A/N: I'm baaaaaaack! Woo! New story, here we go! I. AM. SO. EXCITED.

Can I just say how much I missed you guys? Yes? I. MISSED. YOU. GUYS. SO. FREAKING. MUCH.

There. I said it. I feel better now.

Continuing on! Come Rain or Come Shine is officially here, people, and as you can see I'm pretty giddy. This is my favorite story of the series, my best written piece, and I love it. And, of course, I really hope that you guys love it, too. Katniss as a character grows so much in this piece, but that's nothing compared to the journey that Peeta will take. The journey itself may be rough, but trust me . . . the glorious destination he will reach is, well, glorious.

And undeniably sexy.

But I'm getting off track.

So! Alas, let's get to the chapter! I forewarn you, prepare for depression bordering on insanity. Also, I've decided to actually title my chapters now. All titles will be a song that I think pertains to the chapter. So, this chapter's title is "On My Own" which just so happens to be my favorite song from Les Miserables. :)

Oh, and I'm doing something different with my disclaimers this time around! Hope you enjoy my conversations with fictional characters.

Random Disclaimer: I do not own The Hunger Games Series. As the past two stories show, my version of events would have been quite different.

Me: Okay! Let's get going, people! Chop, chop! Katniss, why so frowny?

Katniss: You stole Peeta away from me! We could have had our reunion! We could have escaped together! But no, you had to be dramatic.

Me: It was for the greater good, okay? Chill. As author I reserve the right to make you miserable.

Katniss: And why couldn't we have cut out his tracker? Little oversight on your part, isn't it?

Me: Honey, did I write you in possession of a knife? Or Peeta for that matter? I don't think so.

Katniss: Of course Peeta had a knife!

Me: I made him give it to Beetee, remember?

Katniss: I will shoot you.

Peeta: Uh, guys? Could you stop arguing? I'd kinda like to be rescued. This cell is kinda depressing.

Me: *giggles evilly* I can stop arguing, however, I can't rescue you just yet.

Peeta: That's just mean.

Me: I know. But it allows you to grow as a character. Now, Katniss! Show everyone how miserable you are!

Chapter 1: On My Own

On my own, pretending he's beside me.

All alone, I walk with him till morning.

Without him, I feel his arms around me.

And when I lose my way, I close my eyes and he has found me.

I stare at the empty pillow next to me. My hand rests where it always has, but instead of feeling a warm, strong chest beneath my fingertips, I feel the scratchy material of the bed sheets. Without his body lying next to me, the bed feels cold, no matter how many extra blankets I manage to swindle. Without him lying next to me, the bed is too big. Too lonely.

Peeta Mellark, my husband and father of my child, has been taken from me.

And yet, his ghost haunts me relentlessly. It whispers his words in my ear, filling my head with the sound of his voice. The whispers haunt me with memories of his warmth, his love, his kindness, and his courage. They remind me of everything good in the world. Despite how much the whispers hurt me, they're the only thing that is keeping me sane.

Funny. I'm hearing voices and it's keeping me sane. But it's not just any voice. It's Peeta's.

I'll come back to you, I promise.

Burning fire. Exploding earth. I'm crying as Peeta wipes away my tears, his words filled with determination and yet I could tell that his heart was breaking along with mine. He promised. He'll come back. He promised he would find a way back to me.

To us.

My hand finds my stomach. It is no longer flat. There is a slight roundness to my stomach, a bump. I'm four months along now, eighteen weeks. The doctor says that I should be feeling a 'fluttering' in my stomach any day now. Every appointment my thoughts will stretch. I try to open a portal in my mind. I try to reach Peeta, so somehow he can share in the experience. Even though I hate my doctor's visits, I know that Peeta would love them. I can imagine the excitement on his face, the twinkle in his eye. And knowing this, being haunted by his whispers, always causes me to cry during the appointment. The first time I heard our baby's heartbeat. The first time I saw our baby's little grainy image on the TV screen.

Peeta wasn't there to smile. He wasn't there for his eyes to widen in excitement and awe. He wasn't there at all. He's not with me.

And I don't know about you, but I would gladly go through a hundred arenas if it meant that I could still share what was left of my life with you.

Damn you, President Snow. Damn you to the deepest pit of Hell.

You are the one who took Peeta from me. From us.

The whispers haunt me with their reminders. They remind me of how Peeta knew exactly what he was running into. The Capitol will hurt him. They will torture him for information, information that he doesn't really have.

