This is my first story to write and edit. I want the thank the many wonderful people at The Hob (a Hunger Games fansite for adults) for inspiring me to write and then encouraging me in publishing. I want to specifically acknowledge two that go by the screen names of Cinna and Katniss Everdeen there who read my story and they are the reason I am publishing it now.
All copy rights to the characters are Suzanne Collins. They belong to her and I am just borrowing them to expand on the ending she gave us. This short story is just a little of how I envisioned Peeta and Katniss might have grown back together. Any constructive feedback is appreciated. I am new at this though, so please be respectful in your critiques. Thank you!
Time begins to take on different meanings. Sometimes it passes without any point of reference when I am in a fog. On these days I tend to stay curled in a quiet place, lost in my misery. On other days I manage to go about a routine in a robotic, mechanical way. On these days time has meaning, but it merely crawls.
It is during one of the fogs that something changes. At some point I had begun to sing again in the midst of my darkness. All the misery, pain and despair is channeled into music, that I hadn't even realized I was making. A sound makes my head turn and I see him, with tears running openly down his cheeks. His eyes are unfocused as if he is viewing his own personal hell and I stop singing without realizing it. The awareness that there is anything besides my dark cave shocks me into silence. I feel myself wake up to my surroundings.
Peeta turns his head slowly to look at me and our eyes meet. He doesn't say anything, just continues to look at me his eyes still wet. After an immeasurable space of time, he turns and walks away without a word. I slowly get up and make my way to the kitchen since I am sure I haven't eaten well in who knows how long. Of course there is bread awaiting me. And of course it is my favorite kind, the cheese buns.
Now I am back in one of my routines. I wake early to seek the woods. I hunt. The reminders of Gale's absence no longer fill me with any emptiness or surprise. It is starting to feel natural that I am alone here. I am making peace with my feelings for Gale.
I realize now that of course I loved Gale. I love and have loved many people that I would never allow myself to admit to before, for fear of loosing them. I loved Madge for her quiet kinship. I love Haymitch though he can still inspire me to feelings of deep anger when he is in one of his darker moods. I loved Finnick and his solid and unrelenting love for Annie. I may even love Delly in a way, for her ability to see the best in everyone, though she also slightly nauseates me on my darker days. I loved Peeta for his goodness, his sureness and the way he loved me so solidly. I stop myself in my tracks. I can not allow myself to delve into what I feel for him now. I am still a little scared to look too deeply there and I am not even sure who he is anymore.
But I am beginning to understand love and that there are many types of it as well as ways of doing it. I am coming to peace with loving Gale. He was a great friend and we needed each other. But he doesn't need me now and I certainly don't need him. With everything that happened we grew apart. And that is ok.
I hope he is happy, but am glad that I don't have to see him. We had been drifting apart long before Prim died. But her death sealed the end of whatever we had. A need for each other, a friendship, both, or possibly even more. I know that I can't love him the way that he would want. Seeing him would only be a constant reminder of Prim anyway. And I would be a reminder to him as well. And I don't think Gale would yet be ready to see me move on even further away from him.
After catching several squirrels, shooting two rabbits and gathering various edible plants, I head home. Greasy Sae is there with her granddaughter but I just drop off my supplies and head over to Peeta's. For some reason I feel compelled to see him. Something feels unfinished from when he listened to me sing last week. I have noticed that he has been less visible since then.
I knock on his door, but there is no response. I only wonder about the politeness of it for about a second before I push open his door anyway. I drift through the house where the ovens are strangely empty and cold. This can only mean one thing.
So I head to his painting room. I find him in front of a painting that instantly pierces my heart with pain. It is layered so that the bottom is filled with violent and dark colors. But as my eyes shift to the top, it transforms into brilliant joyous colors, like an exploding sunset. At the bottom there are flames and one is central. I can feel that this is Prim. But what is extraordinary is that out of the flames of my Prim erupts a beautiful other worldly creature flying up into the brilliance waiting above. And awaiting her are other creatures, all with wings. It is like Peeta took pieces of my dreams and made them into something more beautiful and hopeful.
Peeta is so lost in his painting that he does not notice me. I hesitate trying to decide what to do. Finally I softly call out his name. He turns towards me and his face is alight with strange emotions mingled perhaps with hope.
