. No one has to." Her breathing quickened as the apprehension in her eyes grew. "Corpses. They're all I see. Silently screaming... with faces, your fa-" A tear slipped down her cheek. Peeta slowly stepped forward.
"We can work through this, Katniss." She stiffened.
"You can't fix everything!" She spun about, accidentally knocking Peeta's bread and cheese into the dirt before vanishing in the woods. Peeta started after her but stopped after a few steps. He knew better than to follow her. He ripped a dead branch off a tree. Throwing it to the ground. She wasn't getting better. Though he knew something may have triggered a memory or a nightmare, she seemed more unbalanced than he'd seen in awhile. Peeta looked out at the bank, the waters and rocks blurring as tears gathered in his eyes. Maybe she wasn't going to get better.
The door to Peeta's home creaked shut as he walked inside, the smell of fresh bread still lingering throughout the house. His bare feet padded on the cool tile floor of the kitchen, the light raining in through the window creating a golden glow in the home. He plopped the pack down before heading to the sink and splashing his face with water. He had taken a long way home, a round about trail. Peeta considered staying the night outside. He didn't want that thought, the thought that Katniss may never recover to take over his mind as he knew it would once he was home. It was like half of her would be missing forever. More than half. He pounded the counter as the inkling of what could happen began to grip him. No. She wouldn't disappear within her mind like Annie. That won't happen. It couldn't happen... Peeta headed upstairs and out to his balcony where he had placed a ladder to reach his roof. It was the perfect place to watch the sunset. He hurried up the wooden steps and climbed up the rooftop, settling in on a peak. Pink and orange hues flooded the horizon.
The sun set quickly, hiding behind the treeline. Leaving behind a faint glow on the world that would fade away as night crept in. As the first stars began to sparkle, Peeta's head ached. His body felt unmovable. He knew this would be a night of nightmares. He didn't have the strength to fight them. When moonlight brushed the tops of the distant pines, Peeta slowly rose, and headed back to his bedroom. He showered before turning off all lights, and laid his head on a pillow. His head facing the open glass door to watch the night sky. After nearly an hour he slipped into sleep.
Katniss screams. Hands reach out, gripping her arms. Slamming her to the floor. She screams again, fighting. Her hair is cut short, her arms are bound to her sides. Blood is streaming from her eyes like tears. A man with syringes walks to her. One by one he stabs her. Each followed by a scream before they throw her into a boxed room and everything goes black. Then she screams again.
Peeta jolted awake to the sound of his own cries. His face wet with tears and sweat. His heart thundering against his bones. He scanned his room, every lamp, plant, and easel loomed down at him from the shadows, his curtains creating an eerie sway as a gust kicked up. His knuckles glowed white in the darkness as they gripped his sheets. As his mind began to clear, he whispered. "Nightmare. Only a nightmare." He slowly laid back down. Nightmare. His arms burned with an eerie tingling feeling as if he had been injected all over. He scratched at his skin, rolling over into a ball, when something creaked downstairs.
He tensed. It was a windy night. When he heard no further sound, he closed his eyes. Another creak. The sound of his top stair. Peeta rose, reaching in his nightstand drawer where he stored a knife. There was another creak. Peeta tensed. His eyes flitting to the cracked open door. Crickets sang outside, but the house rang with silence. Peeta stepped forward. Freezing when the door slowly opened. He tightened his grip on the blade. Readying for anyone. When Katniss appeared in the doorway.
"Katniss," he panted holding a hand to his breast and clicking the knife shut. "I thought you were... I don't know." As she stepped into the moonlight, tears appeared shimmering on her cheeks. Her arms were folded tight against her chest. Her posture hunched. He tossed the small knife aside. The two stood stiffly a few feet apart. Peeta studied her face. He inched forward then paused. And knowing it would sound stupid, he spoke anyway. "Are you okay?" Katniss glanced up at him, before she hurried from the doorway and fell into his chest. Her arms wrapped around his torso, and he quickly did the same, intertwining the two in a shaft moonlight. He felt her back tremble before her grip around him tightened. "Katniss..." He whispered. He felt her breath press against him as she tucked her face into his breast. She shuddered as she took in a deep breath, and he rested his cheek atop her head. Her hair the sweet smell of pine. They stood silent for a few minutes. The moonlight shifting as it drifted across the sky, leaving them in the shadows. After a few moments, Katniss' voice vibrated against his chest.
