April 30, 1945
Katniss ducked under the table as she heard the plane streak over head. Prim tugged at her rag doll's hair nervously. "It'll be over soon," Katniss lied.
The bullets and bomb had waved over Berlin for ten tense days; growing closer day by day as the siege raged for control of the city. It was the last gasp of the Reich and the Axis powers were fighting a bitter battle. Katniss pulled Prim into her chest and covered her eyes as plaster rained from the rattling walls and ceiling.
The air raid siren sounded again to signal the temporary end of the strafing and they exited their shelter. Katniss sent Prim to her room while she picked her way outside to survey the damage.
The streets revealed their usual destruction: collapsed buildings, dead and dying soldiers, dazed and devastated civilians. She rolled up her sleeves and headed over to a group of soldiers shifting rubble to access the faint sounds of crying beneath a collapsed wall. As they pulled the dead woman and her weeping husband from the wreckage, Katniss turned away. She moved to the next rescue group wordlessly and began the same process.
After an hour, she cut her hand on exposed rebar and returned to the flat to clean and bandage her palm and check on Prim. The little girl was out of her room and standing in the sink to look out the kitchen window. "Prim. Don't," Katniss sighed, wiping her hands with the cleanest part of the bath towel. "You don't want to see what's out there."
"She's dead," Prim said flatly. Katniss came to stand next to her. The casualties of today's bombings were being lead away on carts pulled by tired-looking Allied soldiers.
"Yes," Katniss said. "They're all gone."
"Mama is dead."
Katniss stopped. "Yes," she said finally.
"And my brothers."
"Not Peeta," Prim said. Katniss watched her closely. Prim turned and looked at her. "They were like that."
Katniss looked at the limp bodies on the street below. "Yes, Prim. They're dead."
"And my father."
Prim's eyes were black. "We are alone."
Katniss suddenly felt very heavy. "We are."
Katniss had pulled Peeta aside when he had arrived that evening. He was giddy to see her, but she had quickly shushed him.
"I had to tell her."
"About your father."
He went ashen. "Oh."
He shook his head. "No, she is not," Peeta said sadly.
"I know, I just meant...I...," Katniss stammered. "She understands."
He nodded. "Prim?"
She dragged her rag doll behind her as she shuffled into the living room. She stepped on Peeta's foot and wrapped her arms around his thighs. He picked her up.
"Prim, there is good news today."
She looked at him but said nothing.
"The Führer is dead."
Katniss felt the world tilt. "Excuse me?"
"He is gone," Peeta smiled. Even Prim seemed to be awake. "He has killed himself tonight."
Katniss choked on her tongue trying to cheer, cry, and scream. Peeta laughed gently as he patted her on her back. "It will be over soon."
Katniss lay with Prim until she fell asleep that night. Finally when she could hear the little girl's gentle snores Katniss was able to creep to the door. She was rubbing the damp circle of drool her shirt when she joined Peeta on the floor in the damaged living room. He toyed with the doll Prim had left on the rotting sofa.
"She's been getting better," Peeta told her. "She is only sad."
Katniss watched him stroke the doll's dishrag hair. "I'm sad for you, too," she murmured.
Peeta didn't speak for a long time. "I did not know what I would do. If you had not come with her. If I could not find her again." he stopped. "You have done so much for her. I am...for me. I..." He smiled. "I cannot say thank you. There are no words for this."
"You saved me too," Katniss reminded him. "I cannot find a way to say thank you either."
Peeta set the doll down. "You will go home soon." It was not a question or a statement.
Katniss felt the loneliness wash over them both.
"I suppose so," she whispered. "Not very soon. But if not jail," she tried to joke, "home."
"She will miss you very much." He looked over at her.
Katniss flung herself into his lap and kissed him desperately. Peeta tangled his fingers in her hair.
They lost themselves in one another on the floor of the ruined apartment building. The floorboards under the worn carpets squeaked with their movement. She scratched the peeling whitewash from the wall when he pushed her up against it for better leverage. Her knees and palms burned from the rug but she didn't notice.
Her name was on his lips and she didn't feel lonely anymore.
