Be Still and Know I Am
Summary: After receiving a life-altering call from home, Katniss returns to the tiny rural town in Illinois. She doesn't expect old feelings for Peeta Mellark to arise when he walks back into her life but she slowly comes to realize that she wouldn't be able to survive this without him.
Warnings: Character death, Sexual content.
March 25, 2012
Katniss is walking across dead, brown grass of the University of Minnesota's quad on a rare, warm early spring day when her phone rings. She frowns; normally no one calls her at this time of day since Prim should just be getting out of school and her mother has a shift at the hospital. The screen flashes a picture of her mother's face though and she hits the button to answer.
"Katniss." Her mother's voice crackles a bit as a breeze rushes through the quad and Katniss turns her head, "Katniss, you need to come home. It's Prim."
Katniss isn't sure she hears anything her mother says after that, spinning on her heels and darting back across the grass, the day suddenly seeming too cold even with the sun beating down happily against her tan skin.
She packs in a haze, grabbing things and haphazardly throwing them into a bag. It's early evening by the time she manages to throw the duffle bag onto the passenger seat of her banged up 1994 Ford Taurus and start the car, waiting as it struggles to turn over before roaring to life.
Katniss doesn't stop until her fuel gauge flashes empty, pulling over in a speed trap town just past Madison, Wisconsin at a station named Bob's Gas and Liquor. She left Minneapolis around five so that should put her back in Fairbury, Illinois around two in the morning if she doesn't hit any traffic.
Once she pulls out onto Interstate 39 again, she turns up stereo more as a means to drown out her worried thoughts than to keep her awake. The cassette in the player is one that Prim made her for her eighteenth birthday and currently We Built This City by Starship is blaring through the speakers. Prim always loved to dance around the house with Katniss to this song while their mother was working the night shift.
"Katniss," she would shout over the song, "one day we'll both make it out of here and this will be our anthem."
Katniss would always laugh and shake her head. There are better songs than this one out there with more meaningful lyrics but she wasn't going to begrudge her baby sister a theme song. The song brings tears to her eyes now and she blinks furiously to clear her vision.
By the time she pulls into the driveway, it's nearly two thirty but the yellow porch light is still on. The house looks just the same as when she left it nine months ago, the white paint peeling off the old wood siding and the screen door hanging slightly off kilter because of the hinge that's still loose.
Katniss climbs out of her car after killing the headlights and the engine and lets herself into the house. It's silent and empty, nothing she didn't expect, but the red light is flashing on the ancient answering machine that her mother insists on keeping even though hardly anyone calls the house phone anymore.
Katniss pushes the play button and throws the bag on the old, tattered couch in their living room. It's just her mother telling her to please sleep once she gets home and to call her in the morning once she wakes up so she can get directions on where to go.
Katniss rubs a hand roughly over her face but digs out her favorite pajama shorts and her father's old U of I tee shirt. She doubts she'll get any sleep tonight but knows that her mother will refuse to answer her phone until morning until she at least tries to rest.
Once she washes her face and brushes her teeth, Katniss makes her way to the tiny bedroom in the back of the house. There are two single beds there, each pushed up against a separate wall. At one point they had been pushed together, but after Katniss left for college, Prim decided that it gave her more floor space if there weren't two beds taking up the middle of the room. Katniss crosses the room to the bed that is made, but clearly lived in, and cuddles into the zebra striped sheets that still smell like her sweet baby sister.
She dozes on and off but by the time dawn breaks and she can hear the Hawthorne's cows calling out for their morning feeding, she slips out from under the covers and dresses for the day. She dials her mother's cell phone as she locks the door of the old house behind her.
"Katniss." Her mother answers her voice still groggy.
"Where are you at?" Katniss asks frankly as she starts the Taurus.
"Saint James. Up on five east." Her mother replies, "Room 516."
Katniss pulls out of the drive and heads north toward the hospital her mother works at. The line crackles between them as Katniss dreading the answer to her next question.
"How is she?"
Her mother shuffles on the other end of the line and Katniss guesses she's moving out of the room before speaking.
"Better." She says softly, her voice slightly hitched, "They transfused her overnight and her numbers this morning are better."
She's talking like a nurse. Katniss has no idea what numbers her mother is referring to, but she'll take it as a good sign since her mother seems to.
"Are-" Katniss's voice cracks and she swallows dryly, "There are tests, right? Have you gotten results?"
She can almost imagine the way her mother must be shaking her head, "No. The doctor will be in this afternoon to talk with us about them, give us our options."
"So it's not confirmed yet." Katniss says but really it's a question, a plea, "Prim could be fine."
Silence falls again as the line crackles.
When her mother speaks again, she can hear the tears in her voice.
"It's possible, but it's highly unlikely, Katniss."
A flash of anger burns through her at her mother's words. How could she be so negative? If anyone was the pessimist in the family, it was Katniss and she's not ready to fly a white flag of surrender yet.
"I'll be there soon." She says by way of goodbye before hitting the end call button and tossing the phone on the seat beside her.
It's a half hour drive that feels like ten hours before Katniss pulls into the parking lot of Saint James Medical Center. But even with all that time to prepare herself, her own breath chokes her when she first catches sight of frail little Prim looking out the window while laying in the hospital bed that seems to engulf her. She takes a strangled breath and Prim turns to face her, her face breaking into a tired smile at the sight of her older sister.
"Oh, Katniss," Prim kids, "This isn't my funeral and it's not nearly as bad as it looks."
"Prim." She whispers before crossing the room and sliding into bed next to her baby sister, cuddling her tiny body to her own. "I should never have left you."
Prim snorts and picks at the edge of the sheet, "Don't be silly. You being here wouldn't have stopped this from happening. I still would have gotten knocked in the nose by Rory's elbow."
