My hand on the cane is so tight I feel like I'm just going to break it in half. The anthem is playing and all of the cheering the crowd is doing for our prep teams, Cinna, Portia, Effie, and Haymitch all blur together for me. I'll be seeing Katniss so soon. I'm already grinning as I feel myself being lifted onto the stage.
The crowd is already going crazy for us. I hear nothing they say, though, and my breath catches when I see Katniss for the first time since the arena. She's so beautiful, innocent and radiant. She runs toward me, her dress flickering exactly like a candle as she launches herself into my arms.
I start to stumble back, not used to catching my balance with the cane yet. With her in my arms, everything is just right again. I need to taste her again, need to have her lips on mine. These people in the audience don't matter, the cameras don't matter. Right now, for this moment, it's Katniss and me, and that's it.
I put my finger underneath her chin and tap her chin so she looks up at me. As soon as she does, as soon as I can see her smokey eyes, I lower my lips to hers. The kiss is much like many of our others, soft and chaste, but it's still so good. I draw back, and see that her eyes are still closed. I move my lips all over her face, planting kisses on her chin, her cheek, her eyelids, before just pulling her back into my arms.
Caesar walks up to us, and even though we're on his show right now, even though we got along excellently during our previous interview, I shake my head at him, and gently push him away from us. This Katniss and Peeta world isn't done yet. We hold on tight again, and my eyes close briefly. My chest feels lighter than it has in days, and that has to be because now I know for sure Katniss is alive and well and happy.
We only draw apart when Haymitch walks to stand right next to us, "Come on love birds, we've got a show here!" He shoos us along, over to the love seat they have set up for us.
I don't think Katniss ever really got the hang of being in front of the cameras, and she sits close to me. But I like it, because I'm still not ready to be disconnected from her. Apparently she's even more uncomfortable than I thought, because she repositions herself within a minute, so that she's leaning her head against my shoulder. My arm moves of it's own accord to loop around her shoulder. If she's looking for protection, this is someplace I can give it.
We sit and Caesar looks at us with his typical smile, "Aw, aren't you two adorable?"
I smile back, tightening my arm around Katniss, as if to say, don't worry, I'll do the talking if you don't want to. "We really are."
"Adorable enough to steal my show. There's no doubt that's what the audience would go for right now." He says, and we both laugh as the crowd screams back to him, laughing and agreeing. Caesar settles back in his own chair, "Now, let's begin."
But I can't watch. I don't want to see anyone die. For most of the three hours, I focus on the way the dimmed lighting makes Katniss' hair shine, the way her hands tighten occasionally on mine, and her slow, relaxed breathing. We've never gotten to be together in a setting that isn't the arena, but, really, sitting together like this isn't as different as it was in our cave.
I only look away from Katniss when the anthem plays and President Snow comes out with the little girl to present us with the crown. I want to tell him that he can just give the whole crown to Katniss, that I don't need it. Then he breaks it in half, and walks to me. He looks down at me and smiles, "Good job."
I nod and accept the crown, and wait for Katniss to be crowned as well. As the audience goes wild, I wonder when I'm going to be alone with Katniss for long enough to show her my leg, to ask her about what's happened to her in the past few days, and to just hold her, without the country watching.
But it's clear that time won't be any time soon. We go to the President's mansion with dinner, which isn't so much a dinner so much as a meet and greet with your sponsors. I'm shocked by the number of people there who want their pictures with us, and I haven't even been there for ten minutes before all I see when I close my eyes are dizzying flashes. Every moment one sponsor leaves, I think I'll have a moment alone with Katniss, but someone else swoops in to talk to us.
We're not even alone when we're brought back to the twelfth floor of the Training Center. Before I can even tell Katniss to have a good night, and that I love her, Haymitch puts a hand on my shoulder, pushing me away from Katniss and toward Portia. "Go on, kid. She has something she needs to size you for or something."
Portia shakes her head, "Oh, well, it can wait if they want to have a moment –"
Haymitch doesn't let her finish, and says, "No, they're fine. Take him, do what you have to. We'll see you in the morning."
