AN: Sorry for the long wait! Real life has been an absolute beast this year. I'm back to writing now, though, and I have the next couple chapters mostly written. So updates should be a lot more frequent from here on out. We're nearing the end, my friends! Thank you for patience and continuing to read the story after so long. I appreciate you more than words can say. Big thanks goes out to papofglencoe for being an awesome beta and an amazing friend.

Chapter Forty-Eight


"It has come to seem there is no perfect ending. Indeed, there are infinite endings. Or perhaps, once one begins, there are only endings. " — Louise Glück

I stare down at my phone, the soft glow of the screen illuminating the darkness as the minutes pass: 11:57, 11:58, 11:59...




Seven days. I've been here an entire week. It feels both like an eternity and the blink of an eye.

Ever since I got off the plane, my world has been a whirlwind of change. I knew life wouldn't be the same, of course, but I didn't realize just how drastically different it would be. I once watched a movie when I was a child about passengers on a plane waking up only to find they'd slipped into a rip in time. Ball-looking monsters with teeth chased them, trying to eat them alive as they tried to get back to the present. The only way they could go back was to sleep. That's what it feels like. It's as if I've slipped into an alternate dimension. I feel stuck in the past, waiting for the monsters to catch up and destroy everything. I keep sleeping, hoping things will be better - that I'll be better when I wake up.

I thought that if I ever got away, if I ever got to a place like this, a place where Prim could be happy and carefree, where I didn't have to worry about keeping us alive, I'd be happy. But I'm not. And I feel like the most ungrateful person in the world because I should be. I want to be. As it is, I feel like I'm outside of my body, going with the motions, trying to find my footing while I'm hopelessly suspended in air.

Every day since I've been here, it's been appointment after appointment. Doctors, social workers, counselors... a flurry of strangers that blends together with their pitying smiles and clichéd words of condolence, asking far too many questions, to the point where I've stopped answering. They all tell me that life is going to be better now, that I'm so brave, that I'm going to be okay... especially if I take the pills they give me.

Maybe I should take them - perhaps it'd be better to escape into a world of no feeling and transform myself into a shell like my mother. It'd be a hell of a lot easier.

Grandma keeps my prescriptions in her charge, giving them to me when they're scheduled. I haven't asked why she keeps them, but I can only guess she doesn't trust me or thinks I'm too mentally unstable or stupid to handle the responsibility. I play the role obediently and pretend I'm taking them, but I only take the vitamins and throw the rest away. I'm not broken; I don't need to be 'fixed'.

Whatever I'm feeling, it's perfectly normal.

I have every right to cry, to be angry or sad, to resent an entire town for letting me down with its cowardice. It's not just Snow or Coin or those in their midst either - it's everyone who saw me, half-dying, barely speaking, bruised and battered, and looked the other way because it'd be too inconvenient for them to intervene. Collectively, they made me into someone I don't even know. Their silence stole my dreams and hopes, my innocence... I didn't get to live because I was too busy trying to survive. Because of them, I'm a shell of a person already, without the help of drugs. If I take them, I'll only fall deeper into the void.

Sometimes I already feel nothing, but it always comes with the price of making everything more raw when I snap out of it. It's nice while it lasts, but it doesn't last long. Self-awareness always breaks the spell; all it takes is the very thought of how nice it is not to feel... and then everything hits me twice as hard, as if to make up for the small window of time I blocked it all out. As a result, I've cried more in the past week than I have in the past couple years. It's as if the ocean is demanding the return of every drop of water within me, calling the salt of my body back to its crashing waves.

A familiar smell, sight, or feeling, as simple as the sunset or the aroma of cookies being baked, the painting of the lake on my wall or lying in bed, my eyes closed, my hands over my ears, when it almost feels like I'm back in the apartment with Peeta beside me. A sudden slam, automatically causing me to jump in fear until I remember a split second later that I no longer need to fear. Anything, everything it seems, turns me into a pathetic, sobbing mess.

Tossing my phone to the side, I flop back on my bed, trying to ignore the muffled music and giggles wafting in from across the hall.