He instantly puts down his brushes and turns the painting away from my sight. He walks to me and leads me away from the room shutting the door behind me. As he does so he says "Sorry."
I am confused by his response at first and then I realize that he is afraid of what his painting might be making me feel. I surprise myself by pulling him forward into a hug.
"There is no need to apologize. I thought that it was both horrible but then beautiful too." I push my tangled thoughts of Prim away and hold onto him until he relaxes and his arms feel more like his old embraces.
"Real or not real, I used to hold you like this in the middle of the night when you had nightmares?"
"Real" I respond, and after a few moments reply "And I miss it," then immediately try and pull away while I hide my face as my cheeks begin to flame.
He doesn't let go immediately though. When he finally does we walk down the stairs and I feel a little uncomfortable with what just passed. I am not really sure what to say so I invite him to dinner. He accepts, then immediately begins pulling out flour and other baking tools. "I'll supply the bread, obviously." He half smiles at me.
I sit down on a stool in the kitchen and watch him work. He sets me with something simple, dough to knead, which I do mechanically as I continue to watch him. He is so sure here, just like I am so sure in the woods. I get a little lost in watching him in one of his natural environments, at least the one that it is not painful to watch him in. I am not sure that I am ready to watch him paint his feelings into his art at any rate.
And yet, I suddenly remember watching him sketch what seems like a lifetime ago. When we worked on my family's book about plants. His face does not take on that look while baking that it does when he is concentrating on his art. Apparently baking is too easy and natural for him to have to concentrate very hard. But I am becoming so lost on my thoughts and in comparing his facial expressions and features now to the intense looks when he is tightly focused that I am again embarrassed when he catches me so focused on his face.
But his response only shows me how fully there is still that old Peeta inside him. He responds just like he did when he caught me so intently watching him working on the book a year before. "So this makes the second time we've ever done anything normal together."
And I resurrect the ghost of my response as before "Yeah, nice for a change."
This gives me the impetus to bring up an idea that had recently been stirring inside my head. "Peeta," I begin. "Remember my family's book that you helped me with, about the plants?"
"Yes." His eyes take on a slightly hazy look as he remembers.
Feeling thankful that the capitol couldn't touch these memories that they knew nothing of, I go on. "Well, I have been thinking of starting a new book. But I could never do it alone."
"What kind of book did you have in mind?"
"I was thinking about writing of them. Everything that the world lost when they were taken from us." I don't have to explain who "them" is.
"You want me to draw them?" He asks.
"If it wouldn't be too painful for you."
"O.K.," is all he says.
After several weeks, Peeta and I fall into a rhythm. Most days begin with my hunting, his baking. The middle of each belongs to ourselves, usually painting for him, more hunting, attempting to make new bows, or sometimes even wallowing for me. But we often meet up over Greasy Sae's dinners and follow with work on this new book. These sessions on rare occasions go on until near dawn if we get too caught up. Sometimes he watches me write, sometimes I watch him draw. Sometimes we are both too consumed with our work to notice anything else. I begin to find myself wondering at idle times in the woods what he is thinking when he looks at me so quietly. What does he see? What does he think?
I am a little apprehensive of the strange wistfulness that I feel when thinking of this. I still am not sure if I want to explore these feelings. But then again, it sure beats the emptiness I feel when I fleetingly think of those that I have lost. So in the woods I find my mind wondering more and more on the possibilities in Peeta than in the hopelessness that accompanies thoughts of Prim or the others.
One night while I am watching him work I am lulled to sleep by a full belly and warm fire. My dreams quickly turn to violence as they so often do now. Working on the book has brought everything to my mind that I had been trying so solidly to shut out of my consciousness. I am thrashing and screaming myself awake when I feel strong arms cradle me. I slowly come to as Peeta has picked me up and is carrying me to my room. He holds me while sitting on the side of my bed until my heart rate slows and I am calm again. I am becoming fully aware of his closeness when he releases me onto my bed. I feel a sudden terror. I know that the nightmares will come back as soon as my eyes shut. I grab his arm as he begins to pull away and plead with my eyes. He hesitates seeming to be making up his mind. Maybe this is not fair to him but I know I need him to get through this night. I push shame aside and say, however unfairly, "Stay with me".
