Title: Two Is Better Than One
Genre: RomanceSummary: When the guy who always kept his real feelings to himself and the girl who always did everything by herself met, they realize that sometimes, two is better than one. KatnissxxPeeta.
Notes: EDITED. I hope it's halfway literate now. XD
Disclaimers: Hunger Games and Catching Fire are works of Suzanne Collins and the song Two Is Better Than One's artists are Taylor Swift and Boys Like Girls.
I remember what you wore on that first day. You came into my life and I thought, 'Hey, you know, this could be something'.
"Peeta," she says. "You said at the interview you'd had a crush on me forever. When did forever start?"
I think back. The girl of five from the very first day of school with her red plaid dress and hair divided into two braids. The girl with such a voice the birds stop to listen to it. When it comes to that girl, when did forever start?
"And right when your song ended, I knew—just like your mother—I was a goner."
I remember every look upon your face.
I like to watch Peeta's hands, which are a little callused from chucking bags of flour around but still delicate enough to be able to add little twirls and folds to cakes. So efficiently he works, making a blank page bloom with strokes of ink, adding touches of color to our previously black and yellowish book.
His face takes on this special look when he concentrates. His usual trouble-free expression is replaced by something more intense and isolated, suggesting that he's deep in thought. I've seen flashes of this before: in the arena, when he speaks to a crowd, every time he warns me to stay away from death's door or that time he shoved the Peacekeepers' guns away from me in District 11. I don't know quite what to make of it.
Yet there were also so many instances wherein Peeta seems so light, so easy. I remember his face as we slept together, hunted together, ate together in a momentary feast back in the arena. I realize with surprise and a little annoyance that I'm undeniably drawn to his expressions. I'm awed by the fact that there is always smokescreen of hatred filtering my every moment, yet Peeta is able to live in the present. I wonder how he can keep so many faces. How a person can be essentially caring, affectionate, irritated, grave, passionate, happy and plaintive all at once.
What comes next is somewhat bizarre; I become a little fixated on his eyelashes. Ordinarily you don't notice them much because they're so blond. But up close, in the sunlight slanting in from the window, they're a light golden color and so long I don't see how they keep from getting all tangled up when he blinks.
One afternoon Peeta stops shading a blossom and looks up so suddenly that I start, as though I were caught spying on him. In a strange way, maybe I was.
The way you roll your eyes, the way you taste-you make it hard for breathing.
The problem is I can't convince her otherwise. Katniss obviously thinks she did the right thing, risking her life and coming out alive, saving me in the process. And she does have evidence now. But for me, it can't ever be right. She's so dense she probably doesn't get it, but…how do I put it? It's mostly just that…it doesn't make sense anyway. If I were practical, I'd say it's irrational because if she died, I would've died anyway without the medicine. If she was able to get the medicine to me but dies later of injuries, I wouldn't have survived long either because I'm no physical wonder, plus I don't know how to hunt and what to gather. Neither of us wins. And of course, odds will be against her getting the medicine and coming out alive. If I were practical, completely unbiased, I'd have said it has to be either she lives and I live or she lives and I die because I'm expendable.
The problem is I can't reason that way, because the true explanation is much, much simpler. I just can't live without her anyway, because I can't bear that. Thinking about it hurts. Seriously. And that might not be the kind of pain I can live through. It's nothing I can take painkillers or sleep syrup for. It's a pain, without cure, not even time. And worse, a pain I wouldn't ever want to be gone completely. Katniss is like an addicting drug to me. Katniss is my world now. I'd rather be angry.
She starts again. "Maybe I did it for myself, Peeta, did you ever think of that? Maybe you aren't the only one who . . . who worries about . . . what it would be like if. . ."
Is she saying she…well, that she also can't live without me? For a moment I feel my insides melt into a pitiable puddle of weakness. Then, I watch her eyes water.
"If what, Katniss?" I ask. I can feel my chest thumping. Anticipation. I hate this. How can she make me so angry and worried then thoroughly keyed up and completely in bliss in under a minute?
She hesitates. Then she says, "That's exactly the kind of topic Haymitch told me to steer clear of."
But I'm not willing to let it go. I'm not willing to let go of this hope, this something Katniss has given me. She let me touch it, have a glimpse of it. She can't not let me hold on to it.
