Chapter IX

The next few months passed with relative ease. Peeta's presence was a constant source of comfort. However as the six month anniversary of the death of my family drew nearer a constant weight settled in my chest and grew heavier every day. Hopelessness and despair threaten to choke me. Everyday the heaviness increases and with every passing day I find it harder to force myself out of bed. My blankets and sheets feel like chains. Everyday they constrict me and attempt to keep me in my bed. One day, soon I think, they will succeed.

I know Peeta notices the change. I know he's curious but he seems to be hesitant to ask. I don't know how much I want to talk right now.

Two days before the dreaded anniversary the sheets finally succeed and it feels like those chains have wrapped me tight, securing me into my bed and holding me hostage to my grief. The sun rises high in the sky and begins to set again before I hear Peeta's voice outside my door.

"Katniss?" His voice is a measured calm. He calls out to me a few more times before the hallway fell silent again.

Darkness envelopes the room and though my stomach churns and growls I feel no need or desire to leave this bed.

The next day runs much the same. Peeta stands outside my door and calls out to me but after a few attempts and no answer he leaves again. My body makes an angry plea for food. My muscles scream in protest and desperation to change position. I ignore it.

When darkness descends again the first of many tears drip down my cheeks and onto my pillow. The night passes between segments of sleep and tears. When the sun rises on the day I've been dreading it feels as though my eyes are completely dry.

"Katniss." Peeta appears suddenly near the foot of my bed. His ghostly pallid face is etched with concern.

I don't respond. I don't even blink to acknowledge that I've noticed his presence. I stare forward, my eyes are unfocused. If it weren't for the steady rise and fall of my chest I'm sure I could be mistaken for dead.

"Katniss." He calls out again, gently and apprehensively. He comes closer. He walks although there is no sound from his ghostly footfalls.

His figure kneels before me, his ghostly aura shimmers slightly around the curves of his body. I know that if I reached out right now my hand would pass right through him but looking at him now he looks so real. So solid.

His eyes, seemingly filled with life, search my own, which reflect the deadness I feel inside. If it were another day I could have mustered a chuckle at how opposite that it. The one who lives is more like the dead than the ghost who lives with her.

"Please Katniss." He pleads now. "Please don't do this to yourself. You haven't eaten in days. You haven't had anything to drink. I'm worried for you. This isn't healthy. You're becoming dangerously dehydrated and you're starving." The smooth tenor of his voice breaks and strains with desperation. "Please don't do this to yourself. I can't bear to watch you die."

The last words fight through my lifeless state.

What are you doing Katniss? I scold myself violently. They wouldn't want this. Can you even imagine what they would say if they saw you like this? Prim would tear you a new one and dad would be right behind her to remind you how completely and utterly foolish you are being right now. Mom would definitely be kinder than the other two but she too would scold you for not eating or drinking for so long, for not taking care of yourself. They wouldn't want you to allow yourself to waste away. They wouldn't be okay with you simply laying down and allowing yourself to die slowly. They would want you to move on, be happy. Now that is probably out of reach but the least you could manage for them is to stay alive.

With that tears begin to form again and pour out of the corners of my eyes. Painful sobs wrack my body and life fills me once again.

I'm suddenly aware of how empty and hollow my stomach is. Painfully aware. I can feel how dirty I am. My hair is greasy and my scalp has that itchy feeling that always alerts me to when I need a shower. I can feel the way my clothes have started crusting thanks to my sweat and lack of movement. I can smell the awful combination of body odor and stale air. I feel disgusting inside and out.

"I'm sorry." I manage to croak since my voice is still raw from crying and not speaking.

A small amount of relief passes through Peeta's eyes and I feel a new wave of guilt crash over me. I've worried him and even if he wanted to he couldn't do anything about it. He couldn't help me. He could only watch as I let myself waste away.

"We should get you something to eat and drink." He responds. His concern still remains strong and constant.

I nod sheepishly and move to get out of bed. My joints pop and crack as I stretch for the first time in days. I have to let a wave of dizziness pass, no doubt due to the dehydration I am currently suffering. I manage to stand and make my way to the kitchen. Peeta follows behind me completely silent.

