Forever & Always: Katniss and Peeta Style

5:07 PM

I'm worrying. As a survivor of two Hunger Games and a civil war, I depend on not worrying. I have learned to be carefree. If I start to agonize over the situation, I lose my bearings. I can't hold myself up. Even now, three and a half years after Snow was executed, I still worry that something is going to happen to the people I love.

This morning, I woke up to a note saying: Got called into the bakery early. Should be back by four. Love you. He called at 3:30 to say he would be a couple of minutes late; he's waiting on some bread. How long is a couple minutes?

It's past five and he's not back. Peeta hasn't returned from the bakery to get some fresh bread. I'm not overreacting; the bakery is a 20-minute walk. It shouldn't be taking this long. Walking through the slushy grey snow in the early spring, he made his way to the bakery. Safely I hope. It has been an hour and a half. He was the one that insisted that it is cold outside and a warm loaf of bread is great for the cold weather.

One thing I have learned; He likes bread no matter the weather.

I try to busy myself by making dinner. Stew isn't very hard to make. I throw in some chicken and celery, and because Peeta sent in an order during the first year for spices and cooking ingredients, it tastes decent. It doesn't taste bad, It's just that I'm not hungry. My throat is thick and my appetite is non-existent. Nonetheless, I keep it on the burner to simmer for Peeta. I sit at the table by the window, staying on lookout for him.

Common misconception of the Capitol: Our lives are not perfect. The way President Snow and his government managed to screw up Peeta emotionally is overwhelming. Why did the populace vote him into office? What was the influence that the dark days had on the people to make them think Cornelius Snow was the answer? Were they so numb to the abuse that they did not notice what his effect could be?

Moments we share can shatter with a simple recollection that the Capitol installed into Peeta's memory. He beats himself up for it too. He doesn't have control over it.

It doesn't matter now. With President Snow gone and Paylor in his place, Panem has become a better place. A place where Peeta and I can grow together. Like we have over the last three years in District 12.

During the first couple of months after Prim died, I stayed locked up in my house for months with only Greasy Sae and her granddaughter to pay visits.

When Peeta came back and planted the primroses, I found myself reluctantly appreciating all the little things that he did for me. The fresh baked bread on my counter every morning. The scent of cheesy bread baking in my oven. The time we shared sketching and writing on the pages we sealed with salt water. The moment he dropped his pencil, looked me in the eyes, and kissed me for the first time, without the cameras urging us on.

He found a way to do the impossible; fall in love with me all over again.

During those first few months, the district collapsed the mines completely. The bombs that were dropped while I was in the Quarter Quell compacted the ground to the point where the mines were deemed unsafe to mine. Panem doesn't mind; President Paylor is an activist in solar and wind energy. The President wanted to clean up the air of the greenhouse gases caused by the coal, and the district agreed. We did not like the grey.

Without the mines as out main industry, Paylor has put an emphasis on medical development. Up above the meadow, there is a large factory designed for the production of medicines and medical supplies. Its completion lead to many more safe jobs for the district and lured citizens back to the district. They were looking forward to the sweet scent of flowers replacing the dingy coal dust air.

6:02 PM

I ruined the stew. It burned to the bottom of the pot.

The hours are getting later. He was supposed to be here. If he was hung up talking with Thom and Delly or cooing over their newborn baby, (like he has done many times over the last few months) I'm sure he would have called. He has his phone with him at all times.

During one of the phone sessions with Dr. Aurelius, he explained his frustrations with chasing me down with the landline. He sent Peeta and me mobile phones. Peeta is definitely one to appreciate it.

I tap the screen on my phone, its 6:10 and I still do not understand what could be taking him so long.

6:26 PM

I wait a little longer; there is no one in driveway.

No one says they'd seen him. Why is something wrong? I look back to the window, to the other houses in the Victor village, as my phone rings. It's Jim, one of the workers at the bakery. "Something's happened, you should come right now," he pleas in a distressed voice. A hiss comes out of my mouth as the other line goes dead.

The last time I talked to Jim, one of Thom's surviving brothers; over the phone was when he urged me to get to town square as fast as I could. This was back in December.

That's where Peeta proposed. I met Peeta in the middle of the square and he pulled out a blindfold and led me up the stairs to the stage where the reapings were held. We stood in the exact spots on the stage as our first reaping.

He untied the blindfold as he bent down on his knee first and opened the black velvet box with the pearl ring shining up at me. He smiled nervously, and he said, "We stood here, thinking this is it. You were thinking 'how did I get into this mess with the baker boy.'" I laughed because that was exactly what I was thinking. "Now I kneel in front of the love of my life who loves me back. Something the baker boy would never have expected.

