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Just Close Your Eyes, You’ll Be Alright

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“Look at her!” Papa screeched at the policeman, lifting the back of my favorite pink polka dotted shirt. “You have to do something about this, Sheriff Cray!” Papa demanded, angrily.

The man just watched, like he didn’t care. Then sat back down lazily, “There’s nothing much I can do, to be honest. Unless you can produce the child sporting the actual bruises, my hands are tied.” Said the policeman.

I had no idea what the problem was, I felt fine, but ever since my 5th birthday, every time Mama helped me out of my day clothes for my bath, she wept and held me close to her chest, whispering “No child deserves to be treated so poorly,”

Papa too always made a face and looked sad and angry when Mama showed him my back after my baths.

It was funny how bath time could easily be my favorite time of day, but it made the grown ups upset somehow. I just liked that mama would rub ointments on my back, bottom and thighs, carefully and without fuzzing about the time she was spending away from my baby sister, Primrose. Is not that I didn’t like Prim— I thought she was as lovely as a doll— I didn’t mind sharing mama’s snuggles with her either, but it was nice to just feel mama’s warm hands caressing me to sleep every now and then.

Either way, I wished someone would tell me what was so wrong with my behind that had the grown ups acting so weird.

They were starting to scare me, really.

“There has to be something we can do! There are genetic tests to determine matchless people, couldn’t we use the same technology to find the markers matching my daughter’s counterpart to identify him?”

“Mr. Everdeen, I’m not a geneticist. I wouldn’t know about anything like it… and who’s to say we could use it to find your girl’s soulmate? Then we what? It’ll open an unknown Pandora’s box situation, people would start tracking soulmates illegally or something less than honorable. It’ll certainly set a precedent we cannot foresee the ramifications of!”

“You’re telling me that there’s some kid out there, somewhere, getting beaten week in and week out, and you’ll do nothing about it?! You’ll allow the abuse to continue uninterrupted?”

The man nodded slowly, “You said it yourself, Mr. Everdeen. The kid’s ‘out there, somewhere’, we don’t even know if he’s local, or his age. In any case, I only have jurisdiction over District 12, and I can’t very well launch a country wide investigation on an alleged case of abuse, specially if we have no victim,”

“But my daughter’s soulmate is suffering! Who knows what permanent damage this poor child may have as an adult! It’s my daughter’s future we’re talking about!”

“Most unfortunate, sir. I don’t wanna seem unsympathetic, Mr. Everdeen, but unless your little girl can figure out a way to communicate with her soulmate, find… an address— at the very least a name— there isn’t anything we can do to help.”

Papa huffed, his nose flared, “Fine. Thank you for your consideration…Sheriff.” Papa put his big ol’ hand on my shoulder and guided me away, “Come on Katniss, it’s time to go home.”

I looked up at Papa and reached for his hand. I smiled at him, “It’s okay, Papa. Mama says to give grumpy people time, and they may be nicer the next time we talk to them.”

Papa smiled at me, but it didn’t crinkled the corner of his eyes, like real smiles did, “That’s nice sweetie… although, that usually only applies to people just waking up from naps, like you and me,”

I giggled when he picked me up and tickled my tummy.

Papa kept talking to grown ups about my back, but nothing was ever done about it.

 


 

I was 11 when our world pitched upside down.

Papa was one the foramen on shift at the town’s coal mine when the earth shifted and an entire tunnel collapsed.

Prim and I were in school when the sirens went off. There’s nothing worse than to hear the end of your world being advertised so loudly and without mercy.

I grabbed my sister’s hand and rushed to the mines; we found our mother there, clinging to the yellow tape cordoning off the site.

I should’ve known something wasn’t right when I was the one seeking Mama out, trying to comfort her, instead of the other way around. It was the first time the concept of a soulmate stopped being an abstract notion, and became a reality, because my mother stopped functioning altogether the moment she realized Papa had been hurt.

I saw how much a soulmate could affect you. It wasn’t only the marks on the skin— those came without conscious pain— it was the fear of knowing that someone you loved was hurting, sometimes badly, and not being able to do anything about it.

Mama’s left leg started glowing pink from the shin down at first, and the color began to shift to a darker red the longer Papa laid underground.

Unbeknownst to us, my father had been pinned under fallen rock and dirt after pushing a man to safety, risking his own life. The sharp end of a pickax perforated Papa’s leg in the cave-in. The pickaxe worked as a plug, keeping him from bleeding out while he waited for the rescue crew to reach him.

Papa laid on the floor of the very last lift to surface with rescued miners. He was unconscious. Had suffered extensive blood loss. The lone medic in the rescue crew couldn't fix him up right away, but Mama was a nurse, and like a switch flipping on, she ripped off the bottom of her skirt, and tied a torniquete around my father’s thigh, saving his life at the cost of his limb.

My father lived, but his leg had to be amputated.

He couldn’t work in the mines anymore, and what little money we got as compensation from his injuries, were put into paying off the mortgage, because Papa decided that having a roof over his family’s heads was far more important than having a leg.

The rub was, a roof didn’t fill our stomachs or put a coat around Prim’s shivering shoulders. Mama put a hold on her nursing career, obsessing over Papa’s care, despite his protests. Someone had to pick up the pieces, and that someone turned to be me.

I started selling everything I could carry out of the house in my arms: tools, kitchen appliances, small furniture, etc. But we never had many possessions to begin with, so my wares ran out soon, and I turned to our closets for their meager treasures.

I sold my parents best clothes, along with my sister’s winter boots that didn’t fit her anymore. I looked at my own shoes with longing, but put them into Primrose’s shoe rack, deciding I could manage with Mama’s boots, if I stuffed them with newspaper. Mama never left the house anyway. Neither did Papa for that matter, but he wasn’t dead, just convalescencing, so I left him a pair of footwear just in case, and sold his work boots and his Sunday loafers.

The day I was down to the last pair of clothing, we had been slurping on mint tea for the third day in a row from a few old leaves I found in the very back of the pantry. It was the last of our food, besides Papa’s bland diet, but I refused to let on on how precariously stocked we were, until absolutely necessary.

But, nobody wanted the hand-me-down baby clothes I had for sale, nor the slightly beaten stroller I was pushing around with my ‘merchandise’.

Icy cold rain, soaked me to the bone. I was so tired and downtrodden, I ran to the first awning I found, unwilling to go back home to Prim’s sunken blue eyes and chapped lips, asking for something to eat, while my hands were empty.

