Chapter 17: Katniss
Warnings: more than half this chapter deals heavily in the subject of pet loss which could be triggering to some of you and may be really heavy, emotionally speaking. However there are no graphic descriptions of anything physical involving Lady's death; most of the chapter is Katniss' reaction to it.
"Peeta, Lady is missing again!" I barely recognize my own voice, shaky and high-pitched as I yell into the phone.
"Shit," Peeta replies succinctly, his voice shifting into cop mode. "Any idea how long she's been gone?" There's rustling on the other end of the line and I know without having to ask that he's pulling on his coat.
I rake a hand through my hair, fingers fisting in the strands at the base of my head, pulling tight, hard enough to hurt. "Mom said she's been out all morning. I should've known better than to leave Lady alone with her!"
"Shh Katniss, it's okay, we'll find her, all right?" Peeta's voice is soothing, his confidence calming the frantic beat of my heart. "I'm on my way over. I'll bring the missing flyers I made last time she ran off."
"Thank you," I manage to choke out, and then I'm hanging up, tapping out a text message to Gale with shaking fingers. I have to try four times before I get all the words spelled correctly, my thumb slipping over the touchscreen. Gale replies quickly in the affirmative, and I find myself pacing the front yard while I wait for my friends to show up.
The discovery that Lady has once again escaped the yard leaves me frantic. In all the years that we've had her she's never pulled anything like this before, until she did so recently. What changed? I know the answer but I don't want to think too hard on it, visions of cold blue eyes and a yellow nylon rope binding Lady's muzzle cruelly shut swimming before my eyes, the veiled threat in Snow's seemingly innocuous words echoing in my ears.
Gale and Hazelle arrive first, and Peeta shows up only a few minutes later, parking his ugly police issue sedan behind Gale's truck. Everyone takes a stack of Peeta's flyers and we split up; Mom and Hazelle go door-to-door in our neighborhood, Gale to the woods, and Peeta and I driving separately to other parts of town. I drive Dad's truck up and down the streets, windows rolled down and calling her name, ignoring the strange looks that strangers cast my direction. I head for Capitol Drive, knowing that's where she went last time, and certain that's where she would go again.
My heart is hammering in my chest as I make the turn onto Capitol Drive, my fingers white-knuckled on the steering wheel. Dad's truck crawls past Snow's house and I crane my neck to peer into the immaculately groomed yard, but the garden is untouched, no telltale spray of dirt, no dog, and no Snow. The windows are dark inside his house, the curtains drawn and his driveway is empty; no sign of the fancy SUV that had been parked here last time I was here. The whole property is still and silent.
I should be relieved but I can't push the fear out of my mind. If Lady isn't here, then where is she?
I circle the block to be sure, but Lady doesn't appear, not even when I pass by Snow's house on the way out of the cul de sac. I glance down at my phone where I'd flung it onto the passenger seat but it remains ominously dark and silent; no one else has any news either.
"Fuck." I fight to slow my breathing, forcing down the panic building under my ribcage as I loop back around, deciding to check our house and see if she's miraculously made her way back home before heading out again.
Lady's not at our house either, not waiting on the step or trotting down the street or sprawled out on the grass. I slam the truck into park, shoving my phone back in my pocket as I go, and run up the steps and straight into the kitchen, grabbing a glass of water from the tap and chugging it while fighting desperately not to spill. The empty glass goes back in the sink and I scoop my keys off the counter to get back to the search.
And as I turn away from the sink, something in the back yard catches my eye through the kitchen window – a flash of black and brown out of place on the new grass.
"Lady!" Her name bursts from my lips before I can stop myself, and I yank the back door open with more force than is necessary, rushing to her side. I know as soon as the door is open that something is wrong, when she doesn't leap to her feet and run to greet me with happy licks and wagging tail. She just lays there, and my heart drops out of my chest even as I lurch to my knees beside her.
I'm almost afraid to touch her, my hands shaking when I slide my fingers into her soft fur. Underneath my hands her body is stiff and unresponsive, but I don't want to think about what that might mean - can't think about what that might mean.
"Lady?" I ask, hating the tremor in my voice. "Lady get up." She doesn't move, doesn't even lift her head. I shove my hands underneath her, holding her like a child in my arms, ignoring how she doesn't move, doesn't struggle against being held in such an indignified way. The back gate is closed, but somehow I manage to get it unlatched, shoving it open with my shoulder and getting Lady into the truck.
