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After the fire, Ashes remain

Chapter Text

Katniss

Everything changed a day like today but three years ago. This exact day but three years back, I lost the two people in the world I cared most about: one to a fire that burnt my house to ashes; the other because I was a coward.

But this is why I'm here sitting in my car, outside of Mellark's bakery at 4.30 am. I'm not even sure if Peeta will want to talk to me after how I disappeared once I was discharged from the hospital, but I need to explain my reasons to him, and overall I need to tell him how I feel.

Some car’s headlights blind me and bring me back to reality. A car stops by the bakery, a fancy red car with a pretty blonde woman inside it with someone else, but I can't make out the other person. I pray to a God I don't believe in, that this someone is not Peeta. But when the person hugs him, I can make out a curly mop of blond hair and there is no mistake. To confirm my suspicion, the man gets out the car and I can see him stand in front on me. He looks just the same, handsome, strong and kind, you can tell by the way he smiles.

He enters the bakery and closes the door, but I can't get up from my seat, I need some seconds to recover my courage. In the meantime, he switches on the lights and then disappears though the kitchen's door.

I breathe deeply, just as my therapist, Dr. Aurelius taught me: “I have to do this, I need to do this,” I repeat as a mantra to myself. I picture again his smile, the one he just flashed to the blonde woman and I remind myself how these last years have been without his smile. I pull myself together and head to the door, but before I knock it, he reappears in the front store with a tray in his hands. As he could sense me, his gaze locks with mine and he stops abruptly.

I wave shyly with my hand, but I don’t get any indication of what he is thinking, because his face is like a mask and he stands looking at me like I was a ghost . Finally he reacts and leaves the tray in the counter and comes slowly to the door. I notice a slight limp in his walk, and a wave of guilt goes through my body.

He opens the door but says nothing, so I take my chance to speak to him for the first time in three years.
“Hi Peeta, can I come in?” I say politely trying to maintain a neutral tone, just as I have rehearsed the last months. Not too distant, not too emotional.

He nods with his head and motions me inside, but still no word escapes his mouth. I knew I had to lead this conversation, but I’m not good with the talking and suddenly I’m really scared to mess it up again, and my mind goes blank for a couple of seconds.

“Please, sit down,” he says saving the moment, “Would you like something to eat? I was going to have breakfast myself.”

“Sure, thanks. Do you need help?” I ask as he goes to the back but he shakes his head and I wait sitting on one of the chairs.

When he comes back with tea and some pastries I can see there are no cheese buns or cinnamon rolls in the assortment, why should they, anyway, after those long years? It’s not like I’m expecting him to remember everything about me, although I remember every detail of our relationship, but that fact doesn’t make it less hurtful and my heart clenches.

“So...” he says without elaborating anymore.

“How… how have you been doing?” I ask, my voice trembling.

“Are we going to do small talk, now?” he asks rolling his eyes and with a sharpness in his voice I’m not used to hear.

“No, it is... I mean, I missed… the bakery,” I say instead of I missed you.

“Listen, Katniss, if all you want is a coffee and something to eat there are a lot of bakeries in Panem. I can give you their addresses,” with that he gets up from the chair and starts walking away from me.

“No!” I scream scared, because everything is going wrong, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that, you know I’m terrible with words.”

“I don’t know you anymore, Katniss” he says shaking his head.

“That isn’t true, Peeta. I’m still the same person. Just give me some minutes…”

“Of course,” he says dismissively “because three years haven’t been enough, right?”

“This is not fair, Peeta, I’m here to…” but before I can finish my sentence and say “apologize,” he erupts and starts yelling.
“Why do you think I care about what you are here now? You ran away when I needed you more. You left me, Katniss, at the hospital. I felt like nothing, like less than nothing. I wanted to die.”

“I’m sorry,” I yell too “I was confused and mentally disoriented. I had lost Prim!”

“Yes, I had lost Prim too and a leg… but what killed me was that I lost you,” he says approaching me. “What did you want me to do? What the hell I was supposed to do? C’mon Katniss, say it.”

I know it isn’t a good idea, I’ve been working hard to try to get over that night, but here in Panen, in front of the man that I know loved me more than his own life, I say what I promised myself I wouldn’t say.

“You had to save her, not me,” I reproach him.

“I tried to save you both, Katniss. When I got home it was already burning, I called the firemen and got inside looking for both of you. I couldn’t see because of the smoke, the ashes and the fire, I screamed your name and Prim’s but I got no response. I went upstairs and finally found both of you passed out in her bed. I tried to take Prim and you on my back, but I couldn’t, I was coughing and suffocating by then, so I had to make a decision and I got you first! You were more pale that Prim so I took you out and I came back to look for Prim, but the stairs collapsed under me, and I can’t remember anything else. Doctors told me that firemen found me but my leg was trapped and burnt and they couldn’t save it, they couldn’t even reach Prim. That house was like hell. I tried, Katniss, I tried to save her but you didn’t give me the chance to explain it to you. You just vanished from my life”.

