Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing
and right-doing there is a field.
I'll meet you there.
After hours and hours of travel, the train to District 12 grinds to a stop.
The cool voice of an attendant announces: "We have reached District 12. You have five minutes to disembark before the train begins its return trip."
It takes me less than thirty seconds to gather my things.
Fire mutts don't have many belongings.
I have my few personal effects packed away tightly, safely, in a soft sack. The effort required to reach out and put away three things has completely exhausted me and I sink back into the plush compartment seats, unable to rise.
I consider riding the train back to the Capitol. And back to 12 again.
Back and forth. Back and forth.
I weigh my options, pressing myself further and further into the seat.
A bell sounds, alerting passengers that they have one minute left.
I don't move.
Haymitch, however, proves to continue to be an attentive Mentor. He crash-bangs through the door to my compartment, his very own sack slung over his shoulder, filled to the brim with bottles and bottles of liquor. "S'time to go, Sweetheart."
He grabs my arm and pulls, steering me towards the door. It opens automatically and Haymitch pushes me, unceremoniously, to the ground.
I collapse in a small heap on the cool dirt. I press my hands into it – it's soft.
My new skin prickles with drops of blood.
The house in Victors' Village has held up remarkably well. I refuse to call it my home.
Fire mutts don't have homes.
Anyways, if I did have a home, it would be our old, tiny house in the Seam. But that little shack is filled to the brim with memories. It's the memories that make it a home.
It's the memories that threaten to drown me.
So instead, I nearly drown myself in a pristine bathtub in Victor's Village. I run the water hot, as hot as it can go, and completely submerge my body, leaving only my nose above water.
Fire mutts crave heat.
When the water has cooled, I pull on a warm robe. I bring a down pillow and a blanket downstairs.
I open a small cupboard in the kitchen, lay down the blanket, and crawl in.
Sleep comes immediately.
But it does not last long.
I am used to hunger.
Fire mutts don't need much food.
I am used to hunger, so I don't try very hard to feed myself. Greasy Sae brings by a dozen eggs and a basketful of herbs. I leave them out, let them sit, untouched, on the fancy Capitol-appointed kitchen counter.
It's made of marble, or something like that.
I can't bring myself to go outside, so instead I sit by the window. I wrap myself in a wool blanket. The coarse fabric is irritating against my new skin. The patchwork flesh prickles and reddens.
For some reason, the physical pain feels good. It distracts from what's going on in my head.
I sit by the window and I watch.
Haymitch watches me from across the way. Catches my eye. Raises a flask in salute and takes a swig.
I close the shutters.
A few days later, Greasy Sae comes by.
She knocks, but I don't answer. She comes in anyway. Someone (I suspect Haymitch) has given her a key.
She doesn't say anything specific to me, but she busies herself with making my house livable again. She wipes down the counters and scrubs the tubs, removes the blanket and pillow from the cupboard and remakes the big bed upstairs. She takes the eggs and the herbs and whips up an omelet. She moves with a quiet, determined precision.
Just watching her exhausts me.
I hover in the kitchen, fiddling with a rope. I tie knots, untie knots. Tie them again.
Hours later, Sae finally stops. She plates the omelet, wipes down the pan. She pulls a tall glass of goat's milk and pushes both towards me.
Finally, she looks at me. Reaches up, brushes my cheek. "Eat up, girl," she says, firmly but kindly. "You're looking skinny." She pokes my ribs fondly and exits the house.
Leaving me alone.
For the first time, the silence seems suffocating. I start to panic, hearing hateful whispers in every creaking floorboard. I knot and unknot the rope more furiously, until my fingers bleed.
The pain brings me back.
I find that I am hungry, starving even. I take the omelet, which is cold by now, but I've eaten worse. I wrap myself in my coarse blanket and open the cupboard. Crawl inside and eat the whole thing with my fingers. Down the glass of milk and lick the rim.
I fall asleep down there, dirty fingers and all.
I dream of Effie Trinket, and etiquette courses.
A different kind of nightmare.
In the morning, I wake up full.
And maybe, I am not sad.
Not happy, but not sad.
I push my way out of the cupboard and wash the dishes. I fry up another egg and smack my lips with each bite. The food has filled me with a new type of purpose, a new sense of self.
I go upstairs and take another steaming hot bath.
