Katniss’ throat constricted when she touched the material. It was almost stupid. Her childhood home and every single one of her old neighbors and friends were dead and gone, but not this. This stupid piece of clothing that held one of the last happy memories in Twelve and even the flour to prove it had somehow survived. It was almost laughable, but Katniss was far, far away from laughter.
She balled her first around the apron and held it up to her nose. It smelled faintly of smoke and sugar, and she closed her eyes, shaking her head at the imagery. Tainted. Even the untouched parts of her life were tainted.
Katniss jumped at Peeta’s voice, turning around to face the only person she rarely got to see but would kill to have back. “Peeta, hey.” She smiled softly, pleased to see him looking so at peace. Maybe they were making more progress than they originally thought. Only Peeta could have blinded her better judgement like this. She dropped her hands to her side, the apron touching the floor when she did.
She was about to agree, about to start a polite conversation to try and make up for everything the Capitol had stolen from them, before Peeta’s fingers wrapped around her neck. It didn’t even take a moment for her to process that Peeta was intent on squeezing the life out of her, and she started to panic. He was squeezing too tight already for her to plead, and she began to kick at him, her fingers clawing at Peeta’s hands. But even she, as strong as she may be, was not strong enough for Peeta. Not for a man who could lift and toss a hundred pounds like it was a leaf.
"Peeta," Katniss managed to breathe. Her eyes began to water, and she knew her time was short. Maybe it was the adrenaline that told her what to do, she wasn’t sure, but she knew it was her last hope. She held up her shaking right hand that held the apron, lifting it in front of her face. "It’s — me-"
Rage overtook him. He literally saw red as his fingers tightened around her throat. There was no way he was going to let her get away with this. If their mockingjay was dead, the rebellion would die and no one else would lose their home and their families. Flashes of the nightmares he was plagued with blinded him from seeing what was in front of him. He saw the mutt tearing people apart. He saw her cutting at his leg until it was gone. He saw her whipping him and electrocuting him until he couldn’t move, he could only shake involuntarily.
This was who had done that to him. She was why his family were dead and why his family was gone. It was her. His hands had begun to shake with the effort and the raking of her nails. The sharp kicks were barely felt. It felt like nothing could stop him now. Finally, he would finish the task he had set out to do month ago. Katniss would die. Peeta was stronger than her and he used that to his advantage. He would crush her and her screams wouldn’t be heard. No one would know that she died.
The apron in front of his face startled him for a moment. The red loopy writing was familiar. A new memory flashed, one that wasn’t shaky or tainted. It was clear as day. Prim had been in the kitchen, whistling some unknown tune while he and Mrs Everdeen rolled out the cookie dough. They had been baking.
Another memory flashed. He saw the smile on Katniss’s face when she handed him the apron. He saw the tentative glance she gave him, like she was scared he’d hate it. He saw the way he had hugged her and teased her until she blushed, trying to get her to kiss him.
Another memory. He was in his kitchen, still wearing the apron when his father came over. Paul Mellark made a big show of leaving a slobbery kiss on his cheek. Peeta had pushed him away laughing and teased him about his drab apron.
Peeta’s hands dropped and he snatched the apron from Katniss’s fingers. He needed to feel that it was real. The material was rough but the smell of cookies and sugar lingered on the material. It was real. Those memories were real.
More memories started to flood his mind. They were too fast and too hurtful. Peeta fell to his knees, craddling his head in his hands as he saw every memory and every moment he had shared with his father in the bakery or his brothers when he was kids. He saw the one time his mother had shown him affection. His stomach lurched painfully. He wanted to be sick.
He clutched the apron to his chest and breathed in the familiar scent and started to cry. A broken sob ripped through him and the tears poured down his cheeks, thick and heavy. It was only then he looked up, seemingly have forgotten Katniss was there at all.
"They’re dead. They’re all dead. M - Katniss… I’ve got no one."
Try not to look so cheerful about it.
..You’re a strong boy, Peeta. If.. you need someone to be there with you….
Am I? I don’t feel that way anymore.
It’s - it’ll be okay. I’m sure they want you to film or do something. They’re awfully demanding about it.
Right. Yeah. Fine. I won’t.
Thank you. I - I don’t know how I’m going to do this, Haymitch.
Katniss knew she could have saved herself and her companions a lot of heart ache if she’d accepted the destruction of District 12 and used it as a way to encourage herself. But despite her best efforts and what she knew would have been right, she couldn’t help it. So she insisted and she insisted until they simply couldn’t say no anymore. And now that she was here, Katniss wondered why anyone in their right mind would have begged to see the ashes of what was once their home. But then, she wasn’t in her right mind. She hadn’t been in her right for a long, long time. At least, that’s what it felt like.
She tried to ignore the camera crew that was following her around, but it proved difficult. They kept asking her provocative questions, trying to get their perfect scene to show the world, but she ignored them. She allowed herself to to mourn in silence - something she hadn’t been able to do for several years. It was about time she permitted herself to do so.
