A/N: What is up my readers?! Let me just begin by saying that I have missed you guys like crazy! Seriously. And also, I have to thank you for the mind-blowing response that I recieved for the final chapter of Someone To Watch Over Me. I broke 1300!

That's pretty damn awesome. Just sayin'...

Anyhoo, now we are here! The first chapter of My Last Breath. Quick factoid: This chapter is set approximately two weeks after the end of STWOM. Peeta and Katniss haven't said a word to each other all this time. Katniss hasn't even seen him in the two weeks since they've been back. The reason will be alluded to at the end of this chapter.

Also, another important factiod: These first four chapters are sort of like a prelude to the actual CF rewrite. Between Chapters 4 and 5 is a significant time jump (hopefully it still flows). Basically, the first four chapters focus on resolving the conflict between PK and then the conflict between GK. They deal with teenager-y drama, which I figure PK and company are due considering everything. They are 16 after all and are just coming off a traumatic experience. Emotions are running high. So, relationship drama for four chapters and then when chapter 5 hits things are wonderfully better. You'll love it. Trust me.

We just kind of have to stick it out until then. ;)

Okay! So! That's about it for this beginning A/N. Remarkably shorter than the beginning A/N to STWOM, but I told you guys I'd never write one that long again. So here's me keeping my word. :D

I'm doing something a little different with my disclaimers this time around. Each chapter I'll add a movie quote to the end. Movies are a passion of mine. I'd love to write a screenplay one of these days . . .

So, today's new disclaimer movie quote is an ode to my favorite movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. If you haven't seen it, you really need to take the time and watch it. It's fantastic.

Random Disclaimer: I do not own CF, though I do own a rather fantastic fedora; "Think you used enough dynamite there, Butch?"


Chapter 1

Peeta.

I have to save Peeta.

My feet are flying under me, carrying me faster than should be possible. Everything around me is a blur. My breath is coming in gasps, and the stitch in my side has intensified into a crippling pain, but I soldier through it. I have to save Peeta.

I burst through the trees and leap out onto the plain of the Cornucopia. It's there that I see them. Mutts. All of them yipping and growling and sneering—all hovered around someone. I somehow manage to push myself faster even though my leg muscles are screaming for me to stop.

But I don't let up a single step.

Then I see him. He's fought his way onto the Cornucopia, safe from the mutts. Relief floods me. Peeta is safe. Suddenly, his eyes meet mine, blue on grey, and he smiles. His lips begin to move. He's saying something to me, but I don't hear him.

A mutt—huge, strong, and blond—leaps into view. Its razor-sharp teeth are bared as it soars through the air toward Peeta, who remains oblivious.

I'm screaming at him, trying to tell him to move, to fight, to do something but stand there and smile at me. I reach back to load an arrow into my bow, but my quiver is empty. I'm useless.

The mutt Cato's jaws clamp around Peeta's throat and . . .

"Katniss!"

My eyes are wide and fearful as I shoot up to a sitting position in my bed. I'm covered in a sheen of sweat from head to toe, and my bed sheets are damp from the moisture. My hair, out of its usual braid, is plastered to my face, neck, shoulders, and back. Air is entering and leaving my lungs far too quick to be normal, and my heart feels as though it's about to pound out of my chest.

"Katniss! Look at me. Everything's going to be alright. You're okay."

I know that voice. My eyes cut to my right, and I see my little sister's face, her expression fraught with worry, and kind, sympathetic compassion shining in her eyes. I hear shuffling feet, and my eyes flit to my doorway. My mother stands there, looking at me in fear and worry.

"Katniss?" Prim takes my hand gently. "Did you have another bad dream?"

Bad dream. The phrase doesn't begin to describe what my nightmare was.

Nonetheless, I shake my head. My mind is slowly shoving away the terrifying images in my head, and reason is returning. Prim can't see me like this. I have to get a hold of myself. I don't want to look as broken and lost as I currently feel. Protect Prim. That's what I have to do.

Of course, it's hard to convince her that I'm alright when I've woken up screaming every night since my return from the Capitol, since I won the Seventy-fourth Hunger Games.

"Yeah," I answer, grateful when my voice sounds fairly steady. "Just a bad dream. Nothing to worry about."

Prim doesn't look like she believes me. I look to my mother, "Go back to sleep. I'm fine."

My mother doesn't look like she believes me either, but like I knew she would, she takes Prim by the hand and begins to lead her out of my room. "Let's give Katniss some time to get her wits about her," she tells Prim. "You need to get some rest."

