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3.07.10- Repost of Reunion with additional text and other stuff.


Reunion


"Now remember, Miss Everdeen, he's been through a very harrowing ordeal."

No kidding. I try not to roll my eyes. Or push her out of the way, because just past her and through those doors—

"Miss Everdeen, are you listening? This is important. You need to stay quiet and calm. Otherwise you'll upset him, and I will make you leave. Do you understand?"

"Yes, quiet and calm." Now will you please let me go?

"Good."

Taking a deep breath, I push through to the other side, trying to ignore the woman who follows closely behind me. The low hum of machines vibrates through the sterile air, and I try to pinpoint the origin of the sound. It's then that I see him, lying on the hospital bed farthest away from me, connected to an IV drip.

"Is someone there?" a voice rasps in the dark, and he struggles to sit up.

"Peeta!" I cry, stepping forward. That is, until a throat clears behind me. Of all the people that had to be here when this happened, I never expected this bossy dictator of a nurse. Although, perhaps I got off easy. It could be Haymitch. Or Gale.

Whoever she is, she's someone else, and I can't forget that she's in the room, watching. You'd think I'd be used to the most important moments of my life being witnessed by strangers. But I'm not, and it ruins any sense of privacy I had hoped to have.

Peeta is staring in my general direction, which is about fifteen feet away from him, just inside the door. The light from the hallway is spilling around, and I figure his eyes are still adjusting to the brightness.

"Katniss?" He sounds so feeble and weak. Yet another reason I have for hating the Capitol, but hatred is far from me. All I feel right now is sadness and anxiety.

I feel a hand, warm on my arm as it squeezes slightly, and I turn to see the stern face that had just been lecturing me. Only this time it's smiling at me, eyes watery. "Good luck. I'll be just outside," she says before gently closing the door behind her.

Now all alone, with nothing keeping me away from him, I don't know what to do.

"Katniss?" he says, a little bit stronger this time. Stirring in his bed, Peeta struggles to sit up. When he falls back to the mattress, my mind temporarily escapes the fog. I hurry over to his side, staring at him stupidly when I get there. When it becomes apparent that I have nothing intelligent to say, I grasp for something useful to do with myself. His pillows look a bit flat, so I start to plump them so he can sit upright.

He tries to speak again, but I silence him. "Shhh. You need to keep quiet or they'll make me leave," I whisper.

He nods his head, firming his lips into a tight line and stares at me with his hands clenched in fists at his side. It's a bit anticlimactic. I had expected hugs, maybe a kiss or two. After all, I haven't seen him since that awful night he was taken from me. But all he does is look at me, his eyes a mixture of sadness and fear. The doctor had told me to expect this, but for some reason I thought things would be different between us, like they had been between Finnick and Annie. She had fallen into his arms, sobbing. And Finnick hadn't fared much better. Still, through their tears I could see how happy they were to be together.

Peeta's lack of response does more than deflate my expectations for our reunion; it terrifies me and I'm instantly overwhelmed by new doubts. What if the Capitol has broken Peeta? Or what if he despises me for putting him in danger? What if he doesn't love me anymore? My eyes start to itch, but I hold back my tears. Now isn't the time for selfishness. And if I'm completely honest with myself, I deserve this. He had loved me for so long without me ever returning his feelings. I don't know how he did it. This feels so horrible, I can't even look him in the eyes.

"If you want, I'll leave," I say.

"No!" He answers so loudly, I'm startled into looking back at him. His eyes dart toward the door, as if expecting someone to barge in. How many times must something like that have had to happen to him in the Capitol for that to be his first reaction? And what happened after the door opened? The hospital room is regulated to stay at 72 degrees, but it's like ice water's been poured on my head.

"Katniss, please don't leave me again." The break in his voice makes my heart lurch, and I don't care what the nurse said, I throw myself into his arms. "I'm here, Peeta." I say the words over and over, louder too, convincing myself that it's true. That they can't take him away from me. For the first time in what has been months, I actually laugh because we're finally back together. Then I ruin it by crying.

I try to stop, but when Peeta touches my face, I cry even harder. Even in a hospital bed, after months of surviving whatever it was the Capitol did to him, he's the one comforting me. He covers me with his arms, which I'm surprised to find are still strong. But I don't think about it much. I'm too busy losing it. The room fills with the ugly, strangled noises of my sobbing and his quiet assurances that everything is alright.

