{Peeta's POV}

The days go by slowly as we heal, day-by-day, month-by-month. We each still have our days, ones where even Haymitch can't get Katniss out of bed, drowning in her sorrow from her fighting days. Days where I can't even hear Katniss's voice before I have to grip a chair back to stop myself from hurting her.

But we have our good days too. Days where nothing can bring us down, smiling brightly, thankful for all the living, and our own lives,

The darkness receding back to their shadowy depths.

It's on days like today, that I'm thankful for everything I have. Staring down at Katniss's sleeping form stretched out next to me, her rosy lips slightly parted as she exhales, her dark brown hair fanned out across her pillow, in smooth gentle waves, her fingers slightly twitching as she reaches for something in her dream, that I'm thankful for my love for Katniss Everdeen.

I frown slightly as I sit up, making sure not to pull the covers off of Katniss as I disentangle myself from the sheets and my prosthetic leg, moving towards the bathroom to get ready.

But does she still love me?

I feel sometimes that she feels like she still owes me, that's what's keeping her here instead of running to Gale, all the way in District Two. I feel like I'm a nuisance, just the shell of the man I once was, if that. I'm not even whole, my plastic skin, my missing leg.

I feel like she feels sorry for me, staying here just because I'm hopeless. She's free to move around after her prohibition was removed, but yet she still stays.

And sometimes I resent her for that.

The sun is barely up, just a gentle touch of yellow licking up the dark sky, the orange, pink, and red colors pushing the darkness away, bringing a new day and a new light to District Twelve, or what's left of it anyway, as I slowly and painfully strip my sweat slickened clothes off, some of my scars stretching and cracking, starting to bleed. I bite my lip as I watch the blood run down the drain of the shower stall after I stepped into the stream of warm water.

I look back up through hooded eyelids at the morning light as I remind myself to paint that view later after my first batch of bread is done, or before Katniss is up, as I gently massage some shampoo into my blonde locks. I stifle a groan when my hair hits my eyes, making them burn painfully.

When I have thoroughly washed what is left of my body, I step out of the shower, pressing the button to gently dry myself off. As the blow dryer warms up my body and my soul, I gaze at my reflection in the mirror, taking into account my too-long hair. I start from the top of my body, as Dr. Gray has told me to do, since he took over for my therapy after Dr. A died, and slowly take in what was left of Peeta the Victor.

The hair that gently tickles my cheekbones, curling slightly from the cool air hitting it, the burns that dance across my forehead and neck, breathing down across my well toned chest. The burns that run across my ribcage on my right side down to my hips, where they stop, until I look at my legs. One that is shining bluntly in the morning light from the kneecap down, the other that is badly scarred, bumpy ridges across my foot and thigh all the way up to the lower part of my hip.

Every day I look at myself this way, and every day I'm repulsed at the man I have become. My mother would have thrown me out, her lip curling in disgust, as she would have said, "No one will marry a man that looks like you. Even if they loved your personality, they would have left you after seeing how ugly you have become."

My father would have just stared at me sadly, unable to do anything as my mother bore down on me, sadly clapping his hand on my shoulder, gently rubbing salve onto my scars that would be showing when she wasn't around.

And then of course my brothers, who would just stare at me like 'who are you'?

And indeed, who am I? I'm not the same young boy who was thrust into the Hunger Games with his only love, the only girl that his mother had disapproved of, swore of, threatened of. I'm not the same young man who was lied to, used from, and taunted of from the Victory Tour. I'm not the same boy who had proposed to his true love, but only for a fake marriage.

I'm not the Peeta who had volunteered to go back into the Hunger Games for Haymitch, not Peeta who watched helplessly as Mags died, Wiress died, Chaff died,

Watched helplessly as I was picked up and taken to Capitol, to begin my tortures.

I make a strangled noise as I feel my breathing start to quicken. I clench my fists and step out of the warming air, forcing myself to think of something, anything, besides that.