8 May 1945
It started as a single voice. Outside, in the distance. A call of joy. Desperate joy, filling the lungs, heart, throat of the calling man until it overwhelmed him to his fingertips and toes and needed to spread.
Another voice joined his; tearful with relief. Wavering in the face of a final end to suffering.
The celebration spread like a tidal wave extinguishing a fire.
Katniss was frozen at the window, unsure if madness had overtaken her fellow soldiers. Prim watched beside her, puzzled at the grins with unmatched streaming eyes.
"Why do they weep?"
"Because they're happy," Katniss breathed.
She spotted Peeta weaving through the throng of revelers. He looked up to their window and she waved. He made a looping motion with his arm. 'Come to me,' it said. Coupled with his beaming grin, she knew what had happened.
Gripping Prim's hand, she ran down the stairs to join Peeta, and the rest of the Allied troops to celebrate Victory in Europe day in the streets of a free Berlin.
12 September 1945
Prim laughed wildly as Katniss chased her down the short hallway.
"I'm going to catch you!" she teased. Prim turned around and Katniss let her run past her, tickling her ribs as she passed. The little girl shrieked and ran to the back door.
She stopped. She pressed her face against the screen. She watched Peeta seeding the lumps in the earth in their backyard. Katniss came to stand behind her.
"That is Mama and Hans and Frier," she told Katniss quietly. "They are sleeping under the earth."
"I know," Katniss murmured. "They're here to keep watch over you."
Prim wandered away from the door to the front of the house.
Katniss watched Peeta pause in his work. Soft green grass was sprouting in the dirt. He looked over his shoulder at her. She smiled at him.
"Do you want some coffee?" she asked.
"Not after dinner," he smiled back. "I will not sleep tonight."
He turned back to the mounds. She left him alone.
They had left Berlin in the cover of night in early June. The withdrawal had been massive; occupation troops moving in to take over division of the great city had left enough foot traffic to become lost civilians, moving further and further away from the crowds. Katniss had secured farmer's clothes for Peeta in a trade that cost her two days' rations, but it was worth it to layer Peeta's borrowed uniform over the disguise as they made plans to run away.
Katniss had wanted to see Aurelius again; to see Jackson or Finnick. But it was too dangerous. She hoped they knew she loved them for their kindness.
They walked deep in the woods where they good, stepping aside for incoming troops with calls of thanks in Polish. Peeta held Prim's hand and called her his daughter to anyone who asked. Katniss stayed silent by his side when they ran into fellow refugees.
By July they had reached the tiny homestead hidden in the copse of trees.
Prim slept in the bathtub while Katniss straightened the rooms and Peeta used sandpaper to grind the ugly word from the living room wall. Katniss moved out back to find weeds and wildflowers had bloomed over the three mounds of soft earth in the background.
Peeta could not look out the back door for five days. Prim had waited for him until he was ready. Katniss had watched the siblings standing side by side for a long time. Prim was brave for the both of them.
As the weeks past, Katniss learned out to seal broken pipes and repair furniture. Peeta showed her the way to the market that was being run out of a tent until a new roof could go over the shelled building. She watched the merchant count out her change by hand and thought of Sweeney Grocery. It was a lifetime away from her in Virginia.
When the leaves changed Peeta had dug out a winter clothes from a wooden trunk and, with a drawn face, brought a stack to Katniss. "They were hers," he told her. "They will be yours now."
She saw he wore a sweater a big stretched out in the shoulders and stomach. His father's. "Thank you," she said. And she meant it.
Prim outgrew her clothes and began to wear Frier's. Katniss worried it would remind her of hiding as a boy, but her brother's things around her seemed to make her more secure. She ran all over the house anyway, dresses never suited her much.
Katniss frowned when she realized Prim had been silent while she had been watching Peeta in the backyard.
She saw her short silhouette in the hallway, facing the screen door open to the cool evening air. She wasn't moving.
Katniss frowned at the puddle around her feet. "Prim?"
The little girl spun around. Her eyes were wild. "Mama!" she shrieked.
Katniss heard it. The sound of the engine coming up the drive.
Peeta burst in the back door at Prim's screams. She ran to him in terror. "Peeta!"
"Katniss, what is it?" He tried to pick up his little sister, but she broke away and ran back to Katniss.