I tripped and fell face first on the umbrella stroller, breaking it irreparably and soiling the few onesies I’d been trying to sell.

With my wares ruined, and winded by a sharp pain shooting through my elbow, I limped towards a scraggly apple tree a few feet away. I recognized the place as the alley behind the town’s bakery, just by the smell alone.

I cupped my elbow, wondering if I’d broken it or merely banged it up? That’s when I saw the dumpster.

Big ugly thing, dirty and smelly. I climbed a wooden crate to dig for anything edible inside, but before I could lift the lid, a screeching voice shouted at me.

“Get out of there, Seam brat!”

I jumped off the crate, startled, and cowed behind the dumpster when I saw the baker’s grumpy wife sneering at me from the warmth of her kitchen’s back door.

A boy about my age— I recognized him as one of my classmates from school— peeked his towheaded face around the woman, and although they were a good five yards away, I could see his blue eyes widened as he took me in. The boy slipped back inside, as his mother spewed threats of calling the police on me and whatnot.

I started debating whether I wanted to trace back and drag my broken stroller over; pretend I was merely trying to dump it in the garbage, while inspecting the trash for food… but the baker’s wife was nicknamed the Witch by all the neighborhood children for a reason.

Before my mind was made, a loud, metallic bang resonated into the street from inside the bakery. Yelling ensued, then the sound of a meaty hand against a small face.

A few seconds later, the witch was chasing the boy out the back door, “Toss it in the trash, you stupid creature! Nobody will pay money for burnt bread anyway!”

The boy scurried by with his head down.

My eyes stuck on the bread in his hands, was probably the reason I missed the shiner under his eye. He stopped right in front of the dumpster, but instead of throwing the ruined loaves in, he tossed them in my direction.

I didn’t wait around to ask if he meant for me to grab them. I just scooped them up and fled like a bat out of heck.

When I got home, Mama gasped in horror. She grabbed me by the shoulders and pressed me to her chest. “Oh no! It’s getting worse. They don’t even care to hide the bruises anymore!”

Mama lathered my face with all the medicinal herbs she had at hand, while apologizing profusely for abandoning me and Prim to our own devices. She vowed to find a job, and to take better care of us.

“No child should ever suffer like this!” I couldn’t tell if she meant Prim and I, or whoever my soulmate was.

Mama interrogated me about my whereabouts and how I came upon the bread in my arms, but she seemed to rest easier after a while.

When I was finally able to look at my face in the mirror, I was horror struck by the deep orange bruise swelling under my eye. It took three days for the bruise to go away completely even with mama’s careful fingers.

Coincidentally, the baker’s son didn’t show up to school for the next four days. By the time he did, I had lost any confidence in myself to go up to him and thank him for the bread that fed us for a few days; the loaves were perfect! Only the crust had been charred, but I had a hunch the boy knew that when he threw the bread to me; I was also convinced he burned the bread on purpose, I was just too chicken to ask him why? Which made it even harder to hold his gaze when we crossed each other in the school hallways.

All I knew was that because of the selfless actions of the boy in my year at school, my mother seemed to wake from her single minded obsession. The boy with the bread gave our family a sense of hope, despite the fact that it would take some time for Mama to find work and produce enough money for the family. Papa’s medical needs had to be met as well, and he was due a new leg.

While those thoughts churned in my head, my eyes focused on a bright yellow bloom across the school yard. The first dandelion of the season! I picked the cheerful blossom, and the idea on how to feed my family until Mama was back on her feet, came to me.

After school, I took Prim’s hand and a clean bucket in the other; together we scoured the yard and the woods nearby for all the dandelions we could fit in the bucket. That night, we gorged ourselves on dandelion salad, and the next day, I pulled from under my parent's bed, the only thing of value we had left in the house, Papa’s hunting bow.

“Are you sure you can handle it, pumpkin?” My father asked, watching me carefully.

“You taught me how to do it,” I said, trying to hide my nerves.

“I taught you with a smaller bow,” he pointed out, “why don’t use yours?”

I shouldered the heavy bow, and took a few loose arrows in my hand, “I sold it. These are all we have left now,”

After a handful of days practicing, I actually shot something worth eating. Seeing my mother’s blue eyes pop in surprise when I dropped the dead rabbit on the table, was priceless.

 



One early morning, right before summer break, I happened across another hunter… a trapper, to be precise.

A lanky, scowling boy, with three fat bunnies tied to his belt, and a fourth hanging in the air by a simple— yet elegant— wire snare.

I’d seen his traps before, his prey with their dead eyes and lolling tongues, just high enough off the ground to keep other animals from taking off with them. Papa told me that hunter etiquette was to be observed; if I happened across a trap that wasn’t mine, I was not to touch it, out of respect for my fellow hunters. That still didn’t discourage me from looking! After all, the snares looked like works of art, and I had no idea how to set any on my own.

“Stealing is a punishable offense, you know,” Snapped the boy, and suddenly I realized just how tall he was.

From up close, I could see the beginning of some stubble under his chin.

“I wasn’t gonna take it…” I stepped away from the twitching bunny, with my hands raised in surrender. “Admiring your work, that’s all. By the way, I’m Katniss Everdeen, what’s your name?” I asked, trying to be friendly.

“Name’s Gale. Hawthorne. So… you know how to use the thing hanging from your back, Catnip, or is that just for show?” He practically bumped me onto my butt, stepping passed me while pulling a knife from his belt to cut his kill down. He turned to watch me, smirking. “That thing looks bigger than you, are you sure you can lift it up?”

I scowled at him, wondering if he was expecting to see me squirm or something. I was smaller than the average 12 year old, but I was fast and scrappy.

“My name is KatNISS. I can shoot my own food thank you very much,” I held my bow aloft and moved so he could see my quiver full of arrows, “my weapons aren’t props or fakes,” I said, haughtily.

“Yeah, well, it still looks bigger than you,”

I rolled my eyes, fed up. Any other time I’d meekly shy away, and let him be; but I was feeling stubborn and confrontational, so I pulled my bow, nocked an arrow and let it fly, all in a fluid motion.

Gale gaped with a hint of fear in his gray eyes.

I felt smug and satisfied.

I wasn’t aiming at anything in particular, I just wanted the obnoxious boy to shut it, but by a stroke of luck my arrow pierced a falling leaf, and imbedded itself deep into the knot of a gnarly looking tree trunk.

“Wow! That was amazing, Catnip!” Gale said in awe.