Katniss wasn’t sure what she expected. She’d seen what Thirteen looked like from above, but that was Thirteen. It had been rubble since before she was born. But now that she knew there was a whole underground society, that they had been prepared and ready to counteract the problem, it was hard to even accept that as a tragedy (though it undoubtedly was).
But it was hard to see Twelve like this. Twelve may not have been the cleanest District, nor the most glamorous, but it was and always would be her home. She’d seen every other District through her Victory Tour, and though charming some may have been, she wouldn’t have traded Twelve for the world. She saw her sister grow up in Twelve. She met Gale in Twelve. She had her father in Twelve.
And now it was naught but ash. Katniss didn’t even bother going into The Hob, where she knew all she’d find was the remains of people she called friends. The first place she went was her old home, where she and her family had lived long before they moved into the Victor’s Village.
There was nothing there. The home she grew up in, the home that held all of her fondest memories, didn’t even exist. It was dust, and every day more and more of it was picked up by the wind and blown somewhere else, until one day even the ash wouldn’t be there.
Looking at it now, she could hardly remember where anything had been. If it weren’t for the stones that had been placed outside her front door, she may not have even recognized that. All of her memories were quickly becoming memories of memories, stories that would be lost to all but those who were there. And maybe her existence before the Games had been trivial and small in the grand scheme of things, but some stories, in her opinion, should not be so easily lost.
"Katniss, what are you feeling right now?" The question twisted at her stomach, and while she knew she’d agreed to being the Mockingjay and practically sold herself to this kind of material, it made her unfathomably angry. What was she feeling? What was she feeling? She turned, unable to disguise her annoyance and pain, and simply shook her head. There were no words for what she was feeling.
They informed her it was time to leave, and despite the fact that they were trying as hard as they could to do so kindly, it’s gentle nature was lost on Katniss. The walk to the Victor’s Village was silent, and she felt a grossly familiar lump forming in her throat. But she couldn’t start crying now - if she did, she wouldn’t be able to stop. She’d cry until her throat was raw, her eyes dry, and her cheeks red. She couldn’t do that now.
They reached the Victor’s Village before Peeta and his crew did, though Katniss hardly recognized it. She was shocked that it looked completely untouched, though after looking at the scene, it seemed typical. Of course the Capitol left the Victor’s Village untouched. Maybe it was a warning, or a message, or maybe even a place for future Capitol Citizens to stay when shooting footage for the future of the Games.
She ignored her crew’s protests and entered the mansion that had once been hers, surprised to find that the few personal things her mother and Prim had put up remained. Maybe they were planning on turning it into some sort of museum, she figured, disgusted. When she walked into the kitchen, Katniss was greeted by a sight that drew a small, pained noise from her throat.
Sitting on the kitchen counter, right where it must have been left, was an apron. On it the words ‘Kiss the Cook’ were printed in curvy red letters, and it was miraculously still covered in flour. Katniss had bought it for Peeta a matter of weeks before they’d been taken to the Capitol, a sort of peace offering, and he’d been wearing it every time he came over to bake with her mother and Prim. She remembered him wearing it last when teaching her mom how to make his sugar cookies, though no one could decorate them as elegantly as he.
Katniss walked towards the counter and reached out, ignoring the tremor in her hand.
Despite all of his rage, Peeta knew he couldn’t let it show. If anyone knew how angry he was they wouldn’t let him near her. Their mockingjay was far too precious to them and Peeta was a threat to her. So he kept it contained and let it bubble under the surface. Nobody was really paying any mind to him. If they had been, they would have been able to see the shake of his hands as they fisted against his sides. His anger could have been mistaken for grief because he was certainly feeling both of those things.
As they approached the victors village, Peeta’s eyes scanned, looking for Katniss but she wasn’t amongst anyone. Her team was sitting around the front, drinking some water and eating the lunches that had been provided for them. Peeta was grateful that Haymitch was no where to be seen. He inwardly sneered, realising that he was probably scouring for loose bottles of booze. The leader of the team was calling Peeta over, she had a schedule in her hand and it was obvious that she wanted to talk so he turned away, avoiding her altogether.
His victors home stood in it’s place, still looking brand new besides it’s layer of ash. Peeta’s stomach lurched when thinking about what or who that ash was. It belonged to someone or something and now it was coating the homes like some sick metaphor. The Capitol remained untouched and everything else was destroyed. That’s all this war would bring to Panem and Peeta knew it.
Asking one of the men carrying cameras, Peeta discovered that Katniss was inside her house. No one seemed to think twice of it when he climbed the steps. It seemed he was an even better actor than he had thought. If Haymitch had been there, he was sure he would have stopped Peeta. If he was really looking for booze, Katniss’s death would be on his hands. That gave Peeta some sort of sick satisfaction and that surprised him. This wasn’t about murder. He needed to stop the war. He needed to stop Katniss from doing this to anyone else because that’s what his mind told him she would do.
"Hey, there you are." He spoke quietly, trying not to scare her. It would be easy to kill her when she was facing him but he needed her to stay calm. The few conversations they had had, hadn’t gone well but they weren’t disasters either. There was trust that flickered in her eyes and it made his stomach flip. She shouldn’t trust him.