Afterwards, I stand in the mirror and regard my naked fire mutt body. I bend over and run my hands up and down my legs. They are skinny – no trace of the muscles I built for the Quarter Quell. Briefly, I wonder if I can still run. I stretch and my fingertips continue their expedition, softly tracing the outlines of my hips and ribs. They move north, touching my breasts. They're two different colors now. My right side was damaged far worse in the explosion than my left, so my right breast is pinker. Newer. I continue to regard myself in the mirror and, for some reason, gently squeeze my nipples.
A jolt of pleasure courses through my body and I drop my hands, quick as lightning.
I find that I can no longer look myself in the mirror, so I wrap myself in a soft towel and hurry into the bedroom.
I open my closet and regard the numerous outfit choices. For some reason, my gaze lands on a red-orange beaded dress, one I wore on the Victory Tour.
I arch an eyebrow and decide to go for it.
Ten minutes later, I'm dressed. My fingers deftly braid what's left of my hair; pile it on top of my head.
I go back to the mirror and look at myself.
If I squint, if I ignore the scars and the patchwork skin that run up my arms, I almost look like Katniss Everdeen: The Victor again.
I look like a firebird, not a fire mutt.
I almost look like the Mockingjay.
Cinna's clothing has always filled me with confidence and today is no exception. I lace up my hunting boots under the gorgeous dress and then storm out the front door, before I lose my nerve.
The sunlight hits me and my eyes blink, adjusting.
I take several deep breaths of fresh air, stretching my lungs to capacity.
A ray of sun catches the beads of my dress and the orange twinkles in the sun.
Reminds me of a sunset.
All of a sudden, I can't breathe.
I turn around and run back into the house, throw myself into the cupboard. Compared the fresh air outside, the air under here is stale and old.
I run the orange fabric through my fingers, hold it up and bury my face in there. Tears start to flow, ruining the silk.
I fall asleep there thinking of sunsets.
Sunsets, and Peeta.
I am down in the cupboard for several days, only emerging to use the bathroom.
On the fourth morning, my front door slams open.
I hold my arms tight around my knees as Greasy Sae and Haymitch barge into the kitchen.
Sae opens the cupboard and pulls me out. She's strong for her size.
My eyes hurt from being in the dark for so long. I blink rapidly, finding Haymitch's face. His eyes reflect concern, but quickly harden. He has a bottle of white liquor in his hand and he takes a long rip.
"You smell," he says.
I find that rich, coming from Haymitch. But I don't say anything. My throat doesn't seem to be working anymore.
"Let's clean you up," Sae says firmly and frog-marches me upstairs. She runs the bath, peels me out of my dress. Helps me into the tub and washes my singed hair, my fire mutt skin with a surprisingly delicate touch.
She drags me out of the tub and dresses me in soft brown pants and a worn-in green shirt.
We go back downstairs, Sae dragging me gently by the wrist.
Haymitch is sitting at the table. The white liquor has decreased considerably. Sae cooks us breakfast. She's brought over more eggs and some salty, thick bacon.
We all eat in silence. Sae neatly cuts her food into pieces, Haymitch swigs back alcohol, and I push my food around the plate.
After the meal, Sae cleans the plates. Haymitch picks up the mostly empty bottle and staggers towards the door without a word. I appreciate his lack of niceties.
Sae lingers for a few more minutes, setting things right on the kitchen. I stare off into space.
Everything put away, Sae moves to the door. She stops in the frame, turns and looks at me.
"You know," she says conversationally. "Transportation isn't quite right yet. Food production's been slow. Starting to see a lot of skinny kids around. Families could use some meat."
Without another glance, she leaves.
Greasy Sae's words have penetrated my subconscious.
She knows me well, knows that the thought of children starving again in the homes of District 12 may be enough to rouse me from this never-ending stupor.
I sit on the couch for several hours, staring through the cracks of the shutters. Sae's words echo through my head and, sure enough, I find myself bolting out the door.
My body carries me to my old house in the Seam, my feet well practiced at tracing their way through the winding paths of District 12. The District lies mainly in ruin, but, if I look closely, I can see the beginnings of new life: a recently plowed herb garden, a freshly shuttered house. With a start, I realize that spring is almost upon us.
My old house is covered with dust, but someone has at least removed the roses. It smells familiar again, like dirt and warmth and home. I find it shocking that this old shack can still smell that way, can still remind me of family, of love, when it's been empty for so long.
My old bow and a sheath of arrows are under the old bed I shared with Prim.