“It’s Katniss… I’m okay, my father was better,” I said, puffing my chest a little, “I haven’t managed stealth yet, not like Papa before the accident, anyway. He doesn’t hunt anymore.”

Gale frowned. “Was your dad in the cave-in?” He asked grimly.

I nodded.

“So was mine. He almost didn’t make it.”

“Same.”

He just stood there, staring at the ground for a moment, then I tried to play cool, “Hey, I’d be willing to spare some shooting lessons, in exchange for some snaring techniques,”

Gale watched me, intently. He finally nodded and stuck his hand out for me to shake, “Deal!”

I smiled. Papa always said that good hunting partners were hard to find, and while I didn’t want a new hunting partner— I already had my father!— I could always exchange knowledge with a fellow hunter and improve my game.

 


 

Papa was fitted with a basic prosthetic leg. He couldn’t run or swim with it, but having the ability to walk without crutches gave him a “new lease in life”, as he called it.

He found work doing odd jobs for Haymitch Abernathy, a hermit drunk, with more money than he knew what to do with, and no family to spend it on. The man needed someone to talk to every now and then, and seeing as he and my father were close in age, they developed a strange rapport between them.

Still, Papa wasn’t completely confident with his fake leg, no matter how many physical therapies he attended; he still walked with a pronounced limp. Yet, he always had a word of comfort for Mama.

My mother often blamed herself for Papa’s disability.

He’d tell her that she did the right thing, that it was thanks to her torniquete he was still alive, and she should never doubt her own healing skills. But every now and then, my mother would catch a glance of her permanently grey skinned leg, and silent tears would slide down her exhausted, pretty face.

By then, I was old enough to know that the soft orange marks hidden under my clothes, meant a kid somewhere in Panem, probably my age, was getting beaten on a regular basis. It was sad to think about, but I’d grown so used to the marks, they felt like a distant happening without a meaningful connection to me. The bruises were there... just shy of a shirt sleeve, or around mid thigh, where they could be concealed by shorts; the way I saw them, they were like oversized freckles that came and went. A nuisance. That’s why watching my mother weep over her shadowy leg, was always unnerving and a little odd.

Was I supposed to despair the same way she did over my own soulmate marks? Was I broken or heartless if I didn’t feel as strongly?

Until I saw my mother’s grief over her soulmate’s leg, it didn’t register to me just how much the orange bruises were supposed to affect me.

I started to think if I wasn’t any better than the person dispensing the punches.

One day, I was leaning on my parents bedroom door, watching Mama applying soothing oils to her gray leg with the utmost love and care.

“Why do you rub so much medicine on your leg? It doesn’t seem to be bringing back your normal color,” I asked, staring where her fingers massaged into her flesh.

Mama stopped and called me over, to stand on her side of the bed.

“Papa is fast asleep, do you see?” She pointed out, kindly.

I looked past her shoulder, where my father was sprawled on the mattress on his stomach, dead to the world.

I nodded.

Mama smiled, “Do you remember all we’ve told you about soulmates? I'm sure they’ve taught you at school other stuff as well,”

Again, I nodded, just a little puzzled. “Soulmates have a very strong bond. They can’t feel when the other hurts, but they can see the marks, tinted in their favorite colors. That’s how we identify our soulmates, because we match and they can see themselves reflected back.”

“Exactly.” Said my mother, beaming. “Now, your papa and I are soulmates, and we love each other very much. When Papa’s leg was separated from his body, my body reflected that loss, despite still retaining my own leg. We match. The one thing most people don’t seem to realize, is that the connection goes both ways. I may not feel the physical pain Papa does, but I can still do things to my leg to help him feel better.

“For example, when he feels phantom itches, I scratch and his itching sensation goes away. When he can’t fall asleep because he’s uncomfortable without his leg, I massage lavender oil on mine, until he relaxes and goes to sleep. Everything I do to heal my body, and take care of it, helps my soulmate feel better.”

“Is that why you put lotions on my marks? To help my soulmate feel better?”

Mama’s lips thinned out; she didn’t like talking about the orange marks on my body.

“Katniss,” she said very seriously, “I tend to your bruises because I love you. I worry about your soulmate, because I love you. I try to keep you as healthy and happy as possible, because that will help your soulmate heal faster… because I love you. I can cure your soulmate’s body through yours, but I cannot protect his heart, mind, or feelings. Right now, you both are too young to feel the pull of your bond, but one day, when your bodies have matured, you’ll have this… yearning, to find one another, and then, I just hope, whoever your soulmate is, knows we tried to help.”

I cocked my head, “Should I be sad every time new marks show up?”

Mama inhaled a deep breath, “We should feel sad every time a child is mistreated, darling, no matter how we’re related,”

From that day on, I paid close attention to every child in my class for bruises matching mine. I also kept pomades and tinctures in my school bag, in case I ever saw another kid getting hurt. I wouldn’t say I started to develop deeper feelings for my soulmate after that, but I did feel deeper empathy for my classmates… I just couldn’t stomach big injuries, gore or vomit, but smaller cuts and bruises… those I could manage.

 


 

“Silver Anderson figured out her cousin was dating her soulmate!” A girl in my year was telling a cluster of other 15 year-old girls in the locker room. “Do you remember how Silver has been wearing a turtleneck for the last two days with this darned awful heat?”

The other girls hummed their yeses.

“Well, is because Silver’s soulmate had a hickey on the throat, given by Silver’s cousin, who was his girlfriend or whatever. But apparently the cousin went over to visit Silver with her boyfriend, and one look at the guy's neck, and Silver recognized the mark!”

There were gasps all around.

It wasn’t rare to hear of soulmates having relationships with other people before finding each other, but it was almost unheard of a relative dating somebody’s soulmate so close.

I finished tying up my shoelaces, and started rebranding my hair, making a mental note to double shampoo, to get all the sweat out.

“What an idiot! Who gets hickeys from their ‘whiles’?” Snorted somebody.

I wasn’t much for gossip, but even I had to agree.

‘Whiles’, weren’t permanent romantic interests, they were just to pass the time while waiting to find your soulmate. ‘Whiles’ were people to satisfy ones curiosity about dating and that kind of stuff, with no strings attached or substance; ‘whiles’ had a bad connotation associated with.

“Oh, the boy had never gotten one mark in his body that wasn’t his, so, he assumed he didn’t have a soulmate, and the cousin has already been confirmed to be a matchless.”

A big “Oh!” Swept the room.

