Together, Always

A soft golden light was spilling through the window when my eyes fluttered open. I yawned and looked out the window, smiling as I saw the sun rising from behind the trees. I stretched and realized that the bed next to me was empty. Gale must have already left….

I got out of bed, my muscles protesting after being still for so long, and walked over to the dresser, looking for something to wear. I reached into a drawer, searching for a pair of socks, when I stilled. An image flashed in my mind; a familiar boy with blond hair and clear blue eyes, smiling at me and holding a loaf of bread. It was gone as fast as it had come. I was left standing there, a slightly sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach, trying to figure out what had just happened.

This wasn't anything new. I had been having little flashes of this same boy, or of something entirely different, off and on for the last couple of weeks. I didn't know who the boy was, although he looked very familiar, but I felt like I did, in some way. Every time I saw his smiling face in my head, my heart would clench and I'd find it hard to breathe. I didn't know what it meant.

I finally found some socks and, after slipping them on, walked out of the room and downstairs to the kitchen. I started heating a cup of hot chocolate and put a couple pieces of bread into the toaster. A sudden, quick flash of two loaves of burnt bread flying through the air flashed through my mind. I sighed and tried to push the image from my mind.

I spent the day doing chores around the house, laundry, the dishes, cleaning, all the while little flashes would appear in my mind. They started to change. Whereas before only images would appear, I was now also getting snatches of conversations, or I would smell something that I knew wasn't in the house. Once, around lunchtime, a powerful smell assaulted my nose, like flowers – roses – intermingled with the smell of blood, both too strong to be real.

These flashes felt like…memories, like I had experienced them before, but I had never seen these things, or heard them, or smelled them, before. They all seemed to be centered on that blond boy and something called the Hunger Games, a term some lady with a ridiculous pink wig and ruffled outfit announced on a stage in a very rundown town in front of thousands of people.

They had never come to me like this before. Before, I would get them a couple times a day. Today, I had probably had over a hundred of them, like they were bombarding me, trying desperately to get me to remember them. But what was there to remember? These things had never happened to me before, I had never seen these images, had never heard these people, had never experienced any of this. It was all so very confusing.

I was stirring the soup in a large pot on the stove when I heard a key enter the lock on the front door. I glanced at the clock and frowned; it was almost 8 o'clock, he was late.

"I'm home," Gale said as he closed the door and I heard him taking off his jacket and shoes.

"Hey," I said, smiling as he walked into the kitchen. He slipped his arms around my waist from behind me and placed a light kiss on my neck. I smiled and leaned against his chest. For some reason, I felt weird inside, like something was wrong, but I couldn't quite pinpoint it.

"How come you're late?" I asked softly, just loud enough for him to hear me.

He kissed my neck again and pulled away, going to sit at the table. Strangely, I felt a silent relief in my chest, which confused me even more and made me a little angry.

"Thom gave me a bunch of paperwork to fill out as I was about to leave. I had to stay behind to work on it."

"Always."

I stilled as the voice flitted through my head. It was so softly spoken, so filled with love, I felt tears start to prick at my eyes. I knew, even without having an image, that that blond boy had spoken it, had spoken it to me, in response to something I had said to him.

I started to feel something stir in my chest, but I couldn't identify it. None of my flashes had left me feeling anything like this; this was definitely something new.

When the soup was finished, I poured it in a couple of bowls and set them on the table along with some slices of bread. I noticed I was low on bread again; I'll have to make a trip to the bakery tomorrow.

As we ate, we made idle conversation, going into nothing too deeply, mainly asking how each other's days went. Afterward, Gale went to the living room and I placed the bowls and silverware in the sink, resolving to do them tomorrow. As I recalled the voice in my head from earlier, I leaned against the counter, putting my hands on my temples to prevent the headache that wanted to make an appearance.