Prim seems to be adjusting in a completely opposite way than me - instead of tears, she radiates joy. After being introduced to our cousin Rue, the two automatically became best friends. They're practically attached at the hip, having sleepovers and mingling with the neighborhood kids. It's as if she's a completely different person now, someone I don't recognize at all. We haven't talked in three days - not really; nothing but passing words.

She has no use for me anymore.

In fact, I'm pretty sure she's embarrassed of me. Our grandparents don't come up here - the only reason her bedroom door would be closed is to keep me out. Perhaps it's for the best. I'd do nothing but bring her down. I'd rather she be happy without me than miserable with me.

With a heavy sigh I pick up my phone again, hoping in vain that I'll see a new text or missed call from Peeta. Just like the other 100+ times I've checked, however, I find nothing.

I bring up the last message I'd received from him, which was over three hours ago, at 8:47. All it says is: "Something came up. I'll call as soon as I can. Might be a little late. With dad. Don't worry." No further explanation, not even after I'd sent a reply asking what was going on. He must've turned his phone off before I sent it because I never got an answer. 'Don't worry'? That's laughable. 'Worry' doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of what I feel right now.

I send a quick text asking 'is everything ok?', even though I've sent five similar texts within the past hour and they've all gone unanswered. I know he'd never purposely ignore me, and if he'd seen them, he surely would've said something by now. Still, it's the only thing I can do, aside from pacing the room, crying, and trying to communicate telepathically.

My hand moves up between my breasts, searching for the locket he gave me before I left. I clutch onto it, my fingers caressing the cold metal heart, my own heart longing for the scene inside - the picture of me and Peeta together, smiling, hopeful and happy in each other's embrace. We were so earnest for the future, assuring each other how the distance separating us would be over in no time.

However difficult we imagined it'd be then, the reality is proving to be ten times worse.

I wait and wait and wait some more, becoming more unraveled with each passing second.

By 1 a.m., crying has turned to anger, which in turn leads to guilt, which brings me back to crying. After all, how horrible would it be if I'm sitting here getting pissed over unanswered texts and the reason turns out to be that Peeta's somewhere getting tortured or killed?

The constant laughter and bouts of off-key singing from across the hall is doing nothing to improve my mood either. I've tried blocking it out as much as I can, such as sticking my fingers in my ears and holding my pillow against them. I know it's not their intention, but I can't help feeling mocked. I'm over here in total distress, and they're over there apparently having a blast of a good time.

Eventually, I can't take anymore. I reach my breaking point and hastily make my way across the hall with the intention of telling them to shut up.

I place my hand on the doorknob and freeze.

I drop my hand and take a deep breath.

I'm being irrational. They're just having fun. I'm taking my irritation out on them. It's not their fault. They don't even know what's going on.

Slightly calmer, I knock lightly and immediately hear them fall silent on the other side.

"Um... come in?" Prim answers.

Hesitantly, I open the door and walk in to see them sitting on the bed, a teen magazine spread out before them - one of many that Rue has given us.

"Hi," I say, giving a small awkward wave as I walk over to them. I feel like someone who just entered a party they weren't invited to.

"You okay?" Prim's eyebrows draw together in confusion and concern. I nod, but I don't say anything. "You don't have to knock, you know. I only keep the door closed to keep the noise down so we don't annoy grandma and grandpa. We were just doing some of these quizzes..." She pats the spot beside her on the bed, giving me a smile and a beckoning nod. As I sit down, I feel a bit ridiculous, but also... relieved.

"They're so stupid, but they're really fun," Rue says with a soft laugh, scooting the magazine closer to me. "Wanna see 'if you're in love or if it's just a crush'?"

"Oh, no need for that one! She's most definitely in love." Prim nudges my shoulder softly with hers. "He's going to move here, you know. They're going to get married! You should see him, Rue. Peeta's so nice - and he's really really hot!"

"And here I thought the crush phase had passed, Prim," I deadpan, taking a quick glance down at my phone. Nothing, just as I'd expected.