That was how all of this started. Rory and Vick had been goofing at the end of the school day before heading home and Prim had been hit in the face by a stray elbow. It didn't break her nose, but there was a lot of blood; enough that the school nurse had called Ms. Everdeen to take Prim to the ER. The doctors there took one look at all the old bruises and decided to run blood tests. That was when they found her white blood cells were through the roof and her red blood cells and platelets were too low. Katniss doesn't know much about the human body but apparently the numbers had been a cause for alarm and they admitted Prim immediately.
"Maybe I would have noticed something sooner than you or mom."
Prim shakes her head, "This isn't your fault. There's nothing you could have done."
A nurse comes in after a little while to check on Prim and greets Katniss with a smile. She and Prim joke, and it doesn't surprise Katniss that her sister has already made friends. Prim was always the more friendly of the two sisters. She makes friends easily with her sweet, bubbly personality.
Ms. Everdeen returns shortly after this and they pass the hours speaking about everything except why they're in the hospital. Prim asks Katniss about her classes, and parties, and the boys at college. Katniss can really only answer her little sister about classes since her social life is practically nonexistent. Plenty had changed since Katniss left high school but she had not become any more outgoing and there was still only one boy with bright blue eyes who had ever managed to capture her attention. She does her best though, to satiate Prim's thirst for teenage gossip.
Sometime late in the afternoon, a doctor, who looks far too young to be a doctor, walks in holding a folder full of papers. He looks up and flashes a toothy smile at the three women in the room.
"Hello there, I'm Doctor Aurelius the head of the hematology and oncology unit here. I'm going to guess this lovely lady is Primrose Everdeen." He greets, reaching a hand to shake Prim's. I notice the bruises then, dozens of them of varying sizes, dark against her pale skin, and it makes me sick to my stomach.
"Poppy Everdeen." Mother greets the young doctor, "And this is my other daughter Katniss."
He shakes Katniss's hand firmly, "Nice to meet you all."
She couldn't agree less.
"We have your results back from yesterday, and I wanted to sit down for a moment to talk with you and answer any questions you might have already." Dr. Aurelius says, looking back down to the papers in his hands and pulling a chair up closer to where we're all seated, "It looks like Primrose's white blood cells are at about 90,000. That's a lot higher than normal and that does place her in the typical range for many types of leukemia. She also has a significant number of blasts in her blood, which is also indicative of leukemia.
"So, I'm sure you want to know where we go from here…"
Katniss can't listen to anymore as she turns to look at Prim who is frowning, her brow furrowed tightly as she listens bravely to the doctor. Her baby sister is sick. Really sick.
"Can I be her donor?" Katniss blurts out in the middle of the doctor's explanation of the bone marrow aspiration he wants to have done today.
"Excuse me?" He looks up at her kindly.
"They do bone marrow transplants for this sort of thing, right? I want to be her donor." Katniss explains, reaching to squeeze her little sister's hand. She can't protect her from this physically but she can still give her sister her stem cells.
Dr. Aurelius nods, "Well, it's good to hear that you're willing, Katniss. We can test you and any other family that is interested in donating to see if you're a match but there are other steps that we try first. Bone marrow transplants can be very dangerous so if we can find success with other treatments, we try those first."
Katniss nods, "You said if I was a match. How likely is it that I won't be?"
"Siblings are often where we find matches, but only about thirty percent of patients have a match within their family." He explains, and Katniss nods again, allowing him to continue on with his earlier explanation.
Katniss refuses to leave the room when the nurses tell her it's time for Prim's bone marrow aspiration. When they realize she's serious, they let her stay and hold Prim's hand. She has to look away as the massive needle is pushed through skin and bone to draw out the fluid out for testing. Prim squeezes her hand tightly, screwing her eyes shut until the entire thing is over.
Over the next several days the Everdeens become a familiar presence at St. James, although Katniss isn't sure any of the nurses were happy about this fact after she ripped into one of them when the woman refused to give Prim more pain medicine.
Dr. Aurelius was surprisingly well connected for such a young doctor and had friends at Children's Memorial in Chicago. He began collaborating with them immediately on Prim's treatments and started her off on her first round of chemo three days after she was first admitted to the hospital. They were released not long after the first dose of chemo. Almost all of the treatment will be done at home or on an outpatient basis unless complications occur.
It's been two months now and her numbers still aren't coming down as much as Dr. Aurelius would like to see. He started her on a new round of chemo just the other day and Prim hates it. She says the nausea is worse with this type. Just the other week Katniss sat up in bed with her all night, rubbing her back while she puked her guts out. Prim was mortified at first when she would get sick but now they have it down like clockwork. Her hair has started falling out as well and she says she wants it shaved off next week. Katniss offered to do it with her but she resolutely refused.
"I want to be able to look at your hair. That's what I hope mine grows back in like." She explained with a hopeful smile. Katniss laughed. Leave it to Prim to find a positive in all the side effects of the chemo. The poison might make her hair fall out but it might also cause it to grow back in a completely different color and texture. Katniss hopes this isn't the case but she doesn't say so to Prim. She wants her baby sister to have as many hopes as possible.
June 14, 2012
Katniss walks out of the bathroom with her backpack slung over her shoulders. Her shift at the bar just ended fifteen minutes ago and she changed out of her tight black tee shirt with the Abernathy's Pub logo on it and into a more comfortable Minnesota State shirt.
This is how her days usually went now. She spent her nights working the busy shift at the pub and her days by her sister's bedside at the hospital. Her mother swears she's running herself into the ground but how else are they going to afford all of Prim's treatments? Even with insurance, the bills are piling up.
"You off to see your sister, sweetheart?" Haymitch calls from the booth he likes to sit in once he's too drunk to stand. He's the town drunk and surly as anything, but he had offered Katniss the job as soon as he heard she was staying in town again, and she couldn't hate him after that.
"Yeah." Katniss answers, pulling her phone from her back pocket as it starts vibrating, "I'll be back for my shift tomorrow night."
"You take care of yourself!" He yells after her, but the door is already swinging shut as she answers her phone.
"Mom, what's wrong?"