"Neither of us are perfect. Definitely not me, but Im okay with that. I want you forever and always. To say 'through the good and the bad and the ugly' would be ridiculous. We have done that about 30 times. I think those times started when we stood here. I want this place to be remembered not as a place of ending, but as a new beginning. We'll grow together, forever and always. With that said, Katniss Everdeen. Will you marry me?"

I was speechless. The only sign of life from me was the breath turning into white clouds of air around us and the tears pooling in my eyes. I hated crying in front of him. I felt vulnerable. However, it was a completely different reason than ever before. He just kneeled patiently balancing his weight from his prosthetic to his real leg.

I pushed away my fear of love. I pushed away the thought that Peeta could be taken at anytime. I took exactly two steps forward, reached for his hand, brought him to both feet, and hiccupped, "I volunteer."

He grinned so widely that I thought his lips would tear. I wrapped both arms around his middle; he did the same for me, and kissed me. We both smiled into the kiss. When I saw through clouded vision all the people cheering and clapping for us in the crowd, I tensed.

Peeta smiled against my lips. He planted me back on the ground and whispered, "They're on our side, and you aren't going anywhere." He wiped a stray tear from my cheek, and continued, "And neither am I."

Piling on my hat and wrapping a scarf over my hunting jacket, I stomp on my hunting boots in the direction of the bakery. I rush past Haymitch's house where the lights are on. He is walking on the road about 30 yards ahead, moving faster than I have ever seen a drunken man move.

"Hey!" I yell. Underneath his sweater, his shoulders visibly shrug. "Haymitch! Answer me!" He turns to look at me and his face is adorned with a crumpled sad face, as if someone punched him and killed his flock of geese at the same time.

He halts his movement to let me catch up. "Sweetheart. This isn't good." His right shoulder brushes with my left and nuzzles me under his arm. I scowl at his unnatural act of affection, but stay under his arm. I try not to dwell on whatever happened to my fiancée.

One thing is for certain: We are heading straight down the path to the hospital.

I haven't been in a hospital since Prim died, when I went crazy. It's uncomfortable to anticipate how it's going to feel when I walk in.

When the large building comes into view, I detach myself from Haymitch and sprint to the front entrance, through the revolving doors and into the main office. I walk right to the front desk. The woman at the front desk stops me. She isn't familiar at all.

"Katniss, what do you need?" Im so frantic I don't make the recollection im standing in a hospital. I don't even look the woman speaking in the eyes. My only acknowledgement is a hand motion of my finger pointing up. My feet are moving faster than I want them to, but I don't have the will to slow down. I push the up button, wait 5 seconds, and then walk into the elevation cabin. Before the doors close, two sets of hands hold the door open; Haymitch and a doctor heavily dressed in white.

"This way Miss Everdeen," the doctor commands.

I nod curtly and they lead me down a million halls, a maze that's never ending. Standing in the middle of the whitewashed hallway, the doctor stops to inform Haymitch and me of Peeta's condition. They talk about what happened, but I can barely hear them. I don't catch enough words to make out a sentence, but I can put together words that won't connect in the way I want.

I feel helpless. Like in the Quarter Quell when Peeta walked into the force field and his heart stopped. Finnick was able to revive him, but I couldn't do anything. I just sat on the jungle floor and cried.

The floor might be tiled, but I could rock back and forth with tears right now.

But I need to be strong.

"You can go in now." Haymitch tugs at my sleeve to usher me in. I try to keep a straight face as I walk into the room.

The door swings open, and my breath evens. He's alive. The IV connects to his forearm as he lies on back, his eyes focused on the lines of the ceiling. He's avoiding my stare. He knows im here.

"Peeta? I know you're avoiding me." He plants his gaze at the dried-on vomit on the wall. Stubborn. "Peeta. Peeta. Please look at me."

I don't notice anything out of the ordinary about him. His skin color is good, not like the white blank skin tone when in the arena. I turn my neck conspicuously to eye his prosthetic. It is leaning against the bedside; his surviving leg lies stiff under the sheets. "My right leg is still there. I'm not going around loosing both my legs."

He looks at me with a smirk, and I don't notice the blue in his eyes. They don't shine blue like the sky or the ocean; they boil with red. His eyelids are puffy. He's been crying. He notices that I realize this; he smiles that innocent smile that breaks me every time.

I chuckle at his joke about his legs, too late for him to put the laughter with his comment. He looks at me questionably, like im crazy. I return to my trademark scowl. He breathes in deep then lets it out. He repeats this three times. I expect him to say something when he stops, but he just stares at me as if he will never see me again. He breathes in and out one more time.