"I don't have a crush on him and I never did!" Prim quickly objects. "I just have eyes."

"No, but she does have a crush on-" Rue begins with a mischievous lilt, but she's quickly silenced by Prim shaking her head and giving a panicked shush. I furrow my brow, wondering who it is my sister has taken a liking to already, and trying not to feel hurt that she apparently doesn't want me to know about it.

"Who does she have a crush on then? Big sisters should know these things, I think," I probe as lightheartedly as possible. Prim's eyes widen as she gives another adamant shake of her head. "Whatever. It's not like I'm going to tell anyone."

Rue looks ready to burst out with the answer. "Oh come on. Just tell her," she encourages.

Prim chews on her lip, conflicted. Finally, she hides her face in her hands and mumbles, "Michael."

"Michael who?"

"Michael Erving. You know, the boy who lives a couple houses away? Brown hair, bright green eyes. Tan and muscled?" Rue answers.

I've only seen the boy once while walking around to better acquaint myself with the neighborhood. He waved at me and smiled from his porch. He seemed nice enough, but he also had the look of someone very experienced with girls and had the build of someone who's at least in his mid-teens.

"He's at least three years older than you," I tell Prim flatly. "You know that can never happen, right?"

"Actually, he's only two years older than me," she shrugs, keeping her eyes downcast, "and yeah, it won't happen because he doesn't know I exist."

"No, it won't happen because he's too old for you. You're only eleven."

"I'll be twelve in December," she counters.

"You're still too young to even think about dating," I dismiss in the calmest, most sincere voice I can muster. I don't want to hurt her feelings, but she's far too young for a relationship, much less the things that come along with having one. Especially when it comes to guys like that. "I mean, what are you going to do? Hold hands until you're at least sixteen?"

She looks up at me, her eyes alight with agitation. She opens her mouth as if to argue the point, but quickly closes it in a pinch.

"Look, I'm not trying to upset you. I just-"

"This is why I didn't want you to know anything about it!" she snaps, flipping the magazine shut as if to signify she's done with the conversation. "You're not the boss of me, Katniss."

She's right; I'm not and never have been the boss of her. That doesn't make the words sting any less, though. Since she was 6-years-old, I've been the one taking care of her. I kept us fed, warm, clean, and clothed - and whatever else needed to be done. I took beatings for her. I was a stand-in mother to her when I was still a child myself. So to hear her speak to me like this, as if none of it matters anymore, as if she somehow lost all trust and respect for me as soon as we got here... well, it's like a cold slap to the face.

"Maybe not, but Grandma and Grandpa are," I shoot back. "You think they'd approve?"

"I don't know, but Rue has a-" Prim stops mid-sentence, falling silent at the sudden look of panic on Rue's face.

"Maybe we should ask them tomorrow, hmm? Get their opinion on the matter," I suggest flippantly, my gaze fixed intently on the bed covers. I wait for a comeback, but I'm only met with silence. I glance over to see her reaction, but when I don't see the anger I expect, but tears streaming down her cheeks, I feel like a total ass.

"Why are you being so mean to me?" she asks before I have a chance to utter an apology.

"I'm not trying to be mean. I don't want to see you hurt, least of all by some jerk taking advantage of you."

"He's not a jerk! And like I said, he doesn't even know I exist, so stop making such a big deal of it," she replies briskly, wiping her face with the palms of her hands.

"I'm really sorry, okay? I am. I'm just a bit on edge right now. Peeta..." I look down at my phone and shake my head, deciding it's best not to concern her with it, especially with Rue here. I'm not sure how much Prim has told her about our past or why we came here, but I don't want to embarrass her any more than I already have by somehow dredging any of it up. "Anyways, I'll let you two get back to-"

As I stand up to leave, Prim reaches out and places a hand on my arm. "What's wrong?" she asks quietly, searching my face. "What were you going to say about Peeta?"

"He hasn't called yet," I shrug, releasing a long breath as I bring up his last message and hand the phone over to her. "That's the last text he sent. I've been sending him messages all night, but haven't gotten any sort of response. I don't know what to think."

