Instinct pulses through me and I run past Haymitch. I hardly notice my bare feet touching the cool ground as I sprint towards the sounds of the explosions. Peeta is all I can think about. The town square is swarming with Peacekeepers and groups of District 12 citizens either cower at gunpoint or fight against the smoke and flames that scorch the buildings.
The bakery is alight and I scream Peeta's name at the top of my lungs, again and again, until it breaks from terror. Dread sinks through me like an anchor wedging itself deep into my stomach. Suddenly, a small Peacekeeper grabs my bare arm and, without a second thought, I push against them trying to break free.
"I need to find Peeta!" I scream. A large group of Peacekeepers run past us, taking no notice of my altercation with the smaller Peacekeeper, who I think must be woman. Despite her size, she forces herself on top of me and we fall to the ground.
"Stop struggling," she says. Yes, she is definitely a woman by the sound of her voice. She is strong, but my need to get to Peeta provides me with the strength I didn't know I had.
"Peeta! Peeta!" I shout again.
"Fine, you want to play it the hard way," the Peacekeeper says, her voice muffled through her helmet. She sits up on top of me and I stop, wondering what she is going to do. She raises the butt of her gun and hits me in the side of the head. I feel my brain explode and then fade to nothingness.
I'm being carried like a baby in someone's arms, my head is throbbing and I feel sick from the pain. My first thoughts are of Peeta and guilt - Prim. I would have done anything to save Prim, but I ran off looking for Peeta, possibly putting Prim's life in danger.
"Prim," I groan.
"She's fine," the voice says. It's Haymitch holding me.
I groan. "Peeta?"
"We don't know where Peeta is," Haymitch tells me.
I close my eyes and the hot tears finally come. The air is chilly against my skin and I realize, for the first time, that I am still in my nightgown. I want to fight against Haymitch, but my head aches so badly that if I move I will probably be sick.
A few moments later, we are no longer outside. I cannot hear any screams or explosions and the air inside is warmer. People rush around and past us and there is a loud humming noise. A door slides open. Haymitch places me on a bed inside a room with other beds lined up. A man in gray clothes walks up to me and stares at me with intrigue.
"What happened?" he says.
"Johanna got a little over excited and hit her in the head," Haymitch grumbles.
"Fuck you, Haymitch. She's strong, there was no other way," says the familiar woman's voice who must be Johanna, the Peacekeeper. The Peacekeeper? What is a Peacekeeper doing with Haymitch? And then I remember – the rebellion, the moles. It seems as if everyone is secretly planning to overthrow the Capitol. "I don't see why we have to save her anyway," Johanna finishes with a snort.
"She's Everdeen's daughter," Haymitch says. I want to retort or reply, but the thought of Peeta keeps me silent. Where could he be? He might be dead for all I know. The thought of never seeing Peeta again makes bile rise from my stomach and I vomit all over my nightgown.
"Oh, geez," I hear Johanna say. I look up and see a woman with wide-set brown eyes and short, brown spiky hair. She is in full Peacekeeper uniform, minus the helmet, which she is holding against her hip. There is a look for disgust on her face as she looks at me.
There is a large lump on my head from where Johanna hit me. The man in the gray outfit, who I soon find out is a healer, tells me I need to rest. As I lie there, I can barely comprehend what has happened. I almost believe that Peeta will walk through the door at any second. I feel empty, lost without him. My thoughts are so focused on Peeta that I don't really care where I am or where I'm heading until Prim is sitting beside the bed.
She frowns. "This is a familiar situation," she says despondently. I know what she means; me, lying in bed with a head injury – very similar to a few months ago, except this time, Peeta is not here to comfort me. "I'm sorry about Peeta," Prim says. I wish she hadn't mentioned his name because the tears begin to swell in my eyes. "We are heading to District 13 to see Mom and Dad." My sobs are heavy breaths. Prim places her hand on mine. "Maybe Dad can find Peeta. Maybe he knows something." Bless Prim for trying, but I know there is a very slim possibility that Peeta has survived.