Eventually, my body stops shaking enough so that I can look him in the face. I'm struck once again at how healthy he looks. No one should look this good after months of imprisonment. I quickly inspect the rest of his body. His ash blond hair is longer now, reaching his broad shoulders. He's probably ten pounds lighter, though not sickly looking. He needs a shave, and his prosthetic leg is gone, but there aren't any wounds or scars. There is a bandage above his elbow, but that's just from where they removed the tracker. Considering he's been in the Capitol's clutches for five months, I expected much worse.

He must have noticed me looking. "What is it?" he asks.

"I thought the Capitol would have tortured you."

"They did."

"But—"

"Not all torture is physical, Katniss."

I should have known it was too good to be true. I want to ask what they did, but I'm not sure he's ready to talk about it. Or that I'm ready to hear it. The idea of Peeta being tortured enrages me as much as it sickens me. When he wraps his fingers around mine, I notice my hands are balled so tightly, it hurts.

"They told me they'd captured you. That you were in the cell down the hall from me, and they would hurt you unless I told them everything I knew about the rebellion."

"But you didn't know anything."

"I tried to convince them of that, but they started torturing you anyway. After that I lied. Said anything so that they would leave you alone. I heard your screams every day, begging me to tell them everything I knew." Peeta rubs his eyes, tiredly. "I should have known it was a jabberjay, especially after what happened in the arena, but you don't think straight when the person you love is being tortured."

"I know." After all, I had practically gone crazy when I found out he had been taken.

He looks at me oddly, and I can see him trying to figure out the meaning of my words, but he doesn't ask if I love him. He just keeps going with his story. "One day the screaming stopped, and they told me you were dead. I didn't believe it at first, and I told them I wouldn't until they showed me your body. But then you started coming to me in my dreams, and… I figured you wouldn't have done that if you were still alive."

His face looks so pained, I reach out and stroke his cheek. "Is there anything else?" I ask.

"I don't really want to talk about it."

Even though I've kept Peeta in the dark about a lot of things, he's always been open with me. Well, at least when he wasn't plotting his own death to save my life. Everything he's done has always been to protect me, and this must be too. He must think I'll be hurt by what he'd say. But Peeta isn't supposed to protect me. He's done that enough—first when I was eleven and starving, and then through two Hunger Games. And each time, he's had to pay for it. The beating from his mom. His leg. His stay in the Capitol. Now, it's my turn. "I can handle it."

"I know that. I just don't want you to have to."

Always so unselfish and thoughtful. But it isn't going to work this time. "Peeta, tell me."

"Is there anything I can do to convince you that it's not worth knowing?"

"No."

"Didn't think so." He sighs, taking a deep breath. "You told me you hated me. That I was too weak to save you. That you were glad I had been captured…Stuff like that."

I can't even speak. I was already horrified that they had used me to inflict pain on him. But to find out that Peeta's subconscious did the same thing makes me feel even worse. I would never think those things about him. I hope he believes that. But why would he dream those kinds of things if he did?

"It didn't matter," Peeta continues. "I was just so happy to see you again. The worst part was waking up and realizing you weren't really there."

No wonder he looked so sadly at me when I first came in the hospital room. He must have thought I was another dream, come to say cruel things to him before abandoning him.

"I'm here now," I say. But it isn't enough, so I keep going. Pour out all the guilt and fear I've felt since he was taken from me. "I could never hate you. And I was the one who was too weak to save you—"

"Katniss…"

"No. It was all my fault. Not yours. I shouldn't have left with Johanna. I should have found some way to keep you safe. If I had just—"

I try to keep going, but it's difficult with his mouth on mine. After a few attempts at speaking, I stop fighting him because I really don't want to anyway. There is no one else here. No cameras. No Games. No Capitol. Only the sensation of Peeta's lips, soft then hard against my own. The familiar warmth spreads through me, reminding me of the hunger and need I'd only begun to understand during that time on the beach. And now that Peeta's here, I don't plan on letting him go anytime soon. Perhaps never.

A knock at the door pulls us apart. I bolt upright, and straighten my hair and clothes as I try to regain my breath. Peeta, on the other hand, does nothing. Just tells the person to come in.

It's the nurse. She doesn't say anything to us, only smiles as she goes about checking Peeta's vital signs. When she's finished, she lets us know everything looks normal, though Peeta's heart rate is slightly elevated, then leaves. As soon as the door shuts behind her, I look back at Peeta, ready to resume what we had been doing before the interruption. Unfortunately, he doesn't seem that interested in the idea. He's too busy staring up at the ceiling.

"What's wrong?" I ask. "Did I hurt you?"

"I shouldn't have done that. I don't…I don't even know what's happened since I've been gone. I'm sorry," he says.

What for? I was kissing him just as much as he was kissing me. And what do the last five months have to do with anything? Then it sinks in. Gale.

