I sit there, watching the black log in the fireplace glow in shades of orange and red. An image of the costume Cinna made for me during the Quell flashes breifly through my mind, along with a picture of his smiling face. My heart warms at his memory before fiercely clenching, reminding me of how I failed to protect him and so many others, my sister included. I can't help feeling vastly disappointed in myself. I had one job after dad died and that was to keep Prim safe. And I couldn't even do that. If he was here, if he could see how horribly I've failed him. The disappointment alone is enough to make me want to never move again.
I know, logically I can't just sit here forever. I have a working human body. I'll have to use the toilet eventually, and Sae usually comes by once or twice a day to force me to eat. But seeing as how none of those things are happening to me right now, I have no reason not to just sit here. I mean, no one I love is here with me in this plane of existence. Except Haymitch, but he has his drink, so I guess he's not really on my plane of existence, after all.
As I stare into the dying embers, I can't help wishing to go back to the way things were before. I know my life then wasn't something to brag about. It wasn't pleasant, in fact it was awful. But at least then I had a routine. I had a normal life. I'd never killed a person. I'd never lost my best friend, or been choked out by the one I love, or watched as my sister exploded. I was as normal as a girl could get in District 12. Hell, I had a pretty good trade system going on. Maybe I wasn't happy before, but I also wan't broken beyond repair. And that—the not being broken part—is what I would give anything to have back.
My entire existence seems more like an old room covered in coal dust than the hero's tale everyone likes to believe it is. This shitty feeling makes my food taste bland and the days seem worthless. Sometimes, I waste entire days trying everything I can, not to scream at nothing. And other times, it takes all of my energy just to mutter a whisper of thanks to Sae. She does so much for me and all I do in return is not freak out like the fucking psychopath we both know I am.
And if my freeloading wasn't enough, I sit here like a fucking vegetable all day long like my mother did. I feel like a hypocrite, because I'm trying to justify it. Like, how I don't have two kids I should be supporting. How I don't have a daughter begging me everyday to move or to do something. How I don't have a business I let dry up. How I don't really have anything. And that's no excuse and I damn well know it, but here I am.
Like mother like daughter: that's what they say.
The door opens, breaking me out of my revere, and I'm not too surprised to see Greasy Sae with a large pot saddled on her hip, sending steam into the cool morning air. Bright yellow light streams into my home in the Victors Village, revealing the floating dust mites as they drift through the air aimlessly, like me. She's got a slight frown on her face—like everyone does now— as she closes the door snugly behind her. The room is then bathed back in the soft grey that has filled my life thus far.
"You know, Katniss, I could really use some fresh meat," she comments in that passive aggressive way she does sometimes. I just grunt in response, and she continues, unperturbed, "I'm sure Peeta would like some too." He's been here for 2 weeks and I still can't bring myself to talk to him.
I look at her with her grey seam eyes and her always-frowning face, and say, "Don't bring him into this," my voice is solemn, but everything about me lately has been.
Sae sighs, "I know I ain't got no business meddlin' in the affairs of you two, but you really should-"
"Sae, stop," I look at the floor. My head hurts, "I'm too tired to deal with him right now," my heart hurts, "Please, just don't." Sae nods her head and mutters something incoherent under her breath and I can't find it in myself to care what it was she was mumbling about.
With a sigh and lecture I pretended to listen to, Sae leaves a few hours later, pleased with the stew she's left in the fridge. I curl up on the sofa in the formal living room and cover myself with a knitted blanket I'm sure my mother made sometime in the past. A bitter knot of gilt takes up residence in my throat and I make the executive decision to ignore it.
I'm standing alone on a barren stretch of earth. The sky is grey and the ground is a slightly different shade of grey and when I look at my arms and my legs, they too, are shades of grey.
A slow grey fog rolls distantly on the horizon, not unlike the poisonous fog from the Quell. Its shaded-grey finger-like tendrils reach for me, but never get closer. In the distance dark grey silhouettes start to materialize out of the fog. Not a sound is made. Not a footstep or breath or voice can be heard. They're silent and slink along the ground, never lifting their feet. Slowly, like the start up of one of the old coal mining machines, they finally start to make noise. They moan and shriek, their shrill voices ringing through the air. I don't know which I prefer more; the eerie silence or the deafening cries of a distant horde.