I know.

He knew. He knew and he still ran toward the Capitol's clutches. To protect me. To protect the baby.

You're everything to me, you and the baby.

I try not to think of how he's suffering, and yet my morbid, taunting, cruel mind conjures the most frightening images and sounds. The whispers can't penetrate my conscious when the images take over. In the past month since escaping the arena, I've had plenty of time to think of different forms. Strapped to a chair, trapped, as electrodes attached to his body shock him violently. Shackled to the wall, helpless and defenseless as heartless Peacekeepers beat him until he's broken and nearly dead. Dangling by chains from the ceiling, his toes barely touching the ground, as masked men use their cursed blades to carve into his flesh. Chained to a table, unable to move and gasping for breath as they make him believe he's drowning.

And despite all these horrific images in my mind, they are not what disturb me the most. The crippling horror that threatens to consume me is the fact that no matter how gruesome the images in my head become, no matter what I imagine them doing to him . . . Peeta never makes a sound.

No, no, no, no! Get out of my head! The images threaten to overwhelm me. I clutch the bed sheets in my hands, kick my feet at unseen foes. I want to scream at the torturers to stop hurting him. I want to kill them all. I try to imagine them with one of my arrows sticking out of their eyes, but it doesn't help like last time. Peeta! Help me. Whispers! Save me.

Will you stop worrying about me?

Everything I do, I do for you.

I love you, more than I could ever hope to describe.

"Peeta," I whisper into the silence of my room. "I can't do this without you."

You have a strength that I will never know for myself.

I don't know, Peeta. I haven't been feeling too strong lately.

You'll never be able to accept a compliment, will you?

Nope. But my hands find my stomach once more, curving around the slight bump, and I force myself out of bed. The baby is the only thing that truly keeps me going. Everything I do is for the baby. My child is actually the one nurturing me, reminding me that a part of Peeta is with me, aside from his ghostly whispers. I know that it sounds as though I'm crazy, but I'm not broken. Cracked, maybe. But not broken. Not yet.

It's always worse in the mornings, when I wake up without him. I never realized how much that meant to me, how much that assured me. Knowing that when I woke up, Peeta would be there next to me. The empty bed is a stark reminder of his absence each and every morning.

I dress in the grey soldier's uniform of District 13, but honestly the roundness of my stomach makes me look ridiculous. A pregnant soldier. But here in District 13, once you reach the age of fourteen, you automatically join the military. They have a school system here, too, but once you hit that magic number, you're politely addressed as "Soldier."

As I step out of Compartment 313 into the tunnel-like hallway, I meet Haymitch. We don't say anything. I simply fall into step beside him and we step into the elevator at the end of the hall. I notice the trembling in his hands, and without a thought I take his hand in mine. District 13 has a strict no alcohol policy, forcing Haymitch into sobriety. He's lucky he started drinking a little less after mine and Peeta's first Games, otherwise I don't know how he'd be coping. Probably locked up in a room somewhere where he could suffer the withdrawal alone and without interference.

Haymitch doesn't snatch his hand away. He's tried before, but I never let go. He simply accepts it now, and sometimes, right before I let go, he'll squeeze my hand. Thanking me. We're silent sufferers, me and Haymitch. Both hurting because we lost someone we both love.

I'll do anything to keep you safe.

Haymitch was there when I first woke up in the hospital, sitting by my bedside. Of course, I'd immediately burst into tears as the reality struck me. The fact that Peeta was gone. The fact that my drug-induced nightmares were, in fact, real. Haymitch let me cry myself out, and then started to slowly tell me of all that I had missed and what I had to expect.

He told me that not only was Peeta captured by the Capitol, but Johanna and Enobaria as well. Despite the fact that Enobaria is a Career and wouldn't have hesitated to kill me, I still pity her fate. Johanna though . . . Johanna I fear and worry for. A new friend she may be, but when you make a friend during the Hunger Games, it's a bond that few understand. Sometimes I'll imagine Johanna's screams of pain, too.

And then I'll hear her curse her torturers seven ways from Sunday. Disturbingly, the thought always makes me want to smile, even if I can never quite manage the quirk of my lips. It's simply so Johanna. Always fighting.

