|The Same Mistakes
Author: politiksandprose PM
"This is not up for discussion, Katniss. You two are spending the summer at Uncle Haymitch's, and that is it." In one summer, Peeta Mellark is able to turn Katniss Everdeen's world upside down. Set in present-day. AU.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Romance/Friendship - Peeta M. & Katniss E. - Chapters: 12 - Words: 76,096 - Reviews: 555 - Favs: 458 - Follows: 462 - Updated: 07-30-12 - Published: 04-11-12 - id: 8015670
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
a/n: so so sorry for the long wait! but, finally, here it is! the last actual chapter. really hope you guys like it!
"You've got to put the past behind you before you can move on." The words repeated themselves in Katniss' head, a never-ending song humming loudly in her ears as she tossed and turned in her bed, her teeth gnawing vehemently on her lower lip.
Her past had not much to do directly with her; she had never allowed for it to happen, hadn't even gotten close enough with anyone for that to happen. The only person she could have gotten that close with was Gale, but just the thought of his lips hovering over hers, his calloused, rough hands holding hers was laughable to her. He was like her brother, and nothing more.
But she had seen her mother. She had seen her mother bursting from the seams with love, and she had seen her mother go dry, hollow without love. She had also seen her uncle lose himself to the poisons of alcohol because of love. And she didn't trust anyone, anyone to not leave her feeling like that. Like a shell of a person, the ghost of who she used to be. She couldn't depend on others – not for herself, and not for her sister.
But she did trust Peeta, and that's what confused her the most. She had lived a large part of her life being mostly self-reliant, making friends only when necessary, giving no thought to others opinions or feelings. This, Peeta, this was all so painfully new to her and she didn't know where to go from here.
That was the thing about allowing others in, about trusting them – it was a battle for her, and she had to choose just how much she was willing to lose. Would she fall back on what she knew and what was comfortable, or would she step forward into something new and maybe even dangerous? She didn't know. She didn't know.
She tossed onto her side, irritated by herself and her thoughts, and let her fingers tug at the hair-tie that hung loosely at the tip of her braid, unceremoniously weaving her hand through the twist, letting her hair fall around her pillow in a halo.
"Katniss!" Prim snapped, her usually sweet voiced guised in annoyance. "I can't sleep with you moving every five seconds."
Katniss ran a hand through her hair and turned to her little sister. Light from the moon outside their window crept in through the corners of their blinds, casting a shadow on Prim's face. Her blonde hair looked whiter, her bright blue eyes a shade darker.
"I'm sorry, little bunny, I didn't mean to wake you."
Prim lifted a shoulder, shrugging. "I was already awake."
She bit her lips for a second, her eyes casting down towards the foot of the bed before she looked back up to Katniss, her eyes careful. Her voice was soft when she spoke, gentle in the way Katniss had seen her speak to their mother. "What are you thinking about?"
Katniss bit her lip harder, not knowing how to answer her baby sister, not knowing how to explain her situation without sounding totally juvenile or completely pathetic.
"Is it about Peeta?" Prim asked a moment of still silence later in a cautious tone, as if she knew she was treading risky territory. "He was being kinda weird tonight, when we were watching the movie …"
Katniss exhaled loudly, feeling too weird about all of this to talk to her little sister, of all people, about this. But she also had no one else. At least not right now. And she already knew how Annie felt. And Johanna, for that matter. Though she wasn't sure how she felt about the latter.
She looked to Prim; innocent and young, but growing, evolving into a mature young lady – one who knew how to let people in, how to love, and how to live far better than she did already. And the words tumbled out. "I guess. Kinda. Yes"
Prim was excited about her older sister's revelations – Katniss could see it in her eyes – but also already knowing, somehow.
"He likes you …" Prim said, lifting herself on her right shoulder, a small smile playing on her lips. "At least I'm pretty sure he does…"
Katniss felt her fingers crawl up her face, effectively hiding her eyes from Prim's intense gaze. But she nodded infinitesimally and Katniss could almost feel Prim's smile growing.
"Do you like him?" Prim asked, her voice bubbling with excitement and Katniss had to wonder if her sister already knew the answer – the answer that Katniss still couldn't decide, still couldn't admit.