"Nothing, Katniss." Her mother's tired voice answers from the other end, "Nothing is wrong. Prim just woke up from a nap though, and she has a craving for cheese buns. I thought maybe you could pick some up on your way here if you haven't left work yet."
"Cheese buns." Katniss repeats and her mother mistakes it for a question.
"Yes, cheese buns, you know, like you used to love. From Mellark's Bakery?"
Katniss knew exactly what her mother was talking about the first time of course. It wasn't so much the food that she was thinking about, but the boy who happens to make the food.
"I know." Katniss responds after a long silence, "I uh- I'm just leaving work now so I'll bring them with me. How's she doing today?"
"Not bad." Her mother's voice doesn't sound too optimistic about it though. Prim was admitted three days ago when she woke up with a dry cough and fever. It's easy for her to get sick like this because, even though her white blood cell count is high, all the cells are too immature to fight off infections. She has been receiving heavy-duty IV antibiotics to fight the infection for her.
Katniss can tell her mother is hiding something, "What is it?"
"They got the results for the matching back." She says softly. Katniss's heart jumps into her throat. Last week, Dr. Aurelius had finally agreed that it would be best to start searching for a bone marrow match. Prim's white blood cell counts still aren't under control and she still has blasts in her blood, both signs that the chemo isn't working well enough according to Dr. Aurelius. She pulls into an empty parking space outside the bakery and turns the engine of the Taurus off.
"And?" Katniss asks, her throat so tight the word comes out as a squeak.
"Neither one of us were matches, dear."
Katniss closes her eyes and rests her forehead against the steering wheel.
"I'm sorry." She whispers to no one in particular, except for perhaps herself.
"It's not your fault, Katniss." Her mother's voice soothes from the other end of the line but she's not having any of it. She's the older sister. She's supposed to protect Prim from everything, but how is she supposed to protect her from her own traitorous body? The bone marrow was the answer but it's been stolen from her now and she's helpless.
"I'm at the bakery. I need to go. I'll see you both in about an half hour." Katniss states dully before hanging up and climbing out of the car.
A tiny bell tinkles as she opens the door to the bright blue storefront of Mellark's Bakery.
"I'll be right with you." A man's voice shouts from the back as she makes her way to the glass cases. She doesn't immediately recognize the voice but she isn't sure that she would know his voice muffled through the door even if she heard it.
It's been almost four years to the day since she last saw Peeta Mellark and part of her had hoped she would never see him again. Things ended badly between them right after they graduated and she spent the better part of that summer avoiding Main Street so she didn't have to see the way his muscles rippled under his work shirt or those stunning blue eyes. She had managed to avoid him completely up until today when Peeta Mellark walks into the front of the bakery and back into her life.
"Hey." Peeta says, his voice belying his surprise at finding Katniss Everdeen standing at the counter.
"Hi." She replies, nervously toeing her sneaker against the floor.
"I heard you were back in town." He shifts over to one of the glass cases and starts pulling out cheese buns to fill a box. She watches him for a moment before speaking.
"I heard you never left." She snaps, irrationally angry that he already assumes he knows what she's here for, and even angrier that he's right. Peeta always knew her that way, almost better than she knew herself sometimes.
His jaw clenches but otherwise his irritation over her remark doesn't show as he nods and keeps filling the box with cheese buns, "You heard correctly then. Small town gossip is true sometimes."
"What's that supposed to mean?" She crosses her arms over her chest, glaring at the man in front of her.
He's a bit taller than she remembers, but he still wears his blonde curls in a disheveled way and his eyes are the same blue that she could get lost in for hours. She hazards a glance at his hands and instantly regrets it as they conjure up all the memories of how he used to touch her that she has tried to forget.
"It means that I heard about Prim." He says bluntly, putting away the last cheese bun before meeting his gaze with hers own. "How is she?"
Katniss shrugs, "Okay. I'm on the way to St. James to see her now. She had an infection and they're giving her antibiotics and watching to make sure they work."
Katniss doesn't know why she tells him all of this. It's not like she owes him information or that he really wants to know that much, but it's easy for her to fall back into her old ways like before graduation, too easy really.
Peeta nods slowly, as though processing through each word she has given him. He pushes the familiar blue box full of cheese buns aside and leans his elbows on the counter so his eyes are level with hers.
"How are you?"
The way his eyes linger over her body before moving back up to her face sends an electric current tingling through her spine. She doesn't want to admit to herself that he can still do that to her with just his eyes so she looks away, out the front window of the shop which faces the Cartwright's hardware store.
"Fine." She mumbles, shifting her weight from one foot to the other.
"You look exhausted." He points out but it's not in a condescending way. It's just in that sweet, caring way that he always used with her even four years ago. "I heard you were working nights at Abernathy's and now you're going out to the hospital. You can't be getting much rest."
Katniss's lips curve in the slightest of smiles, "Apparently small town gossip has gotten more reliable since I left."
Peeta stares at her a moment before giving a surprised laugh and pushing the box on the counter towards her, "If you ever have a spare minute, we should catch up sometime. I could come snag a beer with you while you're on break."
Katniss nods but she knows she it'll never happen. She's too exhausted most nights to do anything other than sit down in the alley behind the pub and take a fifteen-minute powernap during her break.
She reaches into her pocket and pulls out a wadded up five to hand to him. Peeta shakes his head, covering her hand with his and pushing it back toward her. She frowns both because she doesn't want his charity and because of the sparks flying through her fingertips at his touch. She thought that would have gone away by now.
"Keep the money. These are on us." Peeta says firmly. When she opens her mouth to protest he adds, "It's not charity, Katniss. I've started baking all the cheese buns and Dad would want you to test them to see if they're as good as you remember."
"Does your dad still work here?" Katniss questions out of curiosity as she replaces the bill in her pocket, still a bit disgruntled that Peeta wouldn't take her money but satisfied that it isn't charity.
