She knows what she's doing is the right thing.
She nervously buttons up her uniform and pats Buttercup on the head. Buttercup eyes her. He knows what the uniform means. The uniform usually means Prim will be very busy for a while.
"I'll be back soon, Buttercup," says Prim. This is what she always says, every time she leaves. "Wait for me, okay? Mom thinks I'm too young, but I know they need every nurse. What I'm doing is the right thing. They might be from the Capitol, but they're helpless. And I'm here to give them help."
He doesn't understand every word coming out of Prim's mouth, but he can practically feel the steady determination, the urge to help, radiating out of the girl.
"Bye, Buttercup," says Prim, giving her cat one final hug.
He purrs, his way of telling her that he'll be waiting.
The compartment is empty, once again.
And he's worried.
The compartment is always full during the night, full with sleeping bodies. And he always watches Prim to make sure nothing harms her. But not tonight. Or the night before, for that matter. In fact, the compartment has been very empty lately.
Katniss is gone, for one. It's not uncommon for her to disappear for long periods of times, but she hasn't been in the compartment for an unusually long time, even for her. And the mother human, who always, always shows up in the compartment at least once a day, has not been around either. The last time he had seen the mother human, she had been putting a few things in a suitcase. Then she had disappeared. Like Katniss.
And Prim. Where is his Prim? She hasn't come back either. But she must! She always comes back. Always. But days pass, and she still does not come back. None of them do. He knows he has to wait. He'd promised. But every night, after he comes back from catching mice, he finds the compartment empty.
He squeezes through the windows and does a quick scan of the compartment. His heart drops. Empty. Again.
Then he notices a shadow. It's too small to be something like a mouse, but it's big enough to be a human. A human! Hope surges through his veins. He waits as the shadow comes closer and holds his breath. Who is it? Prim? The mother human? At this point, even finding Katniss would be encouraging. Then he realizes who the shadow belongs to. It's a stranger. Two strangers, to be exact.
It's a tall man, with a bushy mustache. Next to him is a petite young woman. They haven't noticed him yet he thinks. Then the woman gasps and points.
"It's a cat!"
"No way," says the man, his back still turned to him. "The only family that has a cat here is the Everdeens. And they left. Wouldn't they have taken their cat with them?"
"But it is!" says the woman.
The man turns around and gasps. He begins to slowly approach him. "It is a cat," he says in wonder. He starts to get closer, but when he hisses, the man quickly jerks away.
"What should we do with it?" asks the woman, trying to get closer. He hisses again, but the woman doesn't seem to mind and comes closer. "Don't be afraid of us, kitty. We'll let you live in our compartment. We're willing to take you into our family. We'll raise and love you well."
Family. That word is familiar to him. It had been what Prim had called him, that night after the she risked her life to save his, during the bombings. Family. Family is what he is to Prim. What Prim is to him. Not who these people are.
But they had called this compartment theirs. Apparently, if he is to wait for Prim, he can no longer wait for her here.
So he slips outside the window once again, before the strange humans can catch him. And this time, he is not planning to come back, ever again.
He paces around in the forest outside of the compartment. He peeks through the window. The two humans are moving around, unpacking and such. He can tell that it truly is their compartment now. That is why the mother human and Katniss and Prim, his Prim, are not returning. They have moved.
But why hasn't his Prim come back for him? He figures it must be like the first bombing, the bombing at their old home, where Prim did not come back for him because she could not come back for him.
But this time, he is pretty sure that Katniss will not find him and take him back to Prim again. He'll need to reach Prim himself. Where could she be?
Their old home. Maybe in the shiny house. Maybe she is waiting there.
Then again, maybe not.
But it is his only hope. And his gut, his animal instinct, his heart, is telling him that their old home is the place to go. And he's willing to get back to their old home, to the shiny house, no matter what it takes. He'll risk his life to get back to her. It's the least he can do.
Wait for me, Prim. I'm coming.
He has no idea how to get there.
He is depending solely on his heart and animal instinct. He has lived with Prim for so long. He loves her more than anything else. His heart must know where she is. It must.
So he pads through the forest, traveling as much as he can each day. He cannot see their old compartment anymore, and he has even left his familiar mouse-hunting grounds. He is traveling in on a road he has never traveled on. Anything could be out there.
He is afraid, but he knows it is for Prim. Prim, who had been willing to die for him. Now he will do the same.
He walks on.
The mice are less abundant in this area, but they are more stupid. Apparently they are not used to being hunted by cats. They're dead before they know it.
He swallows the rest of his latest catch and feels satisfied. He is much thinner than he was when he first entered this forest, and this mouse does not make him full, but it will keep him going until he catches his next mouse or maybe finds his next berry bush.
Then he hears a growl.
That growl is familiar. He remembers a day, from many, many years ago, before he had met Prim. He had heard the exact same growl, been attacked, and escaped with half his ear torn. He turns around, and the sight confirms his suspicions. Wild dogs.