She shrugged her shoulders and she felt Prim's head fall closer to hers, her blonde hair tickling Katniss' shoulders. Prim was silent for a moment, waiting for her sister to say something, anything. But Katniss didn't know. There weren't facts for her to sift through, just feelings and she just didn't know what to do with them.
But there were a few facts, and she had to hold on to them with all she had if she wanted to understand her own self.
She had told Peeta more about her life, had opened up to him more than she had with anyone in a long time. That was a fact.
She trusted him. She trusted him with herself, and she trusted him with her family. That was a fact.
"We kissed." That was a fact.
Katniss lifted her fingers from her eyes, meeting with Prim's smile.
"So you do like him?" Prim asked, her eyes bright and excited, her smile stretching wide across her face.
Katniss shook her head, and then she froze, her mind confused, her head almost nodding … almost.
"If you didn't like, why would you kiss him?" Prim asked in a voice too sweet, too innocent and Katniss narrowed her eyes at her baby sister.
"I … I don't know if I like him." Katniss said a beat later. "I trust him. And he's my friend but I don't … I don't know."
Prim sighed, her eyes suddenly weary as she scanned Katniss' face. "Can I – would you mind if I told you something? You can't get mad at me…"
Katniss nodded, her eyebrow arching.
"I think that you're strong, Katniss. You're the strongest person I know, and I love you for it and I admire you for it but sometimes, I think that your strength is also kind of your weakness …" Prim said, tentatively looking up to her sister, trying to gauge Katniss' reaction.
Katniss' face remained impassive.
"You just – you're independent and responsible and you take care of me and Mom, and you always make me feel better when I'm down and I know that I can always rely on you if I need something and … and you're always being the grown-up, you know? I think that you need someone who can make you feel better when you're sad and you need someone you can rely on."
Prim paused, wrapping her fingers around Katniss'. "You don't always have to be so strong, or so grown-up. You can let your guard down sometimes. You should get to be seventeen."
And somehow, that was all Katniss needed to hear. She could feel the confusion, the cloudiness in her mind beginning to clear away.
Prim's sweet, blue eyes peered up at Katniss, and Katniss could feel a smile tugging at her lips, a swelling of pride in her chest as she realized just how wonderful, how perfect her baby sister was turning out to be.
"Are you mad?" Prim asked and Katniss let her smile show, squeezing her sister's fingers with hers.
"Of course not, little bunny," she said, reaching down to plant a kiss on Prim's forehead.
Prim smiled widely, her teeth glowing white in the darkness that surrounded them. "Just for the record, I think you like Peeta. Even if you don't believe it yourself," she said, pulling her sheets up to her chin before yawning loudly, her eyelids drooping.
But that was the thing – Katniss had to believe in it, in him. Because every so often, someone amazing comes into your life and against your better judgment, against everything you know, you have to believe and you have to trust them and you have to let them in.
And you have to start having hoping, again.
It was now or never, Katniss knew that much. But between the pacing outside of the small patch of grass that led to Peeta's room, and holding her breath and scouring the sky over and over for a shooting star, a quick last wish, Katniss was starting to feel like, maybe, 'later' was her answer.
It didn't have to be now, and it didn't have to be never. It could be later, when she was more prepared, when it wasn't three in the morning, when she didn't feel delirious from exhaustion.
She heard a door creak open and turned slowly, coming face to face with a tired looking Peeta, brush locked in two of his fingers, a smudge of yellow paint on his left cheek.
"Now," she muttered, patting her sweating palms on the back of her jeans. "Now."
Peeta's eyebrow corked at her, his expression confused.
She knew she was to blame for their new-found air awkwardness that hung thickly between them, for the exasperation clearly painted on his face, for the hint of hurt palpable his eyes. He wasn't smiling, and she knew she had to speak. She had to do it now.
"I … I wanted to talk to you, for a second?" Her voice wavered, her brain panicked and she suddenly feared that he would reject right here, not even give it a second thought.
He nodded tersely, his eyes still wary but not uninviting. He moved aside, allowing her entrance into his room.