As Portia loops her arm through mine and starts leading me down one hallway, I look over my shoulder and see Haymitch leading Katniss in a different direction. Portia opens the door to her room and leads me in as I ask, "Why is Haymitch acting so strange? It's almost like he doesn't want Katniss and me to see each other at all privately."
Portia just waves it off and finds her measuring tape somewhere in her desk before walking back over to me, "Who knows? It's Haymitch. He's a strange guy."
She takes a measurement of my new foot, "Aha! I knew it by the way you were walking."
Distracted, I look down at her, "Knew what?"
She stands, "The personnel at the hospital told me that your foot was the same size as it was before. But it's not; it's a whole centimeter shorter!"
I don't mean to insult her, but I ask, "Does a centimeter really change things, foot-wise?"
She rolls her eyes at me like I've just asked her something preposterous. But I suppose it's the same look I'd give to someone who didn't know they had to knead bread dough in flour before baking. "It throws off everything, Peeta. I could tell it wasn't right simply by the way you were walking tonight."
My brows raise, "That's impressive. I didn't even notice I was walking differently."
She reaches up and pats my cheek, "That's why you're not the stylist here, honey."
I roll my eyes at her, "I guess so."
We laugh for a while before she draws me down for a quick hug, "I have to get to work on your footwear for tomorrow. Goodnight. I'll see you tomorrow morning."
I slowly make my way back, wondering if I should knock on Katniss' door so we can have at least a minute together, but even as I pause outside of her room, I stop myself. We just had a long and busy night, and she could already be sleeping. I don't want to make her get out of bed just so I can shock her with my leg. I'm sure we'll have a moment alone tomorrow.
But I'm wrong, I quickly come to realize after I wake up the next morning. Haymitch and I quickly eat breakfast together. He brings a bowl of oatmeal in to me and I ask, "Why aren't we having breakfast in the dining room? With Katniss?"
He stands in front of my door, arms crossed as he says, "She's busy. Getting prepped for her interview, like you will be in a minute."
He's not eating with me, but he stands in the room, guarding the door like a watchdog. "Haymitch, I don't get it. Why all of the sudden can't I see Katniss unless we're in front of an audience?"
He sighs, opens his mouth, and then there's a knock on my door. This is the only time I've ever seen Haymitch hesitate before speaking, and now that he reveals my prep team is behind the door, he evades answering completely, and doesn't even say goodbye before he makes his hasty exit.
Ravilla and Leontius try to make conversation with me, but I only give them short answers. I'm too focused on what is going on with Haymitch to give them very much attention. It doesn't take me as long as it normally does to be prepped, I think because I still have my hair and nails styled from last night. But they're gone and replaced by Portia in only an hour and a half.
She walks in, her arms full of my outfit. She yawns, "I had to work on your new shoes almost all night. I'm sorry if they don't fit exactly right."
Her eyes are half closed still when she looks at me, so I guide her to sit on the bed, "It's okay. You shouldn't have gone to all that trouble for my foot. But thank you."
She nods, and this is the first time I haven't seen her be anything but full of life. But I'll let her have her morning of quiet, because I'm also not really up for conversation. I dress myself, in the loose, soft white pants, and gauzy red shirt. The shoes, the ones she spent all night altering, look the same to me, but I know that's because I just don't have an eye for fashion the way she does.
I present myself in front of her, "How do I look?"
She gives me a sleepy smile and stands up, pressing her lips to my cheek, "Great. As always."
Then she leads me to the sitting room, "The interviews are going to be done in there today."
That's strange. But all right. As soon as I open the door, I see Caesar and Katniss are already here. The whole room is already decorated to go along with this romance color theme. She looks gorgeous, dressed in one of Cinna's creations. The red dress just reminds me of all those years ago, when we were five. The first time I saw her in a red dress. The memory makes me smile as I cross to her, and draw her aside, "I hardly get to see you. Haymitch seems bent on keeping us apart."
I expected Katniss was as confused about this as I am, but a shadow passes over her expression – her classic lying tell – before she says, "Yes, he's gotten very responsible lately."
Well, I don't need to know everything. I shrug it off, then tell her the words that have been brightening me ever since I thought about going home in the hospital, "Well, there's just this and we go home. Then he can't watch us all the time."