"Hang on, girl," I say, jumping up into the drivers' seat and starting the truck back up. "I'm getting you help."
The vet's office is about fifteen minutes away from my house by car. I know from all the times I've had to take Lady in for her yearly shots before I had to rush off to work at The Hob, timing it down to the minute so I could cram as many things into one day as I can and still make it on time for my shift.
It's fifteen minutes from my house to the vet - but I make it in seven.
Dad's truck screams to a halt in the parking lot, and I've barely got it in park and the keys out of the ignition before I'm leaping out, slamming the door behind me, and pulling Lady out of the back seat. I push carelessly past a wide-eyed woman with a cat carrier in her hand as she comes out the door, barely registering her disgruntled huff at my rudeness as I force my way up to the counter.
"I need help! There's something wrong with my dog!"
The technicians in their brightly colored scrubs behind the reception desk leap to their feet, cheerful demeanors and smiling faces disappearing behind practiced efficiency as they spring into action. I don't want to let go of Lady, I want to come with them and know that they're taking care of her but a third nurse comes out of the back and gently holds me back while the other two ease my dog out of my grasp and take her to the back, mumbling calming things in a low, soothing voice that washes aimlessly over me. Somehow, she manages to sit me down in one of the waiting room chairs, assuring me that Dr. Aurelius will take good care of her.
"What's your name, dear?"
I'm not your dear, I think dully, you don't even know me, but I answer "Katniss Everdeen," my voice wooden in my own ears. From far away, I hear the tapping of her keyboard as she types my name into her computer, and she must manage to find Lady's file because she gets up from her chair, taking it to the back to give it to the doctor.
I stare at the door that they took Lady through for so long that my eyes start to burn, long after the kindly nurse comes back through the door and sits back down at her desk. I drop my face into my hands, pressing the heels of my palms into my eyelids until I see spots.
I should tell everyone, I remember dimly, and fumble my phone out of my pocket to text Peeta and Gale.
Found Lady, I type out, At the vet, and hit send, curling my arms around my chest as if that will hold me together as I wait. My phone vibrates in my palm almost immediately afterwards, two quick buzzes in rapid succession.
PEETA: What happened? Do you need me to come there?
GALE: I'll tell our moms then come 2 the vet.
I shake my head. What's the point in either of them coming all the way over here? It's not as if there's anything they can do. No point just go home. text u later.
I'm restless as I wait for the vet to come out with my dog, tell me she's going to be fine and slap me with a vet bill that will likely cost more than three months worth of utilities. My feet won't stop tapping, my fingers combing through my hair and gradually working my braid loose in its tie, and when the strands slip out of the plait, I coil them around my fingers, staring without seeing at a waiting room floor scuff mark.
Finally the door swings open, startling me out of my thoughts, and I look up to see Dr. Aurelius making his way towards me, alone. His kindly face is grim, his normally neat salt and pepper hair disheveled and out of place, and that, more than anything is what scares me.
"Miss Everdeen?" he asks gravely, and I shove myself to my feet, a violent movement.
My throat closes, fear suffocating me. "That's me," I manage to choke out.
"I'm so sorry-" he says, and the rest of his words disappear in a rush of sound as I sway on my feet, reeling backwards as if struck. He grabs me by the arms, concern lighting up his features as he guides me back into my chair, his hands tight and grounding against my flesh.
"- there was nothing we could do," he's saying as he sits down beside me. "She was gone before we even started working on her."
I shake my head violently, the end of my braid whipping against my shoulder blades. "No." She can't be dead. She can't. I need my dog; she's all I have left.
But I knew it - deep down I knew it as soon as I saw her lying in the backyard. She wouldn't lie there if she knew I was home. She wouldn't have stayed quiet when she heard my voice, felt my hand in her fur. She would have leapt up to lean against my side, to lick my fingers and look up at me with soulful, trusting eyes.
"I'm very sorry for your loss," the doctor says, and I lower my face into my hands, an almost physical pain lancing through my stomach. His hand drops down onto my shoulder and squeezes, a solid weight that I'm sure is meant to be reassuring.
I can feel myself flying apart inside, coming apart at the seams. I want to rip and scream and tear, to yank at my own hair and lash out with my fists. My fingers tighten in the hair at my temples and I squeeze, the pain grounding me until I can find the words that will calm my frantic, scattered mind.