I make myself a simple sandwich and grab a large glass of water. Peeta watches intently as I eat. The bites of sandwich fall heavy into my hollow stomach but I know that I need to continue eating even though the feeling is uncomfortable and a little painful. His tension eases with every bite. I drain my water and refill the glass. Now that I've had a drink a desperate thirst has consumed me.

Peeta still hovers near me, worried. But he is obviously relieved to see that I've eaten and that I'm on my way to not dying of dehydration or starvation.

"I think I need a shower." My voice is still a vacant monotone but my comment earns a small, strained chuckle from Peeta.

"I agree." He looks marginally happier as these developments.

I turn back towards my room, full water glass in hand, and I can feel that Peeta is following me once again. He enters my room with me but crosses the room to look out the window.

I grab a new pair of underwear and a clean sports bra out of my drawers. From the closet I grab a black tank top and a pair of light grey sweat pants. I drape them over my right arm and make my way into the on suite bathroom. I close the door and lock it. Not that anyone else lives here expect Peeta and me and a lock couldn't deter Peeta. But it gives me the illusion of privacy to have a locked door between myself and Peeta, who remains behind in my room.

I strip off my sullied clothes and throw them into the laundry basket. I turn on the shower and allow the water to warm up. Then I turn to face the mirror. My hair is matted and tangled. My eyes have dark bags underneath and they are still bloodshot and red from crying. My skin is a sickly shade of pale.

I grab a brush and quickly work out the tangled mess before stepping into the shower. The hot water burns my skin and stings but it is a welcome feeling. A reminder, even though it hurts, that I am alive. I stand motionless beneath the steady spray for a long time before I can manage to shampoo and condition my hair. I massage the shampoo into my scalp and sigh at the soothing and relaxing sensation. I work the conditioner into my neglected tresses before using the lightly scented body wash and lathering it over my grimy skin. I stand beneath the spray again and the water washes me clean. When the water starts to cool I turn off the tap and step out, wrapping a plush towel tightly around my refreshed body. I release a pleasant sigh at the feeling of being clean again.

I dress myself slowly and re-braid my hair. I quickly grab my toothbrush and clean my teeth of the fuzzy layer they have acquired. Knowing I can no longer prolong it, I unlock the door and open it to find Peeta sitting on my bed, still facing the window.

I sit down on the opposite side and he slowly turns to face me.

"I'm sorry Peeta." I whisper. "I didn't mean to worry you."

"Please Katniss," His eyes are begging to understand, "you can always tell me what is going on. We help each other."

It's true. I've recently come to realize that our strange friendship has helped me to heal bit by bit. He helps me, but I can't see how I've helped him.

"I know. I'm sorry." I bite my lip and force the words past the lump in my throat. "Six months."

His eyes are filled with understanding. "I see." He murmurs.

"It hurts," I begin, tears prickling behind my eyes, "to still be alive without them, for time to move on as if their deaths meant nothing. I don't want to forget them and sometimes I feel like I can't or shouldn't be happy without them. I felt guilty for healing, for trying to get better, as if that would mean that they weren't important to me. I know it's crazy, but at the time it didn't seem so crazy."

Tears spill from my eyes and splash onto my knees. I reach over to the bedside table where I had placed my glass of water and take a few large gulps. I set the glass down again and wipe the tears away with the back of my hand and my sobs subside into broken hiccups.

Peeta moves to sit beside me but the bed doesn't shift as he does. It is strange because his presence feels so real that I nearly forgot that he isn't solid flesh and bone.

A pleasant chill spikes on my knee where his hand hovers over my exposed skin. It's not because he's a ghost. In reality I can't feel his hand at all. It is an entirely psychological experience that my mind has conjured in response to his gesture of comfort. He can't really, physically, comfort me because there is nothing truly physical about him. But his gesture is enough for my mind to attempt to fill in the blanks with a pleasant response on my part.

A/N: Hello All! Sorry to leave you waiting for so long. Life is busy and I am facing a significant writers block in terms of this story. I seriously have no idea where to go with it at the moment. But I am definitely not abandoning it. I hope you enjoy this chapter. Please review and let me know what you think. I won't be able to update for a while because this next month is crazy. I have three weddings to attend as well as a bridal shower for a friend and a bridal shower of my own. Of course that is on top of working and everything else.

Thank you all for reading, following, and commenting. I feel so blessed by all of my readers.