"What's happening?" I sit by his bedside, holding his hand too tight. It feels good to touch him again. His hand feels so rough from baking and so soft when I clutch it.

"I don't know Katniss. I woke up here. I was walking and I think I had a flashback when I walked past where my old house was. They aren't sure either." He explains this with wide eyes, his mouth agape, unable to keep eye contact. His voice is smooth, but seems far away, like when we were in District 2.

I plead, "Peeta, can you look at me again?"

"I don't want to. I might hurt you." His voice catches, "And I don't want to do that, again."

"Hey now. Hey. That wasn't your fault. You are 95% Peeta, and 5% Capitol. But you are 100% mine. That's enough for me," I reason.

"Im not good enough for you-"

"Do you want me to say it?"

"No Kat. No."

"I could live a thousand lifetimes and still not deserve you. There. I said it." He looks at my cautiously when I say this.

The same doctor that escorted me walks in. "How are you feeling Peeta?"

"I feel great actually. I don't understand why I am here though."

"Okay, I will try to make this so you can understand this the easiest. If any of this makes you feel uncomfortable, please let me know, all right?" We nod simultaneously and grasp each other a little tighter. He continues, "Years ago, while studying to become a doctor, I came across a medical journal in the subject of Poisons, Toxins, Venoms and Their Treatments."

Prim had that book.

"Among the various lists was tracker jacker venom. The treatment was for the injection from the insect directly, its poison diluted. I am among the many doctors who are trying to find a cure to your violent flashbacks.

"Today someone found you unconscious outside. We concur that the cause is an extreme transfer of the remaining poison from inside your body to your brain. You had a seizure. I have spoken to your previous doctor, Doctor Aurelius, and it baffles him also.

"If this event happens again within a 2-month time span from today it will lead to extreme brain damage. This can lead to loss of movement, blindness, speech impediments, and possible death. We have come to an agreement that the best permanent treatment is to induce you into a coma to perform various tests, and to evade another seizures. They are not practiced procedures, but we would put an extreme caution into your treatment.

"The upside is that with this extreme of a flashback, it's estimated that you are safe for the next 3 hours from the time of your last flashback. That ends in 40 minutes. We need your consent, and quickly."

I can feel Peeta's pulse quicken through our intertwined hands. His adam's apple visibly bobs as he gulps. He is nervous for this. "I will give you both some time to make a decision." He walks out leaving is with an agreement to make.

"I think I'd rather be put in a coma with you then be without you." I laugh at my statement, but Peeta is somewhere else. He is scared.

"Are you okay with this? Two months apart, or forever? I mean I can just stay away from my triggers and see how that works out." He says.

"That wouldn't work. We both know that." There is not much that doesn't trigger him into a flashback. "We have to go through with this. This could be the solution to your flashbacks, or at least make them not as frequent and strong."

"What about the wedding, Katniss?" My throat constricts. We did not have a date set because if Effie or the Capitol found out, they would blow it up into to a ridiculous extravaganza. I do not like crowds. Peeta understands.

There I get an idea. "Do you want to do it now?" I suggest. "I'd rather go through these months knowing that I was married than waiting until the minute you wake up."

"I would have said 'I do" months ago if you were this desperate to get hitched with me." We laugh together, because we are desperate. It is a good word for us. "We can do the vows here and do the toasting after. I don't think the hospital welcomes the idea of a fire in the building." He jokes.

"Hey what about the rings?" He questions.

"I know." I rub his arm without the IV before exiting his room. I call in the one of the nurses, who promises she will bring up a Chaplin.

I find my way down the hallways, surprisingly, to the main lobby where I passed Delly and Thom with their four-month old baby when I walked in. I crouch down in front of Delly, who is holding her daughter. "Hello Miss Mary Jane." I coo in the cheeriest tone I can muster. She giggles as I tickle her. Delly looks to me with a sad smile.

"I have a favor to ask you both. Could I borrow your wedding rings?" They both exchange confused looks and have a silent discussion with their eyes.

Thom questions while twisting his ring off his finger, "Sure Katniss. We are going to get them back, right?" I am given their rings, which I transfer into my pocket.

"Of course. I'd love for you both to watch, and of course little Mary Jane." I pick her up off Delly's lap and I smile as they follow me down the hallway.

I pass the Chaplin as we are walking back. He nods and joins the line of people walking to Peeta's room.

Peeta wears a makeshift bowtie out of the tissue encasing his pillow. He sits with his back against the wall.

"She doesn't look bad on you." He motions to Mary Jane who I pass to Thom.

"Maybe that could happen." He smirks. I whisper into his ear, "Think of the kids were gonna have in the good life. We can live in that house on the hillside in the woods." He seems mesmerized by my words. I take my seat in his bed, with my legs crisscrossed facing him directly. We hold our hands together with everyone surrounding.