I turn my thoughts over to Katniss, who seems to be having a relatively nightmare less night, sleeping soundly in bed right now, as I dry my hair. I think of how her face lights up when she sees me, her face sullen and ashen as I walk up to her coming home from my rounds, biting her nails furiously until she sees me walking up to her. Haymitch says that I'm the reason she's not in a depression right now; I'm the one who brought her back from the brink of darkness.

And then I snidely remark that she has Gale, and then he sighs, taking a drink from his flask and shaking his head.

'You still aren't as bright as she is, are you? Not seeing the effect you have on her, on me even.' He'll say over and over, but I always brush him off.

I contemplate on what Haymitch said to me as I pull out the pre-made dough I had extra of yesterday, placing it neatly on a pan, setting the oven to its temperature needed and lean back against the counter, watching the sun, slowly but surely, rise.

It reminds me of Katniss. She still isn't back to the girl I remember, but she still awakes every day, still faces the day with a new challenge, slowly making her way back to me.

And I wait. That seems like what I always do now. Wait for the train that carries monthly supplies for us, wait for more people to return to Twelve, wait for a bakery to be put up, wait,

Wait, wait.

But it's what I'm good at. My father always said I had the most patience out of our entire family, being able to make those beautiful cakes that took hours to create.

And I'll wait for Katniss to come back. I made a promise, and I intend to fulfill it.

When the oven beeps, and I put in the batch of bread for today, I find myself curled up in an armchair facing the rising sun, painstakingly recreating the scene before, intent on not moving.

But I only move when Katniss starts to scream. I throw my sketchbook to the side as I trip slightly over the uneven rug in the living room, up towards the stairs, where Katniss is still screaming.

"Peeta!"

I burst into the bedroom to find Katniss curled in a little ball, clenched hands over her ears and she screams again my name, sobbing loudly.

I crawl up next to her on the bed, whispering sweet nothings in her ear as I pull her taught form against my chest, rocking her back and forth. Her breath comes out in shaky shudders, as she tries to form words.

"Peeta…Prim…" Katniss sobs, clenching my shirt in her shaky hands.

I silence her by hugging her closer to me. When she sobs die down and she goes limp in my arms again, I slowly place her back on the bed. She instinctively curls up next to me and I slowly run my fingers through her silken hair.

It's not hard to imagine Katniss being my wife. I've dreamed of it often. Seeing her smile as she watches our children run through the meadow, a girl with hair just like hers, eyes like mine, and a boy, his blonde hair falling into his gray eyes like his mothers.

But, she's not ready, I don't know if she'll ever be ready for children, much less marrying me.

"It's because of Prim, Rue, Finnick, even President Snow, that I just can't Peeta." She'll say time after time whenever I bring up the subject of the cute children from the Seam that have come back with their families, catching onto the hidden message.

I'll just shake my head and sigh, rubbing her shoulders when she'd break down sobbing at the deaths of beloveds.

What she doesn't know, is that when she's crying softly at night, when she thinks I'm asleep, that I cry for the lost Katniss, the strong, fearless Katniss that broke down a nation we had all lived in, making it better, more like the old one, but she still is afraid even after ten months of nothing.

When Katniss comes downstairs in the morning, blotchy eyed and breathing shakily, I stand up from the couch where I was staring at the risen sun, indicating that it was ten in the morning, and hold out my arms. She squeaks out my name in a sob and throws herself into my arms, sobbing lightly into my shoulder.

"Not real." I breathe into her hair that smells like burning fire, lilies and primroses, evergreen trees and just the woods in general.

"Not real."

"But Peeta." Katniss sobs into my chest, balling her tiny hands into fists, pounding them lightly against my muscles out of pain. "It felt so real."

"They always do." I run my hand slowly down her back and back up again, soothingly, gently.

"Hey." I whisper into her ear after I had tucked my head into the crook of her shoulder. "How about some breakfast?"

Katniss nods shakily and I place a light kiss against her jawbone, pulling away slightly before she stops me, linking her fingers into the loops of my belt loops.

"Stay by me." Katniss whispers softly in me ear, fearfully, that she'll lose me if I move just the tiniest bit away.

"Always." I kiss her forehead softly and place an arm around her shaking shoulders. She wraps her arms around my waist and I lead her shaking form into the kitchen. When I try to have her sit down, she doesn't move.