“I know now, Peeta, but then I was mad at you, because you could have saved her and you didn’t”.

“Don’t you think I feel guilty because I couldn’t save her. I have nightmares every night! and now you are here to tell me what I already know… I don’t need your forgiveness Katniss, I don’t want you anymore, I’m trying to move on with my life.”

“Oh yes! I saw you with your girlfriend outside. I wouldn’t say you needed too much time to recover after my sister’s death,” I spit with venom.

“It is not your business, Katniss, but Cashmere is not my girlfriend… yet,” he says looking at me defiantly.

“I don’t care about your love life Peeta! I just came to say that I was sorry but it doesn’t matter anymore,” I say slamming the door when I get out, but when I feel the fresh air I come back to my senses and turn around to see him on the threshold. “I know I was wrong, and deep down I wanted to be mad at you because that was easier than accepting that it was my fault because I was the one who fell asleep that night without switching off our old heater, I was responsible for Prim’s death and now all I have left are ashes. That's all I wanted to say. Good bye.”

“Katniss…” I hear him calling my name, but I don’t look back and I run to my car to get out from here as fast as I can, tears dropping on my face.

I drive for a long time with no destination, but when I reach Panem’s goodbye sign I stop the car and begin to burst into tears. I did all the things Dr. Aurelius told me not to do: I yelled at him, I blamed him, I made it personal and I was nasty to Peeta, I blamed myself … and worst, I ran away again. But if there is something I’ve learnt in the last months is that it was an accident, it wasn’t anybody’s fault and I deserve good things in my life.

I’m not going to give up, this time I’m going to fight for Peeta, maybe he doesn’t want me anymore in a romantic way, but we can still be friends.

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.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

Peeta

 

I’m lying down on Finnick’s couch, nearly in tears because of the pain.

“Peeta, we really need to look at it,” Finnick says.

“I know,” I reply.

“Then, why wouldn’t you let me look at it before? You are a stubborn man, no matter what you say…oh! It was because of Katniss,” my friend exclaims when he realizes.

“Finnick, fetch the scissors from the kitchen,” Annie says looking at him with a hard look in her eyes. “Sorry about that, Peeta”.

“It’s ok, Annie, I didn’t want to show her...this,” I say pointing at my fake leg with a grimace of disgust.

“Why, Peeta? You have nothing to be ashamed of, and I highly doubt that Katniss would think it’s disgusting.”

“It's not only that, Annie. It's true that I didn't want her to see me like that, I was complete before, that is how she remembers me. Maybe I’m vain or…”

“She won't mind, Peeta, she was really concerned about you just five minutes ago.”

“I know, and that's the other reason. It would be too painful for both of us This is a constant reminder of Prim’s death for me, I don't want it to be a reminder for her too,” I say looking at her, . I expect to see my own sadness reflected on Annie, but what I see is my friend smiling with a sweet look in her eyes. “Why are you smiling?”

“Because you are you again, Peeta.” Annie kisses me on the cheek as Finnick walks into the living room.

“That kitchen is huge! How am I supposed to find anything in there?, he asks with a scowl in his face.

“Maybe if you spent more time in it, you’d find things easier? I’ll be back in a second with the scissors. You come with me and learn” she orders her husband.

I look at the scene in the garden, with the safety provided by the chiffon curtains. Alex and Katniss are sitting in the grass, she is facing the window and keeps looking in my direction, worry written in her stormy eyes. I enjoy the moment despite the pain. Looking at her was always my favourite pastime since I was five,I learnt to know and love every single expression her face showed. I used to sketch her, something I haven’t done in a long time, another piece of me that was lost in the fire. After that I tried a couple of times to draw her again but I couldn’t capture her face anymore, it was vivid in my mind: her lips, her cheeks, her eyes, her brain and smile… her image was haunting me, it didn’t mind if I was slept or awake, however when I grabbed the pencil or the charcoal, my hand resisted drawing her; there was a disconnect between my hand and my brain. The fire took away from me, all my sketches and paintings, but Katniss took away my ability to draw. I don’t feel passionate about anything or anyone since then.

Finnick and Annie come back from the kitchen with the scissors, cut my jeans, and take a look at my leg. The damage done by the prosthetic is obvious: big bruise and an open injury that is bleeding and will need stitches. They bandage the wound and when Finnick states “it’s time for hospital” I just nod, and don’t voice any objections despite my obvious aversion.

I'm a bit dizzy when I get up with Finnick and Annie’s help. Every step brings a stabbing pain, and I have to bite my tongue to not swear out loud, Alex is in the garden… and Katniss.