My name is Katniss Everdeen. I am twenty four years old. I live on Seam Street in the town of Panem. Prim disappeared nearly six years ago and is believed to be dead. My dog is named Lady… and now she's dead too.
Something settles inside me when I replay those last words, a cold sort of calm pooling in my chest. Prim is dead and Lady is dead and Snow has something to do with it. Lady knew. She knew there was something wrong with that guy. The first time she broke out, she went to his house, and I know without a doubt that that's where she went this time. She was a healthy dog, never had any problems beyond one bout of kennel cough when she was two, and the gate was closed when I found her, so someone must have put her there.
Snow did something to her… I just need to find out what.
When I finally look up, Dr. Aurelius is still watching me, probably expecting me to burst into tears or faint or something, but I'm under control now. "I want an autopsy," I say, my voice hollow.
The vet nods. "We can certainly discuss that. It is an additional expense -" he starts, but I interrupt him, standing swiftly. His hand falls from my shoulder to lie ineffectually in his lap.
"I don't care." It's probably more than I can afford but I need proof of what I know Snow did. I'll work extra shifts, maybe eat ramen noodles for lunch for a few weeks. "I want an autopsy," I repeat sharply.
"Alright," the doctor replies, placating. He rises and turns to the technician behind the counter who's watching me with pity that I don't want or need, and instructs her to schedule an autopsy. He mumbles his apologies, to which I give a curt nod, and he disappears back behind the door to the back room.
When I leave the vet's office five minutes later, it is with a bill for $637.87 I don't have. It's with a promise that they'll call me as soon as the autopsy results come back in. It's with a cold kind of numbness seeping into my limbs from the center of my chest.
And it's without my dog.
I find myself outside of Peeta's house, hammering on his front door, Dad's truck parked crookedly in front of his lawn. I shift from foot to foot as I wait for him to answer, impatient and antsy with tension that has no outlet.
Finally the door swings open to reveal him, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, his blonde hair disheveled as if he hadn't had time to comb it, and he pushes opens the screen to welcome me. His smile drops off when he catches sight of my face.
"Katniss?" he asks tentatively, his voice edged in alarm. "Is Lady okay? What happened at the vet?"
I shake my head, stepping into the house, swallowing hard around the lump in my throat and fighting to control the sob I can feel building in my chest. "She's- she died," I manage to choke out.
"Oh Katniss, I'm so sorry," Peeta says, aghast. "What happened?"
"I don't know. She-" I cut myself off as tears spring to my eyes, struggling to maintain what little calm I'm still clinging to. I take a deep, shaky breath.
Peeta seems to realize that I'm barely holding it together and reaches out and drags me forward against his chest. "Shh, it's okay. You don't have to tell me now." Strong arms circle me, holding me tight against his body, his hands splayed against my back.
Peeta's hands are warm, and his chest is solid and sturdy up against mine, his heartbeat slow and steady. Under his touch, I feel my tenuous control slip, the frigid calm I'd found in the vet's office draining away with my anger, replaced with an aching emptiness with ragged edges. I don't realize my eyes are blurry until the tears are already spilling over, soaking Peeta's shirt. My body starts to shake, only Peeta's strong hold keeping me in one piece. Wet sobs tear out of my chest wracking my body until I can barely breath.
"Breathe, Katniss, I'm here." Peeta's voice is low and soothing, his hands rubbing wide, firm circles on my back.
"She's dead!" I cry again, and I don't know if I mean Prim or Lady. My hands close convulsively around handfuls of Peeta's soft grey t-shirt, and he just holds me tighter.
"I'm sorry," he murmurs into my hair. "I'm so, so sorry."
Eventually my sobs quiet enough that I can breathe again, and I become aware of the mess I've made of Peeta's shirt. I feel disgusting and weak for losing it like that, and I push away from him far enough that I can wipe my face with my hand and look up at him. "Sorry," I say, and my voice comes out raw and used.
He shakes his head. "You don't have to apologize, Katniss. You don't have to be strong all the time." His hands slide up to cup my face, his big thumbs sliding across my cheeks to wipe away the tears that are still squeezing out of my eyes.
"Come with me," Peeta says, sliding his hands out from around me and taking my hand instead. He leads me to his living room couch and I fall more than sit down, flopping weakly against the cushions and drawing my knees up to my chest. He tugs the blanket off the back of the couch and tucks it in around me, bending at the waist to press a kiss to the top of my head. "I'll be right back."
