A/N: Alright, here it is, the sequel to "Young Blood." If you are just coming across this fic and haven't read "Young Blood," then go to my page and find the link there.
And for those of you who have read "Young Blood," this story starts roughly five years later. So enjoy! And as always, your feedback is appreciated. Review, comment, or message me what you think!
In this part of the story I am the one who
Dies, the only one, and I will die of love because I love you,
Because I love you, Love, in fire and blood.
- Pablo Neruda, Sonnet LXVI
She crunched through the newly fallen snow softly, early on that winter morning. She was grateful that she'd let her hair grow long, as it – tucked into her down coat – warmed her back. She thought of how much Peeta enjoyed running his fingers through the long, dark strands. How his face would light up as she unbraided it, her hair cascading over her shoulders and nearing her waist now. She had it trimmed two or three times a year, Greasy Sae making her sit still on a tall kitchen stool while the older woman went to it with a pair of sharp scissors. She remembered how he had begged her to keep it long the first time she noticed the fraying, dry ends and mentioned needing it cut. So she gave in, as she was wont to do, and told Sae "just the ends." She couldn't resist his bright blue eyes, the smile that seemed to continually play on his lips even when he was upset.
It comforted her to feel the weight of her hair – she'd left it unbraided that day, knowing she'd need the extra warmth – as she trekked through the snow-covered forest, thinking of him. Her breath ghosted around her face as she set a quick pace, despite her boots sinking a few inches into the snow with each step. Her pack wasn't heavy, nor her quiver of arrows, but the combination of her burdens, along with the layers she wore, weighed her down. But she wouldn't have traded the cold, silent world of the woods for the warmth of her hearth – unless he was there. But no, he was busy at the bakery, had left to start the fires before she even stirred. Marc was home with Anabel, who had a bad case of the flu after giving birth to their second child just weeks earlier. It was a girl, and they had named her Adelaide – or Addie, for short. While she was healthy, and strong, Anabel had quickly become weak, and then ill. Katniss thought of the young woman's happy laugh and sweet spirit and prayed silently that Anabel would recover. Peeta poured himself into his work in Marc's absence. He hadn't taken a day off in quite some time.
She paused to study a set of paw prints in the snow. They were quite fresh, though she wasn't sure if it had been minutes or hours since the animal had passed that way. The snow had stopped falling sometime in the night, so there was no new precipitation to cover up the tracks. She studied them closely, noting the size and shape. Each paw print was the size of her palm, the four toe prints spread evenly around the pad. There were no visible claw marks, and Katniss knew they hadn't been made by some large dog. The tracks were solitary, so the chance that it was a wolf or wild dog further diminished, as they would have most likely been traveling in a pack. No, the tracks had been made by some large feline. They were too large to have been made by a bobcat, but were too small for a mountain lion. Katniss was suddenly thrust into a memory from long ago.
She had been twelve at the time, trying to survive on the meager tesserae she had signed up for and her skill with a bow. Gale Hawthorne had run across her in the woods one day, and though they had met years earlier when both their fathers had been killed in the mine explosion, he had finally asked her name. It wasn't true shyness, more like reservation, her need to be alone, and the fact that she hadn't spoken to anyone in the woods since her father died that made her voice come out so soft. So soft that he – his voice already deep, despite the fact that he was only fourteen – laughed when he thought she said "Catnip." She had scowled at him, corrected him countless times, but the nickname stuck after a large lynx started following her around, mostly for handouts.
The animal had come across her snares – the ones he had shown her how to set – and had made quick work of a few rabbits. She remembered how it would follow her, always close but hardly ever in sight, until she would climb a tree. She had been scared at first – though she would never admit it to Gale – the large, gray cat circling the tree, its bright gold eyes watching her. She had thrown it a squirrel, then a rabbit, until it picked up the game and slinked off happily. She had thought that would be the end of it, but the lynx would find her at least once a week after that, prowling after her until she was unable to catch any prey. She had been sad to kill the large cat, but had no other choice. Of course she had set the line of her mouth straight, kept her emotions in check around Gale, lest she be seen as weak. His gray eyes were hard and a sly smile spread across his face when he saw the predator, dead. He carried its heavy body for her until the woods gave way to more traveled paths. When she sold the pelt for a decent price, she had tried to split the money with him, but he had given her a steely look and refused.
That had been nearly twelve years ago. Twelve years – half of her life. She wondered if the lynx that had made tracks in the snow was a descendant of the one she had killed all those years ago.