It suddenly dawns on me. "What if they catch him? The Capitol. What if they hurt or torture him?" My voice is weak, the weakest I've ever heard it.
Prim is silent for a moment. "I don't know, Katniss, I really don't." She squeezes my hand in an attempt to reassure me, but it doesn't work. Nothing will. I never thought I would lose Peeta. He was the only surety in my life. I used to be so independent before my accident, before Peeta. I hadn't realized, until this moment, how I can't survive without him.
Hours later, we arrive in District 13. I'm out of bed as Prim and I are escorted to what looks like an underground bunker.
"District 13 is underground," Haymitch says. I don't ask any questions. I've given up on talking. Johanna is walking beside us and looking at me warily, a tight hold on her Peacekeeper gun. We are taken to a room. Everything is gray and the people that pass us are all wearing gray pants and shirts, even the women. Inside the room, my father greets us. He hugs Prim and then turns to me. He looks concerned.
"I had to use physical force to restrain her. She was running into the area of gunfire," Johanna says. There is an older woman standing behind my father also assessing me.
"Katniss Everdeen," she says deeply, stepping in front of my father. "We finally get to meet." I remain silent, but anger is beginning to bubble inside me.
"This is Alma Coin, Katniss. She is the president of District 13 and the leader of our rebellion against the Capitol."
"Where's Peeta?" I question without thinking. President Coin looks confused.
"Our mission was to save you - and Prim, of course. Katniss, we want you to help us with the rebellion. I've heard you are excellent with a bow and arrow and the people of Panem adore you. You would be a real asset to our campaign." I can't believe what I am hearing and the anger that was bubbling boils over.
"Why didn't you save Peeta?" I ask heatedly.
"We wanted to save him, but he wasn't with you when we came. There was no time," Haymitch adds.
"Katniss, you're going to have to forget about Peeta. You have a really important role to play in the rebellion…" I hear my father talking but my brain seems to tune out. Forget about Peeta. He's asking me to forget about Peeta. I begin to walk backwards, shaking my head and then his voice becomes clear again. "…sometimes you have to make sacrifices to help others."
"Sacrifices," I whisper. "Sacrifices… like the sacrifices you made?" I turn towards the door and find myself in the hallway with nowhere to go. Lost. Alone. I crouch down onto the floor and sob. My feet are stained with dirt and blood from cuts I received whilst running through District 12, barefoot, searching for Peeta. He's gone. No one is looking for him. My heart aches with the most unbearable pain humanly possible.
My mother was asked to take me to my room, which is small with gray walls, a gray bathroom, and no windows. She helps me wash and change into clean clothes. Gray pants and a gray shirt. I lie on the bed, which is where I decide to stay because there is no point in getting up. We are underground. There are no green trees or blue skies; there are no orange sunsets in District 13.
Over the next few hours, many people come to speak to me. I don't listen. However, I respond when I see Gale standing over me.
"Gale?" I say, my voice croaky from crying and lack of use.
He smiles. "Hey, Catnip,"
"What are you doing here?" I sit up.
"I guess your father took pity on my family. He told me about my father, how he was also a part of the rebellion before he died."
"They were good friends," I say.
Gale nods. "I'm sorry about Peeta."
I sigh deeply. "You didn't like him anyway."
"Well, he made you happy. I was just being a jerk," Gale says. "I want to look after you, Katniss. I hate seeing you this way." Gale moves his hand gently over the lump on my head, brushing my hair behind my ear. I flinch and move away from his touch.
"I want to be alone," I whisper and his hand drops. I lie back down, turning away from Gale. He doesn't move and I can feel his eyes boring into the back of my head. I stare at the smooth gray wall, wishing that Peeta was the one saved and not Gale. Gale's presence has made the betrayal of Peeta being left behind all the more real. Eventually, he leaves and I continue to lie in bed awake, thinking of Peeta.