When I was let out of the hospital, I was allowed one week to 'recover mentally.' I'd laughed out loud when Haymitch told me, but it was a cold, cynical sound. They expected a mere seven days to be enough time for me to recover? To recover from watching Peeta run away from me into the torturous clutches of the Capitol? Knowing that if put in the same situation again, I would still let him go? They don't understand. They can't know what it's like. A week of recovery? No. There's no recovering from that. That night in the arena will always haunt me.

I allowed myself to wallow for the entire week. An entire week full of torrential tears, crippling sobs, and righteous anger. I screamed and I cried. Anger and despair. For one week, I allowed myself to feel every heart wrenching pain. And when that week ended, I was completely drained. I had settled into a state devoid of any true emotion. Sitting on the bed, holding my stomach, staring at the wall.

That was when I first heard the whispers.

I'll come back to you, I promise.

The whispers reminded me that Peeta was fighting to come back to me. It was this knowledge that chased the void within me away, the emptiness. The crippling sadness, the desperate longing still existed but there was a will to fight. We were a team. If he was fighting then so would I. And so for nearly the past two and a half weeks since my 'week of recovery' ended, I have been campaigning to be allowed to go to District 12. I want to go home, just for a while.

Even if it's ashes.

When I blew up the arena and brought down the force field, the televisions in District 12 went black and the electricity was cut. The silence was so heavy that you could hear one another's heartbeats. For fifteen minutes all was still . . . and then the bombs were dropped. The Capitol hovercraft bombed everything, sparing only the Victor's Village. The Seam. The Town. Even the Justice Building. All gone. Charred, smoking, blackened remains are all that is left of my home.

I have to see it for myself. Maybe I'm a masochist, but I have to walk among the rubble. Something within me is compelling me to go back. Instinct. That's what I mostly rely on now. Instinct and the whispers.

The elevator doors open and I release Haymitch's hand. Plutarch Heavensbee and his assistant, Fulvia, immediately greet us. "Oh, there you are! Good morning, Haymitch." He turns to me. "How's our Mockingjay this morning?"

Mockingjay. That's what they want me to be. The symbol of the revolution. The one who wills the districts—who have officially declared war on the Capitol—to fight and lead them to victory. Propos. Speeches. Appearances in the districts. This is what they want from me. This is what they've been trying to convince me to do for the past two and half weeks. They talk and talk and talk. Plutarch and Fulvia. A variety of military officials. But not Alma Coin, the president of District 13.

She's a tall woman of about fifty or so with steel grey hair. I swear, it never moves from the perfect sheet that falls to her shoulders. Not a hair out of place. Not one split end. It's so uniform that it unnerves me. Sometimes, while everyone is talking at me, I simply stare at her hair and wonder if it's a wig.

Her grey eyes will study me sometimes. They're not grey like mine; they're too light, like the life has been sucked out of them. Not to say that she's lifeless. No. She's calculating. Always studying. She doesn't like me. She doesn't like that I've yet to give them an answer. I haven't agreed to be the Mockingjay.

I do have a will to fight, but at the moment it's too feeble. A mere spark that has yet to turn to flame. I'm too haunted by Peeta's absence. All I have to do is start mumbling incoherently, and they'll tell me that we'll continue our discussion later. My duplicitous mumbles are the reason I have a bracelet around my wrist that labels me as mentally disoriented.

I don't mind. After all, I am hearing voices. Just one, though.

"Fine," I answer. "Ready to go."

"Wonderful," Fulvia says, though you can tell that she's not too thrilled with me or my demand to see District 12. The smoking ruins of my home. "Let's get this over with."

Together, the four of us walk through an expansive aircraft hangar. It's full of different hovercraft and flying war machines. Anger at District 13 roils within me as I see the technology, the strength surrounding me. All this time, they had all of this, and instead of helping the rest of us, they hid behind their threats of nuclear missiles. I suppose they needed to rebuild their forces, but still. It angers me.

We enter a hovercraft, and I'm greeted with a very familiar soft smile that makes me feel both comforted and heartbroken. "Morning sweetcheeks," Rye says as he gives me a hug. It's selfish of me I know, but I hug him tight and close my eyes. And then, for a split second, I can almost trick myself into believing that Peeta is holding me.

I love you.

As always, at this thought tears threaten to form, so I pull away quickly. Still, I look into Rye's blue eyes, so like Peeta's, and manage a ghost of a smile. "Good morning, Rye."

"How's my little niece or nephew?" Rye asks as we get strapped into our seats for take off. "Any fluttering around in there, yet?"

"Not yet."