"Katniss." I try to reason with her, gently trying to pry her hands off of my waist. "I need to get our stuff for breakfast."

"But you promised-"

"I know what I promised, but I'll only be gone a moment."

Katniss bites her lip hard and adverts her gaze towards the woods, tears making her eyes gleam brightly.

"Hey." I place two fingers underneath her chin, trying to make her look at me. "What's wrong?"

She just shakes her head, not looking at me, but at the trees that sway gently in the August breeze, the greens five different shades, making a kind of penetrating shield against District Twelve, guarding its secrets.

I sigh lightly; planting a kiss on her nose, knowing it's going to be one of those days. But this one really scares me. Something must have really shaken her up. She normally won't want to be near me, but now she can't let go of me.

I maneuver around her limp arms, grabbing a basket of cheesy buns I had made yesterday, balancing two plates in one hand, while watching two tipsy glasses in the other with the basket in it.

When I try to sit down, Katniss still won't let go of me.

"How about I grab a chair and put it next to me and we can hold hands during breakfast?" I whisper gently into her ear. She nods numbly and I reach around her to drag a chair next to mine at the end of the table. I untangle her arms from around me and intertwine our fingers together. Katniss just stares shakily at our joined hands, not moving.

I grab a cheesy bun and some wild berries she had picked yesterday, scooping them onto her plate, pouring her a cup of tea. Katniss remains unmoving.

I scoop out some breakfast for me too, starting to eat the berries, savoring the taste of the plump fruit as its skin breaks beneath my teeth, staining my front teeth purple.

Katniss slowly picks at her cheesy bun, staring blankly at the wall.

After a while of silence, I gently prompt her. "Katniss."

She turns her head slowly towards me, her eyes making my heart shatter. The normally burning, stormy gray eyes that stared at me with so many different expressions over the years, are shattered, haunted, pained.

"What happened?" I whisper, burying my nose into the crook of her neck. She shakes her head; silent sobs starting to wrack her body. I gently pick her up out of the chair as she clings to me tightly; gut wrenching sobs emitting from her mouth.

I slowly sit down with some pain from my prosthetic onto the squeaky leather couch she has in her living room. She curls into a tighter ball against me and buries her head into my shoulder, damping it quickly. I gently calm her down, holding her until her eyelids droop from exhaustion.

I coax her into a stretched out position on her couch, pulling a quilt her mother had made over her shaking body.

"Peeta." She whispers tiredly. I kneel down to her level and her eyes open tiredly, lazily.

"I love you, you know that right?" My heart clenches with something I can't decipher and she runs her hands lazily through my curls, pulling me closer until our noses are touching. I hold my breath, teetering on the edge of insanity, back to the hijacking part of my mind, when her lips softly press against mine.

I freeze fully, not daring to move, not daring to breathe as she softly moves her lips against mine. Her lips are slightly chapped, dampened from her tears that stain her face, and she breathes gently against my lips.

She falls limp, and I pull away, slightly crazed.

"Katniss?"

Nothing.

She's asleep. I try to hold back laughter of hysterics as I brush away the air from her face, slowly making my way towards her front door, bolting towards the safety of my home.


I spend the better part of my day stuck in my old painting room, screaming my head off, trying to deicide what's real and not real.

I start to go down the list;

My name is Peeta Mellark,

I'm eighteen years old.

Katniss Everdeen is trying to kill me.

Not real…A small part of my mind screams, but I'm too far-gone, too far off the cliff of insanity to hear the screams of calmness, of the old Peeta.

Katniss Everdeen is a mutt designed by the Capitol to kill me.

She used me for my love.

And I got hell in return.

The voice from before, fighting and screaming to be heard is gone, in its place an awful, horrendous sound filling its empty void. I realize that the sound is coming from me, from my parted lips that are curled in a devious snarl, laughing hysterically.

I don't know what thought propels me to leave my painting room, down the hallway, teetering precariously on the stairs and through my front door towards Katniss' house, but I do it. All too soon I'm at her front door, all manners gone. I slam the door open, making some of the windows shake in their panes as I stalk into the kitchen.

