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After the fire, Ashes remain

Chapter Text

Peeta


When I arrive home, I drop everything I carry on the floor. I don't care if the entrance to my house is a shambles right now. I head to the fridge and grab a beer. After a long sip, I let my body relax a little.

This can’t be happening, I say to myself for the hundredth time today. This wasn’t supposed to happen, not now. Not ever. I had lost hope in her, in me… in us. Us, I whisper.

Although I’ve said it in a low tone, my voice startles me and I’m glad no one is here to see the mess I am. I hide my face in my hands in a vain attempt to escape reality, to shut the past out of my mind; a past that has taken me ages to relegate to a dark place of my brain. My heart broke the day Katniss left me. And I can feel its shattered pieces, shrinking under the weight of a past so painful it still brings me down to my knees. Because, in a way, Prim wasn't the only one who died that night, it was all three of us. That’s the tragedy of this situation.

I take the beer again, and I drink while I step into the small living room of my apartment. It's so different from the old house we shared. That was one of the reasons why I rented it. This flat was brand new, impersonal and high. I couldn’t see the tree branches through the windows here, just the top of them. It was located in a new neighbourhood too; far away from my old life. Our old life, I remind myself.

It’s weird, surreal even, to think again about a life where I was a complete person; where I had a family I felt I belonged to ¡God knows my other family didn’t care too much for me! But I was ok, because Prim and Katniss were real.

This last year I tried to put as much distance from my past as I could. I was determined, not to start a new life, because as I said before a big part of me died 3 years ago, but at least to live a life where the pain was bearable, and I thought I was going in the right direction, that I had taken the right steps. Yesterday I was even able to help Cashmere with her loss. I was able to forget my own empty heart for a moment, and to console her. We kissed,it wasn't a passionate kiss but a comforting one... and then, in thirty minutes or less, that illusion has gone flying.

Because Katniss has always had an effect on me that she’s never been totally aware of; only this time, it hasn’t been a good effect, it's been devastating.

“No way!” I yell at my four walls as I smash the beer bottle against the floor. I’m mad at her, and at me. Because for one moment, when I saw her in pain, fragile and nearly in tears, for one tiny moment she got to me again. Luckily, she ran away, as she always does, and that brought me back to my senses. Although I’m not going to pretend that I haven't spent all day acting like a zombie around the bakery. I got burnt twice, once on the arm, and another time on my left hand. And, according to Rue, one of the people who helps me run the business, I let a tray full of cheese buns fall from my hands after I’d been staring at them for a while. Cheese buns, of course. It must be destiny mocking me.

I'm sitting on the couch when a jab runs over my body. It starts from the point my prosthetic joins my leg… another painful reminder. I’m about to take my phone out, ready to smash it against something, when a text arrives and stops the destructive spiral I’m in. Probably it will be from Finnick, or Annie, as this weekend I’ll go to their house for a barbecue. It’s our small ritual since Alex was born and I was chosen as his Godfather. I’m not in the mood now, so I push it aside and lie my head on the cushion to rest for a bit. I don't want to sleep. If I do, the nightmares will invade my body and head. I know that for sure. Katniss brought them with her this morning, not that I don’t have them sometimes anyway, but I’m certain that today they will be worse and haunting.

Minute by minute, second by second, the room grows darker. I feel sleep claiming me, but I know from experience that doing nothing but complain, and letting time pass by, isn't the smartest move. Routines are what helped me last time, what I needed to get out of the hole. I go to the kitchen to cook something, when I remember the text that arrived before.

It’s from Katniss. This is her old number. I thought she had canceled her line, but it seems she just hasn't used it in the last two years. I know that because I called her every single night for two years, just to hear her voicemail saying: “Hi this is Katniss, please leave your message”

How the hell did she get my number? How does she dare text me? I refuse to read it, so I leave it on the table and start pacing my small apartment; up and down, down and up until I make up my mind. I’ll delete it, I decide. I’m going to delete it. I’m not going to let one single text from her disturb my life... but when I take the phone, and I see the screen with her name on it, I just can’t.

“Hi, this is Katniss. I’m sorry. I didn’t want to say the things I said, or to run away Peeta. I know I owe you my life, and I’m sorry for the pain I caused you. I’m not going to ask you to be my friend again, but I’d like to have your forgiveness… some day. Always Yours.”

I read it several times, not sure about how I feel. There are a lot of emotions mixed in my heart, so many thoughts in my brain. In the end, it’s the anger, and the sense of self-preservation what wins. I furiously type an answer.

“How did you get my number?” It’s the only thing I can think about.

