The frail, but hard to kill yellow bird

The Mind Changer

The Mind Changer

Peeta follows me without speaking. His feet are making all the noise. But I don't care how loud he is, just as long as we get to my deer in time.

I almost miss my hunting partner, but then I think about it, and I don't.

When I break out into a run Peeta picks up his pace, and I'm surprised he's able to catch up. He's actually not having that hard of a time following me through the forest. If only he wasn't so loud.

When we come to my doe, he looks at her with wonder as she lays there. "She's beautiful," he breathes. Though he has to shoo away a coyote that has begun gnawing on a flank.

I nod in agreement. "Beautiful and dead." I say proudly.

He grins. "I got to admit, I thought you had gotten yourself into trouble when you knocked on my door. All covered in blood and leaves."

I grin back, realizing how easy this venture was turning out to be.

I yank my arrow from out of her eye socket when Peeta pulls her head and shoulder, the heaviest part, off the ground. I go and pick up her legs and hips. We both huff and puff and shake under her weight. We have to put her down every once and a while.

During one of our breaks, Peeta and I are holding our sides and panting while leaning on a large tree when Peeta bursts into laughter.

At first I thought he had started crying or having a mental breakdown from the bloody corpse in front of us. I thought maybe he had gone mutt on me. But his eyes were sparkling with happiness.

The wide grin on his face is beautiful. I find I can't take my eyes off of him.

"What are you laughing at?"

"This." he pants. "I got a...major sense of deja vu."

He straightens up and runs his fingers through his blonde hair.

I stretch my shaky arms and cock my head at him. "What? Being in the woods? Does it remind you of our first Games?" Then I'm afraid, would the memory cause him to lose himself?

Peeta shrugs his shoulders, making his black t-shirt tighten around his shoulder muscles.

"That, and the second Games. You and me, in the forest. Only, this time we're not running for our lives. So that's a plus." He meets my eyes. My heart drops into my stomach.

Something deep echoes inside me. A small spark of hope. Could my Peeta still be in there somewhere?

Happiness begins to course through me. And it startles me when it does, and I don't know what to do with this feeling that doesn't burn, sting or lacerate me. I'm not exactly sure what to do with it.

I think I've been staring at him too long. Because he looks around him at the forest when I'm quiet and seems to shuffle awkwardly where he is. His shoulders also close in on themselves with a hint of suspicion. He clears his throat.

"Maybe we can make it to the fence this time. Then we won't have much of a walk back to your house. Is that where you usually skin these?"

I nod, "We should drain her first, then we can sell her pelt tomorrow. She'll be twenty good meals by tomorrow night." I say contentedly. "How much do you think people will pay us for her?"

"She's your catch." He says picking up the doe alone. I grab her other half before he hurts himself. "You get the money, and your the expert at this, not me."

"I don't need all this."

"Then maybe you should give it to Greasy Sae. That way she can give it to others. Maybe she can put it in some of her soup."

"How'd you know about that?"

"About what?" He steps over a fallen tree trunk and dodges bushes, leading the way.

"About what Greasy Sae sells."

Peeta rolls his eyes, "I'm not entirely clueless, Katniss. I've had her soup before. Amongst other things that used to be sold at the Hob..."

"You have?" I retort with surprise in my voice.

"Of course. Katniss, not all merchant kids are incapable of illegal activities."

My shoulders drop when I think about the Hob. "Well, it's not illegal anymore. The Hob is gone." I say, filled with nostalgia.

"That should be a good thing." Peeta says.

I look at him for a while. I try to picture Peeta Mellark inside what the Hob when it was still a thriving black market. I imagine the looks that must have been thrown at him and his blonde haired and blue eyed friends that had probably gone with him. Regulars probably thought they were trying to turn them into the Peacekeepers. But I wonder what he means, by having what went on in the Hob now legalized.

"Look there's the fence." Peeta says and he picks up pace a little. It's now that I've realized he's almost the size he was when he was sixteen. I'm glad he looks healthier. He doesn't limp anymore, not even in the slightest. He's nothing like Gale. No, nothing at all like him. I'm glad. I like the real Peeta.

We slide the doe under the lowest dead piece of barbed wire, then Peeta and I slide in after him. Our hands brush while we're crawling underneath on our stomachs.

He flinches, but I think that was just a natural reaction to an unexpected touch, because his eyes are still kind when we both stand up and brush ourselves off.

Mouths are gaping as we lug my game through the square and back to my house.

Many cry out prices for some of her flesh, but I refuse everyone. A few people follow us looking for handouts until I tell them to get lost.

I kick my back door open with my foot and we shuffle her down into my basement. We set her down and then I fetch a game hook to hang her from.

"Want me to hook her up?"

"We'll field dress her first. Lay her down here." I say.

After we finish field dressing her and removing most of her internal organs we hang her upside down to let her blood drain out and cool down completely.

After I wash my hands, Peeta and I go back upstairs to the living room.

"That was fun." He says. "Of course I was only there for half of the hunt. But it was still interesting to see."

"You've never skinned an animal before?"

"Oh, tons of squirrels. Some slightly larger game. But we could never afford deer or get any ourselves. I've never had venison before, at least not that I can remember. If I ever did it was in the Capitol."

"Oh," is all I say. I've had venison loads of times. "So, before our first Games, the biggest game you've ever had was a squirrel or a rabbit?

He looks like he's about to respond when he seems to remember something and his eye twitches, and his shoulders tense a little bit.

"Ah...I can't remember. But listen I've got to go. Maybe I'll see you tomorrow morning."

And then he hurridly rushes from the room and out of the door.

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