PART ONE: Katniss
Each day bleeds into the next. All I can feel is the pain and all I can remember is the carnage I escaped from. Sleep never gives me relief. The fits of slumber serve as twisted reminders of what I have lost, of what I have seen, of what I have done. So I just let the feelings consume me.
As if I could fight it off anyways.
Haymitch has come by a few times (on which days, I do not know) to check on me. He encourages me in an off-standish way and then he's out the door, white liquor sloshing in the bottle as he walks.
When Sae had encouraged me to get outside, I scowled using my excuse of no weapon to dismiss the suggestion.
"Check down the hall" she had said and left it at that.
After she left, and with a little reluctance, I shuffled into the study and peered into the box that sat on the desk. There was not only my bow but the locket and plant book, my parents' wedding photo and the spile. These are my precious treasures. I immersed myself in my father's hunting jacket, breathing in the faint smell that lingered. He smelled of pine and something new and earthy, like springtime. Dr. Aurelius had told me once to try to remember the good, the things that made me happy. I have a difficult time remembering when life was good though. There was always struggle but I suppose there were a few happy moments here and there.
I remembered Rue smelled of mint and Finnick of clean linen and salt. Cinna smelled just faintly of musk. Gale smelled a lot like my father. Peeta smelled sweet always, sometimes mixed with cinnamon or yeast or some sort of spice. Even when he was caked in mud and blood and on death's door, he still smelled faintly sugared.
Prim…well she smelled like home.
I miss Prim. Something I cannot rectify. I feel the panic rise in me again but I push it down for now. It will come back again when I am weak.
I miss Peeta.
I wonder where he is and I selfishly, desperately want him to come back to me.
And then, as if my thoughts had been read, Peeta came home. His scars were visible, new and pink like mine. Shame rushes over me as I stand in front of him dirty and half-crazed. I want to be brave like Peeta. Not this mask of brave that people thought I was as the Mockingjay, but confident and undaunted like the man planting flowers in honor of…
In that instant, I felt my cold heart lurch and begin to beat again.
I opened the windows to get rid of the stench of roses, letting the clean air purify me as well. Then I scrubbed the wasted days from my skin.
The woods called to me and I answered.
The tears I cried with Buttercup re-opened the wound that was left when my beloved sister had gone. The tears I cried with my mother cleansed it.
I do not want to forget this time, this turning point. Slowly and surely, piece by piece I will put myself back together.
The boy with the bread had once again brought me back from the brink.
The first time I had forgotten I was the Mockingjay (if only for a little while) was at the kitchen table.
Peeta had tried to strike up a conversation at breakfast, the first he was having with me. It was kind of amusing how his cheeks would turn a little pink as he rattled on about the mundane. He talked about the weather or the ingredients he used in the bread that he brought or the squawking geese that Haymitch had adopted. He asked Greasy Sae about her granddaughter. He asked me how my food was and I nodded. I felt the overwhelming need to memorize everything he said. And then we cleaned up. I asked him in a mumble if he would like to come back for breakfast tomorrow, to which he smiled and said 'yes'. And then he told me goodbye. The moment the door clicked, I wanted him back. I hated for him to leave me. We had spent too much time apart already. But I feel better in the fact that he would be back tomorrow. I like the certainty of the 'tomorrow'.
In that first week, I tried to take Dr. Aurelius's advice to heart (after he recovered from the shock of me actually picking up the phone). I shared with him the few moments of happiness I had granted myself and then the inevitable breakdown that would follow. Dr. Aurelius was pleased with my progress though. I went to the woods everyday but rarely came back with much. I showered more than was needed but the hot water helped clear my mind. I took up gardening a little, mostly keeping to the primrose bushes.
I had come to hate the hours between Peeta's visits so after just a few days I asked him to start joining me for dinner too. Something he seemed happy to do. We are mostly quiet while we ate but it's always comfortable. It's a lovely thing to just be able to glance over at him, to know that he is here with me.
When I asked him to stay the first time, we had been home for weeks.
He was leaving after dinner, his hand on the doorknob as he said his goodbye.
He turned to face me, "Hmmm?"
"Will you stay? Just for a little while." My voice seemed squeaky from being mute for hours on end. The look he gave me made my heart speed up.
So I gathered an old quilt and he followed me to the back yard. I laid the quilt down, sat and patted the space next to me. So that's where he sat, his shoulder barely away from mine. We enjoyed the warm spring air and watched the sunset together. When night had blanketed us, I pointed out constellations to him; something he apparently did not know I knew. He listened intently. I smiled a lot and so did he.
The first time I laughed, really laughed, was on a rainy day. And it wasn't at anything too particularly funny. I had almost forgotten how to laugh.