The door shuts, and I slump back onto my damp pillows. I wonder if the moisture is sweat or tears. Maybe both. I've woken up in tears more than once since my return to District 12 two weeks ago. My eyes find the window that faces the east. A full moon shines a silvery light onto the shiny, hardwood floors of my room. It is probably an hour or so until dawn, but I won't find sleep again tonight.

I step into the bathroom attached to my bedroom. It's probably low on the totem pole by Capitol standards, but it's practically god-sent if you're from the Seam. Marble-tiled floors and walls. A large mirror that hangs over two sinks with gold faucets. There's a large tub with jets that spray water, but that's not what I want. I strip out of my sweat-soaked nightclothes and step into the shower, turning on the water as hot as I can stand.

We moved into the Victor's Village the same day we arrived back in District 12. The entire community seemed to follow us to the green, flower-boxed entrance of the Village. They even carried our stuff that had been packed up into boxes, not that there were many. I was taken to my house first, where I, my mother, and Prim were given a full tour. The house itself is next door to Haymitch's, and size-wise my new abode could easily hold ten of my old home in the Seam. We have a living room, a dining room, a fully-stocked kitchen, a study, and a bathroom on the first floor. The second floor is entirely bedrooms, each with their own attached bathroom. Three bedrooms in all. One for each Everdeen.

Naturally, the house came fully furnished. Capitol-soft beds. Polished furniture made of an exquisite dark wood. Mahogany, I think. Glass lamps. Flowing curtains. It doesn't compare with the lavishness of the Capitol, but it is still lush. However, the biggest change by far is that we have hot, running water at the twist of a knob. Another advantage is the fact that we, as victors, are granted the courtesy of having electricity practically twenty-four seven.

I stand in the shower, watching as my skin slowly turns pink underneath the hot spray. My mind flashes through various moments of my most recent nightmare. Peeta. All of my nightmares were either of Peeta dying or myself dying. And then once, last night, my nightmares involved Rue's death.

Death. That was the recurring theme.

As if to torture myself further, my mind conjures up an image that I will never forget. Peeta watching as I ran away from him, fleeing back to the train—a single tear slowly sliding down his cheek. Why had I looked back?

I did not see Peeta again until the train had pulled into the station in District 12. Without a word, he'd taken my hand. I couldn't meet his eyes, even though I felt his boring a hole into the side of my head. "Showtime," he'd said, just moments before the doors slid open, revealing the crowd that had gathered to welcome us home.

It was almost as if we had never had our conversation along the train tracks. Like Peeta had alluded to, we played our parts flawlessly. We kissed and hugged for the cameras, pretended that everything was alright. We put on a show.

That has been the only word Peeta has spoken to me since returning from the Games. One word. One little word, spoken in such a defeated, hollow voice that it almost brings me to tears thinking about it.

My emotions since my return from the Games have been chaos. I'm simply feeling. Sadness. Anger. Confusion. Frustration. Fear. Anxiety. Helplessness.

Longing.

So many times in the two weeks since I've been back in 12 have I longed for Peeta. The comfort of his embrace, the safety and protection I remember his arms providing. I want to cling to Peeta and never let go. I want him to kiss me and tell me that he's there and that it's alright. I need Peeta.

But guilt . . . guilt and shame and fear of rejection have kept me from running to him. I hurt him so much. I could see it in his eyes as he watched me run back to the train. Why would he want me now? Maybe it's better this way. Maybe it's better for him. Maybe he doesn't love me anymore.

The thought rips my heart in two.

Why hadn't I been able to say that I loved him? It's true. I love Peeta Mellark, my boy with the bread. I accepted the fact in the cave, my remembrance of my father's advice to me providing a guiding light. Love is worth the risk.

But why hadn't I been able to say three little words? I love you. If I had just said them, I would probably be with Peeta right now. In his house, in his bed, curled up against him with my head on his shoulder. His arms would be wrapped around me, his embrace full of gentleness and yet still possessing a proctective edge that I would find annoying and reassuring at the same time. The thought causes the longing in my heart to flare painfully.

It was Gale. There is something unfinished or unsaid between Gale and I that prevented my response that day along the train tracks. Gale had always sort of been in the back of my mind during the Games. I had imagined, for some reason, that he would not be thrilled about my relationship with Peeta. I had also felt like I was betraying him somehow. Could I possibly care for Gale? More than I already do?

Things between Gale and I have been practically as bad as things with Peeta. Aside from the bone-crushing hug he gave me the day I returned, he has remained cold and distant with me. I don't see him much anyway, since he's started work in the mines. His only free day is Sunday, and last week I was unable to escape into the woods.