Matchless were born without a soulmate, which meant they could choose to be with whoever they wanted as long as they were matchless as well, or with nobody at all.

Sometimes I envied their freedom to choose, but other times I felt a sense of safety, knowing there was a person somewhere in the world meant just for me and me to them.

Soulmates were genetically evolved to complement one another, but some just wanted to experiment before settling down. Lately, though, matchless births were growing in number, and that upset people for whatever reason, as if the freedom of choice was scary or a curse, then again matchless were usually whiles and those were looked down on.

“That’s awful!” Said a girl.

“I knew Silver’s near freakish obsession with keeping her skin pristine and hidden would bring her issues finding her soulmate someday,” Declared another.

“I don’t think she wanted to find him,” whispered someone else.

“Oh well, they did find each other! You can’t hide from your destiny. That’s just silly!”

“Either way, I feel bad for the cousin, because apparently she and Silver’s soulmate were talking about marriage, since they thought they were both matchless.” Informed the first one.

I lost interest in the conversation when it turned speculative, and stood up to shove my P.E. uniform into my locker.

Someone suddenly called, “Everdeen, how about those orange blooms on your arms?”

My eyes widened, and immediately, I dropped my arms, pulling my sleeves as far down as they would go to cover my soulmate’s private marks.

“Oh… um… yeah. My mother thinks my soulmate might be an athlete,” I stuttered; Mama had only said such a thing in passing once, when a couple bruises appeared that didn’t match the usual ones. “Also, he seems to work with his hands. Lots of nicks and scrapes.” I wiggled my fingers in front of me. That much was true, my soulmate probably wore those marks freely.

“Oooh!” A girl, Delly Cartwright, reached to take a closer look. “Could be a carpenter. Or a locksmith? Maybe a farmer!”

“It could be the blacksmith’s son! Doesn’t Silver have an unmarried brother?” Asked another girl.

“Yeah… a kid like 10! Ugh, Everdeen, I really hope he’s not your soulmate… can you imagine being so much older than your soulmate?!” Interjected the same girl that spotted my bruises.

I scowled. Age was a stupid thing to complain about. It wasn’t out of the ordinary to have an age gap between soulmates… my father was six years older than my mother, and Mrs. Sae from the Soup Corner at the market, was a handful of years older than her soulmate.

Still...

“No. My soulmate is most likely my age. I’ve gotten his marks my whole life,” I shrugged, absently rubbing my arm, where the brand new bruise appeared that morning.

“Oh… at least that’s something. Knowing that your soulmate isn’t so much younger than you, and that he might at least have an apprenticeship somewhere,”

“Right,” I said, turning away, wondering if it was awful of me to wish for a boy who never got marks on his body, like Silver’s pristine skin? At least that would mean my soulmate was safe and treated fairly.

 


 

Papa and I shared many qualities. I inherited his coloring: olive skin, gray eyes, dark, straight hair, our penchant for singing mountain ballads, and the same quickening of the blood when we got a kill during hunting. Prim favored our mother more closely, with their fair skin, blonde wavy licks and blue eyes, they also were more skilled as healers and more soft-hearted towards animals.

The day Prim brought home a half dead cat, riddled with fleas and missing an ear to be patched up and adopted into our family, my first instinct was to drown the orange pelt and be done with it, but Prim got upset and worked up, and I just couldn’t stomach her cries over what I considered to be the world’s ugliest cat… his face was flat, like it’d been smashed against a wall…

It took a long time to calm my sister down, and Papa made me pinky promise that I wouldn’t kill the fur sack and pretend it ran away, which I only did reluctantly, because I loved my sister and didn’t want her to be crossed with me.

Papa asked me to walk with him into the woods, afterwards, which I did readily.

Before he lost his leg, we used to go hunting all the time; everything I knew about hunting and foraging, I learned from him. But after losing his leg, we’ve only gone to the woods to hike and get him used to his prosthesis in the uneven terrain.

It was good exercise for him. The fresh air seemed to lift his spirits too.

We didn’t hunt together anymore. Papa’s tread wasn’t feather-like the way it used to be, prey scattered away before we even saw it.

It was alright. We enjoyed being out there together, and he still had lots to teach me about edible plants. Sometimes he’d find one of his old spiles, and then it would hit me: all his knowledge would’ve been lost if he’d died in that cave-in. I would’ve never known where to look for those spiles; I wouldn’t have the slightest idea how to harvest sap and turn it into syrup.

Sometimes, I had to sit down and catch my breath when those thoughts knocked the wind out of me.

I was having one such moment, when out of the blue, my father spoke in a low, calmed tone.

“There’s a new chief of police,” he said while sitting on a log, next to me.

“I heard.” I wasn’t trying to be snippy with him, but every time a new chief or sheriff was appointed to our district, Papa wanted to run back into the precinct, and demand they look for my soulmate.

Appealing to the police never led anywhere. It didn’t matter if they had new staff, they always gave us the same spiel: can’t investigate an abuse case without a victim. They couldn’t go looking for a person without a name or an address.

After a while, one just started feeling like it was an impossible task, to help one child feel safe.

Papa sighed. “We could try ourselves. I’ve been saving some money, and we could—“

“What? We could what?” I snapped. “We could go door to door visiting every little town in Panem until we find the bruised up mutt matching me?” I was at the verge of tears.

Mama said that once my body was matured enough, I’d start feeling the pull. Well, I kinda felt it, calling desperately. It started around my 14th birthday, when I started having a regular cycle, and puberty was at its summit.

First, I was curious about my other half and began cataloguing all the soulmate marks I could see easily. Suddenly I had whole maps of my hands and arms, and legs. Mama suggested I keep track of my hidden marks too, just in case. The curiosity persisted and evolved into an incessant wondering: where was he? How was he getting along? How could I help him protect himself?

“Haymitch may have a way, sweetheart. He knows people, and he likes you… he says you’ve got spunk,” Papa smirked.

I’d met Haymitch Abernathy countless times. He was rude and sarcastic. I usually responded to him in kind, earning myself a host of reprimands from my parents— although Papa still couldn’t hide his pride, despite trying his hardest.

“What would he know about soulmates anyway?” I muttered.

Papa shook his head, standing up, “Haymitch lost his girl, mother and brother all at once during a special outing. There was a car crash. Haymitch was badly hurt, but survived. His family didn’t. His soulmate was 16, so was him. The government paid him excessively for damages and the loss of his soulmate, because it was proved the city had skimped on roadside safety that caused the accident. But money didn’t fill the void of losing his loved ones. Haymitch never recovered.