I'm not sure how much time has passed. I dream of Peeta whilst asleep, and think about him when I'm awake, too. I listen to people talk to me, but I don't talk back. Sometimes I wander the halls, thinking I see or hear Peeta. One of the healers has made me wear a bracelet which supposedly proclaims my mental instability. Prim has been asked to watch over me, but sometimes I hide in the boiler room, a place where no one ever looks to find me.
"You have to eat," Prim pleads. The food in District 13 is bland, nothing like the Capitol's extravagance. We sit in the canteen. I can feel people's eyes all over me. "What would Peeta say if he could see you right now, huh?" Prim says, exasperated. I flinch at the mention of Peeta's name. Gale comes to sit with us.
"Seriously, Catnip, you're skin and bones." He begins to eat his own bowl of what looks like watery cabbage soup.
A few moments later, my mother comes running up to us. Since coming to District 13, my mother and Prim have begun helping the healers and both wear the District 13 gray healer uniform.
"Prim, we need you. We have injured people coming in. Captives from the Capitol." My ears perk up.
"Captives. Do you think they might've held Peeta captive?" I ask.
My mother shrugs. "Maybe. We don't know." She turns to Prim. "They should be here any moment."
Prim stands. "I'll ask about Peeta, if I can," she says. She takes her tray and I'm left with Gale.
"It's been two months, Katniss, you've gotta pick yourself up. You can't mope around like this," he says.
"Peeta has to be alive, Gale, he just has to be." This is the first time that I've actually felt a small slither of hope. Gale finishes his food and stares at mine.
"If you're not going to eat it, I might as well," Gale says, gesturing towards my untouched soup. I shrug, still thinking about Peeta and how there is a real possibility that he might be alive.
Gale walks with me around the halls of District 13 and then takes me back to my room. He has been working with the District 13 soldiers since arriving and my father loves him. He is strong and tough and hates the Capitol with all the passion he can muster. He is almost a replica of my father. A perfect son, if you will; it annoys me to see them together. Gale walks into my room and closes the door behind us. He pulls me into a hug. I leave my arms at my sides.
"You've got to join the rebellion, Katniss. They need you, we need you."
I snort a sardonic laugh. "I don't care what plans they've got for me. They're going to have to win this rebellion on their own. I don't want to fight. I just want Peeta back and to live peacefully."
Gale sighs with exasperation. "God, Katniss, don't you realize that no one will be able to live in peace until we win this war. You can be really selfish sometimes." I push away from Gale.
"Please leave," I mumble. Gale doesn't move, instead he pushes me hard up against the wall and plants his lips on mine. The air is pushed out of my lungs as he forces his tongue into my mouth. I try to escape his grasp before he suddenly pulls away. I stare at him and feel as though I have cheated on Peeta.
"I'm engaged to someone else, Gale," I say.
Gale groans. "He's dead, Katniss! Can't you get it into your thick skull? Peeta is dead. He's not coming back."
"No," I say incredulously.
"I love you, Katniss. Move on. Move on with me. It should have been you and me in the first place anyway." I open my mouth to speak but Prim rushes in, the door opening with such force that it hits the wall behind it.
"Peeta's alive!" She is breathing frantically, her hands shaking. I walk towards Prim.
"Is he here?" I question expectantly.
"No, in the Capitol. One of the soldiers that rescued the captives said Peeta was there. He's being held and they are trying to get information from him. They think he knows something about the rebellion." Prim stops to catch her breath. "They are torturing him for information," she says. My relief at knowing Peeta is alive is overshadowed by the fact that he is being hurt in ways that I could never imagine.
Without another word, I walk out of the room past Prim and towards the president's quarters, where I know I will find Coin and my father. Coin opens the door to let me in.
"Katniss, we were expecting you," she says delightedly.
"Peeta is alive," I say, striding into the room.
"We have heard," my father says. Haymitch is also in the room along with Effie and Johanna and a young man with bronze hair I don't recognize. I haven't seen Effie since she brought us back from the Capitol. She looks at me worriedly.
"You need to save him!" I bellow.
"We want to make a deal with you," Coin says. I look at my father, who is nodding encouragingly at me. I cross my arms and wait. "We will bring Peeta to you if you promise to follow our orders and plans to win the rebellion."