She walked in quietly, her stomach in knots, her lip caught in between her teeth again. Katniss was a girl who boasted herself for her fearlessness, her bravery, but in this second, she couldn't be more afraid and she hated it.
He lowered himself onto his couch, and she followed suit. She sat closer to the edge, her body keeping her at a distance from him on instinct.
His eyes, a wonderful shade of blue matching his bright t-shirt, scanned her face.
He frowned, his eyes squinting narrowly, worried. "Are you okay?"
She expected his voice to sound hateful, cold, angry. But it wasn't. It was sweet. It was warm. It was Peeta. And for some reason, that made her feel infinitely better and worse at the same time.
She nodded, her mouth puckering, preparing to say something – anything – but her brain failed her, words suddenly disappearing altogether.
He cocked his head to the side and smiled at her softly, his lips not stretching as widely across his face as she was used to seeing. "Do you want some hot chocolate?"
She nodded again, leaning back into the sofa as he stood and padded across the room, making his way to the small shelf that was lined with dishes. Not a single one of them matched, she noticed it each time she came down here, but that was what made this room so his. The different colors, the different patterns, the different everything.
He took careful steps towards her a few minutes later, his fingers clutching tightly to two mugs of steaming, creamy hot chocolate and took his place next to her again.
She looked at him, and forced her teeth to release their grip on her lip.
"Peeta …" she sighed, "I wanted—I want to…"
"What do you need, Katniss?" His voice still wasn't angry or mean. Just tired, and she couldn't find it in herself to begrudge him for that.
She didn't know what she needed, and for that, she wanted to go bang her head against a wall until she found some semblance of an answer. All she knew was what she didn't want.
"I don't want to depend on anyone else, for anything." Least of all her well-being and happiness. "I don't want to feel too much. I'm scared of feeling too much."
And the last one bore down on her most heavily, suffocating most of her thoughts. "I don't want to become my mother."
Peeta didn't know enough about this, about her mother, but she would tell him one day. Still, his face held an understanding expression that Katniss couldn't fathom. How could he understand her when she couldn't bear to understand herself?"
"I want you to be patient with me. I need you to go slow with this … with us. Because—"
She paused, feeling Peeta's pinky wrap around hers. She saw him nod from the corner of her eye, encouraging her to continue, but she couldn't quite look at him just yet.
"…Because I've never done anything like this before. I've had exactly one friend my entire life, and I've never even actually kissed a guy before and I never trust people or even really talk to them and… you make me feel different. You make me feel like I'm me, without all the tragedy and all the sadness and all the crap…and I like that. I… I like you but – but you'll have to patient. I mean, if you, if you want. If you still like me. Because I've never-" she raised her shoulders hopelessly, exhaling finally, out of words and out of breath. She didn't even know what she said, didn't even know if it made sense. But it didn't matter now; it was out there. It was all out there.
And Peeta was looking at her weirdly, his eyes squinting, his head tilting as he pushed his cup down onto the table in front of them before taking hers from her grasp, setting it down next to his.
His finger, soft and calloused all at once, cupped her face, his thumb circling her cheek. His voice was soft, affectionate, and made her heart race uncomfortably fast in her chest. "I can be patient, Katniss. You just had to tell me that."
Her breathe hitched; her shoulders rose and then fell.
He shook his head at her, his smile warming her insides, the tingly feeling in her fingertips and her toes driving her crazy as he inched his face closer to her. Her fingers wrapped tightly around his and his eyes looked at her, asking for permission. Her skin felt prickly, ready to explode as she dipped her face closer, pressing her lips against his, warm and chapped and perfect.
There was no never. There was no later.
It was now. It had to be now.
Prim groaned, the sound loud and exaggerated, as she padded into the kitchen in her flip flops and bathing suit, a towel wrapped around her wet torso, with a similarly dressed Rue in tow.
Her face scrunched up as she eyed the muffins that sat on the counter. Her small legs climbed onto the stool, and she looked to Peeta who stood by the oven, mitts adorning his hands as he pulled the metal door down, pulling out a tray of something else.
"Strawberry muffins, again?"