Mr. Mellark had always been kind to Katniss and Prim when they would make a rare visit to the bakery. It wasn't often their mother would spend the money on fresh baked bread but whenever she did, Mr. Mellark would slip the two girls shortbread cookies. He had also been like a father to her when she and Peeta dated and to be honest she had missed him just about as much as she had missed Peeta after they broke up.
"Sometimes, yeah." Peeta smiles at her interest, "Mostly in the afternoons since he claims he's getting too old for the early mornings but we both know he just wants to sleep in. He's turned over a lot of the work that goes into running this place to me now."
"Well, I'm really happy for you, Peeta." Katniss smiles earnestly, and she truly is, "It sounds like you've gotten everything you wanted back when I knew you."
His eyes darken as he watches her before murmuring, "Not everything."
Katniss shakes her head a bit, "I have to get going. Prim doesn't usually feel like eating so I don't want to get there with these too late." She holds up the light blue box for emphasis. "Tell your father I said hello."
She turns and is nearly out the door before Peeta's soft voice calls after her, "It was great seeing you again, Katniss."
She pretends she doesn't hear him.
July 11, 2012
"Haymitch, I'm taking my break!" Katniss shouts over the hokey country music playing in the pub tonight. The pub's new event coordinator, Effie Trinket, insisted on having a certain theme for each night of the week and Wednesday's was country western, the bane of Katniss's existence. It does bring in more customers though, which means more tips, so Katniss doesn't complain.
"You got it, sweetheart. Take an extra five. You look like you could use it." Haymitch shouts back across the bar and Katniss nods though she doubts she'll take him up on the offer.
She checks her phone as soon as she steps out back and leans against the brick wall, closing her eyes as the automated woman tells her she has three new messages.
One is from Gale, her childhood friend, checking in to see how she's doing. Katniss deletes the message, knowing she probably won't return the call. It's not that she doesn't want to talk to Gale, but she'd rather not spend her time talking about herself right now. It's easier just to focus on Prim.
The other two are her mother. The first saying that Prim's latest counts came back today and they still don't look good. She says Dr. Aurelius wants to talk tomorrow about taking a more rigorous approach with the chemo. The last is her mother telling her Prim is running a fever again so they're going to the ER.
Katniss closes her eyes and lets a deep breath out through her nostrils as she pushes the end call button. She runs a hand roughly over her face and is so caught up in her thoughts that she doesn't hear the door open beside her.
"I knew you were avoiding me, Everdeen, but you didn't have to run and hide in an alley." Peeta jokes and her eyes snap open to see his broad form standing in front of her, green striped shirt with the top button unbuttoned and the sleeves rolled up just like he always wore.
"Apparently you still didn't take the hint." She quips but her voice lacks the joking tone it needs and the words come out biting.
His smile disappears and is replaced by concern as he steps closer, "What's wrong?" He knows her too well to think she's just being a bitch right now. He's too good for her, honestly, and she knows it. She has nothing to offer him at this point in her life. That's why she doesn't want anything to do with him, but she can't push him away right now, not when she wants so desperately for him to hold her in his arms like he used to and chase all the bad things away.
"Prim's sick again." Katniss sighs, letting her back slide against the scratchy surface of the wall until her butt hits the ground.
"Is she going to be alright?" Peeta asks, moving to sit next to her.
Katniss shrugs, "Probably. Mom took her to the ER and they'll pump her full of antibiotics to try and stop it. The chemo isn't working either."
Peeta's hand finds her between them and squeezes, but he doesn't say a word, waiting for her to say what she needs to. He was always good with words but Katniss always appreciated his ability to listen more.
"I'm not a bone marrow match either." Katniss lets out a harsh laugh, "I actually found that out right before I saw you for the first time last month. But it doesn't matter anyway because if they can't get the chemo to keep her counts down, they can't do the bone marrow transplant."
She pauses for a long while before quietly adding the one fear that has been repeating in her head for weeks now, "I don't know how to protect her, Peeta. I can't save her from this."
"What can I do to help?" He whispers, his thumb brushing lightly over her knuckles in that way that makes her entire arm tingle.
She hates herself for even thinking it. She hates the way his eyes tell her he already knows what she's going to say. But she's so glad he's here, because even if it's just for a few minutes, she knows he can chase the bad away.
"Hold me." She mouths and he doesn't hesitate for a second to wrap his arms around her and pull her into his lap.
She still fits just like she always did and her body remembers his as her hands slid over his chest to delve into his curls as she buries her face in the crook of his neck. Katniss is suddenly overwhelmed by every worry and frustration she's experienced since returning home from college five months ago.
Tears trail their way down her cheeks only to be absorbed by the soft fabric of Peeta's shirt. He doesn't say anything or make false promises that everything will be okay. He simply holds her, gently rubbing his hand over her arm and rocking her against his chest. She is so grateful for him and she will never stop owing him for this one solitary moment where she doesn't have to be strong for anyone.
"You're doing everything you can, Katniss." He whispers into her hair once she's stopped crying and only the sniffles remain, "You're so brave and it's not fair that this has happened to Prim, but if anyone can get through this, it's you."
"I can't lose her, Peeta."
"I know." He murmurs, rubbing a comforting hand over her back, "Let me help you, Katniss."
"I know things ended badly between us before but don't push me away now." He pleads tilting her chin up so she is forced to look at him, "I will always be here for you if you'll let me."
She lets out a deep sigh that she didn't know she had been holding in, "Okay."
"Okay." He smiles in that uneven way that she loves, the one reserved for moments like this when she lets him be the strong one for her, "You'll allow it?"
"I'll allow it." She her lips curl up slightly.
The door bangs open beside them and Katniss jumps to her feet, brushing at the seat of her pants nervously as Haymitch's head pokes out from the bar.
"Sweetheart, it's been a half hour. You coming back or not?" He asks gruffly, his arched eyebrow the only indication that he's surprised to find her back here with Peeta Mellark.
"Shit. Sorry, Haymitch, I'll be right in." She replies and the old man disappears, closing the door with him.
"So you'll call." Peeta reiterates their agreement, stepping backwards down the alley that leads to Main Street.