Rye is the one who goes to most of my doctor's appointments with me. Haymitch won't go near a hospital if he doesn't absolutely have to, and it's too awkward for Gale. I can't blame him. Prim comes with me when she is not working as a nurse in the hospital. My mother, well, that's a tale in itself.

You might be wondering how people like Prim, Gale, Rye, and my mother are still alive if District 12 is in ruins. The credit rests squarely on Gale's shoulders. As soon as the first bomb dropped, Gale ran out into the burning, exploding streets of the Seam, gathering up as many people as he could, including my mother and Prim. He herded them all to the Meadow, away from the coal dust and dry wood. He then formed a team and they pulled down the now harmless chain-link fence. Once the fence was down, Gale led the people into the woods, taking them to the safest place he knew of—the lake.

Gale managed to save nearly eight hundred people, the vast majority from the Seam. Few people from the town escaped. My friend Madge Undersee and her family didn't escape. They are part of the ashes that now decorate the ground of District 12. Joining them and countless others is every member of the Mellark family except for Rye.

I don't know how he's still alive. He doesn't either. He only told me the story once. How he and the rest of the family, including Chris's wife, had sat and stared at the blank television for a good five minutes. Even when the power went out, they just sat in the dark and stared, shocked by what they had seen. Then the house had shaken after a bomb exploded the next street over. The force of the blast knocked everyone to the floor, all of them dazed and confused as to what was going on and why. Rye was the first one to dart into the street, urging his family to follow him. Together they began to run. Rye swears he wasn't headed in any particular direction, but eventually they made it to the imaginary line that separated the Seam and the Town.

That was when Mrs. Mellark stopped running.

She refused to set foot in the Seam, despite the bombs that were being dropped and the dying, terrified screams of those around her. She remained resolute. She would rather die than step foot in the Seam. No matter how the rest of her family pleaded with her, she remained still, despite the quaking ground and fire surrounding her. Her imminent death.

Mr. Mellark was the one to break the stalemate. He ordered his sons and daughter in-law to run. Despite everything wretched that Mrs. Mellark was . . . she was Mrs. Mellark. His wife. And he wouldn't leave her.

Rye says it was the hardest thing he's ever done, but he grabbed Chris's arm and began pulling him and his wife along. Together, they continued to run through the burning Seam. Bombs were still being dropped and the three remaining Mellarks fell to the ground often due to the aftershocks. They had almost made it to the Meadow when a bomb dropped that didn't merely shake the ground, but literally blew them off their feet. Rye was thrown to the ground, yards away from where he'd been, and as he sat up to get his bearings, something fell from the sky, landing not three feet from him.

A hand. Rye doesn't know how, but he knows that the hand was his brother's. He looked all around him, but all he saw was fire and all he heard were screams. His family was gone.

Miraculously, Rye was unscathed except for some heavy bruising and a dislocated shoulder from landing so hard on the ground at such an angle. He was able to hobble to his feet and make it to the Meadow, and seeing the torn down fence, ventured into the woods, following the broken path through the forest made by the other survivors. He eventually caught up to them, and then Gale was the one to set his shoulder back into place.

By dawn the bombers were gone, and Gale had rounded up all the stragglers. Armed with only two sets of bows and arrows, a knife, and a fishing net, Gale and those who were able managed to provide enough food for the eight hundred refugees for three days. My mother and Prim set up a makeshift hospital, using whatever they could from the woods as their medicine. On the morning of the fourth day, District 13 arrived.

To those from District 12, 13 seems like a dramatic upgrade. Three guaranteed meals a day, even if they're rather tasteless, is heavenly. New quarters, even if they're underground, are heated and air conditioned. New clothes. Safe beds. They've escaped the hunger and starvation of District 12, the deadly whip of Head Peacekeeper Romulus Thread. To have a new home is somewhat fantastical, considering that they hadn't even known District 13 existed.

But I can't help but feel trapped. I've just switched clutches, though the snares of District 13 are much more deceptive than those of the Capitol and Snow. They want to use me for their own purposes, to promote their cause. Their cause that I thought was mine. But now I truly see what Peeta was trying to tell me. In war, people choose a side, to fight for what they believe in. Peeta knew that there had to be people who fought for what was right. Not everything is good versus evil. Black and white. Sometimes it is a shade of grey. Two opposing forces wanting to overthrow the other, one to keep power and one to gain it. You need a medium. You need to fight for what is right.