She followed the tracks for some time, but the cat eluded her. She turned back once the sun was high in the sky, the snow sparkling around her. Her pack was still empty of game, but she didn't mind. The winter had been mild so far, and she had shot plenty of prey earlier in the season. More and more people had started hunting, so that Mayor Thom had been forced to implement stricter rules. That had been a few years back, as animal populations had begun to dwindle once more. Now, with people having to sign up and pay for licenses and facing hefty fines if they were caught hunting or selling game without one, the wild animal populations were bouncing back.
She shot three squirrels that afternoon, and checked her snares. She smiled to herself when she thought about Thom, who was now serving his second consecutive term as mayor. His wedding to Leevy was less than two weeks away, and Katniss was glad that it was someone else's elaborate ceremony and not hers. Had it been any other couple in town, they might have had a quiet toasting and small reception. But because Thom was the mayor, he had been pressured into having a larger ceremony. Katniss was thankful that she and Peeta would merely be guests. There would be no film crews, no stylists or designers from the Capitol – though Leevy had ordered a very beautiful gown from there and had it tailored to fit. Katniss was happy for the couple and their winter wedding. She'd even accompanied Leevy to several dress fittings over the past few months. Peeta was going to make the couple's wedding cake, and Katniss was sure it would be as exquisite – and as delicious – as their own had been.
She thought it odd, the way time passed now. Each year seemed to go by quicker than the last. Five and a half years had elapsed since she had walked down the aisle in front of hundreds. Since she and Peeta had exchanged vows and rings, eaten cake and danced under the large white tent. Five and a half years since she had last seen her mother, and Gale Hawthorne. She still kept in touch with the older woman over the phone, calling her at least once a week. Hazelle had started writing to her shortly after the wedding, and Katniss received letters from her every few months, telling of Rory and Vick and Posy's accomplishments. Sometimes she mentioned Gale, but Katniss would skim over those parts, her mind blocking out the words. Rory had finished school and was now the same age that Gale had been during the rebellion. She wondered if he had the same smoldering eyes, the same strong jaw. He was working with Gale now, she knew, but Hazelle had been vague about the specific nature of their work. Maybe she didn't know. Or maybe she purposefully left out the details, for Katniss's sake.
Vick and Posy were still in school. Little Posy was thirteen, which Katniss could scarcely believe. Hazelle's only daughter was now the same age Prim had been when– Katniss shook the thought from her head. No length of time could ever heal that wound completely. It was not aching and raw anymore, no. Instead, it crept up on Katniss like the long claws of winter. At first it was a thought, like a mere nagging chill. Then it became a slow, seeping sadness – a deeper cold – until she was enveloped by it, some days crippled by the sorrow of her sister never living to see the end of the rebellion, the rebuilding of the district. It was like the true cold that went straight to the bone, that knocked the breath from her lungs the moment she tried to inhale.
But Peeta was there to be the shining sun that brought warmth into her life, that pulled her out of the chasm of sorrow and loss. He had lost his entire family in the firebombing of District Twelve, but he dealt with that pain in his own way, finding refuge in his work. Whether it was baking or painting, he would throw himself into it completely, not emerging until he could do so with a smile on his face and a bright look in his eyes.
He was stronger than she had ever imagined. She thought about the blond-haired boy she'd seen on Reaping Day, his face red and puffy and tear-stained after they had said their goodbyes. She had kept her emotions in check that day. But now she was Mrs. Mellark, who had days where it took every ounce of willpower just to get out of bed.
But winter was a good season for Katniss. She enjoyed the quiet of the woods blanketed in snow. Enjoyed taking her time plodding through the thick substance. Despite the shorter days, there was something calming about a world covered in white, the feel of a warm cup of tea in her hands after hours in the cold.
Peeta, on the other hand, struggled with the cold, his left leg throbbing when the temperature dropped. His prosthesis would grow so cold that he had to remove it some nights before slipping into bed beside her. He looked so damaged those nights, empty space where the rest of his leg should have been, pink and white scars swirling across his forehead, back, and shoulders. If the disfigurement bothered him, he never let on about it. He was still young and handsome, despite his marred skin and missing limb. And so Katniss would touch his face gently, tilting his head so that their gazes met and he saw the look of comfort in her eyes. Then she would press a kiss onto his lips, his cheeks, onto every scar on his forehead and body. He still moved deftly without his prosthetic leg, and he would close the inches that remained between their bodies. And then her fingers would make slow worship of him, her body an effigy offered up in adulation.