"I will." Katniss promises before hurrying back inside the too noisy and overcrowded bar.
July 27, 2012
"Just go mom!" Prim shouts as Ms. Everdeen fiddles with her keys at the front door, reminding her two daughters that the emergency numbers of where to reach her are all listed on the fridge.
"Alright!" She replies before placing a kiss to the top of Prim's shiny head and hurrying out the door to the nursing conference she paid to attend months ago that will be taking place in Chicago this weekend.
As the door latches, Prim lets out a dramatic sigh, "Finally!"
"Come on, Prim, give her a break. She's just nervous about leaving you." Katniss points out as she pulls out her phone to order pizza for delivery. Her mother had left instructions on how to cook a casserole but Katniss had no intention of attempting to burn the house down tonight by trying to cook.
"It's not like she's leaving me alone!" Prim argues moving to the stereo to turn on the only radio station that we get at the house, an oldies channel that we grew up listening to. "I have you." Prim flashes a bright smile at her older sister and Katniss returns it with her own tiny one.
"Oh!" Prim shouts at the song that starts up, "I love this song! Dad used to sing this one with us when we were little."
The younger girl grabs Katniss by the wrists and pulls her out into the center of the living room, twirling her as she goes. Prim giggles delightedly and earns a laugh from Katniss.
"But mama said, you can't hurry love. No, you just have to wait! She said love don't come easy, but it's a game of give and take!" Prim sings at the top of her lungs.
Her face is so joyful and free that Katniss finds herself singing along and dancing terribly alongside her sister. When the pizza comes, Rory Hawthorne happens to be the delivery boy, but Katniss has a feeling it's not a coincidence that he would be the one to get the Everdeen's order.
"Hey, Prim!" The dark haired boy shouts over the music. Prim's eyes widen for a moment and her hands fly to her scalp, where she normally wears a headscarf if visitors are around. She gives a horrified squeak before she darts out of the room.
Rory's jaw drops and his eyes widen to match Prim's just before she ran from the room, "I- I didn't mean to-"
"It's okay, Rory." Katniss assures him, taking the pizza from him and pressing the cash into his palm, "I'll talk with her. Thanks for the pizza."
"Tell her I wanted to ask her something." He says hesitantly, scuffing the toe of his converse on the front step.
"I will." Katniss promises, and he shuffles dejectedly back to his car with slumped shoulders.
"Prim?" Katniss raps lightly on their bedroom door with two fingers before pushing it open, "Talk to me, little duck."
She sobs loudly into her pillow for a long time and Katniss rubs her back gently, humming a little singsong rhyme as she does. Eventually Prim turns her head to face Katniss, her face tear stained and blotchy as her lower lip trembles.
"I look like a freak." She whispers tremulously, as though confessing it will turn her into a monster in Katniss's eyes.
"Oh, little duck," Katniss murmurs, laying down beside her in the bed, "You're not a freak. You're beautiful and smart and kind. Just because you don't have hair right now doesn't make you into a freak."
"Rory saw me!" She laments and the tears begin flowing again, "I really like him, Katniss, and now he saw me like this!"
Katniss brushes her hand over where her sister's golden locks used to be and smiles, "Prim, I think he likes you too and he told me that he had something to ask you. I don't think that you're going to scare Rory Hawthorne off with a bald head. Don't you remember the time Gale convinced him to let him shave his head?"
Prim gives her a watery smile, "Yeah. That was pretty bad." She laughs at the memory of Rory. Gale had no clue how to shave a person's head and had left divots in what should have been a smooth buzz cut. Hazelle had been livid and told Rory he'd have to go to school like that for the week.
"You really think he likes me, Katniss?" Prim asks hopefully, her blue eyes wide and still red from the tears.
"I do, Prim."
Katniss doesn't realize she's fallen asleep until suddenly she wakes up cold and alone in Prim's bed. The red numbers on the clock say that it's almost nine o'clock as she sits up and sees the light shining out from under the bathroom door in the hallway. Prim must have woken up and needed to go to the bathroom.
Katniss shuffles out of bed, pulling on a sweatshirt before going into the kitchen to reheat the pizza. It's not until she hears something clatter into the sink in the bathroom that Katniss thinks anything of the length of time Prim has been in there.
"Prim!" Katniss calls through the door.
"It's okay, Katniss." Her sister's worried voice says from the other side, "I- I just dropped something. I'll b-be out in a minute." Her voice cracks on the last word and Katniss opens the door without seeking permission.
Her stomach clenches at the sight. Blood is everywhere, so much blood, her baby sister's blood.
"I'm okay." Prim assures her, but Katniss can tell she's not. Prim is so, so pale, the blood flowing freely from her nose, contrasting sickly with the milky color of her skin.
"Come on." Katniss says taking her by the wrist and leading her to the kitchen where she takes the entire roll of paper towels and hands them to Prim, "We've got to go to the hospital."
"No, Katniss!" Prim begs sadly as Katniss unlocks the Taurus and climbs into the drivers seat, "It'll ruin the weekend. Mom will come running back here and I'll ruin everything again!"
"Prim, get in the car!" Katniss orders, her words becoming frantic. She doesn't like the amount of blood on the used paper towels that her sister is holding. "I won't call mom until the morning once things have blown over, just get in the car."
Prim does so reluctantly and Katniss turns the keys in the ignition but the car won't start. It makes a sputtering noise and dies out every time she tries.
"Shit!" She screams in frustration, slamming a hand against the wheel. She can't even have one happy night with her sister and now the damn car is broken.
"What are we going to do now?" Prim asks, her voice just louder than a whisper as though afraid asking might send Katniss into a tirade.
Katniss pulls out her phone and dials the first number that comes to mind.
"Hello?" Peeta's groggy voice answers from the other end.
"Peeta." Katniss breathes the name, already calmer after just hearing his familiar voice.
"Katniss?" He asks, sounding far more awake this time, "Is everything okay?"