Peeta comes back a few minutes later with a mug of herbal tea - chamomile and lemon, by the smell - the tea bag still steeping in the hot water. He presses the cup into my hand and sits down beside me, sliding his arm around my shoulders and pulling me into his side. I feel weak for needing this but I can't bring myself to pull away, instead letting myself sink into his warmth.
I sip my tea in silence, the lemon soothing my throat and the chamomile calming my hectic mind. Slowly my tears dry, and I feel the tension draining out of my body until I'm slumped against Peeta's side, my head resting against his chest . Peeta doesn't try to push me for information, doesn't try to get me to talk, just sits quietly, his hand warm and firm against my arm, his face pressed to my hair. Somehow, Peeta always seems to know what I need, without me ever having to say it.
Finally, I'm the one to break the silence. "She was at home and the gate was closed when I found her. Someone put her back in the yard and by the time I got her to the vet she was already dead."
I feel Peeta's lips against my hair. "I'm so sorry, Katniss," he says quietly, his hand squeezing my arm. I grab for his free hand where it rests against his thigh and thread our fingers together, clutching tightly.
"You know, all I can see is Lady when she was a puppy, when –" I suck in a shaky breath- "when Prim and I brought her home. It was a surprise for Prim, getting a dog. After our dad died. I never even wanted one but I knew Prim would love it and I couldn't stand to see her sad. So I loaded her into the truck and didn't even tell her where we were going and she had no idea until I pulled into the lot at the shelter in Pittsburgh." I feel my lips twitch in a sad parody of a smile, remembering Prim's face, how she'd jumped around and hugged me so tight I could barely breathe. How both of us knew the second that we saw Lady that she was the one.
"Prim named her," I continue as Peeta's fingers trail soothing lines up and down my arm. "I thought it was the dumbest name at first but she was Prim's dog and Prim was adamant. And it suited her, in a weird way, once she finally grew out of the awkward puppy stage." A short huff of laughter bursts past my lips as I remember. "That first day, Prim started teaching her tricks. I wanted to teach her 'sit' but Prim just wanted her to do cutesy things. She taught her 'rollover' instead. It was so useless, but it made me so fucking happy to see Prim laugh when she would do it."
I bite the inside of my cheek to fight off tears again, the tiny hint of a smile on my lips twisting bitterly. "She was the best dog, Peeta. The best dog. After Prim -" my throat closes up and the tears spill over, silent tracks making their way down my cheeks to drip onto my shirt. "She just - she was always there, you know? Whenever I needed her. Sometimes she was all I had. And now she's-"
My voice cracks on the last word and I inhale on a shaking sob. Peeta draws me in, pulling me tighter against him and releasing my hand so he can wrap both arms around me again. He presses his lips to my hair and holds me, rocking me slightly as I sob against him.
I sit there in the circle of Peeta's arms, letting him comfort me with his body against me and the warmth of his breath in my hair. The tears wash down my face unchecked and I don't try to stop them, weeping for my poor dead dog who was never anything but good and innocent, who comforted me when I had nightmares and was always there to come home to, who was there for me when I missed my sister.
It's nice, I realize with a start, curled up here against Peeta, wrapped up in his heat, drowning in the steady beat of his heart beneath my ear. I should tell Peeta my suspicions about Snow's hand in her death, about the autopsy I ordered to prove it. I should get his focus and mine on my dead sister and my dead dog, but I can't find the strength to do it. Right now, I want to be selfish, to feel sorry for myself and take what comfort I can from Peeta, who is warm and good and here. His body against mine is intoxicating and distracting, his mouth moving against my hair sending sparks of heat down my spine. So I stop thinking about Lady, shying away from the pain and moving towards Peeta.
Peeta stills against my side when I turn my head to drag my lips along the exposed skin above the collar of his t-shirt. I part my lips and press a kiss to his throat, feeling it move against my mouth as he swallows dryly.
"Katniss…" he breathes as my mouth moves up the column of his throat to press gentle, sucking kisses underneath his jaw. "What are you doing?"
"Shhh," I whisper, hushing him. I slide my hand up his chest to cup his jaw, pulling back far enough that I can look into his eyes. His eyes are dark, the blue swallowed up by black, and he licks dry lips as his eyes flicker over me.
I lean in, capturing his lips with my own, sighing as he kisses back and opens at the tease of my tongue. My hands slide into his hair and he stifles a moan, his hands tightening around me and drawing me closer. I let myself melt against him, his body firm against my own, and suddenly kisses aren't enough; I need the comfort of skin on skin, of his hands everywhere, his body surrounding me and filling me.