I used to just suspect this, but now I'm sure. Katniss Everdeen is driving me crazy.
"Then I'll just have to fill in the blanks myself," I say.
I kiss her. This is probably disgusting and completely dishonorable on countless levels, but I'm just glad we have appearances to keep up. Because now she can't push me away or reject me. She can't shut me out. I'd know how she feels, just by kissing her. And I'm right.
There have been so many kisses, even before this. But they all had certain purposes. To coax me into eating, to shut me up. For the first time, it's out of nothing. And for the first time, I feel Katniss shift and move into me, move closer. I feel her lips eagerly press back and open slowly. For the first time, I'm not the only one who feels a spark down my spine and blood rushing to my head and warmth in my chest. This is crazy. I can't believe a kiss can make anyone feel like this. I've kissed other women before and never, never have I needed this much more.
When I close my eyes and drift away I think of you and everything's okay.
"So what should we do with our last few days?"
During the coming Hunger Games, I'm quite sure we'll never get to be together without worrying about our next meal or the next attack the other tributes will stage for us. I'm quite sure I'd never make it out of the arena alive, which should make an impression.
But there's not even enough time to stop and get all whiny about it. So what do we have time for?
"I just want to spend every possible minute of the rest of my life with you," Peeta replies. This doesn't startle me, unlike his other direct declarations of undying love. Instead, I feel satisfied and pleased by his answer.
"Come on, then," I beckon him, pulling him into my room. It feels like such a luxury, sleeping with Peeta again. I didn't realize until now how starved I've been for human closeness. For the feel of him beside me in the darkness. I wish I hadn't wasted the last couple of nights shutting him out.
I sink down into sleep, enveloped in his warmth. As we settle in, he pulls my head down to use his arm as a pillow, the other rests protectively over me even when he goes to sleep. This position is just like how it was when we slept together in the arena after he had gotten well. And the feeling is quite the same. Those nights before, in and out the arena, wherein I slept in Peeta's arms, had been the safest nights of my life. It sounds both irrational and too needy for my taste, but I can't spit it out. No one, not even my mother, has ever been able to make me feel so secure since my father died.
When I open my eyes again, daylight's streaming through the windows.
"No nightmares," he mumbles.
"No nightmares," I confirm.
There's so much time to figure out the rest of my life.
The crowd can't help but respond with gasps and murmurs. I look at Peeta and he gives me a sad smile.
That moment, I recall how Haymitch made me see the path I had to take to save my loved ones and myself. I have to convince everyone that I love Peeta unconditionally, and I'd have to pretend to be convinced forever or the rebels will assume what I did was not out of love for Peeta at all. I'd have to marry Peeta. I hear Haymitch's voice, "You could do a lot worse." Yet at this moment, it's impossible to imagine how I could do any better. So when I rise up on tiptoe to kiss him, it doesn't seem forced at all.
I don't want a life partner. I don't want a family. But right now, if I had to mix marriage with my future, I would marry Peeta.
"Really?" I say, taking the note and examining it. Sure enough, it says that Effie and Haymitch have agreed that we don't need coaching this time. "Do you know what this means? We'll have the whole day to ourselves."
"It's too bad we can't go somewhere," Katniss says with genuine regret. Well, this might as well be the last relatively normal day we'll ever have to ourselves. Yes, it's a pity we can't do anything special. Then something comes up to me.
"Who says we can't?" I ask her.
With some food and picnic gear, we head to the roof. The flowers are beautiful, the wind is great, and the musical tinkling up here is very calming. We spend the day like it's a happy holiday.
I watch carefully as Katniss eats. I notice how her mouth opens and her throat bobs down to swallow. I start when she parts her lips to take another bite. I look away swiftly, trying to hide my embarrassment.
When Katniss lies on her back, her face towards the sun, I imagine that we are in a kind of well-maintained garden with trees and benches—something the Capitol calls a park. With that in mind, peace comes to me. I lie down beside her. Silence fills the air. I turn to her. Her eyes are shut close, her eyelashes fluttering softly. She looks so young, so free, so naive this way. I lock this memory in my head.
