By: Princess Ashley
AN: I own nothing but the laptop I use to write this with.
Summary: I don't want to give too much away but here's the gist:
Katniss has returned from the Hunger Games in one piece. She struggles with memories of her time in the arena, her feelings for Peeta and Gale, and the threat from the Capitol still breathing down her neck. She also struggles to find what her purpose now is: her family is being taken care of and she's got money and food to spare. How do you live when you no longer need to survive?
One: The Feast
The second the doors open, Peeta and I are blinded by flashing lights and our ears deafen to the noise that explodes all around us. My eyes adjust soon enough, and all I see are the many heads of all the people in District 12. Their smiling faces and the cameras of the press and the pressure of Peeta's hand in mine is overwhelming.
Down the train, I can see many tables being set up for the feast that is to be held in our honor, and no doubt to assure the district of the many gifts to come from the Capitol. The tables are set, and the crowd's eyes quickly turn from Peeta and I to the many platters of food being carried from the train. This is our gift for winning the Hunger Games; our gift to our own district. I can see the half-starved faces of parents and children from the Seam light up at the prospect of food. I try hard to smile as I feel tears forming behind my eyes.
Then, when I look into the crowd, they finally started to fall. Prim, my beloved Prim, the one I would have given my life up for, is rushing towards me. Her small petite body is bullied and shoved as she tries to squeeze through the hoard to get to me.
I break my grip with Peeta and rush forward to receive her, throwing my arms out and catching her in strong grasp.
"Katniss!" She cries, and I feel her wet face on the side of my neck, her tears started to fall down into the collar of my shirt. I bury my face in her hair. It smells clean. The Capitol has taken care of the families of the tributes, wanting them to look good on TV for when we finally arrive home.
"I was so scared for you…" She sobs. I run my hands through her hair. I think of a thousand things I want to say to her, but I can't find the words. All I want to do is hold her. The Hunger Games seem like a bad dream now.
I feel another arm wind around both Prim and I, and another wet face presses into my neck and my mother pulls me to her. "You beat all, my girl. My little girl…..never again." I know my mother is probably experiencing more turmoil with her words than I am. Before I left, I had been bitter and afraid that my leaving would push her over the deep end. I was angry, and I hoped to whatever God there was that she would protect Prim with all that she had. It seems she has. I once thought that I would never forgive my mother for all she has put us through, but the moment she touches me my heart forgives her.
I hold them for what seems like ages. Soon I don't even register the sounds around me, the flashes, the people, anything. But I can feel my family, and for a second, I can even feel my father, wrapping his strong arms around all three of us.
The tears feel very foreign to me, since I had spent the past month trying to hold them all in. I don't feel like I have to hide them anymore, even though I am sure the cameras are zooming in on us, trying to capture all these moments that are mine. Not theirs.
Suddenly, I hear loud guffaws of laughter close by. I look up from my mother's shoulder, and I can see all the cameras suddenly turning to something to my left. Prim lifts her head to, and I see her smiling slightly at me before turning to the source of the commotion.
I had forgotten about Peeta while I embraced my family. As soon as remorse takes me for leaving him up there alone to deal with the crowd, it leaves, for he's standing a few yards away, where his older brothers seem to have caught him in a headlock and are ruffling his shaggy blonde hair. I hear Peeta's laughs from under the bodies of his brothers, and I see his father laughing with them. I look beyond them to see his mother with a smile trying to break through her pursed lips. I let a smile of my own stretch across my face.
"Peeta Bread! We knew you could do it, you ol' dough head!" The boy I take as his oldest brother is still gripping Peeta by his hair, and another hand gripping his shoulder.
"Who knew all those years of frosting them damn cakes would save your life, one day!?" The younger one laughed.
Peeta's smile is wide and genuine. It's different from the times that he smiled at me in the arena. He would smile at me as if he would be okay living his last few moments just starring at me. A wistful and adoring smile. His smile now is carefree and relieved. His eyes seem to sparkle with laughter and happiness as he wrestles with his brothers. A few other boys that I recognize as his friends from school start to join the scuffle. Peeta seems delighted with all his friends and family around him.
I realize that while I have kept very close track of him in school, I never noticed how other react around him. During the games, I was amazed at how easy-going he seemed to be most of the time, even when death was imminent. Now I can see that the natural laid-back nature of the boy with the bread was captivating. I see by the way that he interacts with his friends and family, everyone loves him.
….and he loves me.
I let out a breath of air as he comes into my view.
Tall, broad shouldered, handsome….
"Hey there, Catnip." A beautiful smile stretches across his face as he comes forward to embrace me. I hold him as though he is my lifeline, the only thing holding me to the ground. I missed my best friend more than words could say.
I blink. Peeta?
The crowd around me fades away, and suddenly I'm back in the arena, in the cave, with Peeta.
…he smiles as if he'd be happy to lie there gazing at me forever.
The pressure of Gale's arms around me disappears.
"Remember, we're madly in love, so it's all right to kiss me anytime you feel like it…..Katniss….thank you for finding me…."
I was shaken abruptly. Had that not been real?
The sounds of the crowd around come back, and I feel Gale's large hands on my shoulders, shaking me. He looks intensely into my eyes, worry written on his face. I try to smile, but Peeta's loving smiles haunt me.
"You seemed okay on TV, I didn't think you'd still be suffering the after effects." Gale's laughter reaches me.
