Chapter 1- Dusk
By the time he finds me my tears have already dried out.
Why? Why did she have to go? And where?
It’s from the laboring in my nights that comes the exhaustion in my days. I never rest. The task of mourning for so many dead never ends.
But my Primrose, my sweet, loving, kind Prim, returns to me every night, before the cruel, cold reality that is now my life demands that she is torn away from me again. So in effect, every morning is just like the first.
Where? And why? There is no anger left in me- I just don’t have the energy anymore. Maybe it would be easier if Snow or Coin was still alive, in a way. Then at least I would have something to fight for.
But there is no one left to die.
Peeta approaches me slowly- as if he is worn out, physically tired from the journey it took to find me. Which I suppose might be accurate as I didn’t exactly leave a note in my haste to escape the suffocating darkness of my house. His face is flushed, pink cheeked with the same blush as the little boy I used to catch watching me in school wore. But the expressions there can no longer be compared to that of a boy’s.
He sits down heavily beside me, and we quietly watch the rippling water of The Lake undulate. How peaceful it must be to be something other than alive, I think to myself. How simple.
“Are you cold?” he asks. His voice is rough and textured, the way it always is in the mornings. It’s strange how I find this odd piece of detail marginally comforting. Routine, says a voice in my head. You see him every day.
It’s true. Every morning both he and Greasy Sae come over, bearing offerings of food and attempts to turn my huge cold kitchen into a warm, conversational display. The first time he came I nearly tripped down the stairs in shock. How domestic, how normal they made it seem. And I guess, after a while, I began to accept it. That they had to try.
“No.” I tell Peeta, even though I am cold. When I ran here, before dawn, I was a fish racing to the surface of the water, and I hadn’t thought to get dressed in anything other than my thin dressing gown and a rough, worn shawl, both hardly sufficing as a match for the biting cool air of dawn in Twelve.
I pick at a piece of moss with my fingernail as his eyes trace the line of goose bumps down my arm, only looking up when I see him begin to shrug out of his jacket and hand it to me. I start to protest, but the look in his eyes silences me. I let him drape the thing around my shoulders.
The silence bears down on us, heavy and muffling, like a huge damp cloth snuffing out any hopes of conversation. If we were once allies, friends even, it sure doesn’t feel like it. It feels like everything has been sucked out of us, a broken corpse and a lost boy who cannot possibly save her again, and I close my eyes, because my head begins to hurt when I think about us too much. There is nothing left, though; that I am sure of, because even if he loved me, the Katniss he fell in love with is gone. She died in the fires that consumed her sister, and for the love of God I cannot summon any of the fire that was hers. She’s gone.
Eventually Peeta rises to his feet, sighing deeply. “I should get back now.” He hesitates. “Are you coming?” I look up at him blankly. “Katniss,” he exhales shakily. “You’re gonna freeze to death if you don’t go inside.”
“Oh.” I get up, my body slumping like a rag doll’s, and follow him. It’s no big deal. I can just come back out when he’s gone.
We walk in silence for the most part, with the exception of the thundering racket that has become customary whenever Peeta is in the woods. He occasionally glances at me, but with concern or exasperation I can’t tell.
We eventually reach the fence, the broken thing that really serves no purpose now other than a reminder of what used to be. What used to be. What used to be was something better, and like the aftertaste of lemons, all I can really remember is how sweet the good parts were. Maybe we weren’t happy then, not happy at all, but we were something better.
Peeta awkwardly works his way through the hole in the fence, and after we are both through, our little trip is essentially over. Back to sitting by the window in the tall cushioned chair, slowly rotting away inside the big shell that is my Victor’s mansion.
We don’t have much company, despite the few neighbours that were forced to move in. There simply wasn’t anywhere else still intact after the bombing, and they took the care to choose houses as far away from us as possible. The monsters may be dead, but the fear isn’t.
When we reach the Victor’s village, Peeta sends me one last fleeting look, before making his way back to his own house, to bake or whatever the hell he does. I can’t bring myself to go back into mine though, so I stand there, lost and confused, waiting for the breeze to blow me away like the dust swirling silently down the pavement. A movement in the corner of my vision catches my eye – a broken bottle lying between the daisies has caught the sun just right. Haymitch.
I haven’t talked to him since we got back here for the first time. Something nudges me forward, telling me to go check on him.
I make my way up the dirtied path that leads up to his house, not bothering to knock on the door before letting myself in. The moment I make it past the threshold the stench of rot and alcohol and other vile things that I don’t want to think about hits me like a brick wall. I hold my breath and beg my empty stomach to stop heaving.
It seems like everything in the house is wearing a coat of dust, and when I enter the lounge I see dirty plates cluttered everywhere, along with countless empty bottles. Haymitch is not doing well.
I spot him slumped down on an armchair in the corner, dead to the world, knife still clutched relentlessly in his fist. So much for babysitting us, I think as my eyes scan the room, totally unsure of what I should do. I sigh and reach for a jug of water, simply because it’s all I know.
This should be fun.
I walk over to him and carefully stand at the side furthest from his knife, before pouring the entire contents onto him. The water rushes down his form, and he starts with a shout, brandishing his knife around pointlessly. “Aaaaargh!” he cries when he sees me, and then he collapses back into the armchair, muttering a string of expletives not so quietly.
