A/N: This is my first published story, and I would love to find a beta who's interested in this fanfic. Thanks for taking the time to read. Leave a review if you have any feedback for me. I really appreciate it (:

Keep in mind ***text*** indicates a flashback/memory. Italics are for emphasis or to show internal dialogue. I don't own these characters, or any part of The Hunger Games. Unfortunately


Chapter One

The car horn barely registered over the music playing in his ears. He'd seen the car well before the driver had seen him. He had noted the distance and speed of the oncoming vehicle and knew within a matter of seconds that stopping was unnecessary. The pace he ran at was all that kept him together in the mornings. His feet hit the pavement in a steady rhythm; his music beating in time with the cadence that had become second nature to him years ago. The driver probably thought he was being careless, but it was rather the opposite. He noticed every change in his environment, constant observation, the kind of awareness brought on by repetitious hours of drilling; years of necessity. The man set his jaw and pushed the thoughts out of his mind, choosing to focus on the dull throb radiating from the ankle and knee in his bad leg. Bad leg. The phrase left a sour taste in his mouth. Weeks of physical therapy and two surgeries had given him back the mobility that an IED had nearly took from him permanently.

***
"What do we have?" The gruff voice didn't seem connected to his surroundings, bright lights exploding behind his eyelids. The second voice was less harsh. "Two, both critical condition. Hit by an IED. Private Richards-" Static seemed to fill his ears as his vision began to blacken. None of this made sense. "-trauma to the abdomen and severe blood loss-" The people talking curtly over him continued, although he still couldn't tell who they were discussing. "-no exit wounds. Corporal Mellark-" Hearing his own name, he attempted to speak but his eye lids merely fluttered and his mouth wouldn't open. "Initial triage showing minor abrasions and superficial puncture wounds covering the left side of the torso, low velocity impact to the lower left leg-" He was losing the fight for consciousness, words becoming incoherent. "-possible nerve damage-" Darkness was engulfing the remains of his vision. "-potential amputation." The last thing he heard before falling unconscious wasn't the last medical statement. He heard tortured screams.
***

Peeta didn't bother trying to think for the rest of his morning run. The last fifteen or so minutes were a blur as his mind got swallowed by memories. Slipping through the house in silence, he made his way to the bathroom. Off came the running shoes, the USMC issued athletic shorts and tee-shirt. Peeta stepped into the lukewarm shower, wishing the water could rinse his mind clean the same way it did his body. one-two-three-four four-three-two-one one-two-three-four four-three-two-one. The slow, methodical drum of his fingers on the shower wall leveled his breathing. He'd been home nearly four months now. Back in the states for six. This wasn't him, this tightly wound mess. All rough edges and darkness. Running a hand over his head, he noticed his hair for the first time since he'd arrived home. His hand wasn't brushing over the short buzz cut that he'd been accustomed to for the past eight years. It was actually running through his hair, something he hadn't been able to do since he was wide-eyed boy in high school. It reminded him of the naïve dreamer he once was, consumed by the idealistic wish to serve his country, ready to take on the world. Clenching his jaw, Peeta realized how far he'd come from being that boy.

Esprit de corps. Pride in oneself and one's unit. Something that was once essential to his daily life was becoming more difficult every day now. What had he done worth being proud of? Getting his fireteam killed? Leaving his brothers behind? Being discharged from the corps because of his leg? Having to move back to his parent's house at the age of 26? He had no pride in his life anymore. Only a scarred body, unstable mind, and broken soul.

He made a conscious effort to avoid the mirror as he stepped out of the shower. He didn't need a reflective surface in-order to remember the near two dozen marks left by shards of shrapnel, covering the broad expanse of his left side and arm, from shoulder to hip. He didn't need to look down in-order to remember the inch long scar left by the piece that had lodged in his lower leg, resulting in several fractures. The VA doctors said that he was lucky.

***
"Had you been any closer to the IED, the shrapnel that hit your leg would have shattered the bone on impact. Or even worse, could have caused nerve and blood vessel damage. A centimeter or two different and you would have lost your lower leg entirely." 'Or even worse,' he had thought, mimicking the doctor's words with a scowl. 'I could have taken the one that hit Richards in the stomach. The one that hit McCormick in the neck. The impact that slammed Clay into the concrete wall. I could have gone in first. I could have made things different. Those were my brothers and they had trusted me. Clay's daughter had been born two days earlier. Richards was barely 19. Who gives a fuck about my damn leg?'
***

The beep of his watch told him that it was now six o'clock, leaving him fifteen minutes before he would be needed in the family bakery. Peeta quickly got changed into jeans, work boots, and a black polo that bore the embroidered Mellark Bakery logo on the chest. His dog tags were cold but familiar against his skin, reminding him of the life he used to live. Reminding him of the people he had to live for. He owed them that much.