I look at them in disbelief. "If I say no, you won't save him?" I can't believe what I am hearing. There is a thick, sickening silence.
"We have plans for you, Katniss. So far you have refused to help us. This is the only way we can assure that you will," Coin says.
"Fine. Just save Peeta, please," I beg.
"Finnick knows where he is. What status would the rescue mission be?" Coin says to the bronze haired man.
"Shouldn't be too hard." Finnick looks at me with a sassy smirk and winks.
"I want to go with him," I say, pointing at Finnick who grins widely.
"No, Katniss, not a good idea," my father says.
"No, no, Commander Everdeen, let her go. That way she can start abiding by her deal with us as soon as possible. We can send the cameras, start getting footage." Coin turns to Finnick. "Whatever you do, don't let her die."
Finnick nods and walks over to me, holding out his arm. "Let me escort you to the soldiers' quarters and we can get you suited up," he says suggestively. I look around and everyone's expressions appear serious. I roll my eyes and walk out the room. Finnick jogs to keep up with me.
"Glad to have you on the mission, Katniss," he says, falling into quick stride alongside me. "I remember seeing you on the television being whipped. What a show." I stop mid-stride and Finnick keeps walking. He stops a few paces ahead of me. I look at him and he smiles back at me handsomely. "Gosh, you are a moody one, aren't you?"
I glare at him. "Just get me to Peeta without any games or bullshit."
Finnick's smile fades. "I promise I will get you to Peeta, but, jeez, lighten up," he chuckles.
An hour later, Finnick has found me the smallest District 13 soldier uniform they have and straps a bulletproof vest to me.
"I guess there's no time to waste," I hear Gale say. He is standing at the entrance to the changing rooms.
"Nope," I say, looking at the vest, which is so tight my breasts hurt. I sit and slip on the boots Finnick procured for me and tie up the laces.
Gale chuckles. "You look ridiculous." I take no notice at his attempt to make a joke, but he continues. "That uniform is huge." I glance at the sleeves, which I've had to roll up a few times. Luckily, I've been able to tuck the ends of the pants inside my boots. Gale stops laughing and becomes serious.
"I've signed up to come with you on this mission," he says. I don't look at him and pretend that he is not there. How dare he force himself on me and then tell me Peeta is dead. Gale is the last person I want to talk to right now. Fortunately, Finnick comes in.
"Okay, we've got a great squad signed up, Katniss," he says, standing next to Gale. He looks at our body language. "Everything alright in here?"
"Everything's fine. When do we leave?" I say.
"In an hour. It's going to take us a while to get there, but we've done this mission many times before with other captives. Here," he passes me a gun, "Just in case." I take the gun from him.
"She'd probably be better off with a bow and arrow," Gale says.
"I haven't shot an arrow in ages. I'd rather have the gun," I say harshly. Gale looks surprised.
"These guns are perfect for first time shooters. They practically aim for you. Guaranteed bulls-eye every time," Finnick says. "But you won't have to worry about shooting anyone, Katniss, I'll protect you." Finnick winks at me again and I start to realize his flirty attitude is just Finnick being Finnick with no hidden agenda. "Coin wants you to shoot a propo before you go," he says.
"What's a propo?" I ask.
"Propaganda clip. You know, what you signed up for to get Peeta back." Finnick looks at Gale, who is staring at me with a stern expression on his face.
"Oh," I say.
"Come on, the camera waits for you to grace it with your beauty," Finnick says. This makes me laugh, because there is no way I'm beautiful.
"Just read what it says on the teleprompter," Coin says. Cameras surround me as I stand outside of District 13's underground entrance. The air smells fresh and the sky is blue and cloudless. I feel going hunting, but a number of unfamiliar faces stare at me. However, my father is here along with Haymitch and Effie.
"Make sure you get a good shot of that scar on her face," Coin says.
"Camera rolling!" a man's voice shouts. "Action!" There is silence, a gentle breeze blows, and the teleprompter starts rolling. I begin to read.