"I'm sorry for earlier. I was... confused. I don't know how to explain it..."
"You don't have to." Katniss let out a sigh.
"Do you still have nightmares?" The images of Katniss, bound up and being stabbed flashed in his mind.
"Yeah. I do. You're having them bad again aren't you?" She nodded her head.
"But I can't tell what's memory, and what's nightmare. So they blend together. And crowd all over my head so I can't even breath. And they won't leave. They used to fade away, but no matter where I go I see them. I see her..." Her back trembled and Peeta whispered.
"Prim." She nodded silently.
"I see her die over and over again. That image... it just won't leave me." Peeta sighed, pulling her closer. "But with Prim, I know she died. I know she can't be hurt anymore. She's gone. Those dreams aren't the worst of it..." Katniss paused. "The ones about you are." She looked up to him and he brushed a strand of hair away that clung to her damp cheek. The pain "I see you die a hundred times a night. In the Arena, the Capitol, here at home. I can't tell you how many times I've watched you be choked, shot, stabbed, killed... drowned. And I can't ever do anything to stop it." She let out a shaky breath. "Those dreams just overwhelmed me... and I didn't know what to do. I would close my eyes and sit the dark for hours, hoping they would go. But no matter what I do, I see you..." Her watery eyes met his concerned gaze as she pressed her palm to his cheek. "Hurt. Alone. Dying. Taken from me." She blinked a tear from her eye, her voice cracking, "forever."
"I'm right here, Katniss. I'll always be right here." He rested a hand atop her's.
"I'm sorry for avoiding you. I don't even know how long its been."
"Nightmares can make our world into another. We both know that a little too well." He rubbed her back. "But know you can always come to me. No matter what or when or why." Katniss nodded. She was quiet as she looked out to the night sky before meeting his gaze.
"But last night I didn't have a nightmare. About you anyway. I slept with the windows open, and in the morning... I smelled bread. I think I knew you were okay."
"There's still a loaf in the kitchen." He smiled.
"But I need more than just the bread, Peeta." She rested her other hand on his face. "I need the boy with the bread." The blonde kissed her forehead.
"He'll always be here for you." Peeta leaned down and pressed his lips to hers before pulling away. But Katniss drew his face to her and kissed him again. Her lips warm within his. A rush of longing flooded through him. He missed this. He missed her.
Peeta knew she wasn't going to get better over night. Even if he could help her through it, at times she may still withdraw and shutdown. But at the very least, she was reaching out to him. She wasn't all lost, and that calmed him. The two stood for a few more moments before Peeta stepped toward his bed and they lay down side by side with their arms around each other. Katniss laid her head above his heart, with one hand tightly linked in his. Peeta stroked her messy braid and kissed the top of her head.
As he began to drift into sleep, with her head laying in his chest, Katniss whispered.
"Peeta." Peeta opened his eyes.
"Yeah?" He whispered back.
"Promise I'll never loose you again?" He nestled his head against hers.
"As long as you promise, too."
"I promise." She pressed her lips against his. "You'll never loose me." He wrapped his arms tighter around her waist.
"Than I promise too." No matter how much he was the grounded one who helped keep her upright, no amount of baking or painting could chase away all the nightmares in his mind. That peace was only found in one place. His favorite place. He squeezed her hand, cuddling in closer. Between he and Katniss. He was but a bakers boy and she a rebel of the woods, but together they were two Victors of one heart. One body. She made him feel sane. Feel real. Feel love. And she was his always.
Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed it! And please, REVIEW! There are hundreds of you reading this and I have received hardly any, so please do so! I truly value your thoughts, and am planning on writing more Peeta/Katniss stories in the near future but need to know you all think of this one. Thank you!