But that time, it had been just one, and a small one at that. That had been how he had managed to survive. This time, there are two of them. They are both bigger than him, with sharper teeth and sharper claws, and definitely in better shape.
He is scared, but he does not show it. He holds his head up high. He will not give his opponents the satisfaction of knowing they have scared him.
They circle him for a while, showing off their teeth and taunting him, completely confident in their abilities. They expect that this thin, bedraggled cat will make an easy meal, especially with two of them.
And they attack, swiftly, their teeth aiming for his neck, but he dodges. One of the dogs takes a swipe, and he tastes blood. The other dog swoops in at his weak moment, and he feels claws along his back, and he yowls with pain but manages to roll away. He sees red blood staining the ground, and he knows it is his. Any minute now, one of these dogs will kill him.
I'm sorry, Prim.
Prim! He needs to get back to her!
The dogs lean in for their final blow, when the cat attacks. Filled with new energy, he meows and hisses for all he's worth and puffs up his fur, making himself as large and loud and intimidating as possible. He jumps, motivated by the thought of Prim, dodging their teeth.
He knows he will win. He has to. He reminds himself that he is fighting for something too important: his Prim. And he will not die.
The dogs strike back, and he feels pain, more pain, everywhere. But he does not give up. Instead, he meows and hisses and puffs his fur more, and he jumps right onto one of the dogs. He latches and swipes across the dog's face with his claws.
The dog howls with pain, manages to shake the cat off, and runs off. The other dog looks at his partner's bleeding eye, and then at the cat, who is giving him a dirty look, and runs off as well. All they know is food, and they know they can find an easier meal elsewhere. The cat is not worth it.
But he knows love, and he knows it was worth it. His back is bleeding, his face is bleeding, and it hurts to walk. It would be much less painful if he was dead. But he knows it was worth it.
He crawls into a concealing bush and, dizzy with blood loss, falls asleep.
He's made it.
This is his old home. It hasn't changed much. There are fewer dead bodies, and more live bodies, but it still has the same musty smell. And seeing all the live bodies are encouraging. Prim must be living here with them.
He limps along the road, being careful not to put too much weight on his hurt foot. He's aching everywhere, but he's made it. He finds the shiny house, which is still shiny although everything else is musty, and finds that the pantry door is still open. And he creeps in.
He looks around. No Prim. He's frustrated now. Where is she? Then he sees someone familiar.
It's encouraging to find her because Katniss must know where Prim is. She loves her just as much as he does. He hisses.
Katniss turns around and stares at him. She blinks in disbelief, taking in his sudden and disheveled appearance. For a while, everything seems frozen in time. Then she says ten words that break the silence.
"It was the waste of a trip. She's not here."
He's not exactly sure what that means. But it's the way she says it that catches his attention. She's not using the spiteful yet accepting tone she always uses when she speaks to him. She sounds… hollow. Lost. Sorrowful.
"She's not here," Katniss repeats. "You can hiss all you like. You won't find Prim."
Prim? Prim! He immediately perks up and looks up hopefully. He mews, as if to ask, 'Where is she? Take me to her!''
"Get out!" Katniss screams, throwing a pillow at him. He easily dodges it. "Go away! There's nothing left for you here!"
He doesn't understand why Katniss is so angry, but an angry Katniss is nothing new. Maybe if he waits enough, Katniss will take him to Prim. Or maybe Prim will come in through the door. Either way, he's not going to leave this house until he finds his Prim.
Katniss starts to quiver with anger. "She's not coming back! She's never ever coming back here again!" She grabs another pillow, preparing to hurl it towards him.
But something is wrong. Katniss sounds angry, and looks angry, but it's more than just angry. It's a desperate anger, with sorrow lying underneath.
And that's when Katniss starts to cry.
He's seen Katniss cry once in his life. It was during the night, when Katniss was much younger. Everyone else had been asleep, but Buttercup had been awake to see the quiet sobs racking her thin body. He remembers that her sobs had been very quiet, and she had sounded frightened and nervous.
This is nothing like that.
It is a loud cry, a wail. Each one filled with pure sorrow and anguish and hurt. She sinks down to her heels, clutches the pillow to her chest, and rocks herself back and forth. "She's dead," she whispers. "She's dead, you stupid cat, she's dead."
The words have no meaning to him, but the cries do. He can only think of one thing that would bring Katniss—the strongest one in their family, the provider and the survivor, the one that almost never cries—down on her knees like this.
He is no stranger to death. As a kit, he'd watched as his mother slowly starved to death. He has faced his own several times. In fact, he has always been proud of his ability to handle death, or threat of death, well.
But he can't handle this.
He remembers that when his mother had died, he had felt nothing. And now, with Prim gone, he feels nothing. But it is a different kind of nothing. With his mother, he had felt no pain, nothing. With Prim, he is feeling so much pain that he feels nothing. He is numb. Hollow. Unable to feel. Even the throbbing pain in his foot numbs to this new feeling, this feeling of so much pain that there is nothing.