All of a sudden, I felt a pair of arms wrap around my waist from behind. I immediately thought that Gale had snuck up behind me without me knowing, but I realized that they weren't Gale's arms. They were bigger, sturdier, more muscular. Gale's were muscled, but his were lean, and not quite as warm either. I was surrounded by warmth, the smell of cinnamon and dill reaching my nose. Shivers raced down my spine and goosebumps appeared along my skin as I heard a soft chuckle in my ear, just a second before I felt a feather-light kiss on my neck, at the exact spot Gale had kissed me earlier.

I started trembling, emotions I had never felt coursing through me. Tears broke through a dam and cascaded down my cheeks. I was dizzy and I grabbed onto the counter for support, but I suddenly felt so weak. I let out a choked sob and fell to the floor. I started to sink into blackness as Gale raced into the kitchen, calling my name.

"Peeta," a voice said in my head. I was dimly aware that it was my own voice. "Peeta. Stay with me."

"Always."

Two loaves of burnt bread flew through the air towards me, thrown by a familiar boy with blond hair and blue eyes. "Primrose Everdeen!" a lady with a pink wig and ruffled outfit called out from a stage. I was on fire, holding hands with the blond boy in a chariot as thousands cheered at us and threw flowers in our direction. "Because she came here with me." An audience gasped as the connection was made and suspicion coursed through me. I looked down at a group of kids my age from a tree, anger piercing at my heart as I made eye contact with the blond boy with sadness in his eyes. "Peeta!" I yelled after an announcement was made, immediately followed with disbelief at my stupidity and a quick climb from the tree, in search of the boy with the bread. A different blond boy was being ripped apart by large wolf-like creatures. "Please," he pleaded, a second before I sent an arrow his way, ending his misery. I was standing next to the blond boy as a man with white hair and a trimmed beard separated two crowns from each other and placed one on my head, giving me a look that barely concealed hate and anger. I was looking at a vase of flowers on a desk. A white rose stood out from the rest, a putrid smell of roses and blood surrounding me. The blond boy was kneeling on a knee in front of me, holding out a velvet box with a ring nestled in it, professing his love to me, while I felt nothing for him in return. The white-haired man was standing on a stage in the television set holding a yellowed card. "The tributes from each district will be reaped from their own existing pool of victors." I was sitting on a beach with the blond boy. He was giving me a pearl. I was racing through a large city, every color assaulting my eyes as a group of people dressed like me followed behind. I was holding a bow and single arrow, aiming for the white-haired man. I pulled the arrow back and instead changed direction and shot at a woman with grey hair. She fell to the ground with the arrow sticking from her chest. Dead. "You're back," I said to the blond boy. He was planting primroses. "For her," he said. My arms were wrapped around the blond boy, his arms wrapped around me. My head was on his chest, listening to his heartbeat. I heard a rumbling in his chest as he said softly, "You love me. Real or not real?" I smiled as I looked into his eyes and said, "Real."

My eyes opened. I was looking at the wall. I vaguely acknowledged that I was in my bed. I tried to remember what had happened. I was standing in the kitchen, putting the dishes from dinner into the sink. I had felt ghostly arms go around my waist, a chuckle in my ear, and a soft kiss on my neck. I remember starting to cry and falling to the floor. After that, nothing. I must have blacked out.

That was when I remembered the dream. Could it really be called a dream? It was like all of the flashes from the last couple of weeks expanded and came at me all at once. They showed me a world that didn't exist, that had never existed. But it all felt so real, like it had been a life I had once lived. I thought of the blond boy. I know that I was telling him the truth at the very end, when I said that I loved him. I wholeheartedly did. I loved him so much that it hurt. I could feel it, am still feeling it, even when awake. I loved the boy with the bread. No, I love the boy with the bread.

The realization hit me so hard I sat up, suddenly out of breath.

I heard a small groan next to me and jumped. But it was only Gale. He was sitting in a chair, his head lying on the bed next to me, his hand holding mine. I looked at him and suddenly had a headache. What was I supposed to do now? I loved Gale, but, I realize now, not as anything more than a best friend, a brother. I loved Gale, but I was in love with the boy in my dream. I didn't even know his name…

Gale stirred. He gripped my hand tighter as his eyes opened. He took one look at my empty pillow and sat up, looking at me with shock in his eyes.

