CONTAINS MOCKINGJAY SPOILERS!
I felt like there should have been more of an explanation behind Katniss' declaration of love to Peeta. So, this is what I wrote! Reviews are welcome! :)
DISCLAIMER: All characters, plots, and quotations from the book belong to Suzanne Collins. I do not own anything.
I sat quietly as the realization sunk in.
"You loved Maysilee Donner," I said.
Haymitch nodded, never looking away from his knuckles, which were now white from squeezing the bottle he was holding. He looked up at me with the most sober expression I had ever seen on his face.
"I loved Maysilee Donner. When I heard her name and then mine called at the reaping, I couldn't breathe. Everything I thought I knew about my future, all of my regrets from the past… went up in smoke."
I stared for a moment, trying not to think about the familiarity of the scenario playing out in my head...
"Did she know?"
Of course not. I had seen the tapes. Haymitch's behavior when he broke their alliance showed no signs of love. I suddenly became angry when I remembered how mean he was to Maysilee.
"Why didn't you try to save her in the arena?"
Haymitch gave me an exasperated look, as if he was trying to explain something to a small child.
"You know why."
After seeing my puzzled expression, he added, "You and I are a lot alike, you know."
I woke suddenly from a nightmare that was somehow more frightening than any of the others. Peeta tightened his arms around me. I rolled over to face him, and he was staring into my eyes with a sympathetic smile.
"I'm still here."
I found his hand and squeezed it in response.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
In my dream, I was Haymitch, trying to find a way to break the alliance with Maysilee at the force field. When she finally walked away, she slowly morphed into Peeta. He turned around and gave me one last look and then disappeared into the woods. That was when I woke up screaming. I paused for a minute, considering if Haymitch would mind if I told Peeta. I decided there was no use for secrets anymore between Peeta and I. Haymitch was probably too drunk to care anyways.
"Haymitch loved Maysilee."
Peeta stared at the ceiling as he considered this piece of news. Finally, he said, "I guess I understand why he was so cold to her in the arena."
Peeta instantly saw what it had taken me until now to put together. He made a different choice than Peeta did on the day of the reaping. He made the same choice I made. Haymitch was right; we are a lot alike. Suddenly, I could hear his words from before the Victory Tour. "You could do a lot worse, you know." He was right, of course. Peeta is better than me, and I'll never deserve him. I looked at Peeta and saw that he was staring at me.
"What are you thinking?"
I took a deep breath and said, "Haymitch made the same decision I made when he was thrown into the arena with Maysilee."
Peeta stared into my eyes as the implication sunk in. He looked skeptical, but his eyes had betrayed him with a small flash of hope.
"You loved me when we went into the arena?"
I sighed. "I didn't know what love was when I went into the arena. I had my future carefully planned out, and it didn't involve marriage or children. I was so afraid that I wouldn't be able to protect them from the Capitol and the Games. But when Effie called out your name at the reaping… I realized I cared about you more than I thought I did and then pushed it to the back of my mind all in the ten seconds it took for you to walk up the stairs. All I knew at that moment was that I had a promise to keep. I told Prim I would make it back home, and I knew that meant that you wouldn't. " Peeta stared at the ceiling again for a long time. I wondered if he was fighting off more shiny memories. Quite frankly, I was trying to fight off some memories of my own.
"I knew I couldn't kill you. I couldn't be your ally either. I was hoping someone else would take care of you so that we wouldn't be the last two in the arena. I'll admit that the idea didn't seem too terrible, though, when I thought you were helping the Careers hunt me down."
This elicited a small chuckle from Peeta. My voice softened as I continued, "It was only when you saved me from Cato after we were stung by the tracker jackers that I realized what your strategy was. That you had been protecting me the whole time. Then when Claudius Templesmith announced that we could both make it out alive, some part of my subconscious acknowledged that I wouldn't have to lose you, and I started running."
When I looked at Peeta, I thought I saw something like tears in his blue eyes, which were staring at me with an intensity like I had never seen before.
His voice cracked as he whispered, "I don't understand. You were faking our romance in the cave. That's what Haymitch said. That's what you said!"
I sighed. My explanation didn't make much sense even to me, but I had to make him understand somehow.
"I honestly didn't know how I felt about us while we were in the cave. I didn't allow myself to take the time to figure it out either. All I knew was that the boy with the bread was slipping away, and I had to find a way to keep you alive. When I found you in the mud by the stream, I never planned on letting you go again. Even though I didn't know in what way, I loved you."
That small flicker of hope and even a little bit of joy passed through his eyes before he could compose himself again.
"And when we got back to District 12? You never even visited. You spent all of your time with Gale..."
"Peeta," I whispered softly. I could see that I had underestimated just how badly he had been hurt by my actions. "I knew that I had hurt you. You deserved more than I was able to give you."
He analyzed my face for a moment before relaxing the lines on his forehead. He seemed to accept this answer. All of this explaining and talking I had been doing was uncomfortable. He was always the one who was good with words. I knew I owed him an explanation though.
"So how do you feel about me now?"
That was the question I was scared of hearing, but also the one that had to be answered. Instead of answering his question directly, I began with a different subject.
"When I woke up on the hovercraft and realized you were gone, my whole world shifted upside down. I went in and out of consciousness for days. Up until the time I saw your first interview on the television, I spent my time hiding from the rest of the world in strange little closets or behind water pipes. Then on the night of the bombings in 13, Finnick and I talked about you and Annie. He said that anyone could see how much I loved you. Anyone except for me."
"Katniss, I had no idea…" He began stroking my hair. It was just like Peeta to be worried about how I was handling his imprisonment when he was the one who had been hijacked. I squeezed his hand and continued.
"When I realized how Snow was using you to break me, I became useless. I turned into a hysterical mess and had to be sedated. That's when they decided to rescue you and the other tributes. But then you came back and tried to kill me…"
I stopped for a moment, the memory too painful to continue. I noticed that Peeta had backed away and was holding onto the sheets, his face twisted in pain. I guess the memory was too much for him too.
"I don't have to go on, Peeta." He took a deep breath and then resumed stroking my hair.
"No, please do. I've waited too long for this." I stared at him for a moment to judge his state of mind. He seemed stable enough, so I continued.
"I made them transfer me to 2 and completely wrote you off. At least that's what I told myself I did. But in the weeks to come, I realized how much I needed you, the real you. I started fighting to bring you back to the surface. Now, we're here in 12. Safe from the Capitol and the cameras and the Games. And I finally know how I feel about you. I've never been more sure of anything."
He brushed my hair back gently. As his fingers ran across my forehead, I felt the same hunger I had felt on the beach in the arena. I know that this would have happened anyway. That what I need to survive is not Gale's fire, kindled with rage and hatred. I have plenty of fire myself. What I need is the dandelion in the spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction. The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again. And only Peeta can give me that. I leaned over and kissed him. Not for the cameras or the Capitol audience or to convince anyone that we were the star-crossed lovers of District 12. Neither of us needed to be convinced.
He slowly pulled away and looked into my eyes with a huge smile, not even trying to hide the joy in his eyes. He whispered, "You love me. Real or not real?"
I smiled back at him and said, "Real."