Despite my better judgement, I turn my head and look at her and, for the first time since she showed up in Panem, her image doesn’t hurt me more than my leg, which could be normal due my condition.

Hours later and after being in the hospital, Finnick and I are in my apartment, the doctor has told us I won’t be able to use any prosthetic till the injury heals and the swelling disappears.

“Finnick, for the last time, I’m alright! You don’t have to stay with me. I have my old crutches and the wheelchair and, believe me, I know how to manage just fine with one leg.”

“It will be only tonight Peeta, I promise. This can be our pizza and beer night”

“I don’t think is your best idea, mate, I’m on those strong painkillers, and the last thing I need is to overdose and have to return to that damn hospital after being there for more than four hours. I’m exhausted. I need to sleep,” I say, although I know I won’t be able to rest tonight after everything that’s happened, the void in my heart is too big. I don’t know how to calm the anxiety down.

“Ok, let me walk you to your room. I’m staying on your couch tonight, though.”

“Fine! You can drive me to the bakery tomorrow, then. I don’t need a roommate, but I need a chauffeur.”

“You’re not going to the bakery tomorrow, or for the rest of the week, as far as I’m concerned,” he states with a solemn tone, so similar to his voice when he’s lecturing Alex.

“Oh, yes I am! Because you know that routine is my lifesaver, and you also know that you invited Katniss today. So, you owe me.” His face at that moment could be described as a puppy face, but I resist the urge to laugh at him, it is better to keep playing the “blame game” if I want to get away with this. “You will bring my wheelchair to the bakery and I can work in the prep table.”

“Fine, you win.” He concedes resigned. I’m surprised it didn’t take more time to convince him, this is an indication of how guilty he feels.

I put on my pajamas, and get into my bed with my cup of tea on the nightstand. I sip it with the hope that it will help warm my heart and soothe my memories… maybe it is too much to ask of a plain tea. “Life would be easier if everything could be solved with just a cup of tea,” I whisper to myself.

When I was a child, what helped me forget my mother’s tantrums was drawing, I remember. For the first time in ages, I feel the strong pull of the blank page calling out to me. The images of soft charcoal strokes run through my mind inviting me to follow. My hand itches to trace them, to bring them to life.The urge to grab a pencil is too strong to resist.

“Do you need anything else?” asks Finnick from the doorway checking up on me before going to bed.

“Actually… yes. Could you please fetch my sketchbook and a pencil? They are in the kitchen, in the second drawer,” I say as nonchalantly as I can, I don’t want Finnick to read more into this. If he does, he doesn’t comment, not in that moment or when he returns with a new sketchbook.

“Good night, Peeta, If you need something just shout,” he says.

“You’re a good friend.” I concede

“No way, dude… I’m the best friend ever,” he answers and winks his eye.

It is weird to have a pencil in my hand and a piece of white paper in front of me today. I caress the surface of the sketch paper and trace an oval line just to break an invisible barrier.

I don’t know what I want to draw, no picture comes to my mind, so I just draw another oval line near the first one. ”What is this abstract shape?” I wonder “The crown of a cypress? A fish in a pond? An eye?”

I clear my mind of all images going through my head, and I leave my hand to draw free, it actually sketches faster than my brain can put all the pieces of those lines together. It's almost like it's drawing something it learnt a long time ago.

I stop and look at the sketch. I’m not surprised when I realize what all these lines show: Katniss this afternoon when she came to see how I was after I fell. Locks of her hair frame her beautiful face, glassy eyes full of genuine concern and something else I can’t pinpoint, her round mouth asking if I was alright… her fingers running through my hair. I close my eyes to feel again her touch. This is the first time she’s touched me after 3 long years, and still makes me want herand long for the touch of her skin against mine, her warm breath in my ear lobe, her voice moaning my name… I shake my head to rid it of those images, but I can’t deny she’s my sickness and my salvation and, if I’m going to move on, I will have to forgive her and, most importantly, I’ll have to forgive myself.

I grab the phone and I start typing: “Hey, sorry for my behaviour earlier. I didn’t know you were coming and I was kind of shocked to see you there. It was a small accident, nothing to worry about. I guess if you are going to stay, I’ll see you around. Cheers.” I stare at the screen for a couple of minutes over-analyzing my words. Does it sound to casual? Does it sound like I want to see her again? But, most importantly, does it sound real?

My finger hovers over the send button as I debate with myself. Send. Not send. The bright screen is starting to hurt my eyes when I decide to just go for it. It's been a long day and I'm tired. I need to start trusting my instincts again.

Her answer doesn’t take too long to arrive, polite but distant: “Hi, Peeta. Thanks for letting me know you're ok. There's no need to apologise I'm the one who behaved badly. I'm sorry you had to spend the rest of the day at the hospital. Hope you recover quickly. I'll see you around.”

I look one more time at her image, and I exhale. It would better to switch off the light and get some sleep.

