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After the fire, Ashes remain

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Katniss

When I see him approaching with Finnick through the glass panel of the corridor and living room, nausea raises from my stomach. Before coming today, to Annie and Finnick's house, I threw up breakfast and possibly dinner too. I'm nervous, so nervous and so scared of his reaction, of him telling me he doesn't want to see me again, and of losing him from my life permanently, as permanently as death. He is frowning and his mouth is tight. This is not a good sign The only time I saw him frowning in the past was about something his mother said or did, and Peeta wants nothing to do with his mother.

"This has been a terrible idea, Annie" I say, squeezing my hands and lowering my gaze to the red autumn soil. "We shouldn't have pushed him so much, it's too early".

"Katniss, calm down. Peeta is upset and angry.I do understand his point, but he is Peeta after all."

"I don't know. I'm not sure. He's been through a lot because of me, and he was very clear the other day when he said he wanted to be left alone" I say, nearly in tears.

Annie turns around and caresses my cheek smiling sweetly. "It will be alright, both of you need to talk."

"Why are you both so good to me?" I ask "I don't deserve it."

Annie stays quiet for a moment and then she says, "Because we love you", and she leaves to Peeta and Finnick's encounter.

They are standing near the barbecue, and I'm standing by the swimming pool, when I hear Alex shouting and laughing while he plays with his puppy.

"Don't! Don't Cobi!" he commands the little dog, trying to get back his ball from Cobi.

I approach him and kneel down to be at his height. "Hey, what's going on?" I say smiling and running my fingers through his bronze hair, so similar to his father's color.

"He doesn't give back the ball," he pouts pointing to the dog's mouth.

"Do you want me to help you? I know some tricks…"

He doesn't answer but nods firmly.

"Well, this is a trick I learnt from my sister. She didn't have a dog, her pet was a cat, but I guess it could work."

I try to focus on what I'm doing and not on the stab of pain I feel when I mention my dead sister.

I recover the ball from him, and my eyes fly in that moment to find Peeta's, looking for comfort, for understanding, like I always did in the past. Surprisingly, I find him watching us. Like the other day in the bakery, I can't read his expression. I can't go through his mind like I used to do in the past. That worries me, a lot, because "what if he is right? what if we don't know each other anymore?" I wasn't ready for that when I came here. I knew it was going to be difficult; that he wasn't going to forgive me only because I decided to return to Panem. But somehow, I thought we'd find our way back to each other, "Was I silly for keeping hope alive?"

A single tear falls from my eye. I quickly wipe it away and look the other way. I stand up, hoping no one has realized.

"Katniss?" I hear Alex' voice "Are you sad?"

I look down at him. He is hugging my leg, looking at me with the same big, green eyes he has inherited from his mother.

"Of course not!" I reassure him, while thinking how kids can be so intuitive. Prim had that feature too.

"Ok. In that case you want to play catch-the-ball with me? he asks, all excited.

"I'll be delighted! Can you explain how to play?"

"Sure, but we need a third person at least," he says. He starts running towards Peeta before I can stop him.

"Uncle Peeta, uncle Peeta! We're going to play catch-the-ball! Since you were the one who taught me how to play, and you love it, do you want to play with Katniss and me?"

"Oh! I'd love to Alex, but I have to help your father with this barbecue. You know I'm the best cook here," he says, trying to control his voice, though I can notice a sharp tone hidden in it.

Alex looks really disappointed, he's about to reply something when Finnick says "I don't need you at all, Peeta! Go and play with your godson."

"Finnick..." Peeta says menacing.

But Finnick answers "Alex has been waiting to play with you the whole week, Peeta. It's all he talks about. Do you really want to lose that moment with him? Because I don't think you do. Don't be stubborn and go with him."

I can tell this situation has all the elements to end up as a Greek tragedy, and Peeta's grave face only confirms my suspicion.

"Ok, let's play!" Alex exclaims, jumping to show his excitement after explaining to us, or better said to me, the rules " uncle Peeta you are in the middle."

The game is quite easy. Three people stand in line. The people on the outside throw the ball to the person in the middle, if you hit that person, you get a point. But, if the person in the middle catches the ball, the point goes to them and you change positions. Basically, being in the middle sucks.

It's pretty obvious Peeta plays to let Alex win, which is fine by me, but at the same time, he plays to catch my ball… And suddenly, I'm standing in the middle.