"People of Panem, we fight, we dare, we end our hunger for justice!"
There is silence and a small chuckle.
"Good god, Sweetheart, that was terrible," I hear Haymitch say. There is another chuckle from Finnick and I see Effie glaring at him.
"Take 2 – Katniss. A little more expression, please," Coin says. The cameras roll and I say it again. We do another four takes.
"I'm afraid that's going to have to do," Coin says.
"Wow, I'm guessing you've never acted before," Finnick continues to tease me on the hovercraft going to the Capitol. I have no idea how we are going to get to the Capitol unseen, but according to Finnick, they make this trip all the time. Gale sits opposite me alongside Commander Boggs and Leeg 1 and 2, who are sisters and really difficult to tell apart because they look so much alike. Leeg 1 appears to have golden flecks in her eyes, so that is how I begin to know which one is which. There is also Jackson, the squad's second in command, and Mitchell and Homes. There are an awful lot people on the squad, which Coin said was called Squad 451 or the Star Squad, because we also have an embedded TV crew, which includes Cressida, Messalla, Castor and Pollux. They were continuously filming me hoping to "get a good shot for a propo," Cressida kept telling me.
"Right, Soldier Everdeen, this is what is going to happen," Commander Boggs says. I look at him in surprise because I'm so far off from being a soldier his comment is almost comical. "My job is to keep you alive, so you need to listen to everything I say. Do you understand?" I nod in response and he continues, "I think it's ludicrous that Coin has allowed you on this mission without any formal training, so stay with me at all times." I nod again. "We will stop at our District 1 station just outside the Capitol borders where we have an underground route leading us straight to where the prisoners are being held. There we will meet up with Lyme; she is also a commander but pretends to work for the Capitol. She will infiltrate the security systems whilst we rescue Peeta. She may also cause a distraction in case we are detected." I nod again, now worrying about the whole mission. Finnick said it would be easy, but it doesn't sound that way, far from it. I look at the camera crew and wonder how easy it will be to get them through without being noticed. "I suggest the camera crew stop filming," Boggs holds up his hand and pushes the camera out of my face.
"But we need to get good shots for Coin! She wants a propo to broadcast by tomorrow, and so far, we haven't gotten anything worth showing!" Cressida whines.
"Well, tough shit," Boggs tells her. "This has the potential to be a deadly mission and I want as many people to stay alive as possible. Having you lot following just means there is a possibility of a higher body count." I begin to like Boggs; he's serious about his job, doesn't take any shit, and he doesn't seem to mind going against Coin's orders, which I think is wonderful. There is something about her that doesn't sit quite right with me.
Eventually we get to District 1 and begin to walk the 2-hour journey underground to the Capitol prison. Gale walks beside me, trying to engage me in conversation, but I refuse to speak to him. He finally goes to walk with Leeg 1 and Finnick takes Gale's place beside me.
"You are a woman of very few words," Finnick says.
"You could say that," I reply.
"I saw Peeta during the last rescue mission," he says.
I look at him. "How was he?"
Finnick shrugs his shoulders. "He needs rescuing, that's for sure." His face looks strange when it doesn't have a smile plastered across it.
The rest of the journey continues in silence and I feel sick with excitement and dread at seeing Peeta. I hope that he is still alive and that no one else gets killed in the process. We finally reach the entrance and I get to meet Lyme. She is a tall, sturdy woman with a strong, determined face. She shakes my hand before turning to Boggs.
"Security is down, so the pathways to Mellark should be clear. Here is the pass to his cell." She passes a white plastic card to Boggs. "Burn it when you're finished with it." Boggs nods and gestures for us to follow him. I'm first after Boggs, and the rest behind me, except for the camera crew who have been forced to stay with Lyme. Suddenly I see a Peacekeeper and gasp, holding my gun out.