He laughed, shrugging his shoulders. "Sorry Prim, your sister made me." He looked to Katniss, throwing a crooked, warm smile at her, a glint in his bright eyes.
"But don't worry," he said, turning his attention back to Prim. "I made you and Rue cheesy buns."
Peeta pulled out the steel tray, setting it on the countertop before pulling his mitts off and walking back around the small kitchen island, taking his spot next to Katniss.
Katniss watched as Prim's pupils brightened, both her and Rue's eyes hungrily staring at the warm, soft buns in front of them.
Katniss opened her mouth to warn Prim and Rue not to touch them until the buns had cooled down, but Peeta beat her to it.
"Why don't you girls go shower, and by the time you're done, they'll be cool enough for you to eat?"
The younger girls nodded in agreement, heaving their tired bodies off of the metal stools, leaving a trail of sand as they walked trudged along the hallway, into Prim and Katniss' room.
As soon as the girls were out of sight, Katniss felt Peeta's fingers slip into hers, his thumb working slow circles over her palm. He knew she wasn't ready yet, not comfortable enough to hold his hand in front of her sister, or their friends, and he didn't push it. He was patient with her, just like he had promised he would be.
But she did feel comfortable, and that was the weird thing. Not with outwardly shown displays of their affection – she wasn't sure she'd ever be comfortable with that. But she was comfortable with him; she was comfortable around him. His hands didn't feel foreign in hers; they felt right. And his lips, when they hovered over hers, pressing softly, gently against hers didn't feel strange or unwanted. They felt perfect, they felt warm, they felt natural.
He smiled at her, pulling the tray of cheesy buns closer to them. "Do you wanna try these? They're pretty good…"
Katniss shook her head, her fingers reaching for a strawberry muffin instead. "I think I'll stick to these … I think I've taken enough risks in the past few days."
Peeta chuckled, shaking his head at her. He picked up a small bun, tearing a piece off and tossing it into his mouth. "Well, I think that you should broaden your pastry horizons. And I also think that sometimes, it's good to take a risk or two."
She arched an eyebrow at him, and he tugged the bottom of her braid with his free hand, offering her the cheese bun with his other. She pulled his wrist closer, biting off a piece of the bread in his fingers.
Her stomach swirled with delicious delight. The sour, tangy taste of the cheese exploded in her mouth, the buttery flakes of bread melting on her tongue.
Peeta looked at her expectantly, waiting to hear her response.
She smiled slyly, sliding the muffin in her fingers back onto its plate discreetly. She plucked the rest of the bun from his fingers, pushing it into her mouth and he smiled at her knowingly.
"You know, it's okay to tell me that I'm right every once in a while," he joked, his fingers dancing with hers, his voice playful. And in that moment, staring into his bright, earnest eyes and his warm, happy, hopeful smile, she couldn't think of a single reason why she didn't put all her faith in him in the first place.
She leaned forward, not knowing how to explain just how she felt with words, and closed her lips over his. Her fingers slid to his neck, toying with the small, rough blonde hairs at the nape of his neck. She felt him smile into her lips as he hooked his leg around her stool, somehow bringing his body even closer to hers. His hands still around her back, absently tracing patterns with his fingers, and she lost herself in him until she heard a loud, grouchy, too-familiar grunt. She pulled away from Peeta, her fingers automatically wiping her plump lips, lamely attempting to hide the evidence of what her uncle had clearly just seen from him, but she kept her fingers in his.
He didn't look shocked or caught off guard; instead, he looked mostly amused if anything and Katniss had to wonder if, like Prim, he had already known before she had.
She watched in amazement as Haymitch walked passed his alcohol cabinet, going straight to the fridge, and pulled out a carton of apple juice, filling a cup to the brim before sharing a look she couldn't quite decipher with Peeta. Haymitch's eyes lingered on their interlocked fingers and Katniss looked up to find Peeta smiling unabashedly at her uncle.
When she heard the door to Haymitch's study click, she turned back to Peeta, her eyes puzzled, her mind still focused on the older man's choice of drink. "Haymitch's been drinking a lot less…"
Peeta smiled widely, his eyes beaming with pride, though Katniss didn't know who it was directed towards. "Actually, Haymitch hasn't tasted alcohol in two weeks."