“He told me once that losing a soulmate is akin to drowning. Except you’re still breathing without filling your lungs with oxygen…” Papa picked up the bucket we brought to collect sap, and smiled sadly at me. “Katniss, I may be exaggerating by hounding the police about your soulmate, but sometimes I worry that if we don’t find that kid soon, you could very well share Haymitch’s fate. Believe me when I say that I’d do anything in this world, to keep that from happening to you.”

I turned 16 that spring.

I started carrying a small mirror on me, to try and look over my shoulders into places I couldn’t reach, obsessing over every little mark that sprouted anew on my back.

I wasn't sure if the all consuming watching, and the doubts that kept me up at night, not knowing what was being done to my soulmate, wondering if he’d survive another day, was the pull Mama talked about, or simply terror at becoming the next Haymitch Abernathy. Either way, I became more vigilant for injured teens around me, but a sinking feeling in my gut started nagging at me, that my soulmate was an expert at hiding in plain sight by now… how would I ever find him if he was as adept at camouflaging as I suspected?

 


 

“This spot is perfectly in the middle of the turkeys’ path.”

I crossed my arms over my chest to glare at Gale, “You just spilled a bunch of blood there. No critter is gonna come this way anymore with that stink.”

“Turkeys aren’t that smart, Catnip,” Gale looked up from his belt after securing his new catch— his pants were covered in gore from where the rabbit nearly cut its own foot off trying to fight the snare’s grip. “I’m more than confident that if we set traps here, we’ll catch at least a fat Tom…more if we set up a system wide enough,”

After a somewhat rocky start, Gale and I learned to respect each other’s skills, even joining forces for certain seasons, like deer and turkey hunting. We also fished together on occasion. It was safe to say we had a friendship after three… almost four years of partnership in the woods. At 18 Gale was less obnoxious, but still a stubborn ass.

“And I’m telling you, the path is tainted now. We need to put feed on the other side of the bushes, to keep them in the area.”

“That’ll take weeks!”

“Then you shouldn’t have let that bunny bleed to death in here!”

“Listen here, Catnip—” whatever he was about to say, died in his throat.

“What?!” I demanded, angrily, when he just stared at me horror struck.

“Your nose!” He roared. “Your eyes!” He tumbled forward, and squished my cheeks in his one, long-fingered hand. “There’s more coming!”

I yanked myself away from him. “Cut it out!”

“I think your soulmate is getting the shit beaten out of!”

I grunted and brought my fingers to my face, as if I could feel the changes.

Gale had seen some of my bruises, enough to be sure I had a soulmate, but not enough to realize my soulmate was being abused.

I rubbed under my nose, and the tip of my index came back bloody.

I gasped. That had never happened before.

“How bad is it?” I asked Gale, frantically.

“Um… orange keeps popping up all over your face. There’s some running up your arm right now.” He sounded careful, but frightened. “It’s like… burn marks,”

I looked down, where indeed, long, fat tongues of intense orange glowed up my left arm. I’ve seen glowing marks before, but always in the tip of my fingers or the sides of my hands, I never connected the glowing with fire— burn marks— but it made sense. I guess my soulmate must handle fire regularly.

“What’s happening?” I pulled my little mirror from my pocket, to see my face, and nearly sobbed at the sight.

One eye was completely covered in orange. Burn marks ran all the way from my elbow up to my cheek, and part of my forehead. My nose had a tiny, bloody smear, and my lip had streaks of orange here and there.

Whatever happened, was bad.

“Fuck… Do you know where he is, by any chance?” Gale winced.

“No… but I’m about to find out!” I looked around for a place to sit, then pulled my small knife out of my boot.

Once seated, I examined my forearms. The flaming marks started at the elbow on my left arm, and went up on that side, my right arm was free of injury, except for my palms. Both were glowing orange, but not too bad.

“Okay… here goes nothing!” I gritted through my teeth, placing the tip of my knife to my arm, I traced the word, “WHERE?” crudely, and just deep enough to break the skin.

Gale made a face, but crouched closed by, staring intently. “Do you think it’ll work?” He asked dubiously. “He might be unconscious for all we know,”

“We’ll see.”

The minutes rolled by and no answer came. I was starting to panic; all I could think about was would that be the day I became the next Haymitch Abernathy? At least he got to meet his soulmate and have a relationship with her before she died; I had no idea who mine was. Was it worse that way, knowing them and then losing them, or was it worst to never meet them at all? Would I become soulless? Would my entire body turn gray? Would I ever find another soulmate? Haymitch never said if he ever looked for another, but I knew it was possible to get a secondary soulmate if enough time went by.

“Look!” Gale shouted.

A shaky “D12” appeared under my message.

A relieved gasp left my mouth.

“District 12! That’s good! He could’ve been all the way in District 4, and then what were you gonna do? Call the authorities there?” Gale muttered, clearly invested in what was happening to me.

Tears stung my eyes. I wrote: “ME 2”

We’ve been in the same district the whole time, and I still had no idea where to find him!

I turned the knife back to the first word, and traced a line under it “WHERE?”

The answer came back faster. “S H”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I moaned, “What kind of abbreviation is that? Ugh! I’m trying to help you!” I screamed at my arm as if my soulmate could hear it.

“Seam House?” Gale mused… “No, there are hundreds, if not thousands of houses in the Seam,” he said.

The Seam was the poorer part of the district, where people like us lived: low income families, miners, laborers and the such.

“Ah! Ask if he means Slag Heap? If I was trying to pick a fight with someone, that’s where I’d go.”

“He didn’t pick a fight!” I snapped, defensive and angry. “He’s been beaten every other day, since I can remember. My parents used to go to the police station every year to see if they could do something about it. Nobody ever did! They always said we needed to figure out a way to communicate with him… well, I’m doing it now!”

Gale frowned, “That’s shitty. I’m sorry to hear that. The Slag Heap could still be it, though. Many people go there to be alone... if they’re running from someone, there’s plenty hiding spots,”

That sounded logical, “Okay… but the slag heap isn’t exactly small, and there’s some woodsy area to consider too,”

“Mmm… asking has been working so far,”

“Yeah, but the whole mutilation part is getting to me…” I glared, he wasn’t the one cutting his arm, “I’m starting to get woozy,”

“You’re a hunter, Catnip! Blood is nothing,”

“Animals, Gale! Not my own blood,”

“There’s no difference,” Gale cupped my face in his hands, to keep my eyes on his gray, steely ones. “we’re all animals. We all bleed the same. Your soulmate needs your help, if I knew who mine was, and I knew she was in trouble, I’d be rushing to them… you can do this, Catnip,”

I took a deep, cleansing breath, and nodded. “I’ll ask him. As soon as we know where to go… could you please fetch my father? He’ll know what to do,”

“You got it, Catnip!” He let go of me, and I felt renewed courage after his weird pep talk.