I fall to my knees when I touch the bed, burying my face in the worn out sheets. I inhale deeply, sharply, as if I could still smell my sweet sister. My fingers brush the pillowcases, as if I could still feel her warmth. I curl into a ball on the bed, holding my knees as if I could still hold her small frame next to mine.
The memories would over take me, if Sae had not given me a purpose.
I have always operated well with a purpose.
So, I disentangle my limbs and remove the bow and arrows. I run out the door, leaving my heart behind.
The fence doesn't hum anymore, but I still listen for a beat before I crawl under it.
My body starts to come alive again the woods. My ears perk up; hear the quiet rustling of a rabbit and the flapping of a crow. My eyes sharpen, catch sight of fresh tracks in a muddy patch. My blood quickens and my limbs itch to move.
I start to run, faster and faster. I leap over boulders and skip across sticks, moving and moving and running and running. I crash through the woods without a thought to scaring away prey, just thinking of how my soul is soaring.
I move too quickly though, and my limbs, so used to being cramped, trip over themselves.
I stumble three steps, four, and then fall into a heap, right at the edge of a clearing.
I start to laugh.
The clearing is one I have not been to before.
When I regain my wits, that's the first thing I notice. I have been over many, many feet of these woods with Gale at my back; I have explored creeks and meadows and hills and caves.
But I have not been to this field before.
It's small, less than one hundred square feet, surrounded by heavy trees on each side.
But it's full of fresh, knee-high grass, and smatterings of blooming flowers. The sun sparkles over the tree line, warming my skin. I lie in the dirt, breathing and seeing.
Finally, I push myself to my feet, checking out my bow. I fell hard, but the sturdy weapon is not hurt.
I move to the center of the field and find a big tree, about fifty feet away from me. I hold up the bow, stretch back the string, loosen the arrow.
It whizzes past the tree, just barely missing.
I jog into the forest, retrieve the arrow, and return.
I shoot again. This time, it hits.
I shoot, again and again, until one of my arrows splinters the other, right down the middle.
I return well after dark, guided back into the boundaries of District 12 by my well-honed instincts and the twinkle of lights in the distance. The occupied houses are filled to the brim with warmth and I hear laughter behind every door I pass.
I walk and I walk until I reach Greasy Sae's house. I open the door without knocking and find her in the kitchen.
She raises her eyebrows at me.
I hold up two turkeys.
So do I.
My days fall into a predictable pattern.
I find comfort in the routine.
Sae wasn't lying – the children of 12 are skinny. But there are very few of them here, and they now have the freedom to eat whatever they want.
So I rise just before dawn every day. Sae reaches my house before I get up and starts to cook. By the time I'm downstairs, she has a fully prepared breakfast and is sitting at the table with Haymitch.
Day in and day out, we eat together in silence.
Slowly, that silence grows comfortable.
After breakfast, I help Sae clean and then head to the woods.
I bring back game every day: turkeys, fowl, squirrels, even deer. I dive to the bottom of the lake and catch fish. I set snares and trap rabbits. I hunt for hours and hours, without the fear of getting caught, without the fear of having too much to distribute.
The District sets up some type of unofficial rotation. I bring back so much food that it's hard to carry it myself. I bring it to the edge of the fence and, every day, there is someone there to meet me.
I spend every day in the woods.
Each day, I pack a small lunch.
I eat it in that little clearing, lying on my back, watching the clouds.
I think that, one-day, I may be able to be happy.
One day, at breakfast, Haymitch clears his throat.
I look up in surprise. We don't talk in the mornings.
Don't talk much at all, really.
"I got a call from the Capitol," he says gruffly.
"The boy's coming back."
It takes me a few moments to think of whom he means. Then, my heart stops. I whisper "Peeta" and run towards the cabinet, dropping my fork with a clatter.
I hear Sae move towards me, probably to help me out.
But Haymitch stops her. "Let her be," he whispers. "She'll be out soon."
Haymitch is right.
I realize that, in the cabinet, I'm trapped.
So I head out the woods, staying out later and later.
The days pass.
One night, I see the lights turn on across the street, in Peeta's house.
I leave before dawn for the woods the next morning.
I come back after 8 p.m.
No one is waiting to help me.
I rise before dawn and come back after dark every single day.
I still bring Sae the game each night. It takes me two, maybe three trips by mself.
One night she says, casually, "We eat breakfast at Peeta's now."
I blink back at her, shuffle my feet.
"He's asked about you."
I drop the turkeys and run out the door.
The next day, in the woods, I kill everything I see.