Oh. How had she not noticed that?
"Why?" she sputtered, "I mean … how?"
"Prim, I guess." Peeta shrugged, his fingers itching the corner of his face.
"I've been trying to get him to quit forever now, but I think Prim was the push he needed. You can't really look into those blue eyes of hers and say 'no.'" He chuckled, "She can pretty much convince anyone to do anything."
Katniss smiled. She was starting to become acclimated to the feeling herself.
"I just hope he keeps its up once you guys are gone," he said, the tips of his lips turning down in a frown.
She didn't want to think about that, at least not yet. Not what would happen to her uncle, exactly. But being gone, not being here in Cedar Point, close to Peeta and Annie and Johanna, living with a mother who wasn't really ever there again. The only thing she truly had to look forward to was being able to see Gale again. She'd missed her best friend.
"Truth or dare?" She asked, distracting both herself and him and he smiled at her, his eyes crinkling slightly.
He pretended to think about it for a beat before, his eyes sparkling mischievously. "Dare."
She frowned; this was new. She hadn't even thought of a dare. "Dare?"
His fingers idly played with hers as she thought about her dare. "I dare you to show me your paintings. Of me."
"Katniss …" His voice was weary. They hadn't talked about that again since that night, and she didn't know if it was because it made him uncomfortable or because he thought it would make her uncomfortable. But she still wanted to see them, again. She hadn't been able to really look that night.
"Please?" She made an effort to smile, squeezing his fingers and he relented. She followed behind him as they walked around the house and into his smaller abode. His fingers were hard at work again, prodding the skin around his neck nervously as he walked them towards the corner where the sheath-covered paintings stood. She tugged at his hand, pulling it closer to her and closing her fingers over his and he looked back at her surprised, almost as if he'd forgotten she was there.
She didn't know how to look perfectly understanding the way he always managed to look at her, but she was going to try. She squeezed his hand assuringly, and reached up on tiptoe to kiss his cheek before he pulled off the black cloth, revealing all of the paintings.
There were fewer paintings, this time. Just three. She looked up to him questioningly. He looked distinctly uncomfortable – almost ashamed – as he explained that he'd gotten rid of the rest of them. "I didn't want to freak you out…I just, I couldn't really bear to throw these ones out." He said, gesturing towards the three paintings.
Katniss could feel the tips of her ears turning pink as she recalled her own response the last time he had shown these to her. She had over-reacted. She had made this boy in front of her feel like shit. "I'm sorry."
He shook his head, telling her that she had nothing to be sorry for. After a second of silence, he asked her: "Truth?"
She nodded, and he looked at anything but her as he asked, "What do you really think of my paintings?"
She took another step towards the paintings, her hand still wrapped around his, and he let his other hand fall to her waist, his front pushed against her back.
"I think they're beautiful. They're … perfect, almost." The girl in the pictures didn't look much like her – tragedy laid in her eyes, raw and naked. But she seemed to be at peace with herself too, in a way that Katniss could only hope to one day be. The girl looked strong – not just physically, but emotionally. She looked infinitely stronger than Katniss herself ever felt.
She told Peeta that and he let his face drop to her hair and whispered in her ear, "You just don't see yourself the way I see you."
The words were vaguely familiar, she was pretty sure he'd said them to her before. But she still didn't believe him. She didn't know how to when she didn't feel it herself.
"You see me for much more than I really am." And she was afraid that one day, he'd realize it too.
He shook his head against hers, but before he could explain himself, Johanna burst into his room, her face red with panic, her eyes too-wide with worry.
Peeta pulled away from Katniss, not bothering to cover his paintings before he walked towards Johanna. He threw a comforting arm around her as he asked, in that soothing tone of his, what was wrong. Because clearly, from Johanna's fear stricken face and fidgeting fingers, the dark haired girl wasn't here for a social visit.