Katniss begins practicing knots and weaving. I watch her callused, hardly feminine fingers. Fingers which work hard, finger capable of hunting. I sketch her. I know that it won't really matter, because I'm sure I'll die in the arena anyway. Yet maybe, someday, when I'm dead, this picture will be able to make Katniss look back to this day.
She will know that this is possible, that a day like this may come again if only she would allow herself to hope for it.
We make up a game with the force field that surrounds the roof—one of us throws an apple into it and the other person has to catch it. No one bothers us, and for that I'm pleased. Pleased with more time with Katniss, with the real Katniss who doesn't have to pretend for the cameras.
By late afternoon, she lies with her head on my lap, making a crown of flowers while I play with her hair. When we won, I thought it was over. I thought that maybe, Katniss and I can be together in peace, surely with the Games peering over our shoulders, but content enough with each other. Whenever I thought of that, no matter how excruciating the nightmares and the Games and the memories were, I felt very happy. Of course, all that dissolved when she said it was all for show. I guess I had been foolish to think Katniss behaved like that because she had feelings for me. But does it matter now?
"What?" she suddenly asks me. My hands have stopped when I got lost in thought.
Something comes to me and I voice it. "I wish I could freeze this moment, right here, right now, and live in it forever."
I expect her to be upset, to look away and be uncomfortable. But there is almost no change in her serene expression.
In this moment, at that word, I can almost pretend that Katniss and I lived in a normal world, with normal lives. I can almost convince myself we are a normal couple. I smile at the thought.
"Then you'll allow it?" I ask. And she gives me the best answer I've ever received in my life.
"I'll allow it."
Maybe it's true that I can't live without you.
I couldn't believe my eyes. There she is, Katniss Everdeen, beside our open backdoor. She stands just a few feet from me while I am baking bread. I hope for a moment that she came here to see me, but seeing her trembling self in her sodden jacket and worn-out shoes, it is obvious why she's here. And I confirm my suspicions when she eagerly yet weakly lifts the lid off of our trash bin. Unfortunately, the trash collectors had already picked everything this afternoon.
Suddenly, my mother shoves me and takes my place at the doorway. She hurls some hurtful insults at her, but no protest comes from Katniss. Instead, she miserably replaces the lid. That's when she looks at me.
Her glazed eyes settle on mine. Her hollow cheeks and cracked lips scream how hungry she is. I watch as she slowly backs away to the apple tree of our backyard. Then she drops on her knees feebly. Pity moves me. Then out of the blue, fear. Her thin, frail body and her hopeless face. I'm suddenly scared the girl with the voice that could enthrall even the birds will be lost to me forever.
I immediately go back to my work. I take a deep breath. What I'm about to do will hurt. But I'm determined to do it. I intentionally drop two perfectly-baked loaves of bread on the coals of the oven.
After endowing me with a mouthful of obscenities, mother picks my father's leather belt and hits me squarely on the face. It stings me senseless for a few seconds. Then I step outside and walk towards the pig pen. I know mother will assume I'm feeding it to the pigs. And I was right.
As I begin tearing the burned chunks off the bread, I feel the girl's eyes on me, obviously puzzled by what I was doing. I continue wordlessly, throwing the burned parts to the gushing gutter. As soon as the bakery bell on the front door clangs I glance behind my shoulder, confirming that the coast is clear. If anyone sees what I'm about to do, we will both be punished, her more severely than I. Without glancing at Katniss' direction, I throw a loaf near her. Then another. I inconspicuously go back to the bakery and dare not look back.
Imagine my shock when I see her, arms poised to shoot with the arrows but obviously too dazed to do it. Too confused and terrorized to defend herself. The idiot. What the hell is she thinking?
"What are you still doing here?" I hiss at her. Still befuddled. I start to panic. The other Careers are coming any minute. "Are you mad?"
I start to prod her with the shaft of the spear now. "Get up! Get up!" She rises, but moves slowly.
Suddenly, blood pours from her ears, her mouth, her pores and I'm hyperventilating in horror. But then I remember tracker jackers just bit their way into my brain and I try to contain it. I can't do this. I can't lose myself. Katniss needs me. I shove her away from me.