She gets that strange look on her face again, but before I can question it, Caesar is leading us to the couch. Oddly enough, it feels stranger being in this small room for interviewing than it does in front of thousands of people. Either way, I sit the same way I did last night, leaning back onto the couch. I'm disappointed when Katniss doesn't cuddle into me; but I suppose maybe she's not camera shy so much as audience-shy. But that theory is disproven as Caesar Flickerman tells her it's okay to cuddle up to me, and she does immediately. It brings back the protective feeling I had last night.
Before I even know it, the cameras are rolling and Caesar sits forward in his chair, "Hello, Panem! I'm sitting here with our favorite young couple, Peeta and Katniss, in their very own sitting room. Let me tell you, this place is so nice, I might just camp out so I can live half as nicely as these two. But enough about me, let's get down to what everyone really wants to see: our young loves." He turns and looks at us. "So, you two, how does it feel, the star-crossed lovers being able to be together?"
I can feel Katniss burrow even tighter to my side, so I clear my throat, and grin. "It feels amazing. Better than anything I've ever imagined." Which is extremely true.
Caesar shakes his head at us, "You two are almost too great. You're just delightful! Do you have any plans for when you go home?"
I can tell that Katniss doesn't want to answer any more right now, so I take this one, too. With a chuckle I say, "Well, first things first, I'm going to pull a shift at the bakery. I've lost out on a lot of bread time."
He laughs again and slaps his knee, "But you don't need to work at the bakery now; you don't need to work at all."
I shake my head, still smiling, but serious as I say, "I'll always need the bakery, though. My mother has no doubt been penciling in my shifts since she knew I was coming home."
"Well, it's good to know you'll always have the family business, eh? But what I really meant was, what plans do you two have for when you go back home?" He leans forward in his chair, looking at us expectantly.
I look down at Katniss, who's not looking at me or Caesar or the camera, but down at her hands. This is probably the one question I don't want to answer right now, especially on national television. After all, Katniss and I haven't even discussed this ourselves. But I can't falter now, which would just put even more pressure on Katniss herself, and us as a couple. I relax my shoulders into the couch and grin at Caesar, "We'll be together of course, but our relationship wasn't built in a day, and we can't predict what's going to happen in the coming times. We'll take it slow, and just enjoy each other and being in love." That much, I can say, is true.
"Aw, you kids." He clears his throat, his host-smile still intact as he says, "Well, Peeta, we know, from our days in the cave, that it was love at first sight for you from what, age five?"
This question is a lot easier, because I know the answer without even a shadow of a doubt. I nod, "From the moment I laid eyes on her."
I can tell before Caesar even speaks again that he's going to direct conversation, once more, toward Katniss. He talks to her about me, ending with, "When did you realize you were in love with him?"
And I'm sitting on the edge of my seat along with the rest of Panem, because I'm dying to know this as well. When did things change for her? She bites her lip and looks down, looking deep in thought. After she's silent for a while, Caesar talks about a moment that was played on the recap last night, "The night when you shouted out his name from that tree."
I wasn't particularly paying attention to any of those parts, but I can tell it must have stuck out to several people. It seems to strike a chord in Katniss, as she sits up straighter and says, "Yes, I guess that was it. I mean, until that point, I tried not to think what my feelings might be…" she speaks more, and the more I listen, the warmer my heart feels. This is just all so right. She really does love me back, because this isn't her lie face, and she has no reason to lie about this anyway.
I tune back into the conversation when Katniss says, "Maybe… because for the first time… there was a chance I could keep him."
Keep him! Keep me! She wants to keep me. Even though we haven't gotten around to talking about our future, with that statement I know she wants the same things I do. Being together. I lean down, pressing my forehead to her temple so my mouth is level with her ear, whispering, "So, now that you've got me, what are you going to do with me?"
She turns into me, so our faces are only an inch, maybe two, apart. This closeness… I've longed for it every day of my life. She answers, "Put you somewhere you can't get hurt."