The area is cleared of game by midday. Everything is afraid of me.
So I pack up my game sacks and drag them to the field, with my bow slung across my back. I lie there in the grass, unmoving, for hours.
The clouds make designs in the sky above me. They pile on each other, layer over layer.
Like frosting on a cake.
And suddenly, I am overwhelmed by an insane urge to see Peeta. To feel his strong, warm arms around me and to feel, again, like the world is right.
I glance down at my fire mutt arms. In the sunshine and fresh air, the skin has healed. I've gotten a slight tan, which eases the discoloration between the pieces of flesh. Only ridges remain now to separate the different parts of me.
I rub my hands up and down my arms. I wonder what Peeta will think of me.
Unbidden, my fingers close on my neck and I remember Peeta, wild-eyed and mad, choking me. Screaming obscenities, trying to kill me.
But then, I remember Prim. I remember her confidence in Peeta, her belief that he loved me enough to fight to come back to me.
My world is so empty.
Can I really afford to keep Peeta out of it?
Spurred on by my sudden bravery, I walk back towards the fence, heavy bags over my shoulders. I move quickly and purposefully, eyes forward, not really seeing.
I reach the fence and see there's a person there.
As I move closer, the person takes shape. Sturdy build, blonde hair. Tentative smile.
"Hey," Peeta says.
"Greasy Sae told me you hunt every day," Peeta says quietly. He reaches out and relieves me of one of the game-laden bags.
I nod, not trusting my voice. It seems to have disappeared.
"I've thought about coming to find you," Peeta continues. "But it's just been…"
"Hard," I finish lamely.
He nods. We catch each other's eyes and smile, and then quickly drop our gazes.
We walk towards Sae's together, Peeta half a step behind, following my every movement.
Sae doesn't acknowledge that there's anything strange about seeing us together in her kitchen. She takes the game and sets it down perfunctorily on the table. We turn and leave.
We walk back to the Victors' Village together in silence. When we pass by a few of the houses, kids press their noses to the windows, eyes drinking us in excitedly.
Peeta walks to me to my door and I look oddly at him, hand on the doorknob, and then turn to go.
"Katniss," he says quickly, right before I disappear.
I pop my head back out of the door. "Yeah?" I ask. My heart rises in hope, but I'm not sure for what.
"Haymitch says you sleep in a cabinet."
My defenses rise and I open my mouth to argue, to defend myself. But before I can, Peeta continues.
"I sleep under the couch."
He smiles, and is gone.
The next morning, I wake up a little bit later. Unfold myself from the cabinet and cross over to the windows. I pull open the shutters.
An hour later, Sae, Haymitch, and Peeta show up.
Sae cooks breakfast.
We eat in silence.
It is comfortable.
The days fall into a predictable sort of pattern. We eat breakfast together each and every morning. Slowly, we start to talk.
Sae brings us news from the market; we talk about the new reforms in the Capitol. Exciting whispers come to us: universal education, universal healthcare, a hospital in District 12.
We begin to dare to dream.
I still sleep under the cabinet.
One night, I can't sleep. I walk by Peeta's house. All of the lights are on.
Quiet as a mouse, I creep to the window and peer in.
Sure enough, I see Peeta's feet sneaking out from under the couch.
The weather has been so beautiful that I am surprised to wake up one morning and find it storming.
The wind is howling and hail begins to fly.
No one comes over for breakfast.
I pace around my house, in my coarse blanket, straightening belongings I haven't touched in months. I run a bath and sit in it until the water becomes tepid.
Then, unable to stand being cooped up anymore, I dress quickly and run across the way to Haymitch's house.
I find him slumped over the kitchen table, clutching a brown jug in one hand, knife in the other.
Well-practiced, I dump a cup of water over his head and jump out of the way.
"What do you want?" he asks ungraciously.
I reach out and grab the jug from his hand. He protests, but gives it up easily. He sits up in his chair, leaning back, scratching his belly. "Something on your mind, Sweetheart?" he continues.
I take a long swig and then set the jug down, wiping my lips with the back of my hand. "What do you think of Peeta?" I ask tentatively.
"What do I think of him?" Haymitch snorts. "Nice kid. Great hair. Dreamy eyes. Kinda boy you'd take home to Mom."
"My mom's not here," I retort. "Haymitch, you know what I mean."
He looks at me, seriously, and reaches over to take the brown jug for my hands. "He's trying, Sweetheart. We all are."