I hear leaves rustling and branches snapping behind me. Anyone in the pack could be that. If they see me letting Katniss go, even worse encouraging her to save herself, they'd kill me. But even just injuring Katniss with my spear for show is something I can't seem to command myself to do. Then a thought comes to me: I don't really care what the Careers do to me as long as I know that Katniss is away, preferably thousands of miles away, from any one of them.
"Katniss," he says. I go over to him and brush the hair back from his eyes. "Thanks for finding me."
"You would have found me if you could," I say. His forehead is burning up. Like the medicine is having no effect at all.
Out of nowhere, I'm scared he's going to die.
"Yes. Look, if I don't make it back—," he begins.
"Don't talk like that. I didn't drain all that pus for nothing," I say.
"I know. But just in case I don't—," he tries to continue.
"No, Peeta, I don't even want to discuss it," I say, placing my fingers on his lips to quiet him. I don't want to hear it. A part of me shuns it. A part of me can't accept it, can't bear the thought of it being true.
Right now, I realize I can't bear the thought of Peeta dying.
You've already got me coming undone.
We did it! We won, it's over now, and both Peeta and I are victors. The hovercraft materializes overhead and two ladders drop, only there's no way I'm letting go of him. I keep one arm around him as I help him up, and we each place a foot on the first rung of the ladder. The electric current freezes us in place, and this time I'm glad because I'm not really sure he can hang on for the whole ride. And since my eyes were looking down, I can see that while our muscles are immobile, nothing is preventing the blood from draining out of Peeta's leg. The minute the door closes behind us and the current stops, he slumps to the floor unconscious.
A couple of men in white began seizing him and trying to place him on the stretcher, but there's no way I'm going to let that happen. They're much stronger, but since my fingers are still gripping the back of his jacket so tightly it tears, leaving me with a fistful of black fabric.
Doctors in sterile white, already prepped to operate, go into action. Peeta's so pale and motionless on the silver table, imprisoned with tubes and wires. Horror seeps into my mind as I stare at the impassive men. The only thing I can hear is the screaming inside my head, an endless, muddled shriek.
"They're going to kill him, Peeta's going to get killed."
Petrified, I lunge for him, but I'm caught and thrust back into another room. A glass door seals between us.
I desperately look for help, but all I see are despicable Capitol citizens, and not a single one of them will ever help me. Peeta will die if I don't get in there. Without thinking, I pound on the glass, screaming my head off. Why did they isolate Peeta, get him away from me? What are they doing? The Games are over. Why are they still trying to kill him? We won!
Everyone ignores me except for some Capitol attendant who appears behind me and offers me a beverage. I slump down on the floor, staring uncomprehendingly at the crystal glass in my hand. Icy cold, filled with orange juice, a straw with a frilly white collar. How wrong it looks in my bloody, filthy hand with its dirt-caked nails and scars.
Through the glass, I see the doctors working feverishly on Peeta, their brows creased in concentration. I see the flow of liquids, pumping through the tubes; watch a wall of dials and lights that mean nothing to me. But I try to collect myself and trust them. That's better than thinking Peeta's dying. I'm not sure, but I think his heart stops twice.
I start when I catch someone staring at me from only a few inches away and then realize it's my own face reflecting back in the glass. Wild eyes, hollow cheeks, my hair in a tangled mat. But more than that is the look in my eyes. Rabid. Feral. Mad. More than I could ever remember them, more than that day where my father died, when we almost starved to death, when I became a tribute and delivered to the Capitol. Then I see something underneath it all, beneath the insanity and the dirt. Desperation and fear.
The next thing I know we've landed back on the roof of the Training Center and they're taking Peeta but leaving me behind the door. I start hurling myself against the glass, shrieking as my head goes into an uncontrolled, mindless chaos yet again. Just then, needle jabs me from behind.
My warning cry is just reaching my lips when Peeta's knife swings out to slash away some vines. Peeta's flung back from the force field, bringing Finnick and Mags to the ground.
Then, things began to warp into a state I can't understand. A part of me is numb, the other mechanical. I rush over to where he lies, motionless.
I call his name again, giving him a shake, but he's unresponsive. My fingers fumble across his lips, where there's no warm breath although moments ago he was panting. I press my ear against his chest, to the spot where I always rest my head, where I know I will hear the strong and steady beat of his heart.
Instead, I find silence.
Something explodes in me and suddenly, my mind registers one thing: Peeta is dead.