I love this woman so incredibly much. Her words, even though she's uncomfortable using them, evoke more emotion in me than I thought possible. I duck my head and press my lips to hers. I love you so much, I think, and I just know she has to feel it. As we draw apart I sigh and Katniss settles back down into me, going back into her on-camera shell.
Caesar asks, "What about those injuries, huh? I think, as a part of the audience, I was most concerned with the tracker jackers. What were they like?"
I make myself give an over dramatic shudder, "Terrible. I can't even describe the pain, really. It was just… terrible. They make you think things that just aren't true. I mean, they could probably make you crazy." I don't know much about tracker jacker venom but based on what I briefly saw of it in the Games, I'm sure this assumption can't be that far off.
He nods, "So were they worse than Cato's wound with the sword?"
The answer comes to me immediately, "No way. After I was stung… it was bad, but I knew I'd live. The first time I woke up after being cut I was convinced I was dead. And when I found out I wasn't, well, you watched… I thought I was a goner for sure."
He turns his head toward Katniss, "So, what about for you? Was the tracker venom worse than the burns?"
Her response is short, "Well, for the burns Haymitch sent me some salve to put on them. For the venom, I just had to fight it out of my system myself."
Caesar doesn't push for her to say more, and then makes himself jump in fear, "Those muttations! They were terrifying."
I nod, "Could you do that jump again?" I mimic it, he does it again, and I mimic him again. When we're both laughing, I clear my throat, "But yeah, those mutts were horrific. After everything, I was convinced I was done. Again. I guess I was convinced of that a lot."
He does the same fake shudder I did minutes ago, "You had me convinced when one bit you. When I saw, I think when Panem saw, your leg, we all were certain you were gone. Speaking of your leg, how's your new one working out?"
Oh no. Katniss. I feel her tense up in my arms before she draws away, giving me a concerned look, "New leg?" Before I can stop her, explain to her in detail about my leg, she pulls up my pant leg. All of the blood drains from her face and she whispers, "Oh, no."
I'm trying to think of something to say, when Caesar asks, "No one told you?"
And now I wonder why no one told her, when everyone else knew. Why keep Katniss in the dark? Caesar looks at me questioningly, and I shrug, "I haven't had the chance." And why is that? I want to know now more than before why Haymitch has been so bent on Katniss and myself remaining separated.
My attention is drawn back to Katniss when she looks at me, guilt written all over her face as she says, "It's my fault. Because I used that tourniquet."
"Yes," I joke, trying to make her feel better, "It's your fault I'm alive." I owe my life to her and that tourniquet; she has to see that.
Caesar affirms what I'm thinking, but it does the opposite of make her feel better. She turns back to me, hiding her face in my shirt. I stroke my hand up and down her back, whispering, "Katniss, it's okay. You saved me, and this leg… it works perfectly. Come on out." I repeat this same thing for another minute before I can feel her sigh and she comes back out.
I send Caesar a look, telling him to stop talking to her, and making her feel terrible like this. He listens, and looks at me, gesturing to my leg, "So everything you went through, with all of the wounds and emotional exhaustion, was it worth the leg?"
I wave it off, "Worth an arm and a leg, really, so I consider myself lucky. Plus, you know, I had to get the latest model."
We laugh, and Caesar clears his throat, "Katniss, I know you've had a shock, but I've got to ask. The moment you pulled those berries. What was going on in your mind… hm?"
I'm not anticipating this answer, because I'm sure that I already know it. But when she says that she just couldn't bear the thought of being without me, my heart is soaring. I knew it. She loves me the exact same way that I love her.
Caesar asks, "Peeta? Anything to add?"
"No. I think that goes for both of us." I'm almost too happy to keep sitting still. Luckily, I don't have to, as moments later the interview ends. We're going home. Together.
Those thoughts repeat in my mind as Katniss goes up to her room to retrieve… whatever it is she needs to get before we go. Home. Together. It doesn't take her long to get back, but by the time she does, we're already being rushed to say what few goodbyes we can manage. Katniss hugs Cinna, and I go to Portia. She's beaming, and teary eyed at the same time, and I'm smiling back at her. She gets up on her tip-toes, and gives me a kiss on my cheek, "I'm going to miss you."