I may want the Capitol to fall, but that's not why I'm fighting. I'm simply fighting for what's right, and that's a safe world for my child.

We'll find a way through this. You and me. Together.

The trip to District 12 takes about an hour. It's a trip made in complete silence, despite Plutarch and Fulvia's attempts to start conversation. I'm absorbed in my thoughts, in the whispers. In the back of my mind, I realize that the whispers are my way of keeping Peeta with me, a coping mechanism. But that doesn't make them any less real to me. That doesn't mean that some mornings I don't wake up and feel the ghost of his arms around me. It doesn't mean that sometimes I don't feel the ghost of his lips against mine. These faint, fleeting feelings comfort me. They're keeping me sane.

We land in the Meadow, and the moment the hovercraft sets down I disentangle myself from the confining restraints of my seat. Rye gives me a hand, pulling me to my feet. We've yet to let go of each other's hands when Gale appears, and he eyes our joined hands warily before glancing at me. Rye and I let our hands fall to our respective sides.

I know the rumors. The past two and a half weeks, when I wasn't campaigning to go to District 12, I was typically with Rye. It's selfish of me, that because he reminds me so much of Peeta that I cling to him. The same blonde curls. The same blue eyes. The same broad shoulders. Some people think that I've simply moved on to another Mellark. I can't have one brother so I take the only other one available. I hate these people. They insult me with their ignorance.

I'm the only person that Rye truly knows that's not dead. His family save for Peeta is dead. All his friends. All his neighbors. The only person Rye has is me, and I won't abandon him. Screw what people think. When have I ever cared?

"You sure you don't want me to go down there with you?" Gale asks.

"I'm sure," I tell him. Some walks need to be made alone.

"Well, take this," Gale says, giving me an earwig. "I'll be on the other end, alright? If you want to go, just tell me."

"I will."

Gale and I really haven't had much of a chance to talk. He visited me in the hospital when he could, but he's busy with Command. And also, I don't think he really knows what to do. He hasn't said a word about his feelings for me, but I can tell that they're still there. It must be awkward to be in love with your best friend who is pregnant with another man's child.

"Be careful, Catnip," he says before heading back to the communications section of the hovercraft.

Rye watches him go and then turns to me. "You sure you're ready for this?"

"I really don't have a choice," I say before walking over to the ladder that will lower me onto the ground.

Haymitch is there, waiting. He doesn't ask me if I'm alright, or if I'm ready for this. He just says, "Find what you're looking for, sweetheart."

What am I looking for? As I walk down the ramp, I wonder. Am I looking for something? What am I hoping to find?

When my feet touch the ground, I simply stand there for a moment. I am home. The soil beneath my feet may be blackened and burned, but I am home. I begin walking toward where the Seam once stood. My old house. I want to see it. My father's house.

My foot kicks something heavier than a normal rock, so I look down at the ashen earth. A skull stares back at me. Wide, hollow eye sockets. Crooked, yellowed teeth. Coal-dusted bone.

For the longest time, I stare at the skull and it stares back at me with its sightless eyes. Death. I did this. My actions caused this. At this thought, my eyes leave the skull to look around me. Everything is black. Destroyed. The smell of rotting corpses fills the air. Some people were not lucky enough to be killed immediately by the bombs. Some were trapped in the fires. Some didn't escape the flames in time.

Buzzards are everywhere. On the ground. In the air. Eating their fill.

A tear falls. I do nothing to wipe it away. I'm sorry, I apologize. I'm so sorry.

It's not your fault.

Yes, it is Peeta. I may not have dropped the Capitol bombs myself, but it was my actions that prompted the destruction of my home. My actions that are responsible for the death of so many.

It's not your fault.

Shut it, Mellark.

Oh, great. You're calling me by my last name again. Never a good sign.

I close my eyes tightly as I feel an overwhelming sense of longing tinged with despair. What I wouldn't give to have Peeta's hand in mine. For him to be standing right beside me, to whisper these words to me in reality. His presence wouldn't detract at all from the horror surrounding me, but he would make facing it a little easier.

My hand finds my stomach as my eyes open. Peeta is with me. A part of him is with me, giving me strength. I resume walking. I stick to the roads, or what I can determine to be the road, until I reach my old home. I stand in the ruins, staring at the black ashes at my feet that are dirtying my boots. All that remains of my father's house are some blackened bricks from the chimney. It's from this reference point that I'm able to determine the rest of the house. I move to the place where Prim and I shared a bed. My eyes rove around, like I'm looking for something. I don't find anything.