"Katniss," he breathed. He raised his hand and smoothed my hair from my face. "How are you feeling?"

"Fine," I said. "How long have I been out?" I only now realized how stiff I felt and the soft light coming through the window.

"About 12 hours." I looked at him in shock. 12 hours? I couldn't believe how much time had gone past.

"What happened?" I asked.

"I don't know really. I was in the living room after dinner and you were still in the kitchen. I suddenly started to hear you crying. Then I heard a crash and I went in there and you passed out. I tried to wake you up, but you kept mumbling "Real," and wouldn't wake up. I brought you up here and put you in bed. If you hadn't woken up before morning, I was going to call the doctor and try to find out what happened." And then he started to look uncomfortable. He looked away from me. He was biting his lip and his eyebrows were furrowed in confusion.

"Gale?" I asked. He looked at me. "What's wrong?"

He hesitated. "Who is Peeta?" he asked.

I felt shock go through my body. Oh no, I groaned inwardly.

"I…I don't know," I said, feeling a blush rise to my cheeks. I knew exactly who Peeta was, only I didn't realize it until now. He was the boy…

"Oh."

We sat there in awkward silence. Gale's hand in mine felt like 1,000 pound weight, keeping me to the bed and all I wanted to do was break free.

I looked out the window at the rising sun and realized what time it was. "Shouldn't you be at work?" I asked Gale, looking back at him.

He looked surprised. "I…Well, I was…going to call in sick," he said timidly, like he was afraid he was going to be punished.

I knew what he didn't say though, To make sure you don't hurt yourself. He was trying to look after me, but, honestly, I felt fine. Better than fine, I was surprised to realize. Albeit quite a bit confused, but great, better than I felt yesterday.

"You really should go to work," I told him.

"But, Katniss—"

"No. I'm fine, honestly." I added when he looked doubtful. "I feel loads better. Now go to work, I'll see you later," I said, taking my hand away and getting out of bed, forcing him to leave his chair to get out of the way.

Gale didn't argue; he knew that when I decided on something, I wasn't to be messed with until it was done. He was getting ready as I went downstairs to the kitchen in my pajamas. I realized Gale must have changed me into them when he put me to bed last night.

He was coming downstairs when I noticed the dishes that were still in the sink. Out of nowhere, I felt a small breeze and a slight pressure on my forehead. I smiled and closed my eyes, the ghostly kiss lingering. I now knew that what I had felt last night were Peeta's arms wrapping around me, as they did so many times in the cave in that other life, that kiss on my neck was from his lips, as was the kiss on my forehead just now.

I turned around as Gale walked into the kitchen. He kissed my cheek and left. He didn't even say anything.

After a quick breakfast, I went back upstairs and took a shower. After I was dry, I dressed in something warm. I wasn't going to stay in the house today.

Leaving the dishes in the sink, I left the house. I walked through town, wandering aimlessly, trusting my feet to take me wherever they wanted.

When I looked up, I realized I was in front of the library. Making a quick decision, I went inside.

"How may I help you?" the lady at the desk asked sweetly, looking at me with a smile.

"Umm…" I said, suddenly embarrassed. I didn't actually know. "I'm just looking."

"Ok. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask," the lady said. I decided she was too happy for this early in the morning.

Muttering a quick thanks, I walked into the main part of the library. I found myself at the computers. I took a seat at one and clicked on a browser. I waited for it load up while I was trying to figure out what I was doing here. When the browser came up, my hands started to act on their own accord. I watched three words appear in the search bar before my finger clicked Enter.

The Hunger Games.

I stared at the screen in shock as result after result after result popped into existence.

"They were real?" I breathed to myself, hardly believing what I was seeing.

