It's been awhile now. Each day gets easier, but it doesn't make it any less painful. There's always something little that reminds me of her. The way sunlight plays through the window, picking up the little dust mites that float in the air. The sweet trill of a bird as it sits in the high branches of the tree beside my house. The giggle of a small child as it walks down the main street with its parents. The blue of the sky on a hot summers day, a bright robins egg blue that's so stunning it almost looks indestructible.
They all remind me of Prim.
But 2 years is a long time to grieve constantly, and I can feel the depressing gloominess that used to envelop me slowly fading away. I feel stronger than I have in a long time. I get out of bed, I eat, I hunt, I occasionally talk to other people, which for me is a huge step. And it's all because of him.
I sit at the kitchen table, idly flicking through the memory book we've created. We only add things occasionally now, when they pop up in one of our, or Haymitch's minds, unlike when we first started, when we would write and draw frantically into the early hours of the morning. I don't know whether it was because we were afraid we would lose the memories before we got to write them down, or it was an easy way to avoid sleep, and the inevitable nightmares. But it fills me with a strange sense of peace, that although these people are gone, they will not be forgotten. And sometimes in wars, that's all you can hope for. If you don't survive, that your contribution wasn't in vain, that it meant something in the end.
I pause at the picture he drew of his family in the book, and can feel the love he put into it. The careful lines around his fathers eyes, to show the smile lines that had etched themselves into his face after decades of living. The sly smirks of his older brothers - I can almost sense that give them half a second and they'd be punching each other in the arm in jest. His mother. I can't feel the love as deeply as I can with the other sketches, but it was there all the same. Her mouth set in a firm hard line, but there is a slight glimmer of something in her eyes. I'm not sure what, as I certainly never saw it. But it's there nonetheless. There is a part of me that can't understand how he could still love her when she seemed to show no love to him, but ultimately it shows what kind of man he is.
It's looking at these pages that realisation finally dawns. I don't know why it took so long. While all his drawings and paintings are extraordinary, I can't help but feel that there is something else there when he draws pictures of his family.
When he draws pictures of me.
I've not been completely oblivious, but I just don't think I ever believed things could ever be that way between us. When he returned to District 12, we both carefully walked around each other like we were on eggshells for months. I was too bitter, too broken. He was learning to be himself again, and didn't need my issues undoing all the hard work Dr Aurelius did back in the Capitol. But about 6 months after he returned, I could feel a slight change in him. His episodes, while still occurring, weren't as violent, weren't as unexpected. He could sense them, and would remove himself from whatever situation he was in, locking himself in a room. He was never gone as long as he used to. With this change came a playfulness that I had missed, a lightness in him that I wasn't sure I would ever see again. After that we spent practically every day with each other, creating the memory book. Haymitch would join us occasionally, paying homage to a lifetime of tributes he had seen die. I was never sure whether when he went home he left lighter or heavier of heart, but I know that as the days went on, Haymitch drank less and looked after his geese more.
Our routine became familiar. At his encouragement, I began to venture into the woods again – of a morning, I would rise, hunt, and return home in time for lunch. He would bake all morning in his kitchen in the Victors Village, and then spend the afternoon at the bakery he was slowly rebuilding with the help of Thom, and some expats from District 7 who had moved to 12. If I was up to it, I would venture into town and watch the bakery be rebuilt, the life of the people that surrounded it. When it re-opened, he was down there from sunrise to sunset, baking for everyone in the district and looking back, I can see that's when he really came alive again.
At night, we would work on the book, and if we weren't doing that he would paint. Some images were beautiful, that I could compliment him on. Others hit me so close to home I could barely look at them, and he would be rewarded with nothing but stony silence.
Nights were the hardest for both of us. Nightmares still came and went, until we finally realised that we would never get a decent nights sleep unless we were there to comfort each other. It was a decision neither of us took lightly, but when we fell asleep beside each other on the couch one night, and awoke the next morning, uninterrupted for 10 hours straight, we knew there was no point in putting it off any longer.
Despite this development, there was nothing physical to our friendship, it was simply an opportunity for us to comfort each other, as we lived through nightmare after nightmare. I didn't have the nerve to tell him that when he held me in the middle of the night, that I didn't want him to let me go. I didn't want to tell him that some of my nightmares were of him leaving and never coming back.
Eventually, he would randomly touch my arm as he walked past, brush his fingers through my hair as we sat on the couch on the odd occasion we would watch television. I would catch him looking at me across the room and I would wonder if he had those same thoughts I did in the middle of the night. Other times I would wonder, if he was returning to the way he used to be, would he even like the new me? The one broken by war, a little less determined, a lot more wary, even more anti-social than I was before. Then he would look at me again, and I couldn't deny that there was a look in his eye that used to be there a long time ago, once upon a time in a cave and on a beach. I just don't think I ever thought either of us would be strong enough to say it or act on it, and we would spend the rest of our days on a merry-go-round – not moving forward, just barely helping each other not to regress.
But it seems I've only been oblivious to myself.
I slam the memory book closed, and race upstairs to the room he used as a painting studio, to study the last sketch he drew of me. We had been lying on the floor in the lounge, playing some stupid card game Haymitch had taught us, and I had scowled, accusing him of cheating. Instead of arguing with me, he laughed, picked up the sketchpad that always seemed within arms reach, and drew me as he saw me. Looking at it now, I can feel the love through this drawing just like that of his family, except this love is stronger. He was strong enough to show how he felt through what he drew. I can't deny it, or hold back, anymore.
I wait patiently for him to return home from the bakery, my stomach in knots. For everything I've been through, I can't believe I'm this nervous. But as I hear his familiar heavy tread on the path outside, the nerves melt away. There's nothing to be scared of.
The kitchen door opens and he walks in, a slight smile on his face. As he sees me, his eyebrow quirks up in question. It's not often he'll find me sitting quietly at the kitchen table. I'm normally skinning a squirrel at the kitchen table.
I don't say a word, I simply rise and go to him, wrapping my arms around his neck. I'm still not one to show affection easily, so this takes him off-guard. His arms slowly come around my waist, but he pulls his head back slightly. I can see the question in his eyes. I try to express everything I need to say by simply looking at him, and I don't know whether its because I do a good job or he just knows my face so well, but realisation dawns. I hesitantly raise a hand to his cheek, and his eyes close at the touch. I wonder if he's been waiting for this all along. I take a deep breath and lean into him. I place the softest kiss I can imagine on his lips, and a million memories flood my brain. Every staged or real kiss we've ever shared comes to mind, and I feel a hitch in my chest.
He pulls away, searching my eyes to make sure I am ok. He removes his arms from around my waist and cups my face between his hands. We stare at each other for a moment, before he swoops in; capturing my lips in a kiss far more passionate than the one I gave him. My arms tighten around his neck, pouring everything I am feeling into the kiss. I almost can't believe we're here, and that long dormant hunger has returned. It overwhelms me and I pull him closer.
He reluctantly breaks our kiss and reaches down, hooks one arm under my legs and picks me up into his arms. I sometimes forget how powerful and strong he is. I tuck my face into his neck, breathing in his familiar scent of flour and vanilla. It's incredible how much even the thought of that scent soothes me at the oddest times. He carries me upstairs into the room we share and lays me carefully on the bed. I finally look at him again, and I can't help but stare into his piercing blue eyes. They used to remind me of Prim, but not anymore. He touches his forehead to mine, and whispers I love you. My heart leaps at this and I smile slowly at him. He leans in to gently kiss me. This time I'm not letting him go.
After, when Peeta asks me "You love me, real or not real?"
I tell him, "Real".