The next day, it's still raining. There's no Peeta in the morning, and no Haymitch, either.
But Greasy Sae shows up, and makes me breakfast. She puts it on the table and we eat together, in silence.
"You know, girl," she says, "Peeta spends every day over at Haymitch's."
I raise an eyebrow. "What do they do?"
"They sort him out."
It rains for three, four days. By the fifth day, I have knotted every single stray piece of rope in the house.
I'm sitting on the couch when someone knocks on the door.
I already know who it must be. Sae never knocks; neither does Haymitch.
I freeze, unable to move. Somehow, seeing Peeta alone, here in my house, feels wrong. I run to the kitchen, grab a small, sharp knife. I hide it under the couch cushions.
Just in case.
"Katniss?" Peeta calls, knocking again.
I run to the door and throw it open. Peeta is soaking wet, holding a small parcel close to his chest. "Sorry," I offer lamely, moving aside for him to come in.
He comes in and shakes off, sending little droplets of water flying. Some land on my skin, cooling it completely.
Peeta hangs up his jacket, takes off his shoes. He holds up the package. "I made cheese buns."
Despite myself, I smile. "Let's eat then."
We polish off all twelve cheese buns in under an hour. I eat eight; Peeta has four.
We move to the living room and I fetch a blanket from upstairs while Peeta lights a fire.
It's already roaring by the time I get back. "Nice fire," I say appreciatively, wrapping myself up on the couch.
"Thanks," Peeta says. He swallows, his eyes darting around the room. Then, tentatively, he joins me on the couch and wraps himself in the other blanket.
We watch the fire together for hours. Eventually, Peeta grabs a book off the well-stocked shelves, a history of the Capitol. I bring down my journal and start to write, memories of Prim and Gale and Johanna and Finnick and Rue. It's comfortable. Cozy, even.
I imagine I can still feel the knife I hid through the cushions.
Night comes quickly in the dark rain. I start to yawn and Peeta looks out the window, where drops are falling furiously and wind is howling.
"I'm working with Haymitch," he says quietly. "He's helping me remember. Helping me stop the things that are not real. I think I'm getting better."
I don't know what to say, so I just smile. It hurts.
Peeta sighs lightly and stretches. "I guess I should be getting back. It's bad out there."
He rises to leave and I reach out, grabbing his wrist. He looks at me, confusion evident in his eyes.
"Stay," I whisper.
Peeta is in the bathroom washing his face and I am folding blankets.
I haven't slept in the bedroom in months, but the cabinet seems a little too small for two.
We haven't talked about it, but somehow, we both know we are going to share the bed.
I hear Peeta flush the toilet and start to wash his hands and I panic. I shut off the lights and climb into bed, shutting my eyes and pretending to sleep.
Peeta comes into the bedroom, his footsteps as heavy as always. He pulls back the covers and lies down next to me. I sense his eyes up and down my back, then feel him as he leans close, breath tickling my ear. "Good night, Katniss," he whispers, pressing a kiss to my neck.
His lips warm my whole body and I shudder.
I sleep for a while, but then the nightmares come.
I am trapped in my old house in the Seam and hovercrafts are flying, raining down fireballs and bombs. Everywhere, there are screams. I am searching for Prim, for my mother, for Gale, for Hazelle, but the smoke is drowning me.
My skin is burning.
I wake up screaming, arms and legs flailing.
I scream and scream, shaking, until a strong pair of arms locks me down and holds me close. "It's okay, Katniss, it's okay," Peeta says urgently, loudly so I can hear him above the screams. "I'm here. It's just a dream. I'm here."
I shake and shake and he holds me closer and closer until the screams subside.
Hours later, it is Peeta who wakes me up.
He is mumbling in his sleep and his fingers are twitching. He argues with himself in two voices, the one of the Peeta that I know so well, and the one of the mutt who tried to kill me.
Hours ago, Peeta helped me.
But I am lie still; frozen with fear, ready to spring out of bed to save myself.
The two Peetas whisper urgently at each other until one screams: "No! Not real."
It is the Peeta that I know, destroying the mutt.
He stops talking but is still shaking.
Tentatively, I reach out. Put one hand on his shoulder, then both arms around him. I hold him close.
His body relaxes and he presses closer.
In the morning, the sunshine wakes me.
The sunshine, and something pressing hard into my back.
In my half-asleep state, I press back, seeking warmth. Arms move to encircle me, on lazily tracing patterns up my thigh, on my belly. It feels so irresistibly good that I arch my back and throw back my head, exposing my neck.