So I move on.

My feet carry me through the streets. I try not to see the remains of the bodies around me. I try to ignore the stench of death in the air . . . the air that contains the ashes of the people of District 12. I immediately begin to cough.

I feel the need to retch, but I manage to push it back. I cover my mouth and nose with the collar of my shirt, and continue on. When I reach the town, my feet automatically begin to drift to the left. The bakery is gone, only a melted lump of metal remains—the oven. I stare at the demolished bakery, Peeta's home for so long. Memories of him, Rye, and Chris flit through my mind.

A slow day in the bakery, when I would sit on the counter as the Mellark brothers worked and played around me. Peeta and Rye's playful shoving and head slaps. Chris's amused scolding of the two of them. Handfuls of flour tossed at an unsuspecting blonde head. So much laughter.

Wrestling matches full of fun and competitiveness. Chris's eye roll at his younger brother's antics before he would suddenly grin and join them, tackling Peeta to the ground. Rye's disgruntled curses when he lost. Peeta's taunting smirk and quick wit.

I've got better things to do than kick your ass.

I shake my head, my memories that were once shrouded in joy are now tinged with grief. Chris is gone. Peeta is being tortured. Only Rye is with me now, fraught with grief. I turn my back on the bakery. There's nothing for me there.

I pass the crumbled remains of the Justice Building. Blackened stone and smoking wood. Lumps of melted metal litter the square. The remains of Head Peacekeeper Thread's horrors. The stockades. The whipping post. The gallows.

The mayor's house is completely gone, like a bomb fell directly on it. There's nothing left. Nothing left of the Undersees. Just their ashes.

When I reach the entrance to the Victor's Village, it's nearly comical the contrast. Despite the hot summer heat, the grass is still green. Flowers still bloom. Full of life. No ashes. No smoke.

No death.

As I walk down the street, I wonder why the Village was spared. To give reporters a nice place to stay? Maybe. But I can't help but think that Snow purposely spared the Victor's Village. Another show of power. How he had control. Almost making it appear as though he had the power over life and death. The stark contrast of the rest of District 12 and the Victor's Village seems to prove my theory.

I stop walking when I'm standing in the middle of two houses. On my right is the house that is technically mine. On my left is the house that Peeta and I unofficially shared. Which house? Though my heart begs me to go into Peeta's house, I just can't face it. The memories. Not yet.

So I turn and bolt into my house. It's eerily quiet and still. Whatever I'm looking for, I know that at least part of it is here. My eyes land on the mantle of the fireplace. My parent's wedding photo. I take it gently in my hands and stare at my father's smiling face. The image comforts me, and I know it will make my mother happy.

I keep the photo in my hands as I continue to wonder around, looking for whatever it is I'm searching for. The stairs creak as I climb them, and the sound seems terribly loud in the silent house. I make my way to my room, and when my eyes land on my closet, I immediately know what else I came here for.

My father's hunting jacket. I'd left it in the house for my mother, just in case I died in the Quell. I wanted her to have it. On the floor of my closet is my game bag and I take it too. I carefully place my father's jacket and the wedding photo in my game bag. I'm still for a moment as I realize that I can't delay my trip to Peeta's house, our house, any longer. I know that the moment I walk through the door I'll be assaulted with memories that will both comfort and torment me. But it's something I've got to do. I march myself out of the house, closing the door firmly behind me, readying myself to face whatever is to come.

But nothing could have prepared me for the sight that meets my eyes.

Sitting on the front porch of the house that Peeta and I shared for the majority of a year . . . is Maya. Without a thought my feet carry me toward her and she lets out an excited yip as she bounds to meet me. I fall to my knees just as she reaches me and wrap my arms around her neck, burying my face in her dapple grey fur. Tears pour down my face, but for once, it's not because I'm sad. For the first time since breaking out of the arena, a little flutter of happiness lightens my heart, and I smile. A genuine smile.

"Hey, girl," I whisper. "Oh, I've missed you."

Maya just licks my face. I wonder how she survived the attack. Perhaps she'd been in the Victor's Village. Maybe she'd already been safe in the woods. It doesn't matter. All that matters is that she's alive. My furry friend.

Maya starts to sniff and look around, searching. My smile falls. "He's not here," I tell her, my heart constricting in my chest. "Peeta isn't here."

I'll come back to you, I promise.

