This is a missing moment from Mockingjay and, as such, contains spoilers for all three books. This is how I imagine Peeta and Katniss grew back together, and how Katniss was able to finally come to terms with her emotions in the final lines of the book.
This is a one-shot. I couldn't get this scene out of my head, but I feel better now that it's on paper.
Disclaimer: Suzanne Collins owns these characters and any book references belong to her. I have borrowed and built from lines to recreate a moment, but none of the existing work is mine.
It is the middle of the night, and I wake up thrashing on the floor. I can still feel the mutts tearing at my arms with their claws, but this is normal. I am used to pain, used to seeing Rue just beyond them with that terrible spear poking out of her. Sometimes she's singing, choking on lyrics I've fed her, and the mutts allow me to live in searing pain while I watch her. But tonight the dream is different. Instead of Rue lying just beyond my reach while I am devoured, it is Peeta. And he is laughing.
I will myself to fall back asleep, try to reconstruct the one dream that reminds me both of Rue and Peeta. The one where the mockingjays sang with Rue's voice, the one that was followed by waking up in Peeta's arms to be told that I looked happy. But it does not come. That Peeta has been replaced by one that sneers at me in my dreams, one that lives in his home and makes polite conversation when we are outside, but who otherwise doesn't want much to do with me.
He no longer looks tortured, but I think I see his hands shake when I see him. I still remember how they felt around my throat. But I don't blame him. Instead, I remember him thinking of me as the girl who dragged him through the arena, as a mutt not to be trusted, as a girl who could choose between him and Gale based on whether I wanted to exist on bread or game.
I am sick with myself.
"Peeta," I whisper.
He still doesn't know. The doctors showed him videos, and the others told him about the districts and everything else as he begged to know, "Real or not real?" But what have I told him?
I told him his favorite color, and I told him about his shoelaces. And then I left. I couldn't tell him how the only one who ever made me feel on fire, who made me want something in this world, was him. I couldn't say it then. I can't say it now.
I rock on the floor, wrapping my arms around my legs as I bite down hard on my lip. I taste blood, but at least it's my own blood.
Peeta did help me build the book. He would come over and sketch, but we couldn't talk. I was afraid, as always, that my talking would go beyond shoelaces to places I have no business dragging Peeta back to. It is my duty to protect him, and more than anything, he must be protected from me.
I go to my window and look out at Peeta's home. All of the lights are off, but it is near dawn. Soon, he will wake up and begin to bake or draw. He'll be the responsible one who goes to clean up Haymitch. I will sit and watch him from the window.
I think of our last kiss when I stopped him from leaving me. I think of lying beside him on the train. I think of forcing him to take the last of the sleeping syrup, and I think of the last time I was able to truly save him. I remember the first time I felt that warmth, that hunger, and how, even now, I am not satisfied.
"I've got some memories I can't make sense of, and I don't think the Capitol touched them. A lot of nights on the train, for instance."
But he must know. I gather up whatever strength has not drained from me, and I rush down the stairs. As I walk outside, the cool night air laps at my face. I force myself to Peeta's door. I slip inside, as it is always unlocked, and I pad across the house until I find his room. Unlike Peeta, I am perfectly capable of sneaking quietly.
I find him asleep in his room, and I can see he now sleeps once again with the windows open. But he does not look peaceful, or comfortable. His body is straight, and his hands are twitching wildly. His eyes are locked shut, his face contorted with fear. And I remember.
"I don't think I cry out or thrash around or anything. I just come to, paralyzed with terror."
So this is Peeta having a nightmare. I slink closer to his bed and sit down beside it, so that I can't see him. His arm dangles near to me, and I look at the small scars that I can make out in the darkness.
"My nightmares are usually about losing you. I'm okay once I realize you're here."
Something tells me that my presence tonight would not comfort Peeta, but would frighten him into even worse nightmares. But I must do this. Perhaps it's selfish, but I have to try. This is the one part he has left to reconstruct, and I'm the only one who can give him the truth.
"Peeta," I whisper. "There are some things I need to tell you."
His hand continues to twitch, perhaps more so at my voice. I know he's still asleep.
"When you first helped me, back when you gave me the bread, I was so hungry. I was so lost and angry and afraid. I had given up, Peeta. You said you knew, even then, that you loved me. But I didn't know. All I knew was that you had done something I couldn't understand. You fed me, and I couldn't thank you."
His hand continues to move, but it's slower now.
"You were all hope, and I was so angry. I blamed it on you not understanding what it was like to owe someone."
I am crying now, and the tears burn as they reach my lips. I think of grabbing his hand, but I refrain.
"But then, in the arena, you gave me a new type of hunger, one that couldn't be satisfied. I felt it in the cave. I felt it on the beach. I didn't lie, Peeta. Sometimes I enjoyed kissing you, and that was when it was us. Just us, no games. But it was more than enjoy… it was mind numbing. I could never fill that, after you… you…"
I can't bring myself to say it because it was my fault that Peeta was taken. He was tortured for me, the girl who couldn't protect him.
"I'm scared," I whisper in the child-like voice I once used in the arena. "I'm scared because I did this to you, and I can't seem to make you come back."
I feel that I've done a poor job of helping him fit the pieces together. He's asleep, for one, and even then my words are jumbled. But it's enough for now.
I prepare to stand, but at once I realize his hand is no longer dangling over the bed. He is awake. I suck in a breath, wondering what he'll do to me. Even though he is better, the nightmares are still there, and I am at the root of them.
After a moment, I hear him sit up. The bed shifts beside me as his weight is redistributed.
I realize that he's crying.