Peeta presses a kiss, hard, right at the hollow of my neck.
A jolt of electricity thunders through my body and I bolt out of bed, dashing for the bathroom. I run the sink and splash my face with cold water.
My body feels like its on fire: a different kind of fire than I am used to, to be sure, but one that threatens to consume me all the same.
I look at myself in the mirror, taking stock. My face and arms are flushed, my nipples strain against my thin nightshift. I notice that I am just a little bit wet down there.
Mortified, I drop my eyes. Splash more cold water over my body.
I breathe in and out, deeply, several times before I'm able to open the bathroom and go back into the bedroom. Peeta is awake, propped up against the bedframe. He is smiling.
"Sunny out," he offers.
I smile back, but don't trust myself to say anything.
"Are you going to hunt?" he asks, raising an eyebrow.
I nod. "Yeah, uh, I should probably get dressed."
"I'll get going, then," Peeta says, pushing back the covers. He is wearing a thin set of sleep shorts. I notice his own fire mutt skin, laying patchwork patterns across his good leg.
He catches me staring and I quickly glance away, blushing.
A noise downstairs surprises us. We hear the door open and the sound of footsteps. Haymitch and Greasy Sae.
Peeta seems nonplussed; he pulls on his real pants and shrugs into his sweater. I am a little bit more manic; I dive back into the bathroom and change. When I emerge, Peeta has gone. I fanatically make the bed, as if tightly folded sheets will erase the evidence that I spent the night with Peeta's arms wrapped around my body.
He's waiting for me at the top of the stairs; he squeezes my shoulder fondly and then begins to descend. I follow him; sure my face may go up in flames at any moment.
Sae and Haymitch are in the kitchen; Sae's busy at the stove and Haymitch is sipping at mug at the table. When we enter the kitchen, together, neither says anything, but Haymitch lifts his mug in salute to Peeta. I shoot Haymitch a dirty look and he grins back, waggling an eyebrow.
My gaze drops and I fall into a chair, crossing my arms protectively over my chest.
Peeta is positively social though, grilling Sae about the latest news from the Capitol and chattering to Haymitch about his plans for opening a new bakery.
I eat in silence and the food has no taste. I am unendingly distracted by Peeta: the flex of his forearms as he lifts his fork, the half smile that plays on his lips as he teases Haymitch. He catches me staring and I feel a gentle, playful kick under the table.
I push back my chair and bolt out the door, running all the way until I reach the fence. I climb under it and run, run, run until I reach my little field.
There, I collapse onto the ground.
It's too much, having Peeta's arms around me, seeing him smile and his eyes light up, feeling him pressing against me. It reminds me of how things used to be, of how certain I was in the love of the boy with the bread. Of how he, above anyone else, made me feel safe, made me feel whole.
But the boy with the bread is gone.
He went up in fire, along with everything else that I love.
I didn't bring my bow, so I only bring back what I've caught in the snares. A few rabbits, a few squirrels, a couple of fish that I dive into the lake for and catch with my bare hands.
No one is waiting for me at the fence.
It's just as well. I am not sure if I can face Peeta, but my face still falls, a little bit.
I drop the food at Sae's and walk back to my house.
The lights are on, across the street, at Peeta's.
I consider going over but, before I could do anything so foolish, I dive into my own house.
I huddle up on the floor, with my back pressed against the couch.
I feel empty, lonely.
It's almost midnight when there's a soft knock on the door.
I answer it at a run.
We fall into our own kind of pattern, Peeta and I.
I hunt during the day; he bakes. In the late afternoon I bring food back to Sae and he toils outside in the soil, planting a small herb garden and fresh flowers.
He joins me for dinner every evening.
He joins me in bed every night.
We spend our nights tangled together, a mess of arms and legs and blankets. We take turns waking and soothing, when the nightmares come.
Before bed, I watch him closely. I learn that he has triggers: if I move too suddenly, or if I sneak up on him. If there's a loud noise. Those send Peeta into a panic and he dives beneath the couch, fingernails digging into his wrists, muttering and shaking until the panic subsides.
One night, I accidentally surprise him. He whips around, pupils black, and starts to lunge. I sidestep easily and he falls. When he gets back up, his eyes are wide, and he throws himself to the floor, crawling under the couch, whispering my name, over and over.