At some point in the passing month or so, we found ourselves together a lot more in between meals. I would hunt swiftly so I could get back to him. The bottom dropped out of the sky as I came through the back door of his house that day. I loved the first breath I would take going into Peeta's kitchen: always fresh and warm.
"I've made a cake" Peeta chimed as he took the hunting jacket from my shoulders.
"What's the occasion?"
"No occasion, just wanted to see if I could remember how to do it." He smiled. "Let's make frosting!"
And even though I protested, I did it anyway because it made him happy.
The frosting did not turn out well. It was runny. And I felt a little defeated as Peeta inspected it, his eyebrows knitted together.
"Well, um…" He never had it in him to hurt my feelings.
I felt the beginnings of a chuckle slip out of my mouth as he searched for words. He was searching for something polite to say; something positive. So I decided to poke fun of myself for him. "That has to be the most pathetic bowl of frosting you have ever seen" I said flatly. And then I couldn't hold back any longer. I laughed. I laughed at the look on his face and at the glop he poured from the spatula and for my really horrible baking skills. I laughed because it felt good. I laughed to make up for all the time I hadn't even cracked a smile.
He seemed mesmerized by the sound at first, staring at me like I'd grown another head. And then he started to laugh too.
That night for dessert we had cake dipped in what was christened "buttercream soup".
Peeta started baking non-stop to remember. I sat in his kitchen a lot, mostly watching but sometimes writing letters or cleaning and storing what I had gathered that day. He was a little out of practice on the more complicated things his father used to make and it frustrated him. He kept telling me it was all he had left. The frustration would catapult him into Capitol-made visions. He tried to remain in control. Some of the time they bubbled under the surface. Most of the time though, he'd wind up breaking a bowl or snapping a wooden spoon and coming out of it crumpled on the floor. The first few times it happened, I froze in my chair, unsure of what to do. But now I know that if I brace my arms around him from behind and murmur his name over and over, he comes back quicker and usually without breaking anything.
Slowly the instructions came back to him and he would write them down in a journal with flourish. I would smile over new entries and tell him his father would be proud.
When he remembered the recipe for cheese buns and how much I loved them, he made dozens. I ate them with every meal for three weeks straight, giving Peeta a genuine smile in between bites.
Dr. Aurelius encouraged us to heal together, after all misery loves company.
When we went into the heart of town for the first time together, we went early just in case one of us broke down or Peeta had a flashback. We had skirted around the main square many times, usually going straight to the marketplace for food and such or to the train station. It's not like there was much to look at anyways. There were no shops or a justice building or even a bench to sit on in the town square. Everything was set up in the make shift market that was once the Hob or people traded what they had door to door like I usually did. We have come the day before they were to break ground on the justice building and the new merchant quarters. Spurts of green grass sprouted here and there in the soot but otherwise everything was bare, a blank canvas. The memories sputtered at first, tears getting caught in our throats but then the words flowed out effortlessly. The recollections were eerily blissful.
When we came to where the Mellark bakery once stood, Peeta stopped talking. I watched him for a long time, waiting for tears to start but they didn't.
"I miss them sometimes. I try to think of what it would be like if they were still here. My dad would visit us, maybe my brothers if they cared to get their heads out of their asses. But I don't think my mom would have much to do with me. I think she would still be holding onto statuses even though they don't exist anymore. I think we would see less and less of one another until eventually the visits would fade out."
I look out over the wide open space where the bakery once stood and nod my head. My fingers find his wrist and slide down to interlace with his fingers. His calm demeanor gives after a few moments and his real knee collapses, pulling me down with him.
"I've got you" I whispered, cradling his head on my chest.
And that's how Haymitch finds us. He was on his way to pick up his liquor. Instead he helped us both to our feet. Peeta hangs onto us, Haymitch on one side, me on the other and we shuffle back to the Village. After Haymitch left and we had built a fire, our arms held one another quietly.
I broke the silence. "Do you think you'll rebuild?"
At first I didn't think he heard me so I shifted my gaze back to the fire.
Before he left that night, he answered. "I think maybe one day I'd like to. But I think I want to rebuild me…and you…and us first." He didn't look at me, instead staring straight at the door. I watched the blush creep from his cheeks and up to his ears. Relying on my instinct, I pressed my palm softly to his cheek and he leaned into it for a long moment.
Peeta left with a smile on his face. I felt fuzzy down to my toes.
As summer faded into fall, I had perfected going through the motions. They eventually become less mechanical and I almost feel normal; just another person going through their daily routine.
I still have dreams of those few moments before someone precious to me dies. I scream silently in the nightmares and my feet are always too heavy to run with. Sometimes everything and everyone just goes up in flames. But not me. No, the girl on fire just watches everyone else be consumed by it.
Peeta tells me that it'll be okay one day and reminds me of all the good things, whispering them in my ear, repeating them like a mantra.
I believe him.