I make Peeta look at me, and try to speak my feelings. That's never been easy for me, but I told myself if I ever saw him again, it would be one of the first things I did. Some opportunities only come around once, and I'm not going to waste my chance. "When they took you, I knew…I knew that you were supposed to be with me, and I was supposed to be with you. I wish," my voice cracks, and I stop so I won't embarrass myself further. His fingers squeeze around mine, anchoring me. When I'm capable, I try speaking again. "I'm sorry it took me so long to realize what I felt, what I feel, for you, but I've never had these kinds of feelings before. For anyone."

I can see Peeta wants to know just exactly what it is I feel for him. I wish he'd just ask. It would make it easier to just give him a simple 'yes,' instead of having to explain myself. But even I know, emotionally stunted as I am, that this kind of admission doesn't count if it's coerced. And if Peeta thought I was only saying this because it was what he wanted to hear…Well, I would be hurting him even more. Just like I did the first time we were in the arena. No, I have to say this without any prompting.

I glance up at him, nervously twisting my hands in my lap. Naturally, I'm not gifted with words. That's Peeta's area of expertise, along with baking, camouflage, wrestling, and romance. But none of my skills really work for this kind of thing. Best to just get it over with quickly.

"Peeta, I love you."

The words are so rushed and quiet, at first I'm not sure he heard them. But then my face is in his hands and his lips are smiling against mine. My sigh of relief is lost somewhere in Peeta's mouth, and without even speaking a word, he's managed to convey just how happy my news has made him. Inside I'm incredibly light, as if all the problems I still face don't mean anything. I know it will be hard, that rebuilding Panem is not going to be an easy task, but having Peeta beside me makes all the difference.

Peeta pulls back, and when I open my eyes, I can see he's trying not to smile. And failing miserably at it too. I don't even understand why he's trying. I'm sure I look equally ridiculous, but I've accepted that. He should as well.

"How's Gale?" he asks. The thought of Gale brings a small frown to my face, but I don't want guilt to taint this. I've let concern for Gale keep me from Peeta before, and while I don't intent to rub our relationship in Gale's face, I've made my decision. I've chosen Peeta. More likely, Peeta was the only choice.

"I'm not sure," I say. "We haven't really talked about it. He's been so busy helping out with the Rebellion. But I think he knows…that I love you." I feel like a little girl playing with words that are too big for her. Ask me to be the face of a rebellion, that I can do. Confess my love to Peeta, and I have to force myself not to look away. My cheeks burn, giving new meaning to the girl who was on fire.

Before things get too awkward, I remember I have something to give him. Digging in my pocket, I pull out Peeta's letter and pearl. The pearl looks good as new. The letter, though, has seen better days. The once cream-colored envelope is gray, and the paper has been worn thin from constant use. No surprise there. I've read it every day since Haymitch gave it to me.

Peeta recognizes the letter instantly. Taking it, he pulls out what were meant to be his dying words and reads them briefly. Then he flips it over to look at the picture he had drawn of me that day on the roof of the Training Center. "Do you like it?" he asks.

Of course I like it. But that's not the answer I give him. "It's good…I guess."

Peeta raises his brows. I think he's pretending to be hurt, but I don't fall for it. He looks too happy. "You guess?" he asks.

I shrug, then smile. "It could use a rainbow in the background."

Then I hold out his other gift to me. He gently takes the pearl from my hand and rolls it around in his palm. "Never thought I'd see this again," he says around a small laugh.

I've never really thought about the pearl as anything other than one of my last links to Peeta, but in his hands, in the way he's cradling it and turning it in the dim light of the hospital room, I can tell Peeta sees it as something more than that. It's not a tiny white ball. It's something important, necessary, treasured. Before I would have resented him for this, just like I did when I learned of his interest in frosting cakes and painting. I was too busy struggling to survive to consider those things as anything but frivolous. Things are different now.

I'm different now.

If there's anything I've learned from Peeta it's that there is more to life than survival. Or rather, surviving isn't living. It's why my dad sang, why Prim always asked if she could look at the bakery's cakes, why my mother kept her old dresses. It's why I might try singing again.

Peeta places the pearl back into my hand, and my fingers close tightly around it. Even though I have him and no longer need the pearl, I put it somewhere safe. He'll want it when he starts painting again.

"What are you thinking about?" he asks.

"My weakness for beautiful things."

The small smirk on his face tells me he remembers our conversation before we boarded our chariots for the second time in the Capitol. A sudden rush of gratitude and relief hits me as I realize we will never have to do that again. And neither will anyone else. My eyes start to tear up again, and he brushes my hair from my face. "I thought you didn't have any weaknesses," he says.