The thought of those cold winter nights turned warm tugged at something deep within her, made her cheeks – chapped by the biting wind – become pink as she crouched behind a fallen log, watching a large bird scavenge in the underbrush. She moved quickly, startling the bird into flight. Luckily, it flew toward the clearing and not back into the trees, and so she had a clear shot. The grouse dropped to the snow with a dull thud and Katniss lowered her bow. She pulled the arrow from its chest and stuffed the bird into her pack. The wild grouse reminded her of the smaller groosling she had killed years ago during the games. It made her think of Rue, whose dark, round eyes had grown even wider when Katniss had given her a whole drumstick to eat.
First Prim, now Rue? You're doing a great job of cheering yourself up, she told herself, sarcasm permeating her thoughts.
She shook her head as if to physically shake off the melancholy that surrounded her, then straightened up. She shifted the weight of the pack so that it rested evenly on her back and was about to set off when a pair of golden eyes locked with hers.
Not twenty yards across the clearing, the lynx appeared. He watched her as he slowly descended the ridge, his movement fluid and full of power. He paused, and for a moment she thought he might attack – or at least follow her, as the lynx from twelve years ago had done. But he merely blinked, then turned and plodded off quietly back into the forest.
She didn't pursue his tracks this time. No, she merely glanced at them as she passed, her boot tracks marring the perfect line of the lynx's paw prints.
She smiled to think that she would have a story to tell Peeta. Most evenings, he came home from the bakery and she would ask about his day. He would smile and become more and more animated as he spoke, telling her about the bakery, news and gossip from town, and who he'd seen out and about. She let him do most of the talking over dinner, and sometimes his stories would spill over into the quiet evening hours after the nightly meal. She would smile and laugh and nod her head at the appropriate moments, but when it came time for her to speak, she was usually rather vague.
"And how was your day?" He would ask with a smile or a kiss.
"Oh, it was good," she would reply, her lips curving into a smile in response to the bright look on his face. She would throw in a few statements about what she did – whether it was hunting or trapping or calling her mother on the telephone – but she hardly ever expounded.
She smiled as the snow crunched underfoot, knowing that she'd have something else to tell him that night. She frowned, though, to think of Anabel so sick, and hoped that Peeta would have good news. Anabel was young and strong, but she had just given birth a few weeks earlier. Katniss had known many folks from the Seam who had succumbed to influenza, but they were usually young children – whose wide eyes and thin frames spoke of perpetual hunger – or the very old. Katniss's mother used to send family members home with willow bark for the fevers and instruct them to keep the person who was ill under relative quarantine. It was really all that could be done, and most that were hale recovered after a week or so.
Katniss was grateful that there were only a few isolated cases in the district – so far, at least – and not a widespread outbreak. Greasy Sae handed out herbal remedies to those who came to her doorstep, and – along with some of the other older women of the district – assisted with childbirth. But in the six years since Katniss had returned, no healer or physician had moved into the district. Hopefully that would all change once the factory was built, Katniss thought. But help might not come soon enough for some.
Toward the end of fall, it was announced that a factory would be built on the outskirts of town where the coalmines had been. The land had been bulldozed over years ago, and some of the earth had been tilled for farmland that alternated between wheat, potatoes, and corn. Now, the remaining space was going to be used to build a factory, a factory for medical supplies. Katniss had been relieved to hear that it wasn't a weapons factory, and hoped it meant there would be healers or physicians back in the district.
Katniss then turned her thoughts to the rebuilding of the district as she plodded through the snow back to the Victor's Village. Much of the reconstruction had occurred when she had been consumed by grief. The new storefronts and houses around town had all been built while she sat in her home in the Victor's Village, each day marked by the coming and going of Greasy Sae and occasionally her granddaughter. If Katniss felt regret for her behavior upon first moving back to the district, she pushed it aside. What use would she have been to those construction workers? What would she have done, boost their moral by making an appearance after she'd assassinated Coin?
She almost laughed at the thought, and then recalled Peeta telling her how half the townsfolk had been scared of her for months. But then she had gone from being branded the town lunatic, holed up in her house, to something more akin to a sideshow curiosity. Her sporadic appearances around town made people wonder about her return. She seemed stable enough, on the outside at least. But once the townsfolk realized she was harmless, and quite ordinary, she became a valued – and respected – citizen of District Twelve. That had been over the course of a year, the year she first returned. She had been oblivious to most of the idle gossip, though. But she had been something of a recluse – a shut-in – at first, so it was no wonder that the rumors had started. Peeta had moved back a short while later and immediately started working on the new bakery. Once they were back on speaking terms, he would describe bits and pieces of the conversations he overheard.
"I always knew that girl would break," someone would say. "What with her daddy dyin' and then being in those games…"
"And her sister died too, the little one." Someone else would add. They'd shake their heads with what might have been pity on their faces.