"Not real," he cracks. "Katniss isn't here. Not real, not real, not real!"
I don't know what to say. I don't want to startle him by jumping up. But I can't let him think that this isn't real.
"Peeta," I say in a small voice that doesn't seem like mine.
His sobbing halts. He doesn't move. I can't see him, but I know he's frozen.
"I'm here, Peeta."
I crawl away from the bed and stand up slowly. I can see Peeta stare at me, eyes wide, from where he sits cross-legged on the edge of the bed. He moves forward, tossing his legs over, so that he is sitting upright. My throat tightens.
"Come here," he murmurs. I don't move, unable to tell if he is upset or not. So he softens his voice and begs, "Please."
I step toward him and he extends his hand. I reach out and take it and feel his thumb begin to draw small circles on my palm. He drags me closer.
"You're here," he says quietly. "Real or not real?"
"Real," I say.
"Can…can I touch you? To make sure?"
I nod slowly.
His hands come up over my arms to grip my shoulders, and then move to touch my cheeks and my lips. He pushes back loose strands of hair that have escaped my braid. I close my eyes, and the places that he has touched seem to burn.
"It's you. You came to me."
I think about this. Yes, I did. Unlike before, where Peeta was roaming the train and came to hold me through the terrors of my dreams, I am here now. As far as I can tell, I brought him out of his nightmare. But then, I probably caused it, too.
"Are you okay?" I ask.
He studies me. His blue eyes blink a small smile grows on his lips.
"Yes," he says. "You're here."
He takes his hands and stretches them wide, looking between them, as though remembering when he did this before. I don't give him much time, though, as I rush into them and squeeze him tight with both my arms. I bury my face in the hollow of his shoulders, as though daring him to let me go when I'm so close.
But he doesn't. Instead, it feels like before, when his arms finally do wrap around me. I am safe. I am warm.
I have not lost the boy with the bread.
Sleeping together becomes habit once again. I do not leave Peeta's side except to hunt, and Greasy Sae and her granddaughter begin to come to Peeta's home to cook instead of mine, but they don't stay very long. They know we need this.
Peeta asks for stories, but I know he means for me to tell him more about us. I do tell him, about the roof and him playing with my hair, about the night before the Quell when we stayed with each other, about him comforting me after the jabberjays. I even tell him about the parts that I don't like, about me throwing out his father's cookies because I thought he and Peeta were playing me for a fool, or about me hurting him after he told all of Panem that he loved me. Meanwhile, he stirs these memories over in his mind and holds onto me at night.
Today I tell him about when I found him in the river, and how I cleaned him up. I blush as I come to the part about how I couldn't bear to see him naked. For the first time in a long time, he laughs.
"I remember," he says. "I was half-dead and you were worried about… well, I'm not even sure what. You were so—"
"Yes, I know," I grumble. "Pure and all that. Yes, well aware of how pure you think I am."
"Hey now," he says. "I remember. After Johanna stripped down. But I believe I said for the Capitol you were pure, and for me…"
"I was perfect," I supply, still glowering at him. "But that was just your way to get me to calm down!"
"Was it?" he says thoughtfully. "I think that was a pretty nice thing to say."
"After you had laughed at me," I correct. "After you had finished ogling Johanna—"
I stop, realizing how foolish I am being. Johanna, who I went through combat training and who told Peeta she knew him by his screams. Somehow, after all of this, I'm still a bit jealous that Peeta saw her naked before… I stop myself. I must look like I am having an internal battle, as Peeta's eyebrows are raised quizzically. I feel my cheeks burn and I look to the floor.
Suddenly, I feel Peeta's hand tilting my chin up, and then I am staring into the same blue eyes that I found beneath the mud. Except then, they were almost playful, asking me not to step on him. Now they are serious.
"The first night you came here. You talked about kissing me in the cave and on the beach."
"Why were those kisses different than all the others?"
I stop. I can't say it again, even if what I said before was all mixed up and out of order and desperate. I try to look down, but he holds my head steady. I close my eyes, refusing to look at him. If I can't say it, then I've failed.
But this is Peeta, the old Peeta, and all at once his lips are on mine. They're not hot from fever, but it's dizzying nonetheless. I grasp his hair and pull him closer, kissing him frantically as that warmth seems to burst all over my body. I really taste him now, and can feel how full his lips are compared to mine. I kiss just his bottom lip, then his top lip, and then all of it at once. I move one of my hands to grab his hand and find that it's not shaking. Instead, it welcomes mine with a squeeze.
And then he breaks away. He seems to be trying to regulate his breathing, but it's not from any nightmare this time. It's from us, and I know because the same feeling is ratcheting through me.
"Why," he says. "Katniss, I have to know why. What you said then. About…not being satisfied…"
He looks disappointed, and I realize he misunderstood. Of course, he thinks I said he wasn't satisfying or good enough. He thinks he wasn't Gale. But now, I see, as I watch his chest heave with the heaviness that settles between us, that Peeta is everything. The dandelion, the bread, the warmth. It's all there in Peeta.
"You remember," I say, inching back towards him. "What I said in the Quell? I said that I needed you. I meant that. And the reason those kisses were different is because… without you, I'm empty. But those kisses started to fill me back up."
He smiles, and leans back, watching me. But I'm not finished.
"The reason those kisses were different, Peeta," I say, "is because they showed me just how much more of you I want."
I can hear the hunger on my voice, and I can see by how far Peeta's eyebrows shoot up that he finally understands.
"You love me," he says. "Real or not real?"
"Real," I say.
And this time, when we kiss, there is no blood or lightning to stop us from continuing. I am consumed, happily, by the very eager boy with the bread.