Prim grabbed Katniss's hand and started to yank at her. She stretched out a hand, begging her brother to help.
"We run! Peeta! We run!" she screamed.
Katniss looked out the front door. Her heart sank. "Prim, it's okay."
"Peeta, it's Gale," she said softly.
He stared. "No. No no no," he whispered.
"It's okay," she said firmly. Prim wailed. "Get her into the tub. It's Gale...he'll give me some time."
She knelt down. "Prim, it is a friend. Only coming to visit."
Prim sobbed. "Katniss."
"Peeta's going to give you a bath and get you a clean nightgown while I talk to my friend, all right?"
"Hello?" A call from outside made Prim scream harder. "Who's screaming? Do you need help?" The familiar voice hurt her heart.
"Gale! It's me. Just a minute!"
"Katniss? What's going on?"
"Just. Wait outside!" Katniss yelled out the door.
"Gale wait outside!" she yelled.
Prim cried. Peeta stood up and held her hands. "No, Katniss," she sobbed. "Katniss!"
She kissed Prim's forehead. "It's all right, Prim. I'm safe. You're safe too."
She stood and crossed to the kitchen. She grabbed a handful of dishtowels and dropped them over the puddle Prim had left in the hallway. She could hear Peeta trying to shush her while she cried into the bathwater as she mopped up the hall and threw the towels into the sink to rinse.
She was wiping the soap off her hands as she stepped outside.
The sun had begun to set. A pale orange glow was fading to a gentle blue over the lawn.
Gale was watching the breeze play with the leaves. He heard her footsteps and stared at her.
"You noticed," she smiled. She looked away when he did not return her smile.
"I was really fucking worried about you," he said through a locked jaw.
"I wanted to say goodbye! But what was I supposed to do? March through town in my nurse's uniform to find you under the General's nose?"
"You could have left word."
"I couldn't risk them. I had to get them home."
He looked past her out the house.
She followed his gaze. The house looked sleepy and peaceful. She looked back to him. "How're the guys?"
"I'm not here to make small talk."
She nodded. "I'm not packed."
"I didn't expect you to be."
"I'm not here to arrest you."
Her eyes narrowed. "Why?"
"I just wanted to make sure they got home okay too," he breathed. "I'm glad you're alive, don't get me wrong. And I guessed you might be with them, but I always knew you'd be okay. Alone or with anyone else. But they're the people I came here to help. I wanted to see if I did help."
She watched his Adam's apple bob as he swallowed hard. "You did help, Gale. We met so many grateful people on the way back here. People freed because of you."
"I guess." His voice cracked.
"Gale, I'm so sorry. For everything."
"You didn't start this war."
"I can still be sorry for everything we lost."
"I think you found something in the process."
She laughed and wiped at her watering eyes. "I found work to be done." Gale looked over her shoulder. Her eyes followed.
She smiled against her heartbreak. Peeta held Katniss on his hip at the screen door. Her fingers were in her mouth as she sniffled and watched Katniss. When Katniss turned around from Gale, Prim stretched her free hand out to the door, silently pleading.
"Probably best," Gale murmured. "You were a shitty soldier." She couldn't disagree. "It's a damn shame," he breathed.
"No, no," he smiled. "That I couldn't find you."
"Gale." She opened her arms. He hugged her hard. He ducked his lips to her ear. "I'll miss my friend Katniss."
"She'll miss you, too." Katniss pulled back. Gale nodded.
He saluted her.
She saluted him.
He smiled and shook his head. "You're even terrible at that." He waved to Peeta and walked back to his truck.
"Gale!" she called out.
"Tell my mother," she began. She stopped. She discovered it as she said it. "Tell her I found what I was looking for."
He smiled to himself as he climbed back into the truck. She watched him back out of the clearing. She heard the bang of the screen door right before she felt the small hand pulling on her skirt. She reached down to hold Prim's hand as Peeta's fingers laced into her free hand. Together they followed the taillights until they were no more than a speck in the distance.
Peeta stood beside her. "You will stay?" he near-whispered. He looked around the house. "It is not much here-"
She stopped him. "Peeta."
His eyes met hers.