Once again, I trace the tip of my knife on my skin, “SLAG H? WHERE?”

“YES NE”

“North East! I told you it’ll work!”

“Yeah,” I grumbled, spelling making one last message: “W8 4 ME”

“K”

With half a plan in motion, Gale rushed to find my father, and I made a mad dash to the slag heap, where years and years of dumping dirt and rocks removed from the mines had formed small hills and mounds at the edge of the district.

“Hello!” I called out loudly. “Can anybody hear me?!”

There wasn’t a whole lot of vegetation in the slag heap, only hundreds of disturbed soil pits and little mountains... some were tall and wide enough they’ll easily conceal a person or two looking for privacy.

“Anybody here?” I called again.

A weak cough answered in the distance.

I rushed in it’s direction, hoping it was my soulmate, and not a couple trying to steal away a few minutes alone.

“Please, tell me where you are!” I called before another round of coughing reached me.

“Here to finish me off, sweetheart?” Came a weak, raspy voice from behind me.

I turned around but saw nothing besides dirt, and sticks, and moss on rocks.

I swallowed, “Where are you?” I stepped closer to the heap in front of me, and then...

“Well, don’t step on me!”

I jumped back and looked downwards, and finally saw dirty pieces of flannel and denim, incongruous with the area, and under all the debris, I realized a person had dug a little wedge at the foot of the hill, and thrown the stuff he’d dug out back on top of himself. The disguise was clever, camouflaging himself into the terrain.

I gasped and dropped to the ground, pulling handfuls of earth out of the way. A jolt of recognition hit me when a pair of bright blue eyes blinked open and shut, slowly, as if fighting off fatigue.

“Don’t go to sleep!” I warned.

“I’m sorry, but it might be too late for that already. There’s an angel hovering above me, and I’m not sure I’m not dreaming it,” a row of white teeth appeared from the soil.

My knee-jerk reaction was to chuff and roll my eyes, but if he was throwing me those cheesy lines, it meant he was somewhat lucid, and it was imperative to keep him that way.

“How do you know is not a nightmare?” I countered.

“Because Katniss Everdeen coming to my rescue, and being my soulmate could never be a bad dream. On the contrary It’s only my deepest, most desperate hope, really...” he trailed off, and closed his eyes again.

I was momentarily frightened.

“Keep talking,” I ordered, brushing dirt off his head. Some of it mixed in with his blood and sweat, turning into a thick mud. I could see more of his battered face; my heart beated erratically against my rib cage, there were so many bruises. “Peeta, keep talking,”

His untouched eye opened slowly, a lazy, sideways smile greeted me, warming me up. “You know my name?”

I chuckled, startled, “You know mine,”

“Everyone knows you, Katniss ‘the huntress’ Everdeen!” He reached up, tentatively, and touched the tip of my braid, whispering under his breath, something that sounded like: unreal.

Just saying his name felt otherworldly; like breathing for the first time. I’ve never uttered it before, for fear of bringing forward memories of that awful day in the rain, by the bakery’s scraggly apple tree.

“And you’re Peeta Mellark, the boy with the bread. I’ve known your name for a long time, baker’s youngest son, whose kindness saved my entire family from starvation,” I cupped his injured face in my hands, and I couldn’t help the slight tremble in my voice.

He seemed to melt at the sound of my voice; then his hands came to touch my face. “I can’t believe it’s you. I can’t believe you found me!” He said, an edge of incredulity and awe colored his tone, but then his face fell, “But, your sweet, beautiful face… it’s all…” a fat tear rolled down his muddy cheek, while his thumb gently caressed my temple and the side of my face. “I’m so sorry, Katniss… I never wanted you to look like this! I always tried to shift positions, so you’d never had to see how bad it got. I’m so sorry,” he was crying so hard, he started to shake and cough.

It took inhuman strength not to cry myself; I knew he needed me to protect him, and there would be time later to fall apart and feel emotional.

“Shush, I’m here now.” I knelt next to him and locked my arms around his head, pulling him against my chest, so he could hear my heart beating only for him. “I’m going to take care of you.”

“I really hoped it was you. I really did...” he heaved into my neck, his arms wrapping gingerly around my waist, “thank you for finding me,”

“Of course I found you… I’ve been looking for you for ages,” I whispered, finally giving in, shedding some tears, relieved that the tension, fear, uncertainty, and frustration were finally gone. My soulmate was in my arms, where he belonged! “My parents started looking for you when we were little. But we’re together now,”

Peeta calmed down some, but he was still breathing too fast, “Now that you have me… what are you gonna do with me?” He asked meekly.

I smiled down at him, “I’ll put you somewhere safe, where you can never get hurt again,”

He closed his eyes. “I’d like that…”

“Peeta, you can’t go to sleep just yet, okay?”

“I’m so tired, Katniss,”

“I know,” I cooed. I had no idea I was capable of speaking with such softness. “My father will get here soon, and then we’ll patch you up real well.”

“I can’t go back to my house though—“

“You ain’t going there, kid!” Papa said from a few feet away. Gale and two police officers followed closely.

I must’ve been completely enthralled with my soulmate, because I never heard them coming,

“Even if it’s the last thing I do, I won’t let you go back to that place!” My father stated.

And that was that!

 


 

“Tell me what happened,” Officer Darius asked in a soft tone, trying to be encouraging.

My soulmate inhaled; one eye was so swollen it was completely shut, his other one roved around the room nervously. Peeta locked his gaze with mine, beseeching, and I offered my hand in support. He clung to it like a lifeline.

“My mother asked me to burn a pile of leaves and branches in the backyard that had been there since fall, but the branches were damp and it was taking me a while to fire it up. Since it’s the last week to burn stuff, my mom got impatient. She screamed at me, called me incompetent and useless… the usual stuff—“

“Does your mother call you names regularly?” Asked the officer.

“My mom calls everybody names. I guess that’s how she was raised. Her mom used to call her names too…” Peeta shrugged.