I try to pick up my feet to run—seeing as that seems to be the only thing I'm good at lately—but my legs won't move. "Help!" I call out to the grey world, receiving no answer from the void. I fist my hands in the thin fabric of my trousers and pull, hoping to prompt my legs into action, but when I look down, they're gone. My legs are cut off at the knees, just like Boggs.
In a panic, I look to the silhouettes as they approach. Their voices are louder now, insistent like the prodding of a needle in your arm. I call for help, looking to the grey-shaded faces of the silhouettes before me. Slowly, like a bad horror film, their features come into focus. Prim and Rue are the first I recognize; they'll always be the first I recognize. Prim, my innocent, little Prim, is holding a match and Rue, sweet as sugar, tough as nails, Rue is holding a spear. Next I recognize, Finnick, a grotesque mutt held a bay by a thin collar. Then Cinna with spiked gloves, his fists raised, ready to fight back. Thousands of other people materialize in seconds. Some I don't recognize hold guns and some, like Prim, hold matches. A select few hold arrows. My heart drops deep into my stomach when I see Peeta amongst the crowd. He has a syringe filled with light grey, almost white liquid, which, if I had to guess, I'd say is tracker jacker venom.
The crowd of the unrightfully dead stops about a meter away from me, falling back into that heavy silence from before. I stare into Peeta's eyes, who stands directly in front of me. The beautiful blue of his eyes, now gone, sapped grey like the bleak world around us. He steps forward, face-to-face with me. I want to lean forward into his arms and into his heart. I want to feel his arms wrap around me, hold me tight. I want his fingers to card through my hair and tell me I'm safe. I want him to kiss my forehead and my eyelids, and my cheeks, and my nose, then my mouth, feather light and oh, so, special. I want to rest my cheek against his, to feel the soft skin of his face, the slight stubble tickling me. I want to twine our fingers together and kiss ever finger where they touch. I want him. My heart aches for him.
But before I can even blink, he lifts the syringe like a dagger and plunges it into the side of my neck, pushing down on the plunger, forcing the grey-almost white venom into my neck.
I scream and cry, tears slipping down my face, my agony filling the void. My heart breaks, and my neck screams. Peeta pulls out the syringe then drops it uselessly onto the ground. He steps back into the circle. He says nothing and never breaks eye contact with me. And, for the life of me, neither do I.
With a flick of hundreds of matches lighting, a bloom of yellow, orange, red burns its way into the bleak world around me. I search the crowd, feeling the obligation to look at the culprits. My eyes land on Prim's and again, I can't move. My neck burns from where Peeta stabbed me, but I can't see or focus on anything, but her. She steps up first, her match held daintily between her fingers, the glowing red, yellow, orange of the flame dancing innocently atop the small wooden stick.
She smiles at me, that carefree, childish tilt of her lips that she always used when she wants dot be extra charming. I notice the shirt she's wearing is light pink, the collar is white lace. It's something we never could have afforded before the Games. Her eyes are brilliant blue, her teeth pearly white, her hair pure gold. She's precious and beautiful, like a china doll. Her cheeks are flashed with life and I cry out, a sob ripping from my chest. She's so beautiful and alive. I want to hug her to my chest, have her know that I will never let her go again. I will keep her safe this time, no matter what. That in the end, she will be the one to survive.
I reach to her, and she cocks her head to the side, a braided pigtail slips off her shoulder, and she flicks the match at me.
It sears my cheek in a stripe of white hot pain. Again, my eyes water and tears pour down my cheeks. Sobs wrack my body. Prim, oh, dear innocent Prim. What have you done? As if a director had given a cue, hundreds of small red, orange, yellow flickering lights soar towards me, arching in the air before all making contact with my skin at the same time. Millions of burning pinpricks spark across my nervous system. I scream, my throat going dry. I try to launch myself away, but—
I wake with a start, falling off the couch and onto the floor face first. Hard. I roll over with a groan and rub my face with the back of my hand. I'm covered in cooling sweat and tear tracks mark my face like latitude lines on a map. I stretch my arms above my head, popping my back in multiple places. I rub the crust out of my eyes and try my best to wipe the tear tracks off my face. With a sigh, I get up to look out the window; Sae should be here any minute. I decide to clean up the living room. Folding the blanket and setting it on the end of the couch, I finish in record time.
The door opens, quietly as usual—Sae says she does this because she doesn't want to wake me—and Sae walks in, her lovely pot of stew on her hip, the morning sun fingering in behind her. Except this morning more than just sunlight is pouring in behind her. This morning, Peeta follows in. Great. Just great.