"Peeta," I breathe, heat pooling low in my belly when his breath catches at the sound, and I rise up on my knees, throwing a leg over his lap to straddle him. His hands slide up to grip my hips, and when I roll my hips down to press tight against him, he groans. He kisses me hungrily, his tongue flicking against mine, but when my hands go to the hem of his shirt, he stops me, his hands closing around my wrists.
"Katniss, stop," he says, his voice rough.
My brow furrows as I look down at him, my fingers still tangled in the soft fabric of his t-shirt. "Why?"
He closes his eyes and shakes his head, biting his lip as if looking at me is too much temptation. "Because you're hurting right now." His fingers tighten convulsively on mine. "It wouldn't be right."
Embarrassment rushes through me and I sit back in his lap, looking away from his gaze. "You don't want to." I know he's probably right, as little as I might want to acknowledge it, but the rejection still hurts more than it should.
"Oh god- that's not-" Peeta combs a hand roughly through his hair, tilting his head to look up at the ceiling. When he looks back down at me, he cups my chin and gently turns my head so I meet his eyes. "I want to, Katniss, believe me. So badly." His voice is fervent, his fingers pressing gently into my jaw. "But it wouldn't be right to do this when you're vulnerable like this."
"Peeta, please," I whisper, and I hate begging but I can't stop myself. "I know what I'm doing. I want this. I need this."
Peeta shakes his head, his eyes squeezed tightly shut, but the hand still around my wrist tightens and I can almost see him warring with himself. "Are you sure?" he asks, his voice husky with desire.
I nod, pressing myself close to him, my lips skimming his jaw. Two last tears squeeze out of my eyes as I whisper brokenly into his ear, "I need you, Peeta, please."
It's the truth.
Something in my voice must convince him, because Peeta gives in with a groan, releasing my wrists and turning his head to capture my lips. This time I manage to get his t-shirt over his head, tossing it heedlessly to the side, followed by my own. I'm frantic, kissing him hard as soon as he's free of the t-shirt, but he cups my cheek, his thumb stroking over my cheekbone and slowing me down, the touch firm and grounding.
Then Peeta's mouth is on my skin, kissing down my neck between my breasts and over the frantic beat of my heart. I comb my fingers through his hair, arching into the touch of his lips. His arms curl tightly around me, hands splayed and fingers pressing gently into my skin and under his touch, I start to tremble. It's been a long time since I wanted anyone this badly, and the need fighting it's way through my body is vast and terrifying.
"You okay?" he asks, his voice low, breath fanning out over my skin and I nod, rolling my hips down against his and gasping at the pressure of his erection against my center. He clutches me tighter and mouths at my collar bone, squeezing his eyes shut at the sensation and rocking up into me in response.
His lips find mine again, his tongue slipping into my mouth, but when I reach for his fly he pulls back. "Wait, Katniss," he whispers, kissing the hollow of my throat where my pulse beats wildly. He stands and I slide from his lap, but he catches my hand, fingers sliding into the spaces between his, and tugs me down the hall into his bedroom.
I slide backwards onto his bed, and Peeta's eyes meet mine as he undoes the button on my jeans and tugs them down my legs, pressing a kiss to the bone of my ankle as they slide free. My socks are next, and then I'm lying there in my underwear, tensing under his gaze.
Peeta yanks off his own jeans and returns to the bed in only his boxers, his body hard and hot against my own. I tug him down on top of me, moving to capture his lips with mine, swallowing his moan as he rolls his hips, his arousal pressing against me and sending jolts of desire racing through my belly.
His hands are everywhere, big and warm against my skin. One of them slides into my hair while the other strokes over my hip, tightening briefly over the curve before he skims up to graze the skin below my breast with his thumb. His touch is gentle, teasing, and every movement of his fingers leaves behind tendrils of heat under my skin, racing and caressing.
My bra and panties and Peeta's boxers join the rest of our clothes on the floor and then he's hovering over me, his body a long unbroken line of heat against my skin. He pauses to dig a condom from the nightstand and to roll it on but then he's pushing slowly into me, thrusting into the tight heat of my body and kissing me everywhere he can reach.