The next few days aren't easy. Finding myself with crutches and a wheelchair again takes me back to the very first days of the physical therapy, but the toughest aspect is the emotional rollercoaster: nightmares, a couple of panic attacks when I’m alone at home, anxiety… I know this regression is normal, I was warned by the psychologist, but that doesn’t make it any easier. On top of that: no news from Katniss. I wonder if I should text her back, some days ago I would have been glad with her silence, but now...I’m not sure anymore.

It’s Friday afternoon. I’m making the dough for tomorrow when Rue comes into the kitchen with her always-on bright smile.

“Hey, boss, what about some PR?” She’s only 7 years younger than I am, but she’s an expert on social media. She opened an Instagram account for the Mellark bakery and it’s already got more than one thousand followers. “I thought this time we could post the elaboration of one of our top sellers: cheese buns which, by chance, you are mixing now.”

“What do you have in mind, Rue?” I ask with a smile. Her energy and passion are contagious, so I play along. Up until now, her free marketing actions have brought more customers than ever. I have even hired a second person who started a couple of weeks ago, his name is Thresh.

“I thought to post a series of pictures of you baking,” she says with a mischievous smile that gives away she has some other hidden reasons.

“And…..We have done this with other recipes. Where’s the trick?” I say motioning with my hand for her to continue.
“This time, we could take pictures of you, not just of your hands and arms.”

“No way!” I exclaimed. “Do you think anyone wants to see a crippled man in his wheelchair?”

“Peeta,” she says now adopting a grave tone, “no one would think that. Actually, all the women I know think you’re handsome.”

“I'm not sure, Rue.” I shake my head. I know she means well, but I’m not convinced yet.

“C’mon, it will be funny… trust me, and if we don't break our likes record I promise not to talk you into something like this again but, if we succeed, next time we will record a video!”

“Ok, why not? Let's do it!” I say because his optimism wins me over

The rest of the afternoon passes by with laughs and silly poses to make the pictures look like real influencers, although I’m afraid we get the opposite effect… and I forget for some hours the turmoil inside my brain. I discovered some years ago that the bakery works a balsamic effect on me, that is why, despite having two people helping me now, I like to open; something I do every day, except for Saturdays and every other Sunday. I don’t have much life outside my lunch appointment with the Oddair family and these walls, so being here at least keeps me busy and helps me reconnect with everything good that happened in my life... like the very first time I kissed Katniss.

By the time we close the bakery and Rue drives me home the cheese buns post has beaten our best register to date. Rue can't avoid the proud smile in her face as she brags about the more than 500 likes we had in only three hours, and some of the comments we got… like the super nice comment from Cashmere.

“What did she say?” I ask quite intrigued.

“She said she would like to taste more of your “specialties” next time you see each other,” she says while using air quotes as she says the word special. “Do you want to share something about your love life, boss?

I can feel my cheeks are heating up with the implication of Cashmere’s comment but, fortunately, I’m saved by the ring of my phone. I rush to answer Finnick and avoid this conversation.

“Hey there, what’s up?” I answer and Finnick starts to talk. “Ok, let me see if Rue can. Hold on a second,” I cover the mic and ask Rue, “I know tomorrow is your free day, but could you open the bakery instead of Sunday? Finnick has an urgent appointment and he won’t be able to make it on time, and I can do Sunday morning?”

“Yes, no problem”’she answers .

“Ok” I resume my conversation with Finnick “but please don’t get later than 11am, it gets very busy after then.”

Rue drops me at home, and I decide to stretch a little bit more the evening and work out, it usually relaxes me and I can sleep better… and after all I don’t have to be an early bird next morning.

On Saturday I wake up in a good mood, and I enjoy my warm bed and the sun heating my face till I remember I have to do some laundry. I, lazily, spend ten more minutes laying down. After all, I’ll need Finnick to help me hang the clothes up. My terrace is too small for my wheelchair, and the last time I tried it to do it just with one crutch, one of my socks ended up in the park eight floors below me.

Finnick is already ten minutes late when I start to get impatient. I’m about to call him when I hear a knock in the door.

“Have you forgotten the keys again?” I say to the person on the other side of the door when I open the door I find out that it isn’t Finnick but Katniss.

“Hi,” she says.

“Hi… what are you—,” but before I can finish the sentence she cuts me off.

“Finnick didn’t tell you… again.” I nod to confirm her suspicions. “don’t worry, I’ll leave now and you can look for a better way to get to the bakery. I knew this wasn’t a good idea, but he insisted and told me you were ok with the arrangement and, after your last text on Sunday, I really wanted so badly to believe him, but… Oh, I haven’t asked you how you are. I’m so rude and so..” she is ranting and her voice gets lower till it becomes a whisper but her imploring eyes are speaking louder than any word. She was never a talker.