“That’s no reason to keep the cycle going,” my mama grumbled quietly, so only I could hear her.”

“After insulting you, what else happened?” Prompted the police woman, Officer Purnia.

Peeta scowled. “I told her I’d pour some lighter fluid on the pile and let it soak for a few minutes, but she wouldn’t hear it. Said I was doing it wrong, I was too stupid, I would never accomplish shit if I couldn’t even light up some dead branches… and, well. I got fed up. I told her she could start the fire herself if I was doing such a lousy job… my mom… she—She doesn’t like to be talked back...” He sagged on his hospital bed, and turned his face away.

“What do you mean?” Asked officer Purnia, taking notes, trying to keep an impassive mask on.

“The first slap landed across my ear because I dared to move away from her flying hand,” Peeta said tersely, “She didn’t like that either, so she took aim again, but with the bottle of lighter fluid on her palm. She practically smashed it against my face.” He stopped to gasp for air, while his good eye filled with tears. “I think fluid squirted everywhere, I smelled like my hair and clothes had been doused in the stuff,” he raked a shaking hand over the singed hair at his temple.

I caressed his arm to sooth him.

He smiled gratefully at me, and faced the officers to continue. “I’d just put a piece of burning cardboard into the pile. I guess the leaves caught fire during the squabble with mom, and I must've lost my balance after taking a plastic bottle full of liquid to the face, because next thing I know, I’m bracing my hands on the ground, on burning sticks, and then I’m on fire myself.”

Peeta sustained first degree burns on the different spots from his left forearm, up. Luckily, his wounds were managed as soon as we got to the emergency room, and his treating doctor said he would recover, with minimal scarring.

“How did you end up at the Slag Heap?” Asked Officer Darius.

Peeta sighed, “My mom kind of freaked out when she realized I was on fire. She picked up a rag from somewhere and started hitting me with it…” he paused, “in retrospect, I think she may have actually been trying to help me, but... I just saw it like she was still trying to beat me, so I ran off. I tripped, fell, then rolled on the ground, she started calling my name, coming closer to me. I was scared. I took off again and didn’t stop until I fell at the foot of that mound of dirt in the slag heap. That’s when I noticed my soulmate’s note.”

Officer Darius quirked up a reddish eyebrow, “Your soulmate’s note?”

“Yeah… these,” Peeta tried to peel back the bandage over his arm, but my mother put her hand over it, and shook her head.

“Here!” I said, immediately shoving my own arm in front of the officers.

Both examined my arm. “How did you think of doing that, Miss Everdeen?”

“I was inspired by your bosses actually,” I snarled.

“Katniss!” Mama chided, and then politely addressed the officers. “You see, my husband and I have come to the authorities for many years, urging them to find a way to locate our daughter’s soulmate. You see, she’d started exhibiting her soulmate’s bruises from a very young age, which in my professional experience, were inconsistent with normal toddler scrapes and bumps—“

“The chief of police always said to find a way to communicate with him, ask where he was… so I did,” I interrupted, haughtily. “I got you a real life victim to investigate. You’re welcome.”

The officers stared at me, flabbergasted.

Mama made a dismaying noise in the back of her throat, but Peeta’s face— burnt, bruised and swollen— lighted up, with the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen a person direct at me.

Mama interjected, conciliatory, “My husband and I believe, your department should have enough evidence to investigate Peeta’s case, now?” My mother’s searching blue eyes seemed to x-ray the officers.

“Well, Miss and Mrs. Everdeen, Mister Mellark, I think we have everything we need for now. Thank you for your cooperation. We’ll be in touch.” Said Officer Purnia snapping shut her notebook.

“Mr. Mellark, your case worker, Miss Trinket, will be in as soon as the matter of your emergency custody is settled.” Informed Officer Darius, right before wishing us a good evening.

Peeta frowned, “Are they sending me to like a home or something? What about my brothers? They can’t stay home with my mom… she’ll go nuts on them!”

“No, no, Peeta,” Mama spoke softly, “Miss Trinket is already on it. Haymitch Abernathy has offered his house for your brothers to stay at for a few days while things get sorted out. You’re welcome to join them, of course, but your injuries need supervision and several cleanings daily, so Mr. Everdeen and I feel it is in everyone’s best interest if you stay with us, at least until you’ve healed enough.” Mama hesitated, and then patted my soulmate’s hand, “I hope that’s okay with you, but if it isn’t—“

“It’s absolutely great, ma’am! Yes, I—thank you,”

Mama nodded, “Well, I’m gonna go get some stuff taken care of, and check on that case worker. Then they’ll hopefully let us go home… Katniss, I’ll need your help with something before we leave, alright?”

“‘kay.”

“Mrs. Everdeen…thank you,” Peeta said meekly.

Mama just stood stoically by the door, “You’re family, Peeta, it’s the least we could do for you.” The door clicked shut leaving me alone with my soulmate.

We were both silent for a minute. Then Peeta said half amused, half shyly, “I think the guy cop liked you. I caught him smirking a couple of times after your ruthless answers.” His smile was crooked. Boyish. I almost swooned.

I shrugged. “I don’t think he cared that much,”

“Are you serious?” Peeta laughed, “Katniss, you have no idea the effect you can have,”

I scowled at him, and he just shook his head. I couldn’t tell if he was teasing me or complimenting me. He changed the topic before I could decide which.

“So, you’ve been looking for me then?” He sounded nervous, and a little uncertain, “isn’t it weird...we are soulmates, but the only thing I know for sure about you, is that your favorite color is green?” He rubbed his fingers together, then showed me the tips, where he had dark green spots, exactly on the same place I had permanent calluses from pulling on my bow string.

I bit my lower lip, studying the thin spidering of green nicks and scratches, were I surmised my own marks have appeared after my daily trips into the woods.

“Your favorite color is orange. Not bright, but muted…”

“Like the sunset,” he finished for me.

Mind bonding wasn’t out of the realm of possibilities between soulmates, but my understanding on the matter was, that the bond had to be physically sealed before a pair could develop those empathic connections, where soulmates shared perfectly synchronized thoughts, as if they had one mind. Peeta and I weren’t there just yet, but it felt like we understood each other pretty well already.

He just stared at me in fascination, before his face fell, “I hope you don’t get permanently disfigured, if my burn scars don’t go away completely… you are so pretty.”