I get to my feet and stride toward the house. Whatever I'm looking for is in the house, I know it. Maybe it's not even anything tangible. Maybe I just need to be surrounded by things that he touched, that he created, that he loved. I open the door and then shut it behind me once Maya is at my side, and then I'm immediately thrown into a memory.

The first time I brought Maya to the house, my written proclamation of love folded in my pocket, marching determinedly up the stairs, ready to confront Peeta—only to be asked a question that had nothing to do with our previous argument.

Why is there a dog in my house?

I move into the living room and see the fireplace. Another memory. Curled up in front of the fire after a day in the snow. Our toasting. Our perfect moment.

I am not most guys.

My eyes spot the plant book lying on the coffee table, and I pick it up and turn to a random page. Immediately, my attention is focused on a yellow flower, so precisely and beautifully drawn that it looks real. I gently trace the image with my fingertips, and then close the book and put it in my game bag.

I take a brief tour of the kitchen, running my hand along the oven that Peeta used so often, supplying me with all my favorites, most notably cheese buns, though when we learned of my chocolate craving I had a steady supply of chocolate muffins. Once he even made me brownies.

I feel a smile tug at my lips.

However, any thoughts of smiling vanish as I climb the stairs. Even Maya's presence by my side isn't enough to comfort me. With each step I climb, the claws around my heart sink a little deeper. So many memories.

I pause at the second door on the left, his art studio. I debate going in, if only to see his paintings, but he was so private about them. I don't want to see something he didn't wish for me to see. I had my woods. He had his art studio.

So I continue down the hallway until I reach our bedroom. My eyes make a quick sweep of the room. So many memories. There's an odd smell in the room, but I ignore it for a moment. I move to the dresser and open up a drawer full of his clothes. Tears threaten to form in my eyes when I see his favorite blue shirt. My favorite blue shirt. The one that we constantly stole back from each other.

I have many shirts for you to steal.

With trembling hands I pick up the shirt and hold it to my face, breathing in the scent. It still smells like him. Warm cinnamon. I inhale the scent and feel myself relax. It's the first tangible connection I've had to Peeta in a month.

I place his shirt and a few others in my bag.

That smell tickles my nose again, and though the aroma is sweet, it's terribly repugnant. Slowly, I turn away from the dresser to face the bed. A bed that holds so many cherished memories. Tears, laughter, and love. So much love.

Fantastic things happen in this bed.

A choked gasp escapes me. Lying in the middle of the bed, perfectly pristine, is a single, white rose. I stare at it with wide, horrified eyes. A punch in the gut from President Snow. It's a message to me. A menacing one that promises revenge. But what is infinitely more telling is the placement of the rose. On our bed. My safe haven. A place where so much love was shared.

And he's defiled it.

I know what he wants this rose to accomplish. He wants it to break me. He wants me to think of Peeta and how he's been taken from me. The gruesome torture that is being inflicted upon him. He wants me to crumble.

But I refuse to crumble. I refuse to break. Something within me comes to life. A fire. A blazing, white-hot fire. I recognize this feeling. An angry strength, a steely determination—a will to fight.

You possess a strength that I will never know for myself.

President Snow has made a grievous mistake. This was one step too far, and he's going to pay. This taunt, this insult will not stand. The fact that he has taken Peeta from me, split us apart.

You're fierce in your desire to protect what's yours.

It's in this second that I make a decision. I'll give Snow the fight of his life. I will be the Mockingjay. My first order of business?

I'm getting my husband back.

You go, girl.

See? It's not too terribly depressing, is it? Katniss is proving to be as resilient as ever, but for how long will she be able to keep this strength? Guess we'll find out, won't we?

And I know that it sucks that Peeta is not present, but I hope that you can feel his presence in the chapter, in Katniss's thoughts. Don't worry, I'll have a few dream sequences so we get a little PK time . . . of course . . . that's not to say that that time will be particularly happy . . .

Anyhoo! One chapter down, and the summary for said chapter is as follows: Katniss has developed a mild case of Peeta-induced schizophrenia, Peeta is partying it up with Snow and having a poker night with his guards, Rye is fueling rumors of an Everlark split, Gale is hopelessly devoted, Haymitch is actually sober because Coin stockpiles alcohol in her office, and Plutarch is . . . well, let's not even go there . . .

And our line from Chapter 2 comes from . . . Rye!

"Sorry to interrupt your death glare showdown, but can we focus on the conditions?"

Lots of love,