He replies as I knew he would "Always."
Haymitch must be out of liquor. He joins us one night in an especially foul mood. He smells a little, further reinforcing the idea that he is coming out of his self medicated numbness and being forced to think and feel again.
After dinner Peeta and I retreat to the living room where the supplies for the book are stowed. Haymitch reflexively follows us. At first he seems unaware of what we are working on. Since we are fairly quiet he can not interject any of his irritability on us. Well, me mostly, since I think I sometimes remind him of himself.
He finally stands up to get a look at what has us so consumed. We are working on the pages about one of the morphlings. Peeta and I alternate people we knew the best with those to whom we were not as close, so as not to overwhelm ourselves by the feelings that the book stir in us.
"There was more to her than that," Haymitch mutters behind my shoulder. "At least at one time there was."
I am at a loss for what to say, but of course Peeta sits back and says the right thing. "Then tell us about her so we can put that down too."
Haymitch takes a seat and begins to recount the little of her he knew between his lapses of drunkenness before she was completely lost in her own private morphling world. I realize how much he can add to those we only knew by either old videos or briefly meeting. When he finishes his account I propose the idea that he can help us with the book.
Angry, irrationally so, Haymitch shouts expletives at me. "No! Why do you want to relive all of this anyway?" He is instantly up and out of the door. I look over at Peeta a little confused about what I did wrong. He wraps an arm around my shoulders as he explains.
"I don't think he is far enough out of withdrawal to be able to deal with all the emotions this brings out in him. I promise you he is tearing his house apart right now looking for something to help dull the pain that his memories have brought back."
"But if he gave it a chance he would realize that it really helps." I am feeling a little defensive, possibly from dealing with Haymitch's sarcasm all during dinner.
"I think he might get there, but he might need a few days. Come on, let's call it a night." And Peeta takes my hand drawing me to my room where it is now his habit, once again, to help me through the night with his arms.
Sure enough, Haymitch is back the next night at dinner. Again he follows us to the living room. Again he makes contributions, but immediately after leaves, slightly less flustered than the night before.
The third, fourth nights Haymitch gets up immediately after dinner and heads home. The fifth night he does not even show up for dinner. At first I decide to let him be as nights were the hardest for me as well before the book...and before Peeta stayed the night too I admit finally to myself. After several nights of not showing up I grow a little impatient.
The day I grow tired of Haymitch hiding from us, I head straight to his house after I drop off my take from a day in the woods. He is not in his house so I head off to where he is feeding his geese. He looks a little sheepish as he sees me approach.
"Hey there Katniss, couldn't stay away from my effervescent personality?" He smiles an ironic smile.
"I decided that if I have to act like a grown up, so do you. It is time you faced it Haymitch."
"I don't know what you mean," he responds looking only at the geese.
"Yes you do. You are scared of feeling for them. You are scared of feeling anything with out your liquor to numb you."
"So what if I am," he snaps. "I don't have anyone to hold me all night while I weep in their arms," he cuts back at me. "Do you even care how that makes him feel? Weren't you supposed to be saving him and not making him carry the burden of saving you anymore? Or do you really care about him at all?"
"Peeta is not a child who needs tending," I throw back. But I am frozen from making another retort, left cold from his response. A deep sense of shame fills me, but I also feel defiant. Peeta is essentially an adult after all, and I do know that I care deeply for him. I am just still a little unsure wether it is wise to examine exactly in what ways I care deeply for him. How do I want him in my life? Does he even really want to be in my life? Because I realize that Haymitch is right in that I need to examine this if I care at all about Peeta. And I do my mind screams at Haymitch silently.
I am not sure what to say out loud though, so I stand there awkwardly trying to decide wether to take back up my argument or just walk away. After all, why do I even bother with Haymitch when he is like this?
After a moment Haymitch finally speaks. "Sorry, that was pretty low. I know you haven't yet figured out what to do with Peeta, especially since you don't feel you deserve him."