I forget about everything, pushing aside the pain and loss and loneliness that threatens to engulf me, and lose myself in Peeta instead. My senses are filled with him, the smell of his shampoo and the sweat on his skin, the wet heat of his mouth against my throat, his hardness filling me, his hands tangling in my hair and stroking over my breast and down my side. I lift my hips to meet his slow thrusts, arching against the solid weight of his body above me, drinking in his gasps and choked off moans as he swallows my own. He keeps me hovering on the edge of bliss, pushing me higher and higher until I come with his name on my lips, clutching desperately at his shoulders as he follows me over the edge.
Afterwards, when we're lying tangled together, my body still tingling with little sparks of pleasure, he draws me into his chest and presses a kiss to my temple. "Go to sleep, Katniss," he says. "I'll take care of you." I smile against his chest at the words, feeling his slow, steady heartbeat beneath my cheek. My limbs are heavy, my whole body warm, and the gentle, soothing stroke of his hands over my back lulls me into a dreamless sleep.
The next several nights after Lady's death, I find myself at Peeta's house. I check in with my mother every day unless Hazelle is going over, make sure she's eating, but afterwards, I always wind up knocking on his door, falling into bed with him, and sleeping in his arms. With him there, it's the best I've slept in as long as I can remember, at least since before Prim died. There are no nightmares waking me in the middle of the night, no sitting up soaked in sweat with a scream building in my throat. I wake up to strong arms wrapped around me, Peeta's lips against my hair as he reaches across me to silence his alarm.
But when I'm awake, when I'm not with him, Lady is constantly on my mind - Lady and Prim and Snow and how they must be connected; they have to be. The vet had told me it could be up to a week before Lady's autopsy results come back but I still find myself ducking into the break room at work more often than usual to check my phone. I take to keeping it on me as I work, constantly on vibrate, shoved in my back pocket.
Cinna has me cleaning glasses Thursday afternoon. It's a slow day, just him and I running the place and only a few customers to keep an eye on, when my phone starts vibrating in my back pocket. The second buzz proves it's not a text, and I yank it out, turning it hastily the right way up to answer it.
"Hello?" I ask breathlessly.
"Hello, Miss Everdeen? This is Dr. Aurelius from the Panem Veterinary Clinic."
My heart leaps painfully in my chest. "Yes?"
"I just wanted to let you know that we got the results back on Lady's autopsy and it looks like she ingested a poisonous substance."
There's a ringing in my ears, the room sways around me, and my free hand shoots out to grip the bar counter to keep me from falling. "She was poisoned?"
"Actually, it's far more likely that she ingested it on her own and that it was unintentional. The poison came from a plant called nightlock which is -"
"I know what nightlock is," I interrupt, the hairs standing up on the backs of my arms. I remember a small plant with spade shaped leaves, tucked away and inconspicuous in Snow's yard, indistinguishable from a blueberry bush to the untrained eye. But I recognized it. I knew. Just like I know now, without a shadow of a doubt, that Snow was the one who poisoned my dog.
" - just wanted to let you know," the doctor is saying, and I nod dumbly even if he can't see.
"Thanks," I say, my voice cracking on the word and I pull the phone away from my ear and hang up.
I stand for a few moments, both hands braced on the bar as I struggle to get myself under control. I'm cold all over, my vision swimming, and there's a roaring in my ears that I can't silence.
Finally I straighten up and tap out a text to Peeta: Need to talk to you after work today.
He replies quickly. Okay. Everything all right?
No, everything is not all right. That bastard Snow killed my dog. I swallow hard, typing out Tell you later, and shove the phone back into my pocket.
The rest of the work day crawls by, and I have to force myself to stop looking at the time when Cinna asks me what's got me so twitchy. When the clock finally strikes eight, signalling the end of my shift, I make it out of there in record time,
Peeta greets me at the door with a smile and a kiss, but he can tell right away that I'm not myself. His brow furrows as he shuts the door behind me and follows me into the dining room. "Katniss, what's wrong?"
"I finally heard back from the vet," I reply, sliding into a chair at his table and scrubbing my hands over my face.
Peeta sits down beside me, reaching across the table to cover my hand with his own. "And? What did they say?"
I take a deep breath, letting it all out in a rush. "The vet said she was poisoned with nightlock berries. They're extremely toxic; it wouldn't have taken many to kill her."
Peeta's hand closes around mine in a transparent attempt to comfort me. "Nightlock? Does it grow around here?"
I nod sharply. "Yes, but it's not very common. We didn't come across it very often. Peeta, she didn't just eat the berries while she was wandering around. Snow had a bush in his yard; I saw it there that day that I caught her digging in his primrose bushes." Under the table, my free hand tightens into a fist against my thigh. "He poisoned her. I know he did."