"Annie's been in the bathroom since last night and I don't know what wrong and I don't know if she's okay and I tried…" She took a large breath, Peeta's hand working up and down her shoulder blades as Katniss crept closer to them, her own expression beginning to mimic Johanna's. "I tried to unlock the door and to kick it down but she's put something in front of it and I can't get in."
She looked at them hopelessly, her eyes wet with unshed tears, and it was in moments like these that Katniss understood why Annie and Peeta put up with Johanna all along. Because she was there for them when it counted. "I don't know what to do."
"Why don't we go try?" Peeta asked, drawing Johanna closer, prying her car keys from her fingers. She nodded, and headed back towards the car.
After a few seconds of coaxing the old Toyota to start, Peeta put it into drive and pulled up into Johanna and Annie's small driveway three short minutes later.
Katniss pulled herself out of the car and walked up the steps leading to the bright red door, this time instilling more fear of what it held inside than the happiness and warmth it often reminded her of. She didn't know what to expect – she thought the state Annie had been in a few days ago, with the tears rolling down her cheeks and sobs hiccupping from her chest, were bad enough to see – she didn't know what could possibly be worse than that.
She contemplated turning back – not only did she not know what to expect, but this wasn't really her place, either. Annie was her friend, sure. Probably even one of the closest ones she'd ever managed to make. But she wasn't Annie's closest friend, Johanna and Peeta were. And now that she had them here, Katniss wasn't sure if she still belonged.
But then Peeta's hand closed over hers, sweating and hot but encouraging, inviting. And she squeezed his fingers as he led her towards the bathroom.
Johanna sat outside the bathroom, her fingers rapping on the door lightly, her voice soft as she whispered to Annie.
"Please come out, Annie. You haven't eaten or drank anything since last night, please?"
Peeta knocked on the door next, his fist hitting the door louder than Johanna's had. "Annie, come on. Whatever it is, we'll deal with it together like we always do."
They knocked on the door a few more times, their efforts proving fruitless each time. Peeta continued whispering sweet reassurances to Annie, Johanna resorted to frustrated grunts, her fingers running through her hair in a wild mess. And not for the first time, Katniss wished she was better with words, better at expressing what she felt with her tongue and not just her actions. She was good at taking care of people when it came to the basic survival necessities, but she didn't know how to comfort people; she had always left that to her little sister.
Nearly an hour later, Johanna glared at the clock, her face contorted in pain. "I have to go to work soon…" but the tone of her voice indicated that really, she couldn't.
Peeta rubbed her shoulder and stood up, pulling his cell phone from his sweatshirt. "I'll go call Sae and Brick and see if they can cover tonight."
As he walked towards the front of the house, Johanna followed but walked to the sink instead, pouring herself a glass of water from the tap. Katniss turned back to the closed door in front of her, and knocked softly, whispering Annie's name like it was a secret.
"Annie," she took a deep breath, unprepared for what to say until their conversation from a few days ago popped into her head, and suddenly, Katniss had an inkling of what she needed to say. Or at least, what her friend needed to hear. "Remember when you said that sometimes love isn't enough? I believed you. I didn't think that love was enough; I never did. But then you said that sometimes, love is the one thing that you need and you were right. It was the one thing that I needed and it's the one thing that you need. And Annie, you're so lucky that you have that right in front of you. I mean, maybe you don't have the kind of love that your parents share right now, but you will have that someday, I know you will. But … but that's not what I'm talking about.
"The love that you need is right here; it's in Peeta and it's in Johanna, and it's in me. And that was the love that I needed. It's the kind of love that's unconditional. It's the kind of love that gives you hope, and can help you overcome anything. It's the love of having someone to lean on when you need it most instead of standing all alone …"
Katniss stopped, embarrassed when she felt a hand on her shoulder and turned back to find Peeta's blue orbs, soft and understanding, staring into her, a small smile playing on his lips. He dropped a kissed onto her temple and turned to the door once again as Johanna dropped herself onto the floor next to them. Katniss' fingers laced with Peeta's, and Johanna's eyes skittered towards them, a satisfied smirk on her face.
"Come on, Annie…" Peeta tried again, and before he could knock again, something in the bathroom sounded loudly, screeching before the door knob clicked and twisted in pregnant movements, almost in slow motion.