“I’m much better, thanks for asking,” I say with a smile that I hope can reassure her… and me. “Finnick didn’t tell me, but I really need someone to drive me to the bakery so I appreciate your help, although I’m afraid I’ll need another favor.

“Please, can you come in?”

She offers a polite smile as reply and enters my house, walking very close to me, so close I can smell her lavender and pine essence. I’m sure she already hiked this morning.

“Your apartment has so much light, Peeta! It's very cozy.”

“Thanks,” I say as my eyes contemplate the white and impersonal space I’m living in. If she’s surprised by the lack of canvas on the walls she doesn’t comment.

“I need some help to hang up the laundry, I can’t do it with just one hand,” I say motioning at the basket full of wet clothes.

Katniss smiles. “Yeah, I can see how that could be a problem.” Leaning down, she reaches for the basket and pulls a couple of t-shirts out.

We work in comfortable silence for the next few minutes. I manage to hang a few things, but I’m slow and clumsy and she does most of the work.

Suddenly, I see Katniss blushing. I’m wondering what the reason could be when I notice she’s holding one of my boxers. My brain fills with images of her sitting on top of the washing machine in our old basement, moaning while we had sex.

 

It was earlier than usual when I got home from the gym that night.
“Katniss, Prim, is anyone home?”
“Here” I heard Katniss’ voice coming from downstairs. I went down to find her leaning over the washing machine.
“Hey, beautiful,what are you doing?” I said admiring the bare skin of her lower back.
“Laundry,” she complained looking at me with her intense grey eyes.
“Great timing then, can you put some of my dirty clothes as well?” I asked approaching her with my gym bag.
“Depends…” she told me biting her lip
“What is it going to take this time, Everdeen? Dinner? Groceries? Cheese buns for breakfast?”
She grabbed the elastic of my sport pants and pulled me to her, “I was thinking about a different thing” and she kissed me closing the gap between our bodies.
“Where is Prim?” I muttered resting my forehead on hers and caressing her cheek with my hand.
“She’s at a sleepover with her friends. We are alone tonight, Peeta, just you and I” she put her hand between my boxer and my skin.
“What's gotten into you...today...Katniss?” I said choking as she moved her hand down.
“I have a confession to make” she whispered by my ear, her warm breath tickling in my neck “this jacket has always turned me on.”
“My old high school football jacket?” I asked surprised.
“Yeaaaaahhh,” she confirmed stretching out the word. “I had some wild fantasies that implied you and me and that jacket in the meadow at midnight.”
“You should have told me something. My teenage self would have gladly complied”
“I know now...we’ve wasted so much time,Peeta. I don't want to waste more time,” she said playing with her fingers inside my boxer.
“Katniss, you should stop or we won't make it to the bed…” I moaned trying to slow my breath.
“I don't want to make it to the bed.”
I grabbed her by her waist and lifted her to sit her down on the washing machine, I opened her legs and wrapped her with my arms the closest I could to my body… it was the best night of my life and I couldn't erase the smile on my face for days, even for weeks…

 

I come back to myself and realize she's looking at me.

“Are you ok? You looked like you were in another place,” she says, her cheeks still painted in pink.

“I was” I reply laughing “I guess I’ve zoomed out”

“It happened to me as well, isn't it weird how some moments or things trigger memories?” she says looking embarrassed, and then both of us start laughing.

“Yes, very odd” I answer. I'm laughing so hard I need to hold my ribs with one hand. One of my crutches falls and the noise breaks the spell we were in.

“Ok, ok, we need to go to the bakery, it is super late,” I say looking at my watch.

Katniss helps me back into the house again, one of her hands on my waist and the other holding the basket and my crutch.The fact that she has preferred to help me, instead of giving me the crutch, doesn't go unnoticed. It is nice feeling having her so close again, but it's dangerous, and complex, and too fast. I need to keep my distance.

“Please, can you give me my crutch? I can manage myself better, and I might be too heavy for you.”

“Of course, sorry! I just wanted to help you.”

“It's ok, but I'm used to this… it's been more than 3 years now.” My words sound bitter even to me.

The ride to the bakery is quiet and a bit tense, I'm afraid I've ruined the moment. When she stops in front of the bakery she says, “well, here we are. Do you need some help to get out?”

“No, don't worry, I'm ok! And thank you for your help today. Do you… do you want to come inside and have some cinnamon rolls or cheese buns?” I ask tentatively in a lame effort to fix the situation.

“No, thanks. I gotta go.” she says looking at the steering wheel instead of me.

“Ok, goodbye.” I’m about to close the door, but I don't want to part ways like this, not today. “Why don't you come by next week for a coffee?”

She turns her head and looks at me without blinking. “Are you sure?” she asks with trepidation.