The week that followed, I learned everything I could about the Hunger Games and the country of Panem. I learned all about the 13 districts and the first rebellion, or the Dark Days, that resulted in the Games afterward. I learned about how for the 74th Hunger Games, two tributes from District 12, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark, unintentionally sparked a second rebellion that succeeded in bringing down the communist Capitol and built a whole new life for themselves and a better future for Panem. I was shocked when I realized that I had the same name as the heroin of the story, or that I lived in the area of what used to be District 12.

After, I lived in a period of doubt. I didn't believe in reincarnation. I mean, there was no way it was possible, right? That the spirit of someone who had already lived, who had died, could possibly be in my body? I didn't believe that it was possible. But I started having nightmares at night, where I was in the arena during the 74th Hunger Games, or during the third Quarter Quell. I woke up almost every night screaming and crying uncontrollably. It started to put a strain on my and Gale's relationship. He didn't know what to do to comfort me. It started to get too stressful for both of us and we eventually broke up. He moved out and I was forced to deal with my demons on my own.

I fell into a depression. I didn't want to leave the house for anything but necessities. I forgot about the bread.

Months passed. The ground thawed, the flowers and leaves on the trees were bloomed. I was in my bedroom, curled up on my bed, staring out the open window. A breeze drifted through the window to me and with it the smell of freshly baked bread. As the smell got stronger, I felt something inside me start to crack, a glass wall that I had put up. Little by little, the wall came down and I started to feel again. I got myself out of bed and drifted to the bathroom. I took my first shower in days and I came out feeling more refreshed than I had in months, the wall almost completely gone.

I picked out a fresh set of clothes and went downstairs. In the kitchen, I had another flash, the first since I learned about the Games. There, sitting on my kitchen counter, was a freshly baked loaf of bread. I stared at it, even after it had disappeared. I remembered, all those months ago, how I was going to go to the bakery and get a new loaf of bread because I was running low. Better late than never.

I walked out the door, making sure to lock it, and walked down the street. Before I knew it, I was in front of the bakery. I hesitated. Why? I started to feel butterflies in my stomach as I pushed open the door. A bell chimed somewhere in the store, signaling that someone had just walked in.

The main room had bread, cookies, cakes, cupcakes, candies…everything sweet on display. My mouth watered as I looked at the many delicious looking cakes.

I heard someone walk into the room.

"Can I help you?" they asked.

I barely glanced in their direction as I continued to look around. "No, I'm just looking. Thank you, though," I told them.

"Let me know if you need any help."

I looked around a little longer before going over to the bread. I picked out a cinnamon loaf and walked up to the counter.

"I'll have this one," I told the person behind the counter, reaching for my wallet. I didn't look at them as they rung up the price of the bread, instead looking at my hands on the counter.

"That will be $5.70," they said, putting the bread into a paper bag. "And would you like to try one of our chocolate chip cookies today? They're free."

I looked at the display of cookies next to me, contemplating. I hadn't had a cookie in a while…

"Sure," I said.

I watched their hand grab a small square of paper, use it to grab one of the cookies, wrap it up, and hand it to me. As I grabbed it, my fingers accidentally brushed against theirs. I gasped and almost dropped the cookie when I felt little bolts of electricity shoot up my arm at the contact. My eyes darted up to meet theirs. I froze.

Everything went still, dropped away, ceased to exist as I stared into his clear blue eyes. He stared back into my grey ones with just as much intensity.

"Peeta," I breathe out, barely more than a whisper. He nodded.

I couldn't believe it. It was all true, everything. I was Katniss Everdeen, the Girl on Fire, and he was Peeta Mellark, the boy with the bread. Together, we started a rebellion. Together, we brought down a government. Together, we brought peace to a country who knew nothing of it. Together, we could overcome anything, as long as we had each other.

So there was nothing, absolutely nothing, that stopped me from walking around the counter, stepping into the warmth of his arms, and kissing him.

When we pulled away from each other for a lack of oxygen, I laid my head on his chest. "Stay with me," I whispered.

I felt the rumble in his chest as he answered.

"Always."