"Uncle Peeta, did you know Katniss before? Like mom and dad?"

Peeta doesn't answer at that very moment, I guess he wants to consider his answer to Alex before. "Yes, munchkin. I met Katniss a long time ago, in high school, even before I met your parents"

"That must have been a very long, long, long time ago," he says throwing the ball near my feet. I dodge it. I turn around to look at Peeta as he picks up the ball, and gets ready to make his pitch.

"It was, Alex" I respond, prying in their conversation "and we were friends too."

Peeta throws the ball to me stronger than before. I move faster. I'm agile and the ball doesn't get close to me. It feels like a victory and, though my first instinct is to stick my tongue out at him, I suppress it. We are not exactly in good or friendly terms… Yet at least.

"You don't seem friends," says Alex scowling.

"Why do you say that?" Asks Peeta behind at my back.

"Because you're not friendly with her, like with mom or dad, or with auntie Delly. You are… I don't know, different," and with that he launches the ball to Peeta, but I can't grab it, partly because it's higher than I can jump, but also because I'm too shocked and impressed by his intuition, again.

"It's just that we haven't seen each other for a long time. She left," Peeta answers.

"Why?"

"I had to go. I wasn't ok. I was sick and I went to a place where I could get well." I say, looking at him, but turning around to look at Peeta too. He has to understand that I didn't have a chance. I was mentally disoriented. I travelled for some months, but I can't recall where I was till I found myself in the Capitol.

"And are you better now?" the little boy asks.

"Yes, much better, Alex" I say to him smiling.

"Are you and uncle Peeta going to be friends again?"

"I wish for nothing more." I turn to Peeta just in time to react and grab the ball he's thrown at me, fortunately it's been a mid-height launch, but so hard that my belly hurts where it hit it, and my hands are a little sore too.

"Your turn!" says Alex, with an excitement that indicates he is unaware of his uncle's mood.

When I switch my position in the middle with Peeta I tell him, "it's truePeeta. I came back because I want to be your friend."

"You can't just come back and act as if nothing's happened. You walked away! And now you're here and you want to be friends? Where were you when I needed a friend?" he mutters.

"I failed you, I know. But, I wasn't myself at that moment. If you let me explain."

"No, Katniss. I don't want you to interfere with my life, or be with my friends anymore. It's too late. For Alex' sake let's finish this game and today, and then it's over"

I guess this is what I deserve. I don't know how I could expect anything else from him, but I'm so angry… I take the ball and try to smash it against the grass, but it bounces off and hits Peeta on the knee. He jumps and tries to balance, but I hear some crash. He falls to the ground with a pained scream.

"Peeta!" I scream and run to him "Peeta!" I see Alex running towards the house calling his parents.

He's touching his injured leg with one of his hands, where I suppose the prosthetic is, and his head is hidden between his arm and the ground.

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, are you ok? I didn't want to hurt you! Oh please, tell me you are ok!" I touch his head, running my fingers through his hair, trying to soothe him. Slowly he lifts his head and looks at me, his blue eyes bluest than I can remember and his gaze intense. "Are you... are you ok?"

His face reflects his pain, but he nods in confirmation and I can breathe again. He moves his hand and I think he is about to touch my face when we hear Finnick and Annie calling our names. Suddenly, Peeta moves away not only his hand but his head with an abrupt gesture.

"Peeta, what happened? Are you ok?" Finnick Asks, his voice full of concern.

"I slipped," he says not looking at me. "I was trying to avoid the ball, I lost my balance and then slipped, I think my prosthetic is crushed."

"Let me see," Finnick says trying to remove his jeans.

"No, Finnick!" He screams "just, please,walk me inside."

"Ok, buddy. Please Katniss, would you mind looking after Alex?"

I nod and Annie approaches him. Between the two of them, they raise Peeta. Step by step, they disappear inside the house. I stay with Alex trying to calm him down, but not feeling calm myself.

Fifteen minutes later, I see Annie coming to us.

"They've gone to the hospital," she informs me ,"Don't worry, it's nothing serious. The prosthetic is damaged, and his leg is a little bruised, but nothing you need to worry about"

"Oh, Annie" I say.

"Don't worry, he'll be alright."

I can't help but think that every time I'm near him he gets hurt. I'm not good for him. I should vanish from his life just as he asked me.