“Yes, Katniss. I am sure”

“Then, I'll see you next week.” She says with a genuine smile, the kind of smile she reserves for people or moments she cares about… and that makes my day.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

During the following weeks, Peeta and I start normalising our new relationship. I drop by the bakery a couple of times a week to buy pastries.

In those  first encounters we make some small talk and I meet Rue. We get along instantly, she reminds me so much of Prim: she’s younger than me but mature and gentle, and she adores Peeta.

 

I feel better knowing he had such a safety network around him while I was gone: Finnick, Annie, Alex, Rue... and even Cashmere —although I’m not her greatest fan for obvious reasons.

 

Weeks give way to months and one day he asks if I’d like a coffee. That starts a new routine. One where we speak, smile and laugh. I think to myself I could be happy with this,  the rest of my life... until he squeezes my hand. At the beginning I try to minimise it, and I think it was just a small reassuring gesture, but subtly something changes after that moment. 

 

I’m much more aware now of his body language, how he leans closer to me, or how he brushes my fingers when he gives me my cup of coffee or when he starts to put his hand on the low part of my back when we go through a door. I live  for those moments. I crave his touch, and his expert hands running over my skin. When I start having some explicit dreams with my blond and handsome ex boyfriend I know I’m fucked.

 

I came back to Panem because I still loved him, but I never expected to fall for him as hard as if we were teenagers, just the same way I fell for him the first time. Last night was just another example of where this is going.

 

He walked me back home after watching a movie, and just after we said our good nights, he stepped forward and secured a lock of my hair behind my ear. I held my breath looking at his eyes. For a moment I thought he was going to kiss me. I swear I saw his eyes moving to my mouth and I felt his breath on my lips but, in the last second, he turned his face and kissed me softly on the cheek... way too close to my mouth for me to think it was by accident.

 

“Sleep well, Katniss” he whispered by my ear, nuzzling in my hair.

 

It will be the understatement of the century to say, I was restless for the rest of the night, my own skin felt tight. 

 

That moment from tonight is all that crosses my mind when I step into Mellark’s in the late afternoon the next day. 

 

“Hey Rue, how’s the day going?” I wave at her. “Is Peeta here?” 

 

“Office” she mouths as she keeps attending the queue of let customers.

 

Before going in,  I breathe deeply and smooth my hair but a quick glimpse to the room and a loud noise of a tray falling to the ground tells me he’s in the kitchen. I’m pretty sure he’s preparing dough for tomorrow. I chuckle because I know he’ll be grumpy after the kitchen fiasco, and I’ve always found his frown adorable. It’s an old joke between us, me finding him adorable when he’s pissed. Maybe, because I’ve left my walls down, I’m not ready for what I see from the frame of the door.

 

He’s kissing Cash --or Cash is kissing him. I don’t know because I can only see his back. I fly away from there before the full picture gets registered in my brain. 

 

On my way out, I bump into Rue.

 

“Did you find him?” She asks

 

“Hmmm? Oh yes, but he was busy with one of those wedding cakes, and I didn’t want to interrupt. You know how focused he is. Anyway, I need to go to the Park. Don’t tell him I was here ok? I’ll call him later.”

 

I’m walking through the woods. It’s a sunny afternoon, and a cool breeze carries pine scent. I thought this would soothe me, but I feel physical pain and a sense of betrayal. I know I don’t own him, but after some of the moments we shared the last weeks, I thought we were reconnecting, I thought we were becoming some of our old selves and I thought --no, I was sure-- that he was feeling the same, and this is exactly the opposite of what I thought.  I shake my head to clear it, and dry my tears.

 

As soon as I get back to an urban area, my phone beeps. I fight the urge to look at it until I park in front of my apartment. 

 

Peeta 

Hey, how are you? Would you like to hang out? Watch a movie? I’d like to see you...

 

There’s no way on Earth I’m  going to watch a movie with him, spend time with him or be near him any time soon, if I have a say. 

 

Katniss 

Sorry, I am tired. Had to work this evening. 

 

Peeta

Oh ok. What about tomorrow or any other day this week? I have a pretty flexible agenda for you 😉

 

Katniss 

We’ll see, the week is going to be hectic as we need to prepare the trails for high hiking season. Just make your own plans. I don’t want to be a burden.

 

Peeta

Katniss, are you ok? Is everything alright?

 

I’ve had enough of this conversation for now. Just seeing his name and picture on the screen of my phone is too painful.

 

Katniss

Geez Peeta! I’m just tired.

 

I can see on my screen that he’s typing back and forth for a while, and I feel really bad for snapping at him. After some minutes his reply pops up in my screen. 

 

Peeta 

Ok I guess I’ll see you then at Alex’s birthday’s party next Saturday at least.

 

 

I can’t make myself answer, I know it’s mean but I feel like a love-sick fool. Peeta never promised anything except that we could try to be friends. 

 

The clench I feel in my heart it’s really similar to a broken heart.