"Can you come to the house?" Katniss asks and she can hear him stumbling around his room, probably jumping into a pair of pants or digging for a shirt to put on. "Prim needs to go to the ER and my car won't start."
"I'll be there in ten." He says, and she hangs up before he can say anything else. Prim doesn't ask anymore questions as she continues to pull off fresh paper towels to press to her nose.
His headlights turn into the driveway seven minutes later and he jumps out of the tan SUV almost before throwing it in park, leaving it idling as he crosses to the two women waiting for him.
"Peeta!" Prim says in a shocked tone.
"Hey, Prim, we're going to get you to the hospital as fast as we can." Peeta assures her as he opens the side door for her.
Katniss climbs into the passenger seat without a word and Peeta peals out of the driveway, heading north toward St. James. No one speaks for the thirty-minute journey that Peeta makes into twenty. His hand finds Katniss's and pulls it over to the center counsel, his fingers brushing her knuckles lightly as if to remind her he's still there with her.
The doctors rush Prim into the ER and Katniss goes with her while Peeta parks the car. Before he returns, the doctor is preparing to put in nasal packs to stop the bleeding.
"I know how you get around all this stuff." Prim waves her hand to indicate the hospital and medicine in general, "Go find Peeta."
Katniss barely makes it out the doors of the ER before Peeta comes barreling around a corner with a worried look. He slows when he sees her there, arms crossed across her chest in a familiar sweater that's far too big for her. She knows he must recognize it; he gave it to her after a bonfire near the end of their senior year, and she never gave it back. To this day she has never owned a more comfortable item of clothing.
"Is everything okay?" Peeta asks as he approaches her at a more human pace.
"It will be." Katniss says trying and failing to offer him a reassuring smile, "They're putting nose packs- these strips of gauze- in her nose to stop the bleeding. I got kicked out because she didn't want me to pass out."
"Some things haven't changed then." Peeta jokes, reaching up to tuck a bit of hair that managed to escape her braid behind her ear. "Still squeamish at the sight of anything outside of the body that should be inside."
Katniss gives a dry laugh but a smile tugs at her lips because she knows it's true. It's always been that way with her. Prim and her mother are the ones that can cope with gore. Katniss would rather look at just about anything else.
"Thank you." Katniss says softly, looking up at him to see that same tiny smile he always seems to wear no matter what and the small lines at the corners of his eyes from laughing so much, "For coming to get us. I know it's late and you have early mornings at the bakery-"
He shakes his head, "It doesn't matter. Dad said he would open when I called him on my way to your house. I said I wanted to be here for you, Katniss, and I meant it."
She's not sure why she does it. Maybe it's the adrenaline coursing through her system. Maybe she's exhausted. Or maybe it's simply because he's Peeta and she still has so many feelings left for him that she's been trying not to admit.
Katniss leans forward, closing the already small gap between them, and tilts her head just as his lips catch hers. The familiar fire flows lazily through her body as his lips move gently against her own. Her body still remembers him and it's as if those four years apart aren't there to separate them anymore; it's as if she never left.
They break apart when a group of nurses push through the doors a few feet away, but Peeta doesn't let her go, his hands having found their way to hold her hips.
"I should go check on Prim." Katniss says softly, unsure of what else she could say to explain what just happened, and Peeta nods mutely as he follows her through the doors.
They both sit with Prim while she receives several units of platelets after her counts came back low. Prim chats with Peeta animatedly about anything and everything. Katniss can't help but notice how at ease he is, even in this horrible place, laughing lightly and joking with her seventeen-year-old sister. Her heart swells in her chest and she's afraid she might do something stupid like cry, but somehow she finds herself laughing along with Prim at some story Peeta is weaving about his brothers and a one hundred pound bag of flour.
Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, a nurse wakes Katniss with a sympathetic smile. Dr. Aurelius has gone over Prim's latest counts after the transfusion and decided that she was safe to discharge home now.
The sun is just rising by the time Prim is actually discharged from the hospital and they make it back to Fairbury. Peeta pulls into the driveway and carries a half asleep Prim to bed. Katniss follows him back to the door he leaves and he gives her an exhausted grin.
"What?" She asks, wondering what on earth he could find to be so happy about after a night like last night.
"You kissed me and you meant it last night." He murmurs playfully as his hands pull her hips closer to his so he can bend to whisper in her ear, "Real or not real?"
She smiles in spite of her exhaustion. It's a game they used to play. He knows she's not one for words so he would always say what he thought she was thinking and then pose the question.
"Real." She manages to answer before his lips claim hers.
This kiss is different than the one in the hospital. That kiss had been reserved and slow and sweet. This one is hot and demanding, making up for lost time as his tongue brushes her lip, sending shivers through her body. Her fingers lace through his soft curls as she opens her mouth to him and lets his tongue brush hungrily against hers, pouring fire into her soul as he does.
She doesn't want this kiss to end and she doesn't think it will as Peeta pulls her closer, pressing his body into her own with a guttural moan. His hands roam over her sweatshirt- his sweatshirt- just brushing the side of her breasts, sending a spear of heat darting between her thighs.
They have no intention of separating but her phone begins blaring an overly, upbeat song, and Katniss pulls away breathlessly to look at the screen. It's her mother. Katniss shoots him an apologetic smile and he presses one last sweet kiss to her forehead, mouthing that he would see her later, before heading out to his SUV.
Katniss lets out a heavy sigh and prepares to face her mother's wrath. By now she's almost certain the matron of the Everdeen clan has received word from the hospital that Prim was there, and she is no doubt furious with Katniss for not calling. But as she watches Peeta pull out of the driveway and head toward town, she knows she did the right thing. Her mother needed a break and she never would have stayed in the city if Katniss had told her what was going on.
She presses the answer button and doesn't even get the phone to her ear before the yelling starts.
September 9, 2012
Katniss isn't sure how this all happened so quickly. One day she was helping Prim pick out a dress for homecoming that she thought Rory would like and the next Prim was in the hospital, hooked up to all kinds of tubes and machines.
