I've decided to republish my first Everlark oneshots. They're not the best, but they're special to me as they were the first pieces I posted on this site. I hope you like them.
Dr Aurelius urges me to keep busy, but I cannot hunt everyday, because hunting requires concentration and mine has been misplaced. And even when I do hunt, I still have to return to the house where I'm left alone with a thousand memories of Prim and my mother. After much encouragement from Peeta and alcohol-induced threats from Haymitch, I finally agree to help out at the newly built bakery. Peeta gives me the option of working at the front and serving the customers, but my slight hesitation confirms his thoughts and he assigns me to the back room to help with the dishes and ingredient preparations. It does help to have something to do, and, although I would never admit it, I feel calmer knowing that Peeta is just in the next room.
It becomes one of my favourite places, the back of the bakery. A bare room with wooden floorboards, cupboards and a singular wide window that faces a small grassy slope that leads to an open sky. When Peeta first showed me the room, I asked if I could open the window, to make it feel less claustrophobic and lifeless. The last thing I needed was a place that mirrored my current emotional state. Now, every time I arrive, the window is always open to let the gentle breeze in. I don't think I was meant to have the room to myself, but Peeta has instructed his new employees to work in the main kitchen, so no one bothers me unless it's to collect more flour or eggs. Whether or not he did it deliberately, I'm grateful, because even though Hildy and Gin are polite and friendly towards me, they're the giggly sort of Merchant girls and I know we would not get along well. Why try to make friends when nothing will come out of it? Friends will only equal one more person to care and worry about, and I don't think I have anymore care in me or worry to spare.
Here in the back room, I don't have to talk and smile for others or pretend to be interested in the weather. There is a sink but I plop myself down on a stool in front of the open window and fill a metal basin with hot soapy water. The warm scent of baking bread and listening to Peeta interact with other people sets my mind at ease as I wash the dishes and mindlessly play with bubbles.
On rare days, when the warm water and the cool breeze is enough, I let a few bars of the folk songs my father taught me float off my lips, especially on the days when Prim or Gale or my mother enter my thoughts and I need to forget.
I rush into the kitchen to see Gin clutching her finger with a red-stained cloth. Without a word, I stagger to the back room for the first-aid kit I had received from the Capitol to assist the rebuilding of my bakery. They were very keen in supplying me with every building material and machinery, and initially I refused, but Paylor was very insistent. My fingers just form around the brass knob when I hear it. Soft and hesitant, a tune that could make all the mockingjays fall silent.
I lean my ear against the door to listen to the voice I have so longed to hear again after watching its owner sing on the hospital television during my therapy. Entering as silently as my prosthetic allows me, I watch her sitting, slouched, her back facing me as she gazes out the window. Her clear voice echoes throughout the room, and I can do nothing but stand there and listen.
A memory surfaces, of a girl in a plaited red dress singing the valley song on the first day of school. She has the same dark hair as the girl in front of me, but apart from that everything is different. That girl has two plaits; this girl has a single braid down her back. That girl is whole and brimming with life, this girl is in pieces, trying but unable to put herself back together. This girl has also taken a piece of me with her, and though I'm not sure why yet, I know that there is a deep connection that runs between Katniss Everdeen and me.
I had planned to remain unnoticed and let her finish, but unfortunately, my prosthetic slips and makes enough noise for her hunter instincts to alert her of my intrusion.
"Peeta!" she jumps, sending bubbles into the air and almost tipping over the basinful of soapy water. She quickly rights the tub, adding foam to her dark hair as she tries to smooth the stray strands behind her ears. Pink rises to her cheeks, and I surprise myself by suddenly thinking of how beautiful she looks at that very moment, flustered with hair falling messily out of her braid and arms coated to the elbows with foam.
"Hi," he says. I can hear the smile in his voice and groan internally. Why does he have to come in here when I am singing and foolishly playing with bubbles? I feel heat flood my face again as I imagine what he's probably thinking now that his love for me is no longer there to blind him. Katniss Everdeen can't even concentrate and do the dishes properly. She can't do anything properly.
I shouldn't have offered to help.
But then you would be stuck at home with your nightmares.
Peeta can do it himself, I counter. And I'd rather stay out of his way than be of no help to him at all.
But you have never been any help to him at all. You've toyed with him. You've broken his heart. You let the Capitol take him. Torture him. Turn him into something beyond repair.
"I don't want them to change me in there," I remember Peeta's words on the rooftop of the Training Centre, "Turn me into some kind of monster that I'm not."
No, I shake my head, closing my eyes and ears with folded arms. Not Peeta.
Katniss, the familiar deep voice calls out for me.
No, Peeta, Run! Go!
Katniss! The voice is coming closer.
Peeta! I cry louder, hoping that it will lead Brutus and Enobaria to me and away from him.
Katniss! It's too close now, too close. I cannot let them find him. But the pain from Johanna's cut overpowers my ability to think of a plan. No…wait, it's not pain. It's an urgent pressure on my forearms. The pressure separates itself into ten different points, and I realise they are fingers that are digging into my arms. I shake frantically, trying to fend off their iron grip. Then, everything seems to spin as I blink, and open my eyes to find myself soaked in soap water and trembling uncontrollably.
"Katniss?" His fingers tighten and shake me gently.
Through the blur of tears I meet his eyes. Deep blue eyes that once only held pure love for me. So many emotions have replaced that; longing, pain, hatred, indifference. But for now, they are terrified.
He releases his grip and holds my hands firmly in both of his, covering them completely to lessen the shaking. I close my eyes and swallow hard, trying to get air into the lungs that have tightened from the exertion of crying and screaming. By concentrating on the warmth from his hands that is spreading up my arms and to the rest of my body, the trembling calms some and I'm finally able to open my eyes. He is sitting on the floor across from me, his prosthetic leg bent awkwardly, his face marred with worry. There are dishes sprawled everywhere, and the floor is foamy from the spilt tub. I hate myself for messing up such a simple task. I am no help at all to the boy in front of me.
His hand hesitantly reaches forward to touch my cheek. I want to lean into it but stop myself. No, I will not confuse him again, not when he has been set free from that self-imprisoning thing called 'Loving Katniss'. I sit there, unmoving, and stare into his eyes, willing him to see that he shouldn't be here, sitting in dishwater with me, comforting me.
"I'm sorry," my voice catches and the tears threaten to reappear.
Hurt replaces the terror in the blue eyes, and I feel a clenching in my chest from the uncontrollable emotions zooming though me.
"Don't be. I've never blamed you," he murmurs softly. And I know he doesn't just mean the dishes.
The tears run freely then, because he is speaking the truth and he's not supposed to. Not when I'm such a wreck and only completely deserving of indifference from him.
He looks alarmed and hesitantly puts an arm across my shoulder. I decide to go ahead and lose against my own game of will, and slump against him, inhaling the lingering smell of bread on his shirt.
"I'll always be here," he reassures me, tentatively stroking my hair. This simple yet intimate act soothes me and temporarily numbs every thought in my head that is against Peeta, so I let out a content shudder and allow him to hold me, even if it means once again leading him down the path to pain and heartache.
Only Haymitch's words break though the haze. You know, you could live a thousand lifetimes and not deserve him.
And Haymitch, as usual, is right.