A small part of me prays, not a big part, Please let me not find-

"Katniss." I hiss through clenched teeth. Dark gray eyes meet mine in shock, turning slightly around as she places something on the counter slowly.

"Peeta?" Katniss whispers, slowly making her way cautiously towards me. I clench my fists, trying not to hit her.

"What's the great Mockingjay got up her sleeve today huh? Killing more innocent children or Victors?" I laugh without humor; so far gone I don't even care anymore.

"Peeta…" Her eyes plead with me, tears streaming down her face. I vaguely remember her crying just this morning into my shoulder and the thought repulses me. My lip curls back in disgust.

"Don't even try Katniss. I'm not playing your petty little games anymore." I shove her outstretched hand out of the way, slamming her against one of the kitchen walls. She doesn't even fight, just there limp, her throat barely moving against my arm that I am slowly putting more pressure on, intent on killing her.

"Peeta. Not real." Her soft throat moves slightly against my arm as she talks, and I remember the feeling of her life force slowly draining onto my hands as I had strangled her in District 13.

District 13…

"Did you destroy 13 too, my little Mockingjay?" I whisper venomously, my eyes narrowing. She doesn't move.

"What's it going to kill you finally Mockingjay? You just keep coming back, like…" I choke on the word, my vision slightly turning black. "Like tracker jackers."

I see Katniss dropping the tracker jacker nest on us, her red eyes shining in glee as we jerk uncontrollably from the venom, running towards the water. Remember Glimmer's bloated body as she twitched slightly, dying as the venom overtook her blood.

Katniss had pushed me against the kitchen counter, holding me back as I thrashed and screamed at her, "HOW DO YOU THINK GLIMMER FELT? HOW ABOUT MARVEL, RUE, EVEN FUCKING CATO?!"

Her bottom lip quivers slightly, but other than that, she shows no sign of hurt, sadness, or pain.

Damn, she won't give up easily won't she?

I twist my head to the side, feeling Katniss' body pressed against me, pinning me down. If I was sane, I would have flushed at the thought of Katniss against me like this, but the thought now just repulses me.

Something catches my eyes, and I flick them over to see what's lying on the counter, what Katniss had abandoned after I stormed in.

A half skinned squirrel.

I gasp slightly, memories washing over me at a hundred miles an hour. Hidden glances stole when she, a young girl of fourteen, would come by the back of the bakery to give us squirrels, my father generously paying back in things she needed. Hiding behind the stairwell, telling myself it was to make sure mother wouldn't see, but I knew I was lying, trying to see a glimpse at the girl I loved since 5.

All that exists now are pain, suffering, and loss as I think of my family,

Which Katniss had killed.

"Did you enjoy killing my family, dear Katniss?" Her face blanches and I try to see her reaction through the haze that has clouded my vision now.

"I'm so sorry Peeta." Is the last thing I hear before I black out, anger dissipating.


Choked back tears are what bring me back to consciousness. I vaguely can tell that I'm lying on a bed, covers hastily drawn up to my chest, my chest bare underneath the cool sheets. My prosthetic has been taken off and I feel a hand brush a damp lock of hair off of my forehead. I watch through hooded eyelids to see Katniss, watching me from her propped up elbows, whispering something.

By the darkness in the room, I can tell it's probably midnight. What's she still doing up?

"What I didn't tell you before, Peeta, is that my dream was about you." My breath hitches slightly, but I cover it up, trying to still look unconscious.

"You see, when you asked me to marry you before, I just couldn't…" A sob. "Couldn't do that to you. Be a wife that couldn't give you kids, fearing that they'd be snatched out from under our noses. Be the wife that triggers your flashbacks, fall deep into depression, one that you always have to comfort, but never comforts you back.

"My dream was horrific; I had just said yes to your proposal, but Snow had appeared, grinning deviously, impaling you with the arrow that killed Coin. She had grabbed me from behind and I had watched helplessly as you had died. You blamed me for waiting too long, for dragging you into all of this. I thought you wouldn't care about me.