I resolve that will change today. It's Sunday, and I'm going to the woods.

The thought of the woods awaiting me causes my mind to kick into gear. It gives me a purpose, something constructive to work toward. Quickly, I wash my hair, using a vanilla scented shampoo that always makes me relax a little. I shut off the water and dry myself with a fluffy, white towel. My feet carry me quickly to my dresser drawers, and I throw on a green shirt and jeans. I slip my feet into my hunting boots and quietly make my way down the stairs, braiding my wet hair as I go.

I'm surprised when I walk into the kitchen to find Prim sitting at the table, sipping a cup of tea. "Do you want some?" she asks.

"Sure," I say as she pours me a cup. "What are you doing up? I thought mom told you to go back to bed."

"She did," Prim acknowledges.

"Prim," I reprimand gently. I've never been able to be harsh with her.

"I've been studying mom's old books," she explains, motioning to the book in front of her. I recognize it as one of my mother's apothecary books. "Besides, it's nearly dawn anyway, and I'm helping mom with her patients today."

"Oh." I remember now. She told me yesterday, but I was too busy trying to force the image of a dying Rue out of my head to really pay much attention. "Right."

Prim suddenly looks at me, her blue eyes looking older than they ever have. "Katniss, do you love Peeta?"

I nearly choke on my tea. "W-what?"

"Do you love him?" Prim repeats. "I watched you during the Games. It looked real to me."

"I . . . where is this coming from?"

Prim sighs. "I just want to know why you're avoiding him if you love him like it appeared you did. Are you having a fight or something?"

A dry, sad laugh escapes me. "I guess you could say that."

"Oh," Prim says. "Well, can't you work it out?"

"I want to, Prim." I stare at my tea. "It's all my fault in the first place."

"Then make it right," Prim says simply. "You love him, don't you?"

I blush slightly. "Yes."

"Then it will all work out," Prim shrugs as if it's that simple.

"Peeta said something similar," I admit. "But I don't know if I can believe things will simply 'work out' just because of love."

"Then you're really stupid," Prim says and my eyes widen. Since when had Prim become so direct? Where was my sweet, little Prim? Prim must see my confusion, because she blushes and looks down at the table for a moment. "Sorry," she apologizes. "But I just don't know why you can't simply believe in something Katniss. Everyone has to believe in something."

"And you're saying that because Peeta believes in love, he thinks that everything will eventually work out?" I ask, trying to follow my little sister's thoughts. "Prim, I don't have Peeta's faith."

"I'm not saying you have to," Prim says. "Just believe in him. Trust him."

"I do."

"Then why haven't you made up with him yet?" Prim questions pointedly, raising her eyebrows.

I open my mouth, but no words come out. "When did you become so knowledgeable about love?"

Prim looks down at the table again. "I've always looked up to you, Katniss," she admits shyly. "You're so strong and brave." Tentatively, she looks up to meet my gaze, and continues. "I watched you fall in love during the Games. I may be young, but I'm not blind. Watching you and Peeta, I learned that nothing could stop love. I mean, think of all that you two overcame. Death. Careers. Tracker jackers. Mutts. I learned that love gave you strength, a strength that can't be beaten. You taught me that."

Prim holds my gaze steadily, waiting for me to say something, but I don't know if I can. I'm simply too shocked by the wise words coming from my twelve year old sister's mouth. Finally, I manage to stutter, "I-I taught you that?"

Prim nods, and then looks at me solemnly. "I don't want to see you sad anymore, Katniss. Can you try and make up with him? Please?"

I've never been able to deny Prim anything. "Okay."

Prim smiles. "Good."

I sip my tea. "So . . ." All of this talk about Peeta has made me wonder how Prim feels about him. Does she like him? I already know my mother's feelings. After we got off the train, a reporter asked my mother how she felt about all of my and Peeta's kisses in the arena. She had responded that though she thought Peeta was a lovely boy, I was too young to have a boyfriend. "What do you think about Peeta?"

"He's cute," Prim says immediately, and my eyebrows rise. "I like his eyes. They're really kind."

I feel my lips turning up. "Okay. How do you like him as a person?"

"He's really nice," Prim says. "I know that he's the one who gives me a frosted cookie on my birthday."

My eyes widen. "What?"

Prim giggles. "It was our secret. When we were at the window that day, he was walking into the bakery and overheard me. He winked at me, and then the next day there's a primrose-frosted cookie on our doorstep?" Prim continues to giggle, probably at my incredulous face. "And then the next Monday at school he wished me a belated happy birthday."

I can't believe it. All this time, Prim knew all along.