I look up to him, trying to make the concern in his eyes go away. "I'm fine. It's just…I'm so happy to see you. I didn't…I didn't think I would ever be able to." That's partly true.
He smiles, and hugs me tightly. "You had me scared a few times. When they found you in that tree, I thought you were gone. Nasty little spit with the tracker jackers by the way." He adds, and a few of the crowd around us share a laugh.
I wasn't sure if I should laugh with them or not. At the time, it seemed so horrific, and I had thought that it would be the end right there. And then I remember Glimmer. Beautiful Glimmer, with large bulbous stings all over her perfect body, and I can't laugh. Gale understands that, and his mouth presses into a thin line.
"It's a nasty business, Catnip. But you did what you had to do. You survived." Gale looks away from me briefly, and I can tell that he's searching out Peeta. "I've never really talked to that guy before." He looks back at me, still serious. "I couldn't believe that stunt you two pulled. Star-crossed lovers. He sure knows how to play it." He says this so quietly that I'm sure the people around us can't hear.
So Peeta was right when he said that Gale would be able to recognize a bluff. But it wasn't a bluff. Not for Peeta, it wasn't. For Peeta, it was all real.
I suddenly feel very alone. In the presence of my friends and family, I hadn't expected to feel alone. I had felt alone in the arena, and I had wished for them so that I would feel safe. But I don't now. I feel that none of them understand what has happened to me. I don't understand what has happened to me.
I understand what it must be like Haymitch now. Everything that seemed important before now doesn't seem so important. Things that would have been funny to me before aren't funny anymore. And the people I have spent my entire life with now feel like strangers.
…and the only one I feel that can truly understand me is standing several feet away, laughing with his family, careless as the wind.
I wish I could be careless. I think too much.
"Come on, Catnip. The feast is about to start." Gale pulls me by the waist towards the tables to sit with my mother and sister. I sit between them, and Gale crosses to sit in front of me. He shares a smile with me and pushes a platter in my direction. Lamb Stew. I smile, letting a laugh through my lips.
I turn to my left, and my thin little sister is starring at the platter hungrily. On my right, my mother looks like she is waiting for something. It seems like everyone is waiting for something. But I am tired of waiting. My hungry little district is trying to look civilized on camera, so that we don't come across as unkempt savages. But I want the Capitol to see what they have done to us. We're starved for food that doesn't exist in this place.
Haymitch isn't here to coach me anymore, and I know that the displeasure of the Capitol is resting in my hands. Peeta is home free; he didn't do anything that would suggest defiance. I don't know if I should wait for whatever everyone else is waiting for, or just dig in. I see the hungry looks of Gale's brothers and sisters as they stare at the food. Their hollow cheeks, circled eyes, and gaping mouths.
I can't take it any longer. Nothing is happening. So at the risk of looking like a savage, I manage to get up quite gracefully, pick up a large spoon that rests in a bowl of hot water off to the side, and scoop a large portion of lamb stew onto Prim's plate before doing the same for my mother. I feel very proud as I reach across to put some onto Gale's plate, and then his brothers and sisters pass the platter along. This is my gift to them. This is why I had needed to survive in the arena. I had spent my entire life providing for my family, and that gave me comfort and pleasure. Now, I am providing for my entire district. I can give them this, and it makes me happy.
I feel a hand on my shoulder, and my mother is pulling me towards her again. "You have always been a blessing to me, Katniss. I'm sorry that I was always a burden to you. You are more of a mother to Prim than I ever was." She presses her lips into my hair.
I don't know what to say, so I just watch as she picks up a fork to stab the lamb to bring it to her mouth. Prim…. is it possible to gobble food in a graceful manner? If so, there you have it. Gale is already done, but makes sure to break some bread and put it on his siblings' plates, filling them completely before helping himself to more. He tells them to eat slowly so their stomachs won't upset. He and I are so alike that sometimes it's uncanny.
The sounds are gone as everyone digs into their food. They are much too hungry to talk. I'm hardly hungry though, and I pick through my lamb stew, bring it to my mouth and let the explosion of flavor entice my taste buds. I coat a biscuit with butter and soak it into the gravy.
I feel eyes on the top of my head, and I know who it is before I look up.
This may be the first time that he's looked at me since I left him standing in the train, when I broke his grip to run towards my family. I recognize the look he's giving me. It's the same look he would use when he would look at me from across the hall at school. Longing.
I wait for him to turn his head, but he doesn't. He's waiting for me to react to him, tell him something with my body language, perhaps. All throughout the Games I felt like I had to show some kind of reaction to please the crowd. I would smile at him in a way that a girl would look at a guy she liked. I don't feel any pressure whatsoever now, but I still let a smile spread across my face. It's not a loving smile and it's by no means an adoring smile. I smile at him because I want something back. He knows that I want something back.
And he gives it to me: that carefree smile that lets me know that we have no worries anymore. That smile that makes everything else around me disappear. It makes my worries go away, and makes me feel safe. Peeta's smile and warmth makes me feel safe. In the arena, when I laid beside him in the coldness of the cave, with my head on his shoulder and his arms wrapped securely around me, I felt safe. After my father died, I never felt the feeling of being cared for. Gale never needed to care for me, and I hadn't wanted him to. He had enough people to care for. But Peeta cared for me. He has always cared for me.
So why can't I tell him that?