"But seeing you tonight snapped something in me. You do care, I could see it in your eyes, a small sliver of pleading, begging me to run, but I let you say those things to me, slam me against a wall, because I realized that I do love you, Peeta, that's real. And I want to be your wife.

"Always."


My dreams are not pretty tonight. After Katniss had said what her dream was, and I had fallen back into unconsciousness, the nightmares finally had caught up to me, after our long game of painful tag.

Where I'm always the loser.

In my dream, I'm back watching Johanna's torture, but this time, it's Katniss being tortured.

"I told you that you were too late." President Snow hisses into my ear, blood trickling down the side of his dead lips, his eyes hollow but still like a snake while the rest of his body fades, decomposing before my very eyes.

Katniss screams, jerking and convulsing uncontrollably in the water, her face turning red as she breathes in water, the water crackling with energy from the tazors.

Bloody arms grab her limp body out from the water, Coin's arms, and shake her hard. Her head lolls on her shoulders, her eyes limply closed, but other than that, she doesn't look alive.

They shove her body back into the water, and I marvel how something so horrendous, could be so beautiful. The way her chocolate hair floats and gently swirls around her face, which is bruised but looks peaceful, her eyes shut like she's sleeping, her lips slightly parted.

She looks like she's lying in the water, gently rocking to sleep.

The water flashes, and her eyes snap open, milky in color, the gray completely gone, her arms breaking free of the restraints, reaching for me.

Her body jerks, but her gaze does not leave mine.

"Peeta, come and join me.

"Forever."


"Peeta! Not real!" My eyes snap open, my whole body jerking uncontrollably. Katniss' wiry arms wrap around my shoulders, pulling me tight against her.

Wiry just like Wiress.

A hysteric, mental laugh bubbles its way out my throat and into the air. It echoes around the lit room from the sunlight, into the dark corners and back into my chest.

I vaguely notice that Katniss is dressed like she was out in the woods already, her hair in its perfect braid, the soft shirt always wears under her father's hunting jacket the only shirt she wears, getting stained from my tears.

I realize that Katniss is real, is here, safe and sound in my arms. I sob even harder, clutching her small body flush against my chest. She runs her hands through my hair, peppering kisses in my dampening hair, whispering 'not real' over and over again. Shuddering breaths tickle her jawbone as I try to compose myself.

She gently kisses me and I laugh sadly. She pulls away, her eyes sad and questioning.

"You're real." I simply whisper, brushing a stray lock of hair out of her face.

"I've always been real." She turns her head so her lips are brushing my hand lightly. I pull her into another bone-crushing hug, she hugging me back just as furiously.

I pull back slightly, looking her straight in the eyes.

"Marry me."


I slowly cut two pieces of bread of yesterday's loaf, which will be just fine for our small toasting. Katniss sits, head on her knees in front of the crackling fire, illuminating her face and arms as she stares silently at fire, a small, nervous smile tickling her lips.

I gently push her braid to her left shoulder, placing a light kiss on the crook of her neck. She shivers lightly and I smile softly, giving her one piece of bread.

She looks up at me. "You heard, didn't you?" I nod, and her face burns crimson.

"Hey." I whisper, gently tilting her head so she's looking at me again. "Do you know what my dream was about?"

She shakes her head, openly curious. "It was about losing you after you had accepted my proposal, seeing Johanna's torture again, but this time it was you." A small tear runs down the side of my cheek and Katniss gently brushes it away.

I pull back suddenly and the hurt in her eyes is so painful that I almost beg her to forgive me, but this is too important.

"Sorry." The apology slips out of my mouth before I caught myself. "I mean, I have one question for you."

Panic floods her eyes and her breath hitches. "How many?"

I frown. "How many what? Questions-"

"No, kids. Because I can't-I-"

I press a finger to her lips, silencing her. Tears flood her eyes, and she looks away again. "Not that. God Katniss, I'll never ask you to do that until you're ready. I just want to know…" I take a deep breath, steeling myself for the impact of rejection, or just nothing.

"You love me, real or not real?"

A small smile touches her lips as she turns back to look at me, nodding lightly.

"Real."