 

The week passes by faster than I’d like. Loyal to his word, Peeta hasn’t texted or called me, and Saturday keeps approaching inexorably in the calendar. 

 

I go the whole week trying to find a valid reason for not attending the party, but finally I can’t cope with the disappointment that would bring to the small kid.

 

I arrive a bit later, on purpose,  my plan is to go unnoticed among the people and avoid Peeta, and Cash if she’s there, as much as I can. 

 

It’s an unusual warm fall afternoon and the garden is full of children, running, playing and laughing.

 

Peeta is here alone. Our eyes lock several times, but I bring my eyes away every single time and, finally,  decide to hide in the kitchen, refilling trays and drinks and making small and unimportant talk.

 

“Here you are” I hear Annie saying to me. “Thanks for coming, Katniss, and for helping with all the kitchen stuff.” 

 

“Sure,” I answer nodding and bring my view back to the garden where Peeta is kneeled beside Alex.

 

“Are you alright? You are very quiet.” 

 

“I am quiet,” I say, washing some dishes.

 

“Yes, you are, but this is more of a melancholy mood Katniss, I can recognise it for what it is. You know how difficult my mental health was some years ago, and besides  you aren’t subtle.”

 

“I don’t know what you mean.” 

 

“Peeta. You might be hidden in the kitchen, but you haven’t taken your eyes off him What’s going on? I thought things were better…” 

 

I stop pretending and close my eyes grimacing, ready to spit my guts out “I thought so too,  Annie, but …”

 

Before I finish my sentence, a cheerful and unaware Finnick comes into the kitchen announcing it’s time for the cake and the candles. 

 

“This conversation isn’t over. We’ll talk later,ok?” she whispers to me.

 

Finnick and Annie decorate the cake (of course Peeta’s creation, I would recognise his doing anywhere) with the candles and light them up.

 

The guests are waiting in the living-room. When I open the door for them, everyone starts singing and looks at them and at Alex' face. Peeta, of course, his godfather is beside the kid but he’s not singing. He's looking intensely at me. His glance burns my skin, and becomes unbearable, because I can read his silent plea. I run away from the crowd as soon as I can, and I look for solace in the small porch by the kitchen. 

 

It’s not long after that I hear heavy steps behind me. 

 

“Are you avoiding me?” his voice asks softly.

 

“Of course not, I just feel … a bit under the weather today” I say, turning slightly around but without looking at him yet.

 

“I thought you’d like some,” he offers standing now next to me and leaving a dish with cake in front of me.

 

“I am not hungry, but thank you” 

 

“Wow! I’d never thought you’d turn down food. You must really be sick or… you must be really pissed off” he reads me as usual and it’s not buying my bullshit as always, which in this moment is quite infuriating, so I snap. 

 

“I came here to be alone, Peeta!”

 

“Don’t do this, please Katniss,” and he caresses the side of my hand with his little finger. “I’ve missed you this week”

 

I huff and smile before answering  “That’s hardly true”.

 

“What do you mean by that?” he says with a hurt edge in his voice “I thought we were past this, I thought we decided that we could start over, be friends…”

 

That’s it, he has said it now. I never thought a word as friends could sting so much, and it’s in this very moment that I make up my mind - I can’t stay here, not anymore.  

 

“Listen, I need to go,” I say moving away from him, but he is fast and grabs my wrist. 

 

“Don’t run away from me again. Not when I was getting you back,” Peeta begs and I hate that his voice can reach me and cut through my body in any situation. 

 

“I’m leaving,” I scowl and try to hide my emotions and pain from him but I can’t fool Peeta so easily. 

 

 

“Katniss, are you ok? you look sick, sorry for pushing you … Just.. Let me drive you home. We can speak tomorrow or next week when you feel better,” his other hand --the one that isn’t holding my wrist-- cups now my cheek tentatively.

 

“You didn’t understand me. I’m leaving Panem, for good,” my voice cracks with the feeling of his skin on my face.

 

“You are kidding, aren’t you?” But he knows I’m not. Looking at my face, he steps back taking away the warmth I crave so much. “Because if you aren’t kidding, this must be the cruelest thing you’ve ever done, Katniss. Not even leaving me the first time was as cruel as this, because this is deliberate. You’re breaking my heart just when it was starting to hope. How could I was so stupid to  believe in you, in us, again?” Peeta says, raising his voice, nearly screaming.

 

“It’s funny you’re talking about breaking hearts, Peeta. I saw you two kissing the other day in the bakery. So, I’d say your heart is in better shape than mine!” I nearly can contain my tears; tears of rage and disappointment, tears of pain and love lost.