"No," Boggs whispers to me. "Ally." The Peacekeeper gives the thumbs up and we pass. We see another Peacekeeper, but this time Boggs shoots him and he falls to the ground. I feel sick and wonder whether the Peacekeeper had a family. "Don't worry, he's not dead," Finnick whispers in my ear from behind me. I look at him, confused. "These guns don't kill, they just render the victim unconscious for a few hours." I nod, but it sure looked and sounded like a real gun.
After about 20 minutes, we enter a room with lines and lines of caged cells. Some are empty, but I can't help staring at the people in the full ones. Beaten, bruised, and bloody. Moans and groans. Their hands reaching out to us through the bars. The atmosphere smells of urine and rotting flesh, causing me to gag. My heart is thundering in my chest knowing I'm minutes away from seeing Peeta, but the thought of what I'm going to find sends terror raging through me.
"What about the others?" I whisper to Finnick.
"That's a whole different mission," he says. "Keep going."
I jog slightly to keep up with Boggs and he stops suddenly. He turns to us.
"Finnick, you carry Mellark. We will put him on the stretcher when we get to the underground route." Finnick nods. Boggs turns to me. "Peeta probably won't look like the Peeta you remember. You need to be brave. You are part of this squad and you need to behave like a solider. Do you understand, Soldier Everdeen?" I nod and try to appear strong for Boggs, for Peeta.
Boggs walks slowly and turns to a cell and that's when I see Peeta. I nearly collapse under the weight of my horror, but Finnick supports me from behind. Peeta is sitting on the ground, propped up by the bars. His blonde hair is gone, completely shaved off. He is wearing a white t-shirt and trousers, which have a yellowish tinge and stains of dried blood. His face and neck are bruised, appearing as if he has been strangled. He stares off into space, having no reaction to us standing outside his cell. Boggs slides the pass card through a machine and the cell door clicks open. I can't help myself and push past Boggs, kneeling next to Peeta.
"Peeta," I whisper. His blue eyes are dull and there is little recognition within them. I place my hand on his cheek. "Peeta," I say again. He looks at me strangely.
"Katniss Everdeen?" he says questioningly, as if he barely knows me. My heart falls into the pit of my stomach.
"Come on, Soldier Everdeen," Boggs says, pulling me out the way. I move and watch Finnick pull Peeta into a standing position. Peeta can't stand and groans in pain. Finnick easily picks him up and hauls him over his shoulder.
"Let's go," Finnick says.
We walk back, only stopped by three other ally Peacekeepers. Boggs takes down another two Capitol Peacekeepers before we are back with Lyme and walking through the underground tunnel. Mitchell and Homes carry Peeta on a first aid stretcher. Peeta groans in pain and I can't take my eyes off him.
Once we are in the hovercraft, I feel exhausted from all the walking. Peeta is strapped into a bed and I sit beside him. Finnick looks over Peeta, injecting a small needle into his wrist, which is attached to a small tube.
"Dehydrated," Finnick says. I sit with Peeta, who is looking around the room and staring intensely at Finnick.
"He should be fine until we get back to District 13, then the healers can take a proper look at him." I nod, my head heavy. "I'll give you some alone time. I think you should rest, Katniss. It's been a long day." I manage a small smile and feel grateful towards Finnick. I didn't even know who he was this morning, but he has shown me such kindness. Finnick leaves and it's just Peeta and me.
"Peeta," I say. Peeta looks at me, his blue eyes tracing over my face and body. There is something in his eyes I've never seen before. Hurt, despair, emptiness. He raises his hand to my face and tries to cup my cheek. I help hold his hand there and I close my eyes at his touch. His hand is cold and noticeably quivers.
"Am I dreaming?" he says groggily. I shake my head and a couple of tears escape my eyes. I move my face to the side and kiss his hand. "I must be dreaming, because I only ever dream of Katniss Everdeen," he says. I look at him and his eyes are bleary.
"It's not a dream. I'm here now, you're safe," I say. He rubs my cheekbone with his thumb.
"Where are we?" he asks.
"On a hovercraft, going to District 13. I have so much to tell you. So much has happened."
He laughs and his face contorts in pain. "District 13. I must be dreaming."