I think about how neither Haymitch nor I think that I deserve Peeta. Well, the old Peeta. I do not yet fully know who the new Peeta is, though I am pretty sure I do not deserve him either. When I do not respond he continues "Remember that before the last liquor supply you and Peeta were still a little stiff around each other and I just noticed that you both are a little more cozy now. It took me by surprise." After another moment of silence he pops off "Maybe I am a little jealous."
That makes so little sense coming from Haymitch's mouth that I finally look up at him. He has a smile on his face and so I know the jealousy comment is a joke. "Well, if you are into bright hair and a capitol accent I bet we could look up Effie for you."
His smile widens as I add. "You could get lucky. May the odds be ever in your favor." We are both cracking smiles until the comment brings my mind back to the business at hand.
"I am not trying to push you or anything Haymitch, it's just that the book has really helped me with all of this. It isn't a miracle worker, but the days go down a little more easily now," but as I say this I wonder how much is due to the book and how much is due to Peeta's continually increasing presence back into my life.
"Maybe I'll help some, but don't get mad when I don't show up, alright? And don't come hunting me down either, sweetheart. I won't make promises to you any more that I can't keep."
"I won't," I respond as I walk away.
My thoughts turn quickly to the fairness of asking Peeta to spend his nights easing my pain. I don't know what this does to him. I do know that I care about him and that I refuse to rip him up by my own selfish needs.
That night I am quieter than usual when we work on the book. Haymitch drops in but leaves quickly after his contributions. As I am working on my resolve to release Peeta if he needs it, I look up to find him gazing at me, a questioning look on his face. Apparently he asked me about which of his sketches captured Annie the best but I failed to notice.
"Are you ok Katniss?'
"I don't know Peeta, that depends." It is breathtaking how quickly he is at my side, concern etched in his features.
He slips one arm around my shoulders as he asks "Do you want to talk about it?"
Uncertainty grips me as I try to decide how to begin. He lowers his face besides mine and whispers in my ear, "Katniss, I am right here. I want to help you if I can. Is it too much tonight?"
Suddenly I feel how Peeta, my old Peeta, is now so much a part of this new slightly enigmatic Peeta. My response seems to only make him more desperate as tears spring up in my eyes.
He turns his head and softly presses his lips to my cheek. He rests his forehead lightly against the side of my face and murmurs, "I wish I could take the pain away from you, but I can't. Is there anything I can do?"
I pull away from him then and begin, "Peeta, am I asking too much of you?"
"What?" He tries to catch my eyes, but I can't look into those blue eyes. Not yet.
"I have been asking so much of you, you never say what you need from me. You are so solidly there, every night, but is this the right thing for you? I don't want to hurt you. I couldn't stand it if I hurt you." Finally I chance a quick glance to check his expression. His brows are slightly pulled together in a puzzled look.
His voice is soft when he answers me, "Katniss, I am fine. What brought all this on?"
I fumble a little then respond, "Because I do care about you Peeta. Not just for what you can do for me. I want to be able to help you too. I don't want you to stay at night anymore. Well, not if it isn't good for you too."
The silence that follows fills me with dread. When is Peeta ever at a loss for words? This can not be good. I pull my eyes to his face.
He expression is soft as he is looking at me, seemingly lost in thought. Every part of me wants to get up and flee. Feeling vulnerable I start to rise but Peeta grips my hands and finally talks. "No, I need you to stay right here."
I sit back down, tense and uneasy. "Katniss, sleeping beside you is good for me. I now don't have to guess if you are ok, if you are having a bad night, if you are going to be gone into some dark abyss of sadness when I come by the next day."
This is not helping. This is just more about me. "Peeta, that's not what I mean. What about you? What about what you need? Are you able to get on with your life with me monopolizing you? Is this really what you want? To be spending half your time with some fire mutt who just causes everyone pain by association?"
"Yes, it is what I want. I am not going to leave your side until you decide you don't want me here Katniss. I can't promise you that I am whole, after all I am a fire mutt too, much more of a mutt than you. But I came back from the capitol so much more whole than you. I found a release for my darkness and confusion in my painting. I started to deal with it long before you did. I learned who I was again. I haven't yet come to terms with everything," his voice breaks a little as he continues, "I have done. But doing something good...for you...creating beauty through the pain instead of destruction with my hands...well, that is all I can ask of myself right now."