"Where we could stay-"

"Stay there forever." I finish for him.

"Forever and always." We smile at each other, and look to the Chaplin.

He cannot be over 30. He stands with his book, taking a breath before announcing, "Never thought I'd be the one to marry the star-"

I grab his sleeve. Somehow, the phrase Star Crossed Lovers is the worst to trigger something. Every time he hears it, he has an episode. That is what he growled when he hurt me at the house. "Don't say it. It could trigger something."

He shakes it off. "Alright. I don't need to ask for your first names. The benefits of being famous. Right?" Not the benefits. "The doctor told me that I need to make this quick. Katniss Everdeen do you take Peeta Mellark to be your lofty wedded husband from this day forward, until death do you part?"

"I do." I state confidently, not missing a beat.

"Perfect. Peeta Mellark do you take Katniss Everdeen to be your lofty wedded wife from this day forward, until death do you part?"

"I do."

"Now for the rings."

I reach into my pocket to grab Thom and Delly's rings, but Peeta stops me. "What?" I ask impatiently.

"I already have yours with me. That is what I was doing this morning so early. There was a traveling merchant selling rings on an incoming train. I didn't want the capitol to know I was buying your ring, so I went down early. Don't hate me."

He opens a box made of paper and string that holds a perfect compliment to my engagement ring. This time, it holds a pearl. The pearl from the Quarter Quell.

"Peeta." I gasp. "It's beautiful. How did you-"

"I made an offer with the jeweler. He just implanted the pearl into the ring. He also didn't make me pay." He leans in to whisper, "The perks of being famous."

I shake my head in agreement. This whole day has made me an emotional wreck. I never pictured myself crying on my wedding day. He holds me against his chest, I breathe in his scent. He still smells of cinnamon and dill, slightly clean from the hospital disinfectant.

"It's beautiful." I say as he glides the ring down my finger, fitting perfectly with the other. "Mine to you doesn't have as much sentimental value to me. It's Thom's."

"I don't mind at all. As long as it's what binds me to you." I slip it on his finger.

"By the power invested in the District of 12, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride." He kisses me like he did in the first Hunger Games; desperate with the same meaning. However, the event separating us is not a wound on my forehead and split open sword cut on his thigh.

It's the doctor. He peeks his head into the room, "You have 5 minutes. Im sending the anesthesiologist in right now."

Delly and Thom turn to exit. Delly is trying to hide her tears. Peeta stops her. "Dell! Why are you-?"

"All my pep-talks failed. All the times in school that I told you that you were creepy for watching this girl failed. You got the girl Peeta." She smiles while she grabs hold of Thom's hand. "Katniss, take care of him. He is worth every heartache." With that she exits leaving Peeta and I to ourselves for a few last moments.

"Peeta. What if you don't wake up? So many things could go wrong."

"I guess you're going to need to hunt down Gale." I punch him in the shoulder and he winces. "Kidding!" He wheezes with a faint voice.

"Im going to visit you everyday, if I can. Even if you're a jerk. I don't want to go a day without seeing you."

"Well if I dream, we'll be together there." He promises.

"Good."

The anesthesiologist walks in with different medical instruments and supplies. My breath catches in my throat, my chest tightens. I have seen this scenario in countless nightmares. He doesn't wake up, or he doesn't remember me. Or he holds me by the neck like he did in District 13.

"Don't be scared Katniss. I have encountered a lot scarier things than needles. If anything goes wrong, I want you to remember this. Are you listening?"

"Mhmm. I am listening."

"I want you to call Annie and Finn to keep you company. Annie probably needs all the help she can get with a toddler. She can stay with you so you aren't alone during the nights they won't let you sleep next to me."

The nurse interrupts, "Sorry to barge in, but I am supposed to inform you of what I am administering into your IV port. This is a barbiturate drug, for this round its pentobarbital. This will leave you in a deep state of unconsciousness. Im going to insert it into your IV port now. Your heartbeat will start to slow. It's effects will take place within the next 1 to 3 minutes."

We nod politely and Peeta continues. "If I don't make it through for some crazy reason that shouldn't happen, I need you to know that I love you. If there were a stronger word than love, I would use it. You are strong, and brave, and caring, more than anyone I know."

"Be strong. Just know that whether you are happy or sad or whatever, we'll still love each other." The beeps are getting too slow, his voice is almost too low, as he says: "I love you. Please just remember, even if Im not there I'll always love you." He is starting to drift.

"Stay with me Peeta."

"Always." With that last word, he floats on the wave of unconsciousness, counting down to himself the minute we will meet again.

Part 2 Coming Soon