Crimson Flames and Black Smoke

Prologue


Author's notes: This is what happens when I decide I want to write a K/P thriller.

Many thanks to the amazing Salanderjade for her advice, feedback and editing skills.


10 years ago

Katniss

.

"A sixty-five year old man has died in a house fire in Cinder Point overnight. The investigators believe that the down stairs fire alarm had been disabled prior to the fire starting…"

Fifteen year old Katniss Everdeen was sprawled across the living room couch with the television remote in her hand. The news blared out of the set, but she really wasn't paying attention. The teen was actually more focused on her younger sister who was lying on the carpet with colored pencils spread out in front of her. The blonde was carefully shading the picture of two flowers that she had drawn earlier.

"Nice," Katniss observed thoughtfully.

The eleven year old grinned up at her sister. "Thanks!" she exclaimed before selecting another pencil and continuing.

Katniss sighed quietly and flipped so that she was lying on her back. She was bored. The sweltering mid-summer heat had trapped her in the house which, in her opinion, was practically torture. She loathed being stuck inside and this was the fifth day in a row that it had been too hot to spend outdoors. 'Anything would be better than this' she thought as she heard the sports report begin on the television.

"Katniss? Can you hang out the washing please!" her mom called from the kitchen.

The girl groaned and amended her previous line of thought. 'Anything but that,' she thought but got up none the less.

Katniss dragged the washing out of the machine and haphazardly dropped it in the basket before heading out the back door towards the clothes line. The path was red-hot and it burned her bare feet as she walked. "Fuck," she cursed and she hopped as quickly as she could onto the grass hoping for relief, but it was dry and did little to soothe the sting.

"You okay?" a voice inquired and Katniss looked up to find the boy who lived on the property behind sitting in a tree above the perimeter fence. He had blonde hair that was so light it was almost white and dark emotionless eyes that had always unnerved her. He was in her year at school and she always caught him staring at her, but it wasn't right, it wasn't admiring like the looks she got from other boys. There was something strange about it… it made her feel like… prey.

"Yeah, just burnt myself on the path," she mumbled in reply, feeling uneasy under his intense stare.

His eyes flashed with something that she couldn't read. "I heard you went to that party Cartwright threw."

Katniss nodded in affirmative then traipsed towards the laundry line and dropped the basket on the ground. She could feel his eyes on her as she moved to hang up the towels and her discomfort intensified. Every time she had come outside in the past few weeks he had been there, watching her with his dark eyes. A cold shiver ran down her spine and she sped up the process of hanging the washing with the intention of heading back inside as soon as possible.

"I heard that you kissed Hawthorne," he drawled, his eyes flashing again.

'More like he kissed me,' she thought darkly but she didn't say it; actually she really didn't know what to say. She met his eyes briefly as she pulled the last towel out of the basket and she fumbled with the clothes pin when they flashed again. She swallowed. "Just a rumor," she lied, though she wasn't exactly sure why. It was none of his business what she did, or who she kissed.

With those words his demeanor changed dramatically and he suddenly projected anger and hatred. She picked up the basket and mumbled a bye, adrenaline pumping through her body and fear twisting in her stomach. She was just about inside when she heard him shout after her.

"There's a photo on Facebook!"

Her blood ran cold and she slammed the door closed and pressed her back against it. She took in calming breaths and had to consciously stop herself from trembling. After a moment she was composed… and furious. "It's none of his fucking business," she snapped to herself, a scowl settling on her face. She was so angry that she had let him unnerve her. It didn't matter who she spent her time with, she certainly didn't answer to him. She didn't even know his name!

"Stupid boys," she grumbled as she threw the basket in its place next to the washing machine and marched herself out to the hall and started up the stairs towards her bedroom.

"Katniss!" her younger sister called, "Madge is on the phone! She wants to know if you want to go down the lake!"

"What? Now?" Katniss replied as she looked out the window at the bright sun that was still beating down on the town. She walked back through the house and into the kitchen where her sister Prim was leaned over the bench, her fingers twirling the phone's spiral cord as she chatted away to Katniss' best friend.

"She says that by the time you two get there the south side should be pretty shaded. She also says her Dad is driving her mad and that you owe her."

Katniss smirked. "Tell her I'll be there in fifteen," she said before turning on her heel and dashing towards her bedroom to change.


It was late evening when she and Madge walked back through the small town. The sun was setting in the distance and a breeze had picked up, cooling the air slightly.

"Delly asked me to say sorry to you, by the way. She still feels bad for encouraging Gale to kiss you." Madge said quietly from her right. "She thought that you liked him you know."

Katniss rolled her eyes in response. Her blonde friend had only sent her fifty or so messages saying the same thing. The teen scowled, "I'm still annoyed with her."

"I know, but she really didn't mean to upset you. You know what this town's like Katniss. You spend time with a boy and suddenly they expect you to get married." Madge said with a sigh.