He wails, he cries. He refuses to believe it. Then he looks at Katniss, rocking herself back and forth, and knows it is so. It is unthinkable, yet it has happened.
He can't cope.
He, who had faced wild dogs and near-starvation, who had looked death in the eye and scoffed, who had walked many miles by his lonesome, cannot handle this.
He remembers what had kept him going all those miles it took to get here. The thought of Prim. That thought had been what filled him with a longing to live. She was something worth living for, worth fighting for, worth dying for. It was the least he could've done after she had saved his life, and more than once at that.
Now she is gone. He has failed her. He has not protected her.
She is gone, and life has lost his meaning.
He protects Katniss that night. He watches over her the way he would've watched over Prim.
She is the only one that understands what he is going through. He remembers the hollow look in her eyes, the wails, the sorrow-anger.
Maybe she can help him cope.
In the morning, Katniss tends to all his wounds, the way Prim would've done. He sits patiently and makes no noise to indicate pain. Katniss then directs her attention to his hurt paw and starts to dig out the thorn. And suddenly, he's hit with a double image—Prim superimposed on Katniss, fawning over him as she heals him, giving him that special smile. And he cries. It simply hurts too much, not only physically, but emotionally.
Katniss manages to dig out the thorn before she collapses and starts to cry as well. And they cry together, trying to comfort each other the best they can.
During breakfast, Katniss gives him all her bacon. He's grateful, but food doesn't taste the same anymore. Not without Prim.
Life goes on.
He learns to cope; Katniss learns to cope. He still watches over her at night. Every now and then, a boy comes over. He has blond hair and blue eyes, and he seems familiar. Buttercup recognizes him from the days when they had first moved into the shiny house. He had visited them once. Buttercup likes him, for he is nice and always sneaks him some food. Katniss seems to like him too. She calls him Peeta.
Peeta starts coming over more frequently, and Buttercup notices that Peeta helps Katniss cope. And when Katniss copes better, she helps Buttercup cope.
In this way, they slowly heal.
He is an old cat now, and he knows death is not far away. He still misses his Prim. He can tell Katniss does too, but she seems happier now, with this Peeta around. As for him, he is not quite happy. Not the way he was when Prim was around. He is only… content. And he doesn't want to die only being content. He wants to die happy. This is why he struggles on to live. He wants to remember happy. He wants to remember love. He wants his Prim.
He sits under the window, sunbathing, eating the scraps of food Peeta feeds him.
"You really should stop doing that, Peeta," says Katniss. "He's going to get fat."
Peeta shrugs and takes out the old book the pair always works on. "I found a picture," he says. "It's the most recent one."
Katniss looks at it, and her breath catches. It's Prim, moments before she died, in her nurse uniform. There is a duck tail sticking out. She is smiling.
She doesn't say anything for a while. Peeta carefully pastes the picture on the page, and the two work on perfecting the page in silence, as they often do.
"I understand, now," says Katniss after a while, breaking the silence. Not tearing her eyes off the page, she adds, "Why she did it." She looks at the photo and looks at Prim's genuine smile, not knowing she was going to die, and feels tears threatening to spill.
"You don't have to talk about it," says Peeta softly.
Katniss shakes her head and looks at Peeta, her gaze far away. "Remember that one day, long ago, when Coin asked us whether we should have one final Hunger Games, with Capitol children? And I said yes? For Prim?" She continues without waiting for Peeta's response. "Well… I think… I understand that she wouldn't have wanted that. Prim. She died to protect them. To prevent the Hunger Games. I think I understand that this… this was the way she would've wanted to die."
And that's when the tears spill out, and Katniss quietly sobs into Peeta's shoulder. Buttercup slinks out of his spot by the window and slides into Katniss's lap, and Katniss sits crying into Peeta's shoulder, and stroking him.
And Buttercup gets the double image again, Prim superimposed on Katniss, but this time it doesn't spook him. Instead it drives him to a realization.
Prim lives in Katniss.
It's in the little things, how Katniss always feeds him parts of her breakfast, how she strokes him, how she now speaks to him with love instead of with spiteful acceptance, how he still watches over her at night. Prim still lives. Inside Katniss. In her heart. And she continues to influence her every day.
And, he realizes, she lives in me, too.
For the first time in many, many years, he feels happy.
He dies a week later.
He dies happy.
Katniss and Peeta hold a small funeral for him. They bury him.
She sobs on Peeta's shoulder. "He was an awful cat," she says. "But for some reason, whenever he was around, I felt like… Prim wasn't really gone."
A few weeks later, they add him into the book. They give him his own page, even.
Most of the space on the page is taken up by a large picture of Prim with Buttercup, the blue ribbon on his neck. But near the top, two words have been squeezed in:
So... R&R, please? I hope I paced this right. Rereading this, things seem to be a little too fast...