I'm not sure where I get this courage, but I use all my strength to grab his ankles, drag him out, and wrap him in my arms. Hold him until it subsides.
We sleep there that night, Peeta in my lap, my arms around waist, my back pressed against the hard surface of the couch.
That next morning, it's my arms that wander of their own volition.
They move from Peeta's waist and find the edge of his shirt, lifting it up and slowly tracing over the outlines of his abs. I nuzzle his neck, moving my lips in ways that I didn't even realize I knew.
My teeth find his earlobe and pull slowly.
He moans my name then: "Katniss."
It's enough to wake me from the reverie.
I turn his face around and find his pupils dilated, again.
He moves as if he would kiss me, but I'm already up, up and running towards the bathroom.
I've learned my lesson about playing with fire.
Peeta is gone when I emerge from the bathroom.
I think about hunting but I find that I can't. I retreat to the cabinet, resting my head back against the worn panels. I breathe in and out, arms around my knees.
I doze off.
It's much less comfortable to have my arms around myself than around Peeta. I wake up, cramped; a few hours later and blearily, I push my way out of my cave.
The sun is shining now, so I take my place on the couch, watching the outside. A squirrel wanders by brazenly; idly, I think about turning it into squirrel stew for dinner.
But the moment passes and I am left basking in the warm kiss of the sun on my face.
No one comes and goes in the Victors' Village besides myself, Peeta, Haymitch, and Greasy Sae. So, when, in the early afternoon, I see someone pushing a wheelbarrow, I know its one of us.
Sure enough, Peeta comes into focus. Unbidden, my lips turn up in a grin.
Then, I realize what he's got in his wheelbarrow.
I shoot up like lightning, tearing my way out the door. I find a knife in my hand; realize that I must have retrieved it from its hiding place beneath the couch cushions. "Peeta," I scream, throwing myself in the path between him and his makeshift garden.
He stops, puts the wheelbarrow down, his smile failing as he sees the wild look in my eyes, the knife grasped in my fist. "Katniss?" he asks warily. "What's wrong?"
My eyes move wildly and I gesture to the contents of his wheelbarrow. "Roses?" I yell. "Roses?! How could you?"
The dark light blooming in Peeta's eyes fades and his normal, clear blue takes over. "Katniss," he whispers softly, and it is a whisper, a caress. He moves slowly from behind the wheelbarrow, grabs my hand with the knife and slowly massages it until my fingers unlock and the knife falls to the dirt. It does not make a sound.
"Katniss," Peeta says again. "They're not just roses. Look." He speaks low, urgently.
Fearful, I tear my eyes from his face and look at the plant. See that Peeta's right – they're not roses.
A beat of silence passes and I launch myself at Peeta. We fall to the ground and I cover his face in kisses.
We lie there, in the dirt, kissing for what feels like hours.
We may have stayed there all night if not for Haymitch. He comes stumbling down his front steps, chucks an empty bottle at us. He's not aiming to hit us (or maybe he is), but, regardless, it falls, harmless, to the ground.
Laughing, I rise, pulling Peeta behind me. We run towards my house and, when we reach the step, Peeta pulls me back into his arms and kisses me, long and slow. A moan escapes me, blossoming low in my throat as I shudder from head to toe.
When he pulls away, I open my eyes and find him staring at me. His eyes are dark, yes, but they are that beautiful, familiar blue that belongs to my Peeta. "Katniss," he whispers, low in his throat.
Suddenly, I am overcome by urgency. I throw open my front door and drag Peeta into the living room.
The bedroom is too far.
We fall to the floor beneath the couch, hands and lips everywhere. I claw at Peeta's shirt until he lifts his arms overhead and pulls it off, throwing it across the room. It lands, covering a mahogany table.
He's shirtless and above me then, and I stop my frenetic movement. Pause to truly drink him in. My hands move up to touch his chest, to trace the ridge of patchwork scars that cover his own skin, mirror image to mine. "Oh Peeta," I say, as my fingertips follow one scar up and up, from the place where a dark line of hair disappears into his pants to the very edge of his neck. A scar so big, so long, means he must have been quite close to death.
And then, I want to feel him there, with me, alive. I move forward and kiss Peeta with an urgency I never have before, hungering to taste every part of him. I flip over so I am on top of him and a bolt of pure joy rushes through me, right to my core, when his eyes roll back in his head and he moans: "Katniss."
I think, fleetingly, that I could listen to him say my name like that forever.