"Peeta!" I scream. I shake him harder, even resort to slapping his face, but it's no use. His heart has failed. I am slapping emptiness. It's hopeless. Peeta's gone. He's gone. "Peeta!"
At the corner of my eye I see Finnick prop Mags against a tree, then he pushes me out of the way.
"Let me," he says.
His fingers touch points at Peeta's neck, run over the bones in his ribs and spine. Then he pinches Peeta's nostrils shut.
"No!" I yell, hurling myself at Finnick, for surely he intends to make certain that Peeta's dead, to keep any hope of life from returning to him. He wants to hurt him, to kill him. And my every thought shouts in protest, commanding my body.
Finnick's hand comes up and hits me so hard, so squarely in the chest that I go flying back into a nearby tree trunk. I'm stunned for a moment, by the pain, by trying to regain my wind, as I see Finnick close off Peeta's nose again. From where I sit, I pull an arrow, whip the notch into place, and am about to let it fly when I'm stopped by the sight of Finnick kissing Peeta. And it's so bizarre, even for Finnick, that I stay my hand. No, he's not kissing him. He's got Peeta's nose blocked off but his mouth tilted open, and he's blowing air into his lungs. I can see this, I can actually see Peeta's chest rising and falling. Then Finnick unzips the top of Peeta's jumpsuit and begins to pump the spot over his heart with the heels of his hands. Now that I've gotten through my shock, I understand what he's trying to do. I slowly let my hands let go of my loaded bow as I lean in to watch, desperately, for some sign of success.
Agonizing minutes drag past as my hopes diminish. It's too late for anyone to save him. I can't reach him. He left me here, and something twists in my chest. I refuse to accept it. I don't want to face the pain the thought brings. What I indulge in is my anger, my denial. Why would he leave me here? I thought he loved me, and right now I don't care about how unfair it is for him.
However, Peeta suddenly gives a small cough and Finnick sits back. I leave my weapons in the dirt as I fling myself at him. He's alive! He's here.
"Peeta?" I say softly. I brush the damp blond strands of hair back from his forehead, find the pulse drumming against my fingers at his neck. I realize how much I love the sound, how sweet and painful at the same time relief is. I almost can't let go of him. I have to be sure his heart is beating. If I move my hands, it might be gone.
His lashes flutter open and his eyes meet mine. "Careful," he says weakly. "There's a force field up ahead." I laugh, but there are tears running down my cheeks. "Must be a lot stronger than the one on the Training Center roof," he says. "I'm all right, though. Just a little shaken."
"You were dead! Your heart stopped!" I burst out. I clap my hand over my mouth because I'm starting to make those awful choking sounds that happen when I sob.
"Well, it seems to be working now," he says. "It's all right, Katniss." I nod my head but the sounds aren't stopping. I can't stop it, for a reason I don't know of. "Katniss?"
Finnick explains that my behavior is because of my hormones, but of course I know how untrue that is. So why? Why can't I stop? Why is my whole body trembling, my breath hitching?
The rest of the party agrees to move on a slow pace for Peeta's sake. I check over my weapons, which I know are in perfect condition, because it makes me seem more in control. Yes, it's exactly what I need, because everything I swore to myself I'd keep in check—my words, my actions, my tears, my heart—are spiraling out of control.
My mother hates me and my father will rather have a coal miner's and his ex-girlfriend's daughter for a kid. My brothers have learned that survival means a single load, and not having two other siblings in tow.
I've always been alone. Alone is easier. Alone is better. I could sleep alone, bake alone, cry alone, die alone.
I live in a world where the weak withers.
But one day, a voice spilled into the dreary lull and broke through the desolation. It razed through the chains and set the grays on fire. It didn't wither.
My father is long dead, a corpse before I hit puberty. My mother turned into practically nothing but dead weight. Prim was too young to help anything. Have I sulked and wallowed in misery, we would all have starved.
I've always been alone. Alone is easier. Alone is better. I could think alone, hunt alone, trade alone, endure my pains alone.
I live in a world where the weak withers.
But one day, a dandelion sprung out of the dead ground. It flew to the sky, to freedom. It didn't wither.
…and my world will never be the same.
I figured out with all that's said and done
Two is better than one