“Hey.” I say, kicking his foot. “Thought you were supposed to be looking after us.”
“As if you need looking after.” He scoffs, but then his eyes roam through my tangled hair, my dirtied nightdress. “Go bother the boy,” he says after a moment. “Bet he’d love to take my job.”
I’m angry all of a sudden, really angry, and familiarity of the emotion rises up through me easily, as if it’s being welcomed home after all those weeks of absence. How can he just sit there, drinking, as if nothing has changed?! I grab a dirtied plate to my left and hurl it at the wall, its smash and Haymitch’s expressionless eyes only egging me on. “What is your PROBLEM?!” I scream, taking another plate and throwing it across the room. “We’re DYING HAYMITCH, I’m DYING! Don’t you even CARE?” This time I take a full bottle of booze in an attempt to provoke him, and fling it at the wall, watching the shards of glass and drink explode against the wall.
“They’re dead.” I croak, and then, just like that, the fierceness is gone, and I’m standing there panting and empty-handed, avoiding my Mentor’s eyes. I bite my lip and storm out of the house, not bothering to close the door behind me.
It’s not really Haymitch I’m angry at. I know that. But I can’t exactly throw dirty bottles at myself. I exhale roughly and ease open the brightly painted door of my house. I don’t bother locking it. Like I told myself before, the only danger is inside, not out.
I walk over to the Kitchen and pour myself a glass of water, wondering briefly where Haymitch gets all his liquor before I weakly scold myself. What a hypocrite.
As I turn around to lean back against the counter I feel a pair of eyes watching me, and I look up to find Peeta staring at me from behind a window in his house, those blue eyes burning bright against the shadows of late morning. They flit away, embarrassed, once I catch them, but I do not remove my own gaze. I intently study his dirtied apron, his rolled back sleeves, the freckles of green and blue and brown in his hair. Not baking. Painting.
He turns away, but the shadows conceal him immediately and I cannot see where he is going or why he was watching me. I sigh and take a long sip from my glass, watching the way the light hits the water.
Prim. My little duck is standing, alive, so very alive and well, across the plaza. I begin to walk across the stone towards her, where she leans over, tending to the sick. I can feel my heart pounding, racing with disbelief and elation, when I see the beast. It’s huge, ugly and monstrous, the very personification of horror. The mutt begins to charge towards her, towards my Prim before I’ve even had a chance to talk to her, fangs bared, blood streaming down its jaw. No! I think. No, not again, please! I’m running, but the air has become as thick as mud and I can’t reach her, I just can’t. A terror like no other seizes me, a jagged electric chill washing through me, and the mutt is upon her and she turns-
“Aaaaaagh!” I open my eyes and bolt up, fisting the duvet in my sweaty hands under my knees. “PRIM!!!” I scream. “Priiimm?!!” I see nothing but darkness, and as I register the tears streaming down my face, I remember. “Oh!” I gasp. “Oh!”
I can’t stay in this room, in this bed a moment longer. Death is leaning into me on all sides, like the fog in the Quarter Quell, and I bury my wet face in my hands, stifling my wails with my palms.
I scramble up and out of the clutches of the duvet, running barefooted through to the attached bathroom. I turn the lights on – vainly hoping that the haunted images reeling through my mind can be as easily dismissed as the darkness- but the bright, artificial glare only exposes my red, blotchy face, with the hair of a madwoman.
I let out a shaky breath as I tear my eyes away from the mirror, fighting the oncoming hyperventilating. Not real, Katniss. Not real.
But the woman in the mirror is real, and so is her madness; those crazed eyes, puffy and bruised from nightmares, swiveling helplessly as she grasps onto the edge of the sink, cold sweat running down her spine. I’m worse than Peeta was, I think. I’m worse than everything.
Choking, I turn on the tap and reach down to splash the cold water over my face. I suddenly realise how thirsty I am, and begin to gulp down the water greedily from my cupped hands, nearly coughing in my eagerness. I towel my wet face and turn back to the bedroom, avoiding the mirror’s cool gaze.
When I enter the bedroom, I notice a peek of sunshine filtering in across the edge of the bed and blink. Dawn.
I’m momentarily confused, because normally my nightmares occur earlier in the night, but clearly not today. At that moment I hear a steady thumping across the hallway, and turn just in time to see Peeta, gently knocking and swinging his head round the door.
“Katniss?” he says. “I finished baking and saw your light on.” His eyes scan over my red-rimmed eyes, wild hair and thin nightgown. “Are you okay?”
“What?” I ask, confused. I push a piece of hair away from my face and cross my ankles over nervously. “Yes- I’m fine.”
He says nothing, just pierces me with those blue, blue eyes, so wide and vibrant and deep. I feel like I’m dreaming, dazed but not unhappy. No, this is no bad dream. Not anymore. There is Peeta, and right there is the sun.
“I brought breakfast.” He offers after a moment of silence. “Would you like to eat with me?”
My heart is beating and his eyes are warm, so I say yes and walk over to him. He pauses, ever so slightly, and then picks up an unwashed cardigan strewn across the sofa chair and wraps it round my shoulders.
I follow him down the stairs, and the scent of bread trails after him with me.