"Only where you're concerned," I say. But really, Peeta hasn't been my weakness. His absence crippled me, but his gifts—his pearl and the letter— and the idea of rescuing him are what kept me going. No, Peeta is not my weakness. He is my strength. I kiss him again, then rest my head on his chest, listening to the steady beats of his heart.

I'm not sure how much times passes, but the next thing I know my mom and Prim are in the room. By now I'm lying on the bed with Peeta, his arms still around me. We both move to sit up, worried about my mother's disapproval, but she's all smiles. She even walks over to Peeta, patting him gently on the hand. Prim rushes over to his other side, grinning from ear to ear.

"It's so good to have you back, Peeta!" Prim says.

"It's good to be back," he says, ruffling her hair.

They chatter for awhile, and I glance over at my mom. She's staring at Peeta and me, and I know she can see his thumb rubbing over the back of my hand. I'm blushing again, but I don't look away. That's why I can see that she doesn't disapprove of what's happening between the two of us. In fact, she looks happy. A few months ago, if you had asked me why, I couldn't have answered that question. There had always been that rift between us since my dad died. And even when the first Hunger Games were over and I vowed to forgive her, I still didn't understand her. But after Peeta was taken, after I spent days in agony over losing him, I saw just a little bit of what it had been like for her after my dad had died. I still think it was wrong for her to abandon me and Prim, but I realize now how difficult it must have been for her, because it was so difficult for me. It's hard to sit in judgment on someone after you've done the same things. Perhaps that was why she was so patient with me, even when Haymitch and Gale got angry with my despondency. It was my mom who sat with me and stroked my back as I cried inconsolably. And it was my mom who was the only one able to comfort me.

Because of this, because of my deeper relationship with my mom, I know why she's happy. It's because I am. I just wish my dad could be here, that she could have him back too.

Eventually my mom interrupts Peeta and Prim's lively conversation. "Prim, we should probably be going. Peeta's had a very long day, and he needs his rest."

Not really wanting to, I add, "I should probably be going too."

Peeta opens his mouth to protest, but he won't say anything in front of my mom. She must sense this, because she gives him a quick kiss on the cheek, and says, "It's alright. Katniss can stay." Then she leaves with Prim.

Once the door is shut, Peeta says, "I think your mom has gotten over her misgivings about our relationship. Think she'll be okay with us getting married?" The laughter in his voice tells me he's joking, but I allow myself to seriously consider his words. Marriage has never scared him, and I know it's what he wants. Maybe not now, but somewhere down the road. And interestingly enough, I think I'm okay with that. Marriage no longer seems like the horrible prospect it used to be. For that matter, neither does the idea of having children. Especially when they can grow up without the fear of the games hanging over their heads. It's probably too soon to be thinking about these things, but it's good to know I can want them. Eventually.

I settle back down against his chest, and we begin talking about what has been going on over the past five months. Not surprisingly, I have more to talk about than he does. We discuss District Thirteen. The people behind the Rebellion. His family. Finnick and Annie. Haymitch and oddly enough, Effie. I never saw that one coming, though Peeta says he did. There is this unspoken agreement that we will avoid talking about the loss of District 12, Cinna's and the others' deaths, and how we're going to break our relationship to Gale. For now, we only talk about the happy things. There will be plenty of time for those harder subjects later.

I start to talk about Plutarch Heavensbee and his role in the rebellion when Peeta's eyelids begin to droop. He's fighting hard to stay awake, even though he shouldn't. It's not like the information is going to run away.

"I think it's time you go to sleep," I say.

"I'm not tired," he says through a yawn.

Normally he's such a good liar, but even I can see through him. "Sure you aren't."

"Well, maybe just a little." His eyes drift shut, and I wait till his breathing evens out before I shift beside him, trying to reach the sheet that has pooled at our feet. My movement stirs him, and his eyes are instantly alert and searching. "Katniss?" he says. I bite back a sigh of sadness. Peeta may be out of the Capitol, but I know that when he closes his eyes, he'll probably be right back in that cell, listening to me scream for his help. His nightmares are actually quite similar to mine, only it's him screaming for help, not me.

I place my hand on his shoulder and push him back into the mattress. "Don't worry. I'm not going anywhere." And neither is he. And in time, I think we'll both accept this and the nightmares will fade, just like before.

"Promise?" he says.

I pull his covers tight around us and close my eyes, suddenly very tired myself. "Promise. Now go to sleep."

When I wake up, it's morning, and Peeta's right beside me, holding me in his arms.


The End