I feel confused but remind myself that Peeta is dehydrated and probably starving. He will be better once he has time to heal.
"You should rest," I say.
"Will you stay with me?" he asks.
"Always," I reply.
Peeta's eyes close and I place his hand back down beside him. I stand and rest my ear against his chest. I listen to each breath and count the beats of his heart. I hear a noise and turn to see the TV crew filming me. Cressida gives me a thumbs-up.
"Great stuff, Katniss," she whispers. I frown and turn back to Peeta. I reluctantly allow the cameras, remembering the deal I made with Coin.
Peeta is taken to the healers as soon as we arrive back in District 13. I thank all of Squad 451 except for Gale, who I ignore. When I get to see Peeta, his clothes have been changed to District 13 gray and he is sitting up in bed, albeit with tubes sticking out of him in all sorts of places. He is clean and his wounds have been bandaged. My mother stops me just short of Peeta's bed.
"I need to speak to you," she says.
"There is a little bit of problem." My mother walks me out of the room.
"What's going on?" I ask.
"We believe that the Capitol has tampered with his memory." I look at her incredulously and then something starts to makes sense. Peeta was calling me Katniss Everdeen. Why would he do that?
"We asked him a few questions about you and his family," my mother sighs. "He still thinks he goes to school in District 12, and that you are a girl from school." I shake my head. My mother continues. "We asked him his age." She pauses, staring at me worriedly. "He thinks he is 17."
I step back from my mother in shock. "17?" I whisper. My mother nods.
"I'm so sorry, Katniss."
"He'll get his memory back, won't he?"
My mother looks down and shakes her head. "We don't know for sure. Some people who've had their memories tampered with, like Peeta, have been known to get their memories back; some have to build new ones." I stand in silence. My mother rubs my arm. "We've told him the truth about his memory loss. He doesn't know what memories he's lost, though. I thought you might want to be the one to tell him." I feel dazed as I walk back into Peeta's room. He is lying on the bed and his face brightens through the black and blue bruising.
"Hi, Peeta," I say, sitting in the chair beside the bed. I have no idea what to say or do.
"Hi," he says shyly. He looks at me. "You look different than when I last saw you," he says. I pause, wringing my hands in my lap.
"When did you last see me?" I ask.
"At school. You were in the hall. I wanted to speak to you, but you…you make me nervous," he says frankly.
"Oh," I say. He is still looking intently at me. "How do I look different?" I ask.
"You look older."
I hesitate slightly before speaking. "It's because I am older."
He gives me a pained look. "How much older?"
"I'm 23 and so are you," I say.
"In my head, I'm 17. I know your mother said that my memory has been tampered with, but Katniss, I really, truly feel 17 and this is the first time I've spoken to you, apart from a couple of hours ago on the hovercraft thing when you were crying and kissing my hand…" He takes a shaky breath and covers his face with his hands, "I'm really confused."
I don't know what to say, but Peeta begins to speak again. "Tell me, tell me what's going on. Tell me how I made it to this point in my life where I get to speak to you. Are we friends?" His breathing is deep and I worry that he is overexerting himself.
"Maybe we should wait until you are a little stronger …"
"No, I need to know," he says.
I look at the material of the bed sheet. Gray.
"Katniss?" he pleads.
"We are engaged…to be married," I say. I'm scared of what his reaction might be, but I hear him laugh.
"Seriously?" he questions.
"Shit." He continues to laugh.
"Why is this so funny?"
"One minute I have a crush on you, the next we are engaged. It's like a crazy dream come true."
This situation suddenly becomes too much for me. All the heartache, confusion and love over the last few months now mean nothing to Peeta. He even sounds like a 17-year-old boy and it scares the living daylights out of me.
"Katniss, are you okay?" Peeta says.
"I think I should go," I say, standing up.
"I don't want you to go," he says. "I want you to tell me how all of this happened? I really like you, Katniss."
"Not right now. I'm sorry, I need to go." I stand and leave, feeling terrible. Once I'm in my room, I shut the door, curl up under the covers and cry myself to sleep.