Prim's reads the text a few times, her eyes narrowing as if trying to find a secret code hidden within, then hands the phone back to me.

"He's probably fine," she reassures, though there's a trace of uncertainty in her tone. "He told you not to worry and he's with his dad. Maybe he's just busy. Without you there, they're down a person at the bakery. Probably just working on a last minute order."

"I hope that's all it is. I just wish he'd say something... anything. You know it's not like him to leave me hanging like this."

She nods, biting her lip in thought. "Maybe his phone battery died. Have you tried calling Mr. Mellark?"

I could argue that if something had happened to Peeta's phone, he would've already used his dad's phone to get a message to me. Plus, there's a phone in the bakery. Either something really bad has happened, leaving him unable to communicate, or he's purposely ignoring me. Best-case scenario, he's forgotten me. None of those options leave any room for comfort.

"No. I think I'll try that though," I shrug hopelessly. "It's worth a shot."

"Let me know if you hear anything?" Prim calls after me as I reach the door.

I nod, turning back to her, wanting to offer a few words of assurance - something to quell any further distress than I've already caused - but the tears in my throat block my voice. Instead, I give a quick little smile that I'm sure looks more like a tightened frown, then swiftly leave, feeling worse than when I entered.

I walk out onto the balcony, my skin prickling as scattered snowflakes drift listlessly through the wind. Clad only in pajama pants and a tank-top, I rest my hands upon the metal railing and close my eyes, welcoming the distraction and discomfort of my surroundings. I want to be numb, figuratively and literally. I'm tired of feeling. I'm tired of thinking. I inhale slowly... out, then in again, matching my breathing to the rhythm of the tide. My knuckles turn white as I tighten my grip on the banister, the chill of it burning my flesh until I can barely feel more than a tingle.

Opening my eyes again, I look up at the full moon half-concealed by clouds. Every night that I've been here Peeta has asked me to look at it as we say goodnight to each other, reminding me that we're both looking at it together - and for that moment it's ours. It's our link, connecting the distance. I can't help but wonder if he's looking at it now, and under what circumstances.

I stand outside for a few more minutes, drowning my thoughts in the crash of the waves, the frigid air making me shiver until I feel as brittle and fragile on the outside as I do within.

I glance dismally over my shoulder, through the glass doors behind me, at the phone lying on my bed. I'd brought Mr. Mellark's number up and was ready to dial, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. My finger just kept hovering over the 'call' button as the walls around me felt like they were closing in. I needed to step away, breathe new air and clear my mind.

One way or another the call will give the answers I need. I'm just scared of what those answers might be. I have to do it, though. The longer I put it off, the more my mind will create even worse possibilities.

With a deep breath of finality and anxious determination, I step back into the warmth of my room. As I pick up my phone to make the call, it's as if the universe has finally decided to take pity on me: the phone rings with Peeta's name lighting up the screen.

I press 'accept,' my hand trembling so much I have to grip the phone tighter so I won't drop it.

"Katniss?" My pulse skips in relief at hearing Peeta's voice.

"Do you have any idea how worried I've been?!"

"I'm sorry. I know it's late-"

"Late is an understatement! What the hell, Peeta? I understand you have a lot going on right now, but you could've at least sent a text telling me what was holding you up!"

"I would've - I wanted to, but I forgot my cell at home. I don't think I would've been coherent enough to explain what was going on before now anyway..." His voice is strained and hoarse; barely even there. "God, I don't even know where to begin... tonight has been a complete nightmare."

"What happened?" I sit on the bed, the beating of my heart thudding so fast and hard it feels like it might break my ribs. "Are you okay? Are you hurt?"

"I'm fine... physically." Taking a sharp, shuddering intake of breath, he continues unevenly, "The bakery..." A hiccupped sob escapes him, followed by a quick sniffle. He stops talking for a second or two to regain control of his voice. "It's basically destroyed."

More to come very soon! As I said, I have most of the next chapters written. I'd love to hear from you! Also, if you want to talk to me on tumblr, you can find me at dandelion-sunset. :)