"Well," I say. "I'm glad I have your approval."

Prim smiles and glances out the window. The sun is just beginning to peak over the horizon. "You know, Peeta's probably at the bakery already."

My heart begins to pound in mixture of anxiety and longing. "You want me to talk to him now?"

"He's always been a morning person."

I open my mouth to reply, but I'm startled when I hear a knock on the door. Frowning, I get up to answer it, only to be momentarily rendered speechless. Standing on my front porch is probably the last person I ever expected to see.

Rye Mellark, one of Peeta's older brothers. All the Mellark brothers share the same basic features—broad shouldered, blonde, and blue-eyed. But it's only now that I notice just how closely Peeta resembles his older brother. Honestly, if I didn't know that Rye was nearly two years older than Peeta, I would think they were twins. Why have I just now noticed this? Maybe it's because I've only seen Rye a handful of times and subconsciously my attention was always on Peeta.

Although I may have just come to the conclusion that Peeta and Rye could pass as twins, it's still easy for me to tell them a part. It's in their eyes. Though the very same shade of blue, Peeta's eyes sparkle with kindness, while all you see in Rye is mischievousness and playfulness. He's not known as a jokester for no reason.

But now he looks worried, an emotion I'm not sure I've ever seen mar his features.

"Um . . . hi," I say slowly. Why is he here?

"Okay, you're probably a little bit freaked that I'm standing on your porch at the butt crack of dawn," Rye begins. "And I would apologize if it was my thing, but it's not, so I won't. I need your help, oh mighty huntress of the woods."

"Okay . . ."

"You've got to talk to Peeta," he tells me. "The poor guy is all frowny and he doesn't even crack a smile at my best jokes. And then this morning when I jumped him, he freaked on me."

I frown, worried. "What did he do?" Wait, better question. "What did you do?"

"I just meant to get some life back into him," Rye says, sounding confused and concerned. "We'd usually play around, a little wrestling between brothers, you know? Good way to get the morning going. I just meant to shove him around a bit, but the moment I jumped him . . ." Rye frowns. "He freaked. I've never seen him move so fast. He had me pinned to the wall, forearm pressed against my throat in a second."

I'm furious. "You thought it would be a good idea to sneak up and attack someone who just got back from the Games?" I snap. "You moron!"

"I came to that conclusion a long time ago," Rye says. "People just accept it and tell me that I'm special."

Angry flames lick my veins. "This isn't some joke, Rye!"

"I know it isn't," Rye says, looking serious now. "And that's why I need your help. Peeta snapped out of it pretty quick, and then he was apologizing all the way out the door. I think he's back at his house, locked up in that one room."

My anger begins to give way to curiosity and worry as I frown. "What one room?"

"The one that he expressly told me not to go into, the one that he only comes out of to bake bread or frost cakes," Rye sighs. "If he hadn't been so serious when he threatened me to never step foot in that room, I would have taken a peek inside ages ago."

I'm really worried now. Has Peeta really been spending all of his time in one room? What could he possibly be doing? "Which room is it?"

"Upstairs. Second door on the left."

"Go back to the bakery," I tell him. "I'll talk to him."

"And give him a big fat kiss while you're at it," Rye says. "The guy needs it. He needs you. Kiss and make up already."

And with that, Rye hops off my porch and starts walking back toward town, leaving me staring after him.

When he's out of sight, my eyes settle on the front door of Peeta's house directly across the street. It seems as though the silence between us is about to end.

I only hope he speaks more than one word to me.


And there you have it! Katniss is miserable. Prim is as adorable as ever. We found out that Peeta isn't doing too hot, and to top it all off, we met Rye! I'll just say that Rye plays a large part in the rest of the series. While a goofball and seemingly ignorant at times, he really does have more serious, mature layers. I hoped you could kind of see that in the brief appearance he made this chapter. :)

Okay, so next chapter we will meet Peeta! Woo! Yay! And there is yelling between our lovebirds to be had. It was a ton of fun to write, let me tell you. You might be surprised who wins the little spat.

See you guys Friday!

Lots of love,

AC

P.S. This is my first full week of college since we started school last Wednesday. So far, college is a gigantic leap foward compared to high school. Thank, goodness. Classes are pretty cool. My Comp 1 (English) professor is awesome, which is truly all that matters to me. And French is epic. The only thing that sucks is parking. It's a never-ending battle trying to find a parking space that's in my zone. The point of all this babble, is that it would make me totally giddy if you guys reviewed and made my Monday a little bit sweeter. Because I think we can all agree that Mondays need to be sweetened. :)