Annie pulled the door back, and stared at them, her eyes wary with tears, her arms wrapped around her midsection protectively.
"I'm sorry for making you guys wait…" She started, but Johanna's arms locked themselves around Annie's frame, and the rest of her words faded into the hug. Johanna reluctantly let her go a moment later and Annie began to fidget, her eyes staring straight into the ground. Johanna grasped her hand in her own and asked her what was wrong in a tone so sweet, so soft, that Katniss didn't even know Johanna was capable of.
The words tumbled out of Annie's mouth, so low Katniss wasn't sure she'd heard them correctly, and hung over them in the air, still.
Johanna looked confused; Peeta looked shocked. They both gasped audibly.
A quick beat later, Johanna's arms were wrapped around Annie's again, and Peeta reached to grab Annie's fingers in his larger hand.
"Oh, Annie." Johanna murmured, "It'll be okay. Everything will be alright. I promise."
A sob rose in Annie's chest, her eyes wide, her head shaking. "It won't… my parents. They'll kill me. And this baby? It won't even really have a dad and …"
"It may take some time but … your parents will accept it, Annie," Peeta whispered to her, "and until then, you won't go it alone. We're all here for you. And we'll be here for the baby."
"Yeah – Peeta and I already had our turns at major meltdowns. It's time we dealt with one of yours. And besides, having us is a hell of a lot better than having that prick as a dad…" Johanna muttered, her tone wry, earning sloppy snort of laughter from both Peeta and Annie, though Annie's giggle didn't quite make it to her eyes.
"But I don't know anything about babies. I don't know how to change a diaper or give them baths or…"
Katniss touched a hand to Annie's shoulder, and the words of wisdom she'd been repeating to herself as a persistent mantra came to use. "You'll learn. Just because this is something new for you, something you never imagined yourself doing - at least, not at this point - doesn't mean that it can't be good or that it won't be."
She felt Peeta's arm wind around her waist, tightening around her middle. She wondered idly if he knew what she meant – if he understood, even just a little, of her fears and her reluctance. His fingers closed around hers, and she knew that he did.
Annie's eyes dropped to their entwined fingers, and the green in her orbs brightened, her lips stretching over her teeth.
For a moment, in typical Annie fashion, her own worries abandoned her as she began to gush about in a spew of 'I knew it's' and 'I'm so happy for you's' and it wasn't until she leaned into hug them both, her small arms encircling both Katniss and Peeta's frames, that she whispered, "Thank you guys. For everything."
"Jo!" Annie wailed a short second later, her nose still sniffling back tears. "C'mere."
Johanna chuckled, "Oh, I'd rather not join in on this love-slash-snot-fest," and attempted to sidestep them but Annie caught her wrist, pulling her in.
Johanna grumbled, sounding eerily similar to Haymitch. "Oh, hell." But she still wrapped her arms around the three, her embrace warm.
And in that moment, Katniss realized that she loved them. All three of them, in their own way. She loved Peeta for the good he believed in and the hope that he instilled in her. She loved Annie for her bravery, for putting her faith into things blindly, for trusting whole-heartedly. She loved Johanna, even, for the loyalty that she showed in each thing that she did, each witty remark that left her mouth.
In just a few short weeks in a small town far from her home and her problems, Katniss had managed to tackle the one problem that had followed her here. Herself. Her own fears, her own insecurities, her own inabilities.
She found Peeta's hand again in between the mess of bodies clinging to one another and realized, love wasn't just dependence. Love is friendship. Love is trust. Love is freedom.
a/n: so first, there is an epilogue coming your way! it should be up, hopefully, in a week. second, thank you all so so so much for your support! you are all so sweet, and i just don't know how to thank you all enough for constantly encouraging me to write with your reviews/alerts/subs. thank you. third, i hope you guys liked this last chapter! you won't believe how many times i started it, hated it, deleted it and then repeated. and i'm still not completely happy with this but ... what're you gonna do?
as always, don't forget to review and let me know what you thought! and also, thank you for keeping my niece in your well-wishes and prayers. it means a lot to my family!