She has pneumonia.
Katniss never thought that this could be what that meant. When she coughs, Katniss has to remember not to wince. It sounds so awful and no matter what antibiotics Dr. Aurelius gives her, she can't seem to kick the infection.
It's not just the breathing that has Katniss worried now though. It's the way her skin seems too tight against her bones. It's the dark circles under her beautiful baby sister's eyes. It's how she hardly ever wakes up anymore, and when she does she's too tired to be the bubbly girl Katniss remembers. It's that Dr. Aurelius said the chemo still isn't doing the trick; that her white blood cells are maintaining a steady level while her body is starting to shut down.
She's asleep now, wheezing quietly as the oxygen monitor pings softly another machine administers concentrated oxygen through a mask.
"Little duck," Katniss whispers, taking her sister's hand that feels too cold, "please don't leave me." Her words are choked as the tears threaten to escape her eyes. She still can't stand the thought of losing Prim. How can the world go on without such a bright spot of hope in it? Katniss isn't sure hers will.
"Hey." Peeta calls softly as he walks through the door with a brown bag as well as familiar blue box from the bakery.
Katniss swats at the tears in her eyes, "Hey."
He presses a kiss to her cheek as he settles down beside her and sets the food on the windowsill. This has become normal to her. Stealing moments and kisses with Peeta in the parking lot or a deserted corner of the hospital or even now as his lips gently find hers while Prim is asleep beside them.
"Long day?" He questions when they pull apart, resting his forehead against hers.
She nods mutely and he brushes at a rogue tear from her cheek.
"I brought deli turkey and cheddar to put on fresh rye bread." He says, knowing that she'd rather her attentions be diverted for a moment rather than trying to talk about everything. "Think you can eat?"
She nods again, not trusting herself to speak as he throws together two sandwiches. She nibbles at the bread once he hands it to her, but it just tastes like cement, getting caught in the back of her throat.
He glances up at her sympathetically, "You can save it for later if you want."
Katniss replaces the sandwich on the paper plate he brought with him, "I'm sorry." She says as the tears start escaping again, "I'm a real mess today."
Peeta puts his sandwich down, opening his arms to her, and she slides into his lap just like she always has when things get really bad.
"Shh. Don't apologize, Katniss." Peeta murmurs, pressing kisses to her hair as she buries her face in his shirt and sobs, "It's okay. It's okay to cry, sweetheart."
She cries even harder at his words. How can he be so sweet to her when she has so little to give him? He's always bringing her food and closing the bakery early to drive here with her. Katniss realizes she's taking and taking, but she can't name a single thing she's giving back to him.
Peeta holds her while she cries until her eyes dry up. She lets him untie her braid and run his fingers through her hair while she hiccups in the aftermath of her episode. And after she calms back down into silence, she lets him keep an arm around her waist while she rests her head on his shoulder as he alternates feeding her bites of a sandwich and taking bites himself.
October 2, 2012
"Primrose Everdeen, was one of the bravest girls I ever met…" Katniss can't focus on the words Rory is saying as he places a tiny yellow flower on the casket in front of him.
Her mother is beside her, sobbing silently into a handkerchief, looking like a ghost she's so pale against the black of her dress. Katniss can't cry. She can't feel anything other than the numbness that Prim's death has left inside of her. Peeta's hand is at the small of her back but she hardly notices until he presses against her, urging her forward now that everyone else at the ceremony has spoken.
Stiffly, as though she's a robot controlled by someone else, Katniss makes her way to place the primrose on her baby sister's grave.
"Prim- Prim was the best baby sister that I could have asked for. I loved-" Her voice cracks and she takes a deep breath, meeting Peeta's blue eyes as she does, "I loved her more than anything else in this world and she was so very, very strong. I'm proud to call her my sister and if I could ever be a fraction of the person she was, I will be able to do her name justice. Goodbye, my little duck, I'm so sorry." Her last sentence comes out as a whisper and Peeta steps forward to guide her back to her seat.
The wake is held at the Hawthorne's ranch and Katniss thinks if one more gossipy old woman tells her she's sorry, she might have a mental breakdown right in the living room. She waits until everyone is distracted before slipping through the kitchen and out the backdoor into the cool autumn afternoon.
Her feet make a familiar path towards a patch of trees along the creek that runs around the back of the Hawthorne's property. The sound of the leaves crunching beneath her feet is a welcome distraction from the heartbreak. She came here after her father died just before her sixteenth birthday and she thinks it seems right to be here again.
She can hear him coming from a mile away, his heavy steps giving him away as soon as he reaches the edge of the small woods. He doesn't say anything as he wraps his arms around her from behind and rests his chin on her shoulder, his lips brushing against her ear.
"Tell me what to do to make it better."
Katniss closes her eyes against the deluge of pain that his words release as she puts into words the only thing she wants, "Bring her back to me, Peeta."
He holds her tightly as the primal cries she has been holding in for the last several days finally make their way out into the world, the sound haunting, like a wounded animal crying out.
"I can't." Peeta murmurs into her ear, rocking her against him, "I'm so sorry, Katniss, I can't."
He keeps repeating this to her over and over as she weeps against him, a broken girl. She thinks she was right when she wasn't sure her life would go on after Prim's ended. She certainly feels like a part of her is dead, a very huge part. All that's left now is some weak slip of what she used to be.
The sun is nearly set by the time she has cried herself to exhaustion. Peeta doesn't make her walk back to the house just yet though, instead settling her body between his legs and leaning back against a tree trunk.
The evening is silent for a long time, save for the call of the last few crickets, until Katniss finally speaks the words her mind has been screaming at her since the moment Prim died.
"I can't stay in this place anymore, Peeta."
Home used to be here. It used to be Prim. And now that she's gone, Katniss doesn't know where to go. She knows she can't stand being here anymore though.
"Sounds familiar." His joke falls flat between them and she can practically hear his wistful look as he says it. She said the same thing to him before she left for college, but things are so different now. Her words are so much more true now. He must understand that.