I rolled my eyes, pleased that he thought I was pretty, but not really knowing how to respond graciously. I’d never been called pretty by a boy before, not that it’d have the same effect as when Peeta said it... “You’re just saying that I’m pretty because I’m your soulmate,”

He smiled sadly, “No… I really mean it. I’ve had a crush on you since I can remember. I just new I belonged to someone since I was like 4, when I saw my first soulmate scratch on my knees. Your favorite colors back then were teal and pink. Your marks were always swirls of the two colors. I liked them. I liked that I belonged to someone who enjoyed colors, like myself... I wondered what your marks looked like, but then, I hoped you never had to see my marks. I was ashamed of them.”

My chest tightened, I climbed onto his bed, and pressed my side right against his, “Hey… I’ve like your marks.” I stuttered, “my parents never let me see the ones on my back until I was older, but I liked the ones you got in normal places. Yours appeared as rainbows where we were little.” I held his hand in mine. “I don’t care if we stay fire mutts forever, Peeta, the important thing is that we are together now,”

“Thank you for finding me,”

“Thank you for leading me to you,”

We leaned our heads together, and fell into an easy silence.

“Katniss…”

“Mmm,”

“We are soulmates.”

I tilted my head away, to look at him, “Yeah. We already established that,” I said suspiciously.

Peeta smirked, “You know, we’re supposed to be madly in love…so, it’s okay to kiss me whenever you want to,”

I snorted and rolled my eyes, but he was right. In any other circumstance, I’m sure we would’ve already progressed into couple-y, lovey-dovey stuff.

“If you’re already fishing for kisses, that means you’re healthy then!” I kissed his forehead. “But let me tell you right now, cheek and sass won’t take too far, sir,”

“It won’t?” he pouted, “then I’ll just have to swoop in when I see an opening,” he leaned into me, and I let him plant a peck, full on my lips.

My first kiss ever, and all I could register was how chapped his lips were… besides the small fluttering of butterfly wings in the pit of my stomach, of course.

“Well, time for a sip of water, and you should rest some too.” I said feeding him the straw in the styrofoam cup full of icy water by his bed.

After he drank, we gravitated towards each other, meeting in the middle. Our second kiss was short, sweet, and full of relief.

I liked it. In fact, I wanted another, but Peeta was drowsy after the day we’ve had.

“I remember you used to sing, so beautifully, even the birds would stop to listen,” Peeta said, shyly… “would you… mind singing for me?”

“I don’t sing all that much nowadays, but if that’s what you want…”

He stared at me expectantly, so I had no other choice. I combed back his freshly washed hair, and started.

Just close your eyes;
The sun is going down.
You'll be alright;
No one can hurt you now.
Come morning light,
You and I'll be safe and sound...”

When Mama came back, Peeta was asleep, and so she took me outside while my father sat in the room with the case worker, signing in my soulmate’s release papers, waiting for him to wake up.

“I want you to take these,” Mama produced a packet of medicine from a white, pharmaceutical baggie.

“Birth control?!” I groaned, embarrassed.

“Don’t look so scandalized, Katniss,” Mama rolled her eyes, “You and Peeta are healthy, newly acquainted teenaged soulmates, who will suddenly coexist together in close quarters. Papa and I agreed that starting you on contraceptives is the right thing to do,” she fixed me with a stare that broker no protests, “That said, we are not giving you carte blanche to act on pure hormonal instincts, Katniss. While we aren’t so naive to believe you won’t explore intimacy with your soulmate, we fully expect you to use caution, and make responsible decisions. Is that clear?”

I nodded, and snatched the pills from Mama’s outstretched hand. My face was burning with mortification, but I was grateful for my parents’ wherewithal and openness.

The next few days proved harsh and blissful at the same time. After 11 years pestering the authorities, Papa finally got the law to prosecute my soulmate’s parents for abuse and neglect. To call it a victory, was understatement.

Peeta’s father was declared another victim of the Witch’s abuse, but court ordered him to see a therapist and get evaluated by a professional, before he could come back home to his sons.

Mrs. Mellark was charged with endangering a child, battery, abuse and arson. She was court ordered to seek anger management and psychological counseling. She had been abused as a child too, and after watching her son in fire, it finally clicked in her head, that she needed to put a stop to the cycle… late as it may be. She went willingly when the police served her arrest warrants.

Since Peeta and his middle brother were still minors, they were temporarily placed under their eldest brother’s care; but the eldest brother was only 19 and had no idea how to be a father figure, so strange as it was, my parents insisted on having them all bunk in our tiny house, which was comically insufficient. Thank heavens Haymitch Abernathy was still willing to help.

The grumpy old drunk invited the lot of us to stay at his place for as long as we needed, and after cleaning up all the empty bottles and general messes around his huge house, we could enjoy the place at our leisure.

The boys kept working at the bakery, since they needed a source of income, and something to keep themselves occupied. Mama said they needed the normalcy of their business to cope.

It was a good thing Haymitch’s house was so big, since Peeta started having horrible nightmares after his mother was released from holding, after making bail; her trial was still pending, but my poor soulmate suffered severe PTSD from the events that brought us together. Neither of his brothers wanted to share a room with him at night…which allowed me to slip in when I heard him crying out desperately and fearfully.

Peeta would only go back to sleep after I laid beside him and sang, while carding my fingers through his sweat-damped, ashy blond waves.

“I’m not okay until I can see you’re safe,” he told me once.

After the third night in a row of this happening, I just stayed with him in his bed. My parents didn’t exactly approve— we were still 16— but there wasn’t much they could say to stop us. After all, our soulmate bond trumped any other familial bond; we just couldn’t legally get married and apply for housing until we were both 18.

Peeta still woke up in cold sweats at night, but my arms were there to fend off the terrors, and so were my lips.

On the night I felt a hunger so consuming and devastating, gnawing at me from my core, radiating to the tips of my being, I was glad my mother put me on birth control.

My soulmate gently, but steadily joined us together, cementing our physical bond for the rest of time, while branding his love and adoration to me into my very skin, with fevered lips and shaky hands. We gasped and whispered vows of devotion to one another, and then an explosion of feelings and emotions went off… I couldn’t tell where his life force started, and mine ended. We were one. Sharing a single soul.

After, we laid tangled together, our hearts beating as one. Peeta kissed my knuckles, and asked.

“You looked for me, for years. Real or not real?”

“Real.”

He kissed my forehead, “Will you sing?”

“Of course,” I combed back his hair with loving fingers, and sang.

Just close your eyes;

You'll be alright;

Come morning light,
You and I'll be safe and sound.”