"Isn’t this all just a circus? It’s disgusting." He spat, letting the rage inside him boil up again. He looked at her then. Somewhere, deep down, he knew he had loved her once. Was it a trick of the light? How had she done it? There was nothing now, only a dull rage for what she had done.
Peeta watched as the words formed on her lips, a response to his question but he didn’t want to here it. They would just be lies, something he didn’t want to here. Everyone lied to him and he was done with it. He waited until he was close enough, while her guard was still down, before he reached forward. His fingers wrapped around her delicate throat and he could feel her heart beat against his fingers.
This time though, he squeezed. He squeezed, using all of his strength against her. The heart beat dulled against his fingers and he still squeezed, crushing her windpipe and the muscles or bones under his hands. She would die. She had to die.
In case you haven’t noticed, I am being respectful. Ain’t no bottles in my hands just yet.
Yet. He shook his head, feeling disgusted. If you drink. Don’t talk to me. Don’t come near me. Ever again.
No, I’m not. But it is still traumatizing. This was my home too, you know.
Then be respectful instead of a drunk.
Desolate. It was the only word that Peeta could think of to describe the place that had once been his home. It was hard to believe it was his home at all. District Twelve had never been the shining example of a happy, cheerful life. The district had always been bleak but now, it was nothing. It was rubble, it was the ashes of corpses that could have been his friends, customers at the bakery, or his family. His family. That was the hardest thing about returning home. They were dead and this is where they were. There were no bodies to bury, there was nothing here to represent the childhood he had lived. There was no proof that his family even existed.
Everything was just gone.
The camera crew were watching him carefully and he felt disgusted by it. Why would they want to capture the most devastating thing in Peeta’s life? For the rebellion. Their excuse was that it was for the rebellion. Look at what their rebellion had done! The anger that was always dormant under Peeta’s skin was bubbling closer to the surface. That was why the guards were with him, one either side to make sure he wouldn’t do something stupid. His brain screamed at him, telling him over and over that it was Katniss Everdeen’s fault. She was the mutt and she had brought this on to the people of District Twelve.
"Peeta, we’re here. Would you like to go in?" They had stopped walking now and were standing in front of the Mellark’s Family Bakery. There was nothing there though. It was just broken beams of wood and twisted chunks of metal. The biggest chunk was twisted until it was unrecognizable but he knew what it was. Without answering the question of the film crew, Peeta stepped over what was once the threshold of the bakery and went straight to it. The metal had been so hot that it had become this. The oven that he had used day in and day out had become this broken piece of metal. It was useless now but still Peeta wanted to take it with him. He wanted a part of home.
"What are you feeling Peeta?" The question irritated him so he chose to ignore it. They weren’t going to get anything from him and he didn’t know why they even bothered. Another step into the bakery showed him nothing new, piles of debris and ash was all that was left. It made him wonder though. What were they doing when it happened? Were they asleep in their beds? Was his father cleaning up in the kitchen, getting ready for the next day? Did they feel it? Did the scream when they were burned alive by the bombs that were dropped on them?
Someone asked the question again and Peeta finally turned on them. His teeth were bared with the anger he felt and he wanted to lash out but all that happened was a single tear fell down his cheek. He turned away quickly, brushing it away with the back of his hand. “What do you think? How could I feel? You’ve brought me here to walk on the dead bodies of my family and my broken life.”
He returned to the oven, the only possession that was still whole in it’s twisted way. “This is all that is left. My family are gone, my home is gone, the bakery I grew up in and worked in is gone. I have nothing. Nothing at all. If I died, it would be like I didn’t exist. I have no past and I have no future. All I have is this. A twisted bit of charred metal that represents my life. And it’s unrecognisable.” He turned, facing the camera then. The tears were still in his eyes but he wasn’t going to let them fall. He wouldn’t give them the satisfaction. “Tell me, how would you feel?”
No answer came. Not that he ever expected one.
"It’s time." They told him. It was time to return to the victors village. Nothing felt victorious about it now. It was just a place he had lived for less than a year. The promises the Capitol had given him were that he could live his life out there, happy and undisturbed. It seemed everyone was in a habit of breaking promises.
The walk was quiet. Every now and then the crew would stop to film something that was especially devastating. Half a child’s doll here, a broken piece of furniture there. Nothing was whole though. They were filming the broken lives of those now gone.
That was when the anger started again. Peeta was angry with the Capitol for doing this to his home. He was angry for the rebels for bringing him back here and making him relive the horror he hoped he’d never have to experience. He was angry at them for filming it for their use. Above all, he was angry at Katniss. Peeta had spent the last few months incredibly confused and angry at the world but one thing remained constant. It was Katniss Evedeen’s fault.
This was all her fault. And that was when he started to see red again. He wanted her dead and this time, he would do it right.
At the moment, I could care less.
Yes, because this is all so traumatising for you. You aren’t about to go look at the ruins of your life and walk on the ashes of your dead family.