Katniss frowned knowing that the mayor's daughter was right in her assessment of Cinder Point. The townsfolk loved to gossip, and the pairing up of the children was one of their favorite pastimes. Her own mother had asked her if Gale was the one a year ago. She smirked when she realised that the woman would be re-thinking this now that Gale was sporting a serious black eye.

"Dad and Mom are still going on about Brutus," Madge adds a frown playing on his lips. "Dad wants me to go with him to the dance, but he's such a dick… I'd rather go with Chaff at least he has half a brain."

"I don't even want to go," Katniss muttered as she kicked a stone, watching as it bounced along the foot path.

"No, you have to come, especially if I'm going to be stuck with Brutus," she pleaded.

Katniss sighed loudly. "I dunno, can I go on my own?"

"You should go with Peeta!" Madge teased. "Everyone knows he likes you… and I know you like him."

"Everyone is stupid. We've never even talked to each other," she argued. "And his mother wouldn't let him near me while Dad is investigating Bakery fire. They think she started it on purpose for the insurance… she went bat crazy when Dad said that they suspected it wasn't an accident"

"That woman is a nutcase. It must suck living with her."

Katniss rolled her eyes, "as if Peeta could do anything wrong. The whole town thinks the sun shines out of his… Hi Dad…"

"Hi Mr Everdeen," acknowledged Madge as she and Katniss walked across the Everdeen's front lawn

Mr Everdeen chuckled as he closed the door of his ute. "Hello girls. Been down the lake?"

"Yeah, with half the town," Katniss sighed. Like most summer days it was packed with people who were trying to find refuge from the heat. She wouldn't usually mind but she was sure she spotted the white-blonde boy from the house behind hers more than once. It made her skin crawl.

"It was better than being stuck at home," Madge said, smiling at Katniss. "I should get home. Dad said he'd call the police if I was a minute later than eight."

"Seeya tomorrow?"

"Yeah, I'll text you!" Madge replied before she started off down the street.

"How was work?" asked Katniss as she fumbled though her bag for her keys while her Father pulled his gym bag out of the trunk.

"Another house fire where the alarm was tampered with," her father replied looking bothered. "We're sure it's the same arsonist as the other three this month we just can't find any evidence."

"You'll get whoever it is Dad," she said with a proud smile.

Her father ruffled her hair, "thanks kiddo," he laughed.


It was almost daybreak when the sound of a high-pitched alarm ringing brought Katniss out of her sleep. She groaned and kicked off her sheets suddenly too hot underneath them, even though the fan was still whirring overhead. "Someone turn it off," she grumbled as she rolled onto her stomach and buried her face in her pillow. The alarm only seemed to get louder as the minutes passed and a crash in the hall outside her room made her sit up abruptly, alert like a cat.

"Fire!" She gasped suddenly overwhelmed by the smoke that was filling her lungs as she breathed. She rolled off the bed onto the floor. It was hot to touch and it burned her knees and hands as she crawled to the door. Gingerly she put her fingers on the door handle, recoiling instantly as it scalded her and she backed away, all of a sudden aware of the red glow that was visible through the gap between the door and the floor.

Katniss tried to stay as low as possible as she made her way across her room to her window. She pushed it open and watched as the smoke rushed out. She coughed and spluttered into her hand as she tried desperately to take in the night air, but only found more of the hot black smoke that burnt her throat.

A dizzy spell brought her to the floor and she cried in pain out as the red-hot wood singed her legs. Her body shook and tears ran down her face as the smoke stung her eyes. 'I'm going to die,' she thought as she watched the flames creep under her door.

"KATNISS!" cried a familiar, male voice from below her window.

The sound of her name sent adrenaline coursing through her and she forced herself to stand. She pushed open the other window and looked towards the ground, desperately searching for the person who was calling her. It was a hopeless endeavour as smoke and flames were billowing out of the windows below hers making it impossible to see.

"KATNISS JUMP!"

Katniss stared into the black smoke as it curled in the air around her. 'Jump where? 'she thought, but she climbed up into the window anyway, knowing that it was her only option. The wind blew her short nightdress as she stood on the ledge outside her window, her hands gripping the wooden frame on either side of her.

"JUMP!" The man cried again.

A crash behind her made her turn and she watched as the floor of her bedroom collapsed into the room below. Red flames twisted into the room jumping across the furniture, consuming everything in it's path.

"KATNISS PLEASE JUMP!" He sounded distraught and suddenly she knew she didn't have long before the house crashed down around her.

Tears began to roll down her cheeks. "WHERE?" she yelled desperately. The flames that licked up from the windows below were getting ominously closer and the scorching air flooding out of her room was unbearable. She could hear sirens screaming somewhere in the distance… too far away to save her.

"LEAP FORWARDS! I'LL CATCH YOU!"

Katniss stared out into the black smoke for a moment longer, praying that it would clear just long enough for her to see.

"Trust me, please!"

She could barely hear it, but the final, desperate plea of the person below was enough to convince her to jump. She squeezed her eyes shut and counted back from three then threw herself as far forward as she could. Air whipped around her face as she soared down from the second storey of the burning building into the arms of her waiting savior. He staggered backwards taking awkward steps to try and balance himself before he lost his footing and took them both to the ground.