"You talkin' about Everdeen's daughter?" A curious passerby would ask. "I went to school with the mom. She went crazy from grief when he died. Nearly let the two girls starve to death…"
"Wasn't she the apothecary's daughter?" One of them would ask.
"Yeah, but she fell in love and married that boy from the Seam. Makes sense why the daughter's a bit off her rocker…"
"Too bad we don't have an apothecary anymore." Someone would say and the conversation would shift to a different topic altogether.
Katniss had shrugged it all off. She had never been one to have a large circle of friends and acquaintances. She had always kept to herself, except when she was in the woods with Gale. Madge had been the closest thing she had to a friend at school. Yet somehow, despite the rumors of her being crazed and dangerous, she had amassed more friends upon her return to the district than she ever had before. Of course that was mostly thanks to Peeta, who never met a stranger.
Katniss shifted her pack, now weighed down by the squirrels and grouse, and tried to clear her mind of the thoughts that teemed there, the sound of her boots crunching evenly through the snow a metronome for her journey back home.
It was dark by the time she arrived, and her heart sped up when she spied Peeta through the lighted kitchen window. It didn't matter that they had been married for five and a half years, her love for him felt as new and surprising as the moment she had first realized her feelings toward him. She knew she would always have a home there with Peeta. He was her warmth on cold winter nights. He was the bright sun under which she had bloomed
He greeted her from the kitchen sink as she traipsed in through the back door, stopping on the mat to avoid tracking in snow. He smiled as she tossed her pack on the ground and bent to remove her boots. When she straightened back up he was near her and she let him help her out of the thick down coat. He leaned down to kiss her softly on the lips, but she pulled back after a moment to remove her hat and scarf.
"I reheated some stew for our dinner," he explained.
Katniss saw the pot of stew where it sat on the stove. There was a fresh loaf of bread warm and ready to be sliced on the counter near it. She smiled, her stomach rumbling at the hearty aroma. She turned back toward Peeta and pressed her lips to his. She had meant it to be a quick peck, but his hands found her waist and the kiss deepened. He pulled her flush against him and she reveled in his warmth, the smell of flour and cinnamon that lingered on his skin, the hard lines of muscle beneath her hands. She began to lose herself in the kiss, her fingers moving to brush the curve of his jaw. But she stopped when she felt him leading her toward the couch. Her mind had forgotten the food, but her stomach hadn't. It let out another loud rumble as Katniss pulled back from the kiss.
"I'm hungry," she said matter-of-factly, giving him a long look.
"Ok, ok," he chuckled, his hands still grasping her waist firmly. She raised an eyebrow at him and he let go, lifting his hands in defeat as he laughed. She turned and headed toward the stove, where the stew waited.
"Any news on Marc and Anabel?" She asked sometime later, between mouthfuls of stew. Peeta swallowed a large bite before answering.
"Anabel's doing better. A lot better." He said. "Marc offered to come back to work tomorrow, but I told him to take the rest of the week off."
Katniss felt a wave of relief flood her and nodded. Anabel had been ill long enough to know that Marc probably wouldn't come down with the flu. Still, he should stay home for a few more days to make certain. Rye and little Addie had been whisked off to their grandmother's house at the first signs of illness, and luckily neither had gotten sick. Katniss realized how difficult it must have been for Anabel to be away from her children for so long, and was glad the young woman was improving. Katniss had experienced enough loss for one lifetime. She could do without any more.
Of course there were other tragedies. Like when Bim Praydor – who had been missing for several days – was found drowned last spring after a heavy rain. Or when the Faulks' house caught fire two years back, sending the whole block of tiny cottages up in flames. Or when Bryn Makepeace labored for a day and a half only to deliver her baby stillborn. The infant was buried in the tiniest coffin Katniss had ever seen.
Once they had finished their meal, Katniss and Peeta washed the dishes together, their bodies pressed close as they stood in front of the sink.
"Oh, I saw lynx today, out in the woods," Katniss spoke over the sound of water running. Peeta, who was dutifully drying the dishes, turned to look at her.
"Oh wow," he said, the look in his eyes urging her to continue.
"I came across the tracks first," she explained as she washed a bowl. "But then later, I saw it – it just walked right out into the open in front of me, gave me a look, then turned and walked away…"
"I don't think I even know what a lynx looks like…" Peeta said, his blue eyes gazing off thoughtfully.
"You know, a lynx," Katniss started, an amused look on her face. "Like a big gray bobcat. Big paws, little tail. Pointy ears…" She put her hands on either side of her head, index fingers up, to demonstrate.
Peeta gave her a quizzical look, and then laughed. He captured her hands, which were still up on her head, and bent to kiss her. She kissed him back with fervor, and the dishes were soon forgotten.