“It was Annie, please don’t get angry with them,” I read.

I can imagine her, biting her lip and frowning while typing, like she always did when she was concerned about something. I can picture her so vividly that tears start wetting my face.

“Damn it, Katniss!” I exclaim. I need to stop this right now, or she’ll destroy me again.

“Don’t text or call me anymore...please” I write. When I finish typing a dense silence falls over me. I hate this type of silence, because curiously, it’s a silence that speaks for itself, and a silence I know too well, because it has visited me more than I’d like to acknowledge. It’s the silence that surrounds you when you have lost everything that matters to you.

“I need a shower,” I sigh. But before I can go to the bathroom, the phone rings with the melody Alex chose for my phone, a song from The Lion King, his favourite.

“How are you?” I hear Finnick saying on the other side of the line.

“How do you think I am, Finnick?” I yell at him, or better, at the speaker. “What was Annie thinking, giving my phone to Katniss!”

“It wasn’t Annie. It was me, Peeta.”

“Oh well, in that case I’m fine!” I answer ironically. “She just sent me a text, and she visited me before, in the bakery.”

“I know, she called me a few minutes ago. She wanted to tell me that you knew we gave her your mobile number.”

“What were you thinking, Finnick?” I ask in disbelief.

“I was thinking about you, and her.”

“How come? How could you think that, Finnick? After the last three years…” I finish waiting for a logical explanation from my friend.

“Because you’ve been miserable, Peeta. You still are. And avoiding Katniss is not going to help you, not a little bit. I can understand that you’re angry now, it’s a shock, for us too. But you know, you need answers to your questions, and to give your relationship closure… or a chance.””

“You must be joking!”

“I’m not joking. And you know I’m right, my friend. You are smart enough to accept it.” His voice transmits the sadness he’s feeling. “We’re on your side, and we're always going to be here for you, because you are a part of this family, but if you want to truly move on with your life, you have to face her.”

“I was doing doing just fine without your help,” I spit at him.

“That’s not true. When was the last time you were out with someone, besides Annie and me, or your friends from the support group?”

“Yesterday.”

“Yesterday you were in the support group, Peeta!”

“Yes, and after that, I went to have dinner with Cashmere. She was having a tough time, it was the fifth anniversary of her son's death. We went to her house and….”

“Fuck, Peeta! Did you sleep with her? That was a terrible idea!” he lectures me.

“No! I just kissed her, or she kissed me… I’m not sure. But it was nice Finnick, I forgot my pain for a moment and felt alive for a brief instant. But then everything went away when she, when Katniss, came into the bakery, and now the messages. It's just too much for one day. Can you understand me?”

“Yes, I can. Listen, do you want me to go by your house tonight?”

“No, I’m fine, or I’ll be. I just need a shower and some rest, ok?”

“Ok, as you want. Will we see you on Sunday?”

“Yes, of course! I’ll be there. But, no surprises this time, Finnick. I need to think and digest all that has happened in the last hours. Please,” I beg.

“Don’t worry, buddy, only the family. Good night, Peeta.”

“Good night, Finnick.”

The rest of the week passes by as a dream. I go through the motions automatically. I’ve had no news from Katniss since the other day. I wonder if she's left town. I should be glad, I tell myself. But the truth is that I look at my phone every 5 minutes to see if there are any texts from her, and when I find it empty, I can’t help but feel an unpleasant sensation that's very similar to disappointment.

Maybe Finnick's right and I should talk to her… but not yet. I’m not ready for it.

Sunday arrives and it’s a beautiful autumn day. Multicolored leaves cover the ground, creating a soft carpet. I drive for nearly thirty minutes, out of the city. Finnick and Annie moved here when Alex was born, they wanted to raise him in the country, where he could play in the garden and breathe a healthy air. I arrive to their house and knock on the door. I can hear Alex calling my name though the closed door, and a smile comes to my face.

When Finnick opens the door, the little boythrows his arms around me.

“Hey! Hey, easy boy,” I say teasing him “or you’ll hurt your old uncle.”

“You're not old, uncle Peeta!” he chuckles, and I kiss him on the cheeks.

“So, what’s going on buddy?” I ask, waiting for his usual stories about school.

“I’m great, uncle Peeta, and so excited! Because we have another guest today, and she is really pretty,” he says, whispering the last part into my ear. I look at Finnick with accusing eyes, begging him to tell me that what I’m imagining isn’t true.

“I lied,” says Finnick, shrugging his shoulder. “C’mere let’s go. They're waiting by the swimming pool.” With that, he turns around and I follow him, feeling a cold wave freezing my heart.