Without warning he pushed her off him and rolled her over and over on the soft grass. She was vaguely aware that he was yelling out instructions to people around them. She caught words like water and burned, and alive. When she stopped moving she felt a cool, damp cloth placed over her. She blinked open her eyes to find concerned blue ones looking down into hers.

"Peeta?" she questioned.

"You're going to be okay," he told her gently, as he tenderly pushed her hair out of her face.

"Peeta, my, my family…" her voice was raspy and it hurt to talk. She stared up at him, her eyes filled with hope.

"The fire spread so quickly… when I got here I thought you were all, gone… then I saw you look out the window and…" He trailed off, closing his eyes.

A sob escaped Katniss' lips and tears streamed down her face.

"Hey, hey, the fire fighters are here now… don't give up on them just yet" he whispered and she noticed that his blue eyes seemed to dance as they reflected the flames. She gazed into them, yearning for some of the hope that clouded them. Another sob escaped her lips and she felt him gently take her hand, his eyes not leaving hers.

She wasn't sure how long she stared at him before the paramedics dragged her attention away. As they lifted her onto the gurney she dazedly dropped her head to the left… then screamed out in horror. The house that was once her home was engulfed in crimson flames. The top floor had all but collapsed, the windows had shattered and the thick black smoke billowed high into the dawn sky.

Katniss struggled against the arms of the paramedic who held her in place. Tears poured down her eyes until all she could see was a blur and she screamed and screamed for her family. She flayed her arms and legs until straps were fastened over her and an oxygen mask was pulled over her face. Then a needle was pressed into her arm, and everything dissolved into black.


The month that followed was a blur of pain and heartbreak. Katniss spent the first half in the hospital being fussed over by a myriad of health professionals and then, when it came time for the funerals, it was the townsfolk who wouldn't leave her alone. She hated the attention. All she wanted was to be alone to think, to grieve... not to be haunted by questions that she wasn't able to answer.

It wasn't until the arrival of her Great Aunt Sae that things began to stabilize somewhat. The old woman was not afraid to tell the townsfolk where to go and provided Katniss with the refuge she needed. There weren't a lot of words exchanged, but routines were established and even though she was lost and hurting, she didn't feel alone. So when the woman asked if the teen wanted to live with her, she agreed and the arrangements were made.

It was only two days before they were due to leave that the arson detectives called to say they had news about the fire. Numbly, the pair packed themselves into the car and headed into the town, but upon arrival Katniss decided that she couldn't go in. She couldn't face the men and women who had been so fond of her father and she didn't want to hear what they had to say. So she sat quietly in the car and waited while the old woman met with the detectives.

The teen stared out the out the passenger window, down the main street of the small town. She was tired, her sleep riddled with nightmares of smoke and her sisters screams. Unconsciously, she pulled at the bandage on her knee as she thought about how much she hurt. The burns on body still stung and her throat hurt with every breath. But nothing was as painful as her heart which would constrict every time she remembered.

"Why?" she asked quietly, "Fucking why?" she demanded and she slammed her fists into the dashboard. She closed her eyes as tears began to steak down her cheeks and she buried her head in her hands. "Should have… died…too," she choked out between sobs. The teenager pulled her legs into her chest and dropped her forehead to her knees. She ignored the pain from her burns and cried until she drifted in and out of an uneasy sleep.

Katniss wasn't sure how much later it was when she heard the car door open. She peeked up over her knees at her Father's aunt. The woman's eyes were kind, her hair was gray and she carried little weight on her bones. Katniss had always liked her Great Aunt who always visited over Christmas, but, even though she had agreed, she was uncertain about going to live with her in her home town. There were so many unknowns, and she would be hours away from Madge.

Sae smiled kindly at Katniss as she hopped into the driver's seat of the car. "They've got the arsonist Katniss, a deranged woman called Alma Coin…" she said gently.

Katniss frowned. It didn't help. The knowledge that the person had been caught didn't help heal the pain like she had hoped it would. She turned to look back out the passenger window, tears budding in her eyes.

"Apparently your Dad had been questioning her about the other fires in the town…" the old woman continued. There was a pause and Katniss heard the woman swallow. "That boy, Peeta, gave a statement on your behalf… he said to give you this… he said he got it out of your mail box."

The teenager blinked and looked at the crisp white envelope that Sae was holding in front of her. She dropped her legs down and took it into her hands; her eye's fixated on the neat Katniss that had been hand-written across the front. She didn't need to read it to know who it was from.

Her hands shook as she flipped it over, thinking of all the times she had received these silly letters over the years. She regretted every time she had rolled her eyes at the innocent gesture. Slowly, she unsealed the envelope and pulled out the folded piece of paper.

Sae watched her quietly as she nimbly opened out the paper to reveal the picture of a bright pink Primrose next to a Katniss flower. Words was scattered around them and sobs tore through her as she read the last line.

You are the best sister in the world Katniss. I love you…