"Morning, Katinss," Peeta says with his stupid sunny smile that makes my cheeks warm and my heart flutter. If he continues to smile like that, I'll forget I destroyed his life.
"Morning," I mumble out, grumpy, as usual.
"How'd you sleep?" he asks in the same way.
I contemplate ignoring him. But then Greasy Sae would give me that look, and then after he left, she'd go on and on and on about how I need to take care of myself and how I need to let people in. So, I answer him, "Horrible," I shrug and yawn, "You?"
"Same as always," he copies me with a shrug, "Nightmares?"
"Yeah," I look down at my hands. Wow. This is really awkward. Not just because I suck at human interaction and not because he could lash out and attack me at any moment, or because I've done some pretty shitty things in the past, too, but because we're teenagers who've literally been through hell and are now left with navigating the emotional land mine that is social interaction.
Man, this is weird. I sit down and motion for Peeta to join me, "So...what have you been up to?"
He shrugs one shoulder, ever calm, cool and collected, "I've been delivering bread to people while my bakery goes up. I still paint a little and I help with the rebuilding." He looks at his hands he's fumbling with in his lap. He looks up, "What you been up too?"
"Nothing," I sigh and snort out a laugh, "I mean, I go hunting sometimes," I can't help but defend. I curse myself for still caring what he thinks. I let the air grow stale between us.
"How is the rebuilding going anyway?" Greasy Sae brings us both bowls of warm stew, effectively breaking the tension. We both mutter a small thank you to her.
"It's going great," Peeta nods his head as he blows on a spoonful of stew, "People are coming back and it's good because we need the man power."
"That's what I been hearin'. I feel bad stayin' up on this damned hill all day, cookin' while there's work that needs tendin', but we all have our spots I s'ppose," Sae comments with a small smile and, wow, now I feel like an asshat.
Peeta nods, "That's true. I'm such a pansy, I'm barely any use down there anyway," he rubs the back of his neck and looks away.
"You're an idiot," I say, quite suddenly, "I don't know if you've noticed, but you're really strong."
The two of them nearly choke on the stew they're eating. "Thank you, Katniss, but that's not what I meant," Peeta wipes his face, not meeting my eyes.
I shrug and take another spoonful of stew, "Whatever."
We we eat in silence, until our spoons scrape the bottoms of our empty bowls. I think this might be the first time I've eaten the whole bowl because I wanted to instead of to not disappoint Sae. "I left some more in the fridge, Katniss and I expect it to be gone when I come back in a couple days," Sae gets up, "I'm going to be volunteering in the hospital tomorrow so I won't be here to spoon feed you."
"You don't even soon feed me regularly," I snark.
"Would you like me to?" she asks, a brow raised teasingly.
"Well it would be easier," Sae rolls her eyes while Peeta tries not to laugh outright.
"I'll see you in a few days. Also, Katniss, don't be a stranger. You're more than welcome to go outside! The sun misses you," Sae teases.
"Yeah, well, I don't miss the sun," I bite back, grabbing our bowls and take them to the kitchen. If we're being honest, this is the most productive I've been in a while.
When I come back Peeta says, "What are you doing today?"
"Nothing," I shrug and plop back into the couch beside him, I'm already tired.
"You should come help rebuild. I mean, you are pretty strong. A little manual labour wouldn't be able to tire out the great Katniss Everdeen," he smiles crookedly and a part of me wilts a little. The great Katniss Everdeen so loved by Panem's people is dead. She died along with all those innocent people she killed.
But I don't say any of this. Instead I purse my lips and say, a teasing lilt to my voice, "I'm not quite as strong as you, and apparently, you're a pansy, so I don't know if I'd be quite up to it."
Peeta snorts, "Oh please," then rolls his eyes. He pauses smiling at me before he gently pulls on my arm, "C'mon lazy bones. You're gonna get up today."
I groan dramatically and roll onto my side, leaving my arm Peeta's holding in the air, "I can't, I'm too much of a pansy!"
Peeta laughs and I realize with a jolt that it's not awkward anymore. We're acting like old friends and that makes me so happy.
A/N: This is the first chapter of the updated version of Red and Orange Embers. Unfortunately, I will no longer be updating this work here. If you wish to continue reading this fic and its updated version, head over to Archive of Our Own where I am Ashland.