Peeta pauses a moment before adding "I don't need anything from you Katniss." He strokes my cheek and continues, "well, anything that doesn't come from your heart. I care about you...now...well, again."
Without thinking I lean in and softly touch my lips to his. I feel him stiffen only briefly, reflexively, before he sighs and relaxes into my embrace. I breath in his dill and cinnamon smell, taste him and feel how solid he is in my arms. It feels right, and I am so tired of thinking and worrying. I just want to feel something good, something hopeful, and he is it.
Too soon, we return to work. Peeta is pretty intent on finishing his sketch. Perhaps he needs a little more time to work through his tangled feelings for me. I throw myself into my part of the book so I do not have to examine our exchange too much.
Sometime late in the night I am pulled out of a fiery nightmare where I am watching Prim before the bombs drop. I keep trying to scream at her to run, but she only looks at me questioningly as if she can not hear me. I realize that I have no voice to yell to her with. I start miming for her to tuck in her ducktail which is utterly ridiculous as the bombs begin to explode around her. Even as I rouse out of unconsciousness I feel that thick confusion about what is real and what is a dream. Peeta is there with his arms around me soothing my hair back with his hands. But tonight's dream is just too hard. I am shaking in his arms and can not seem to stop. As I sit up, Peeta sits up too, pulling me onto his lap.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"Prim," is all I have to say and he understands that there are no words.
He kisses away stray tears as I struggle to get a grip on myself. He doesn't try to say a thing, knowing that it will be of no use. He pulls me gently against his chest, rocking me softly while humming a song that I realize I had been singing that day he walked in on me so many months ago. It is a tune that wordlessly summarizes the overwhelming grief that the loss of Prim makes me feel. It oddly works a bit of magic to hear my pain captured in the haunting melody. Slowly my tears subside and I begin to lift out of the momentary gloom threatening to overtake me.
"Thank you," I tell him though it feels insubstantial.
"The day I heard you sing that I couldn't pull myself away. I was bringing you bread, though I knew you probably wouldn't eat it as it usually took you several days to pull out of the darkness. I knew you wouldn't notice me and I was trying to be quiet." He looks down at me a little ruefully. "Of course we both know that isn't my strong suit. But I heard you sing that and it was as if all the grief and pain I had ever felt was in that song. I knew you were singing for Prim. All of them, but especially Prim. But I felt my own pain being sung out of me into that melody. I couldn't move from the room."
"I went straight back to my house and over the next week spent whole days on and off painting my feelings onto canvas. And then you showed up thoroughly taking me by surprise. It was the first time you sought me out since we've been back."
"I guess a part of me knew then how much I needed you." I reach tentatively up to stroke his face lightly with my fingers.
Peeta's eyes close at my touch, his breathing quickens. He continues, "I wasn't sure if I could help you, but I knew that I had to come back here and try anyway. If there was a chance you needed me, I had to be here."
"Always," I breath as I press my lips to his. It starts as something tender and unsure. Neither of us knows the direction this will take us or the appropriateness of finding solace in each others arms amidst the memories of those we have loved and lost. But soon we both give in knowing that those whom we loved, who loved us, would not want us locked in misery, never allowing any moments of the sun to shine in our darkened worlds.
As the kiss continues I begin to feel the same yearning hunger. It seeps out just as before, through by body, filling me with a heat and setting me on fire in a new kind of way. This time there is no audience to watch. There is no lightening to distract us. I allow it to lead where it may.
I realize in his embrace that there is a release from the pain. That I can feel happiness, even if it comes fleetingly and leaves just as fickle. I may have needed Gale once but ultimately he was a fire that would have consumed me whole. I could never have found the release of my depression surrounded by anger and with the ever need for retribution.
I need the hope and faith that only Peeta can give me. I feel from the depths of my body how much I want Peeta, need Peeta. And I finally admit to myself how much I love Peeta. And apparently Peeta needs me just as much, wants me. I begin to feel him respond with the same desperate hunger, overwhelming my thoughts as I give into it. There is no doubt that Peeta loves me.
So after, when he whispers "You love me. Real or not real?"
I tell him, "real".