"Katniss…" Peeta eyes me warily. "I'll admit, it looks bad, but it'd be hard to prove he did it. She could have picked them up anywhere."
"Then how do you explain how I found her in my yard with the gate shut?" My lip curls humorlessly. "You think my dog ran back home to die and took the time to shut the door behind her?"
"Maybe the wind blew it shut. Or one of your neighbors saw it was open-"
"No, Peeta," I counter sharply, pulling my hand out of his grasp. "It was Snow. Last time she broke out she went right to his house and I told you what he said last time. And when she got away from me that time we were walking on his street she went straight for his primroses. His primroses, Peeta!" I push myself up from the table, pacing the length of his kitchen. "How can that be a coincidence? He did something. He killed Prim and somehow Lady knew it, and he killed her too."
Peeta pulls his hand back, watching me unhappily as I range up and down his kitchen. "You're right," he says finally, "it's too many coincidences," and I feel myself relax incrementally before his next words negate all of it. "But it's not enough for me to do anything about it. None of that counts as evidence and the fact remains that her eating poisonous berries that grow wild around Panem isn't proof that he did it, even if he does have a nightlock bush in his yard."
My mouth falls open and I feel my face flush with anger. "I can't believe you! I thought you were on my side!"
He stands too, looking distressed. "I am on your side, Katniss, but you have to understand-"
"No." I step forward into his space, stabbing a finger at his chest. "You have to understand. I know it was him. Everything I had, everything I cared about is gone because of him." And I'm not going to let him get away with it.
Peeta moves towards me and for a moment I think he might try to hug me and I tense up, but he just raises his hands in a pacifying gesture. "You could be right; I'm not saying you're not. I just need more evidence before I can do anything about it. I'm sorry."
Then he does move to take me in his arms and I step away, out of his reach, ignoring the hurt in his eyes. I can hear the sincerity in his apology but I'm too angry to accept it. "Save it," I snarl back at him, pushing past him towards the door.
"Where are you going?" he asks, following me to the entry but wisely keeping his distance.
"Home," I answer shortly, and before he can argue anymore, I've got my coat on and I'm back out the door, flinging myself into my truck and starting it with hands that are just starting to shake with anger. He watches me go, his silhouette lit from behind by the lights inside his house, and I feel his eyes on me long after I've driven out of sight.
My mother and Hazelle look up from where they're seated at the kitchen table when I storm into the house. "Katniss?" my mother asks, perplexed. "I thought you were going to be out tonight?"
I avoid her gaze when I answer, toeing off my shoes and throwing my jacket haphazardly over the back of the couch. "Yeah well, plans change." I can feel my mother's watery blue eyes and Hazelle's sharp grey ones following me as I storm rudely past them up the stairs and to my bedroom, throwing myself on my bed without bothering to undress.
I punch my pillow a few times in frustration before hurling it across the room with an impotent cry of rage. Angry tears squeeze out of my eyes as I clutch the blanket to my chest.
It was Snow. I know it was. Deep down I know that Peeta's right and there's nothing he can do about it, at least not without more evidence, but I still want him to. There should be something he can do, something more he can try, and I'm furious with both his and my own inability to do anything when the man I am sure killed Prim is right within our grasp.
Somehow, I manage to drift off to sleep, when there are no more tears left to cry and my voice is hoarse from wordless, choked-off screams made into the fabric of my comforter. But that night, without Peeta by my side to keep the nightmares away, I dream of Prim - of pain and blood and fear - and this time Lady joins her, convulsing and dying while I watch and scream and can't do anything to stop it.
And when I wake up in a cold sweat, a scream dying on my lips and my eyes stinging with new tears, I'm all alone, and I reach out for Lady before I remember that she's not there.
A/N: I know this chapter is really heavy, emotionally speaking, and for that I'm very sorry! It was as hard to write as I'm sure it was to read, especially as a severe dog-lover myself. Nonetheless I hope you enjoyed it! Thank you so much for your continued support for this story and for your patience waiting for this chapter! Peeta's up next. :)
Thanks as always to our magnificent beta jennagill and fantastic pre-reader desertginger as well as to both my co-authors for all of your suggestions that helped make this chapter as good as it is.
I'm madefrommemoriesff on tumblr, and my co-authors are loveforpanem and soamazinghere. Come say 'hi'!