"Please don't hate me for it." She whispers clasping her hands tightly over his that are wrapped around her waist.
"I understand why you can't stay in this place, Katniss. I could never hate you for it." He turns his hands to lace his fingers in hers, "I still have to stay behind though. I can't leave the bakery. Maybe I'll always be the boy you left behind."
"I'm sorry." Her voice cracks as she turns to give him one last kiss; she knows this will be the last. She tries to pour everything she has left into it because, even though she's terrified to admit it to herself, this man is the only reason she has left to live anymore after losing Prim and she knows she's going to break his heart when she leaves tomorrow morning.
November 12, 2013
It's been a year. A year since Prim died and to Katniss it hardly feels like any time at all, but she's finally ready to fulfill her sister's last request. She could never deny her baby sister anything, even if it did take her this long to get to this point.
Everything looks the same just as she expected it would. A year rebuilding houses in disaster areas wouldn't change Fairbury. Katniss thinks that perhaps a nuclear bomb couldn't change the tiny, old town but she can't be certain of course.
It's after five by the time she pulls up outside the familiar blue façade and the sign is already flipped to closed, but Katniss knows he never locks the door until he's finished cleaning up for the day.
"Sorry we're clos-" Peeta stops when he sees her standing in the doorway.
The way he stares so intently at her makes her nervous. She supposes she probably does look different. Her hair is a bit longer and her skin several shades darker from working out in the sun.
"Hi." She hazards breathlessly.
His eyes darken and she momentarily wonders if this was a bad idea. Maybe she should have called him first. She realizes she's completely off the mark when he drops his broom and crosses the room in two strides, capturing her lips smoothly as he lifts her off the ground.
She returns his kiss, all tongue and teeth and passion, trying to show him with her actions everything she has figured out this past year. He locks the front door and blindly carries her upstairs to his small apartment over the bakery and before she really realizes it, he's settled over her on the soft covers of his bed.
His lips trail over her jaw and down the soft skin of her neck as his hands find the hem of her shirt and tug. She lifts up and he peels the fabric away, returning his lips to her collarbone as he unclasps her bra, tossing it over his shoulder.
"Peeta." She whispers softly, tangling her fingers through his hair as his lips find her nipple. She arches against him and his moan is muffled by her, the heat of it tickling her skin.
Impatiently, his hands fumble with the button of her pants before finally releasing it and pulling them off along with her underwear. Peeta doesn't give her time to think before one of his hands finds her throbbing bundle of nerves and presses circles around it in the way that drives her body mad with want. He still remembers how to bring her body to pieces after all these years.
A finger dips into her wetness and she knows she's ready for him. She's been ready since she pulled off of I-39 a half hour ago. The thought of Peeta has always been enough for her, and she wonders how she could have ever thought this would end any differently. It was always meant to be them, together – her and Peeta.
"Katniss." He groans as his finger curls inside of her and she understands what he needs. She needs it too.
Her hands pull at his shirt, un-tucking it before he rips it over his head and wrestles his pants off, taking his boxers with them. Peeta quickly moves to hover over her again but hesitates.
"Katniss?" Her name is the question this time and she knows the answer.
"Remind me what it's like to feel good, Peeta."
It's all that he needs before he pushes into her, pressing his face into her neck and letting out a deep, utterly masculine groan as he does. Her hands grasp desperately at his back, as she whimpers, trying to bring him closer; he can't be close enough.
It doesn't take either of them long once he finds his rhythm and presses into her, hitting that spot that makes her mind go numb and building the fire inside both of them. He peppers kisses across her chest, her neck, everywhere all at once until his lips join with hers and his tongue slides, wet and firm over her own.
His movements become faster, more frantic, chasing after something invisible but blindingly powerful. His hips thrust firmly into her and she realizes she's just as close, a white-hot coal in her belly waiting to burst into flames. His movements turn harsh and uneven as he lets out a guttural moan garbled with her name and collapses over her. The sound is all she needs, tumbling into a fire that consumes her as she calls out his name, arching up and pulling him tightly to her chest.
After, once they've both come down and Peeta has pulled them up into bed, cradling her against his chest, she presses a kiss right where his heart is. She smiles up at the man with shining blue eyes and damp blonde curls and knows that her sister was always right.
"I love you, Peeta." Katniss whispers, fulfilling Prim's last wish; that she finally admit this fact.
He smiles that boyish grin she hasn't seen in so long- too long, "Say it again."
"I love you." She repeats, louder this time.
"I've waited years for you to say that, Katniss Everdeen." Peeta says huskily before kissing her with more passion than he ever has before, sending her toes curling under the covers. "I love you too."
She smiles, knowing that her next question will thrill him even more, "Will you let me stay here with you, Peeta? Will you keep me?"
The look of pure joy that washes over him is enough to keep Katniss Everdeen alive for the rest of her life. He grabs her with a deep laugh swinging her over his lap so she sits straddling his hips. Katniss squeals as his fingers brush her sides, intentionally grazing the places he knows are most ticklish.
His eyes flash a brighter blue than she's ever seen them before and once he catches his breath again, he whispers, "Always."
Katniss smiles softly, placing a hand gently against the cheek of the most beautiful man she knows, feeling him hardening beneath her once again. This is where she belongs. It took her a year to find home again, but she realizes now that his arms are her home, easing the pain and suffering of life outside of his embrace. She rolls her hips slowly against him and his groan sends heat pooling between her legs again.
Slowly, she lowers her lips to his for a deep, languid kiss because she knows she's staying, now she has all the time in the world to make love to Peeta Mellark, and it doesn't sound like a half bad life. Not by a long shot.
AN: I still haven't ruled out the possibility of adding to this, either future dates or going back and adding in other scenes and details that I needed to cut out for the sake of keeping this oneshot from turning into a monster. There's nothing currently in the works, but I'm leaving it open as a possibility. Feel free to follow it if you want to read more when it's published and also feel free to review and let me know what you thought of this part!