 

He turns white and gasps with the realization, putting all the pieces together before he starts talking very fast, “Katniss, I didn’t kiss Cash! She kissed me, that’s true,  and I was shocked and confused for a moment but I didn’t kiss her back. I don’t want Cash. You have to believe me. Cash and I were never together, I don’t feel that way about her”

 

“It doesn’t matter anymore. You were right. We’re broken, this place is broken. There’s nothing left for me: not a house, nor a lover, nor a grave with my sister. I was so delusional to think we could start over.”

 

“Katniss, please… “ he begs.

 

“I need to go, Peeta.”

 

I kiss his cheek, lingering a bit longer than necessary, but before I walk away, he says “Let me show you something before you go. I won’t bother you after this if you don’t want.” I nod because I can’t refuse to give him one more moment.

 

We jump in my car and he speaks only to provide some directions. I drive in auto-pilot, without realising where I am going too engrossed by his proximity, his scent flooding my senses until I become overwhelmed and I opt to lower the window and let some fresh air in. 

 

 

The sun is setting down and the sky becomes full of pinks, muted yellows and soft oranges. It’s a beautiful afternoon, that for a brief moment I can enjoy before my heart clenches again with his voice, and I suddenly realize where we’re heading. I stop abruptly the car and look at him. 

º

“What are you doing, Peeta?” I ask enraged “I’m not going there. Why would you think I’d like to return to this damn place?”

 

“You have to, Katniss. You won’t be able to start over if you don’t accept what happened.”

 

“I’m. Not. Going. There” I say, punctuating each of the words. 

 

“Do you trust me?” But I don’t answer to that. Peeta goes out of the car, walks around and stops near my window. “Do you trust me, Katniss?” he repeats and offers his hand. “I wouldn’t be doing this if I thought it could hurt you. Please, I need to show you something, ok?”.

 

I’m finally tempted by the honesty in his eyes, and because I know deep down that Peeta wouldn’t do anything on purpose to hurt me. If he doesn’t love me anymore it’s not his fault, I say to myself.

 

I get out of the car, and he grabs my hand and starts walking down the street down towards our old house. 

 

“Are you cold? You’re shaking” he pulls me in close and buries his face in my hair. Warmth radiates from the spot where his lips just touch my neck, slowly spreading through the rest of me. It feels so good, so impossibly good, that I know I will not be the first to let go. And why should I? This is our goodbye, my comfort moment where I can dream of the life we could have had. 

 

“Ready?” he says, bringing me back to reality. We walk in silence, his arm holding me still tightly, until we reach our old house and… oh! I can’t breath, the air has escaped my lungs. I cannot believe what I’m seeing.

 

I cannot believe what I’m seeing.

 

“What is this?” I asked confused looking around looking in awe at my surroundings.

 

“It’s a garden,” he says 

 

“Primroses,” I say in awe. He nods and starts walking inside the garden.

 

“She loved flowers, so I thought this would be a good way to remember her, to honor her,” He says motioning to a white stone that lays beside a pond, surrounded by primroses and covered with yellow and red moss.

 

The whole scenario is stunning. The colors in the sky melt with the colors in the garden, which vibrates with life. I approach the stone and I notice there’s something engraved on it. I drop to my knees and  I pass  my hand over the text where you can read.

 

Primrose Everdeen. Beloved sister

 

I look up to Peeta “I have no words, this is so beautiful, so thoughtful that I don’t know what to say. This is just perfect and she…” That’s the moment where I break, when I leave my emotions to take over me for real after that night. Tears run down my cheeks and I can’t stop them. I don't want to stop them. It's the  first time since this tragedy happened that I can think about Prim with a feeling different to loss, sadness and grief and it’s liberating. “She would have loved it. I love it” 

 

He sits by my side and embraces me nuzzling in my hair. “It’s going to be ok, Katniss”. And I firmly believe him, no matter what will be next, it would be ok if we can face it together, because he makes everything better.

 

I raise my head and look at him to thank him and to apologise again, but before I can say a word he captures my lips with his, tentatively and unsure of what he’s doing until I kiss him back. That’s all the encouragement Peeta needs. He brings his hands to my face and starts kissing me like I was the water and he was thirsty, like he’s going to devour my mouth and never let me go. It makes my belly warm with wanting. I move closer to him and sit in his lap while I run my fingers through his blond curls, not letting his mouth go for minutes.

 

“Oh God, Katniss,” he moans, “you have no idea, the effect you have on me.”

 

I laugh at that because he’s totally wrong as I can feel his erection on my  tights, “I’d say I have a very good idea.” I say to him, teasing. 

 

“We need to stop, right now or I’m going to embarrass myself…” he answers with a shy smile but hunger in his eyes. 

 

“So, what do you propose?” I say flirting and nipping his jaw.

 

“My place or your place, I don’t really care I just want to hold you the whole night. Will you allow it?”

 

His question lingers in the air because we both know he’s not asking for just one night. His request is full of commitment and future.

 

So when I reply, “I’ll allow it” , we both know my answer is a promise.