Even though this is different, different than anything we have ever done before, he is still my Peeta. His hands, strong and steady, pause at the hem of my soft green shirt and his eyes look for mine, seeking permission.
A brief spasm of fear rises up inside of me and I look outside, see the primrose plants resting in the wheelbarrow.
That's all the answer I need.
I look down at Peeta, smile, kiss his face, and whisper: "Yes."
He grins then and gently, so gently, peels my shirt from his flesh. I am overcome with modesty, embarrassment at my fire mutt skin, though I know his flesh is a mirror to my own. My arms rise up to cover my different colored breasts and Peeta's hands are right there to stop them.
"No, Katniss," he admonishes quietly. "You are beautiful. Let me see you."
I surrender then, dropping my hands to my sides. The sunlight caresses my skin through the open living room window and I close my eyes, throwing my head back and basking in the warmth of Peeta's gaze and the sun's.
Then, I feel his hands on me, running up my back, moving to the front. Both palms cover my breasts and a moan escapes me, deepening as his fingers find my nipples and roll them until they are taut and puckered.
Driven by desire, I grind my hips, my ass down into him and take a wild delight in watching him close his eyes, hearing him throatily sigh. I feel his hardness pushing up through my pants, right at the tip of my core, and I join him in sighs.
One of my Peeta's hands leaves my breast and finds me at my hips, grabbing hold and flipping me over, so that he is on top. Deftly, his fingers undo the buttons at my waist and force my pants down over my skinny hips. He pauses briefly to seek approval and I nod, giving him everything. Then, his fingers push aside my underwear and delve into my slick, wet folds.
I cry out.
"Katniss?" Peeta asks, stopping, concerned.
I can barely make words; I am so warm. "Please," I whisper. "Keep going."
His eyes widen and he kisses me deeply. His fingers return to me, one, then two slipping inside me, pumping in and out, while his thumb massages my clit. I am a wild animal beneath his touch, mewling and arching my back, digging my fingernails into his back.
His head throws back as I claw at him particularly viciously. I take the opportunity to lean forward, sucking at his neck. His hands move out from inside me and hold me at my waist. His hips thrust into mine and I feel his length pressing up against me.
It's my turn to move things forward so I undo his pants, slide them over his hips. They fall at his feet and he struggles to get them off, collapsing as his feet clumsily try to kick away the pants. We both giggle then, pressing our sweaty foreheads together, and he is so familiar, so Peeta, that I can't help but feel happy.
We're giggling for minutes until we lose our breath and then we just stare at each other. I can't help myself; my eyes drop down and I see how hard he still is, straining against his shorts. I bite my lip and tentatively reach a hand out, sliding his shorts down. My palms press against his cock and Peeta groans. I press harder and he nods, breathing heavily, eyes squeezed shut. My hand starts to move, up and down, faster and faster.
"Katniss," he moans and then pushes me back down, positioning his cock at my wet entrance. He pauses, just for a moment, and I kiss him "yes" because I could not possibly trust my throat to speak right now.
And, thankfully, Peeta knows what I mean, can read my mind even without my words, and so he pushes inside me.
We move together, again and again, and it's messy but it's us. It's him. In his urgency he kisses me too hard, our teeth knock together, and Peeta calls out an apology. But I can't answer him, can't tell him it's okay, because I am laughing, laughing too much to say anything. And then he is laughing too, and then he is crying out and collapsing on top of me.
He presses a kiss to my forehead, I trace my lips on his shoulder, and the sunshine dances on our patchwork skin.
I wake up later and look up, unable to place where I am.
I realize I'm looking at the bottom of the couch.
I'm overcome by giggles. Peeta and I beneath the couch. He's right to sleep here, I think. I feel incredibly whole. Incredibly safe.
Carefully, I inch out from under the couch, collect my clothes. I dress myself, my own fingers tracing where his were hours before. "Peeta," I whisper, tickling his toes until he wakes.
And then he tries to sit up and hits his head on the couch and we are both laughing, tears streaming down our faces. Peeta dresses, too, and I take him by the hand, leading him out the door.
We run through District 12 in darkness, still laughing, our faces split in smiles.
I bring him to the fence, help him climb under. We crash through the forest and I am blissfully unconcerned with how loud we are.
We run and run until we reach the field, the little clearing I found. We stop there and rest. I lie down on the soft earth. Peeta comes up behind me and wraps his arms around my waist. I lean back into him and, together, we turn our faces towards the sky.
We find the stars. We smile.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.