I give her the best hug I can manage with the cane, "Don't worry, I'm going to see you in only a few months. And then I won't have to use this thing," I joke and hold up my cane. "But I'll miss you, too." And I will. But honestly, it doesn't even amount to half of what I'm feeling about going home.
Effie is suddenly there, pointing to her watch, "Time to go." She sings. She's been beaming ever since we won.
Portia and I hug again, and I know that, out of everything, she's the only one I'll miss from the Capitol. Maybe Effie, a little, but not nearly as much as Portia. Katniss and I are reunited, and even though it's only been a minute, I feel like I haven't been with her in forever, and I wrap my arm around her shoulder. She looks up at me and smiles, and I know this must be what it's going to be like for us forever. Even though it's kind of hard for me to walk to our train with my arm around her, I'm not going to drop it for the world.
We take our seats to get ready for an early dinner, and that's the first time I let go of her. Right after we're out of the tunnel, Katniss gets a strange look on her face, but I think it's because it's finally sunk in to her that we're going home. Effie claps as the food is set on the table, "Well, well, well. We've done it!"
Katniss whispers to me, "Of course she includes herself when she didn't really do anything."
I chuckle in agreement, but really I don't know if I agree with her. I mean, even though Effie wasn't in the Games with us and didn't even do as much as Haymitch, Portia, and Cinna did, she was still here for us. Everything in these Hunger Games happened for a reason, and everyone involved in our winning team has to be given some credit. Rather than talk, Katniss and I just stuff our faces. This is the last hugely-rich-Capitol-food meal we'll be having for months, and we aren't going to waste it.
Haymitch and Effie talk, though. More like bicker. But it's nice to hear. After the dessert is finished and we go to watch the replay of the interview, their snapping has turned into more biting than necessary, so I just say, "Why don't we watch the interview in peace?"
They glare at each other, but reluctantly just turn to watch the TV. Good. My arm is around Katniss, and as we watch ourselves onscreen, she hiding against my side, she's completely relaxed. But only a few minutes in, I can feel her start to tense up. Before I can ask what's wrong, she stands, "I have to go to the bathroom."
It becomes increasingly clear that she's more than just going to the bathroom when she doesn't return before the interview replay is over. Effie asks, "What do you think got into her?"
Concern edges into me, "Maybe she ate too much and isn't feeling well. I should go check on her."
Haymitch's hand on my shoulder stops me, "Just let her be, the girl will be fine." Then he stalks away, and mutters about how he has to talk to someone working in the coal room.
I don't really know what he means by that, but since he and Katniss seem to be pretty friendly lately, I listen to him. I'll wait a little bit longer, and if she's still not back yet, I'll look in and make sure she's okay. Thankfully, it's only a minute or so later when she makes her reappearance, and she's changed out of her dress, out of her makeup, with her hair in it's typical braid. She's never looked better. But that strange look is still on her face.
"Are you feeling all right?" I ask as she walks toward me.
She gives me a completely unconvincing, strained smile, "Yeah, of course."
I don't want to push, and I figure she'll tell me anything she wants me to know, so I just put my arm on her shoulder again and give her a genuine smile back, "And we're almost back home in District Twelve!"
I thought that would cheer her up, but instead she just has that same smile, "Right. I can't wait."
Haymitch makes his reappearance, "We're stopping for fuel." He seems to make some weird eye contact with Katniss before saying, "You two can get some fresh air without any escorts. Don't blow it."
I have no idea what he means, and even though some corner of my mind is telling me that something is off right now, I let it go. I do want a breath of fresh air. Air that isn't produced in the arena or the Capitol. Just some breathing room, where it can be just me and Katniss. As soon as the train stops, we're off.
The train is a lot longer than I remembered, and as we walk along the tracks, I move my arm from her shoulder to take her hand in mine, entwining our fingers, "It's nice to be away, just us again." She doesn't say anything back, only nods. "Are you sure you're feeling okay? You know, we don't have to sit out with Haymitch and Effie for the rest of the night. We can go lay down. Or, if you want to be alone for a little bit, you can do that, too." I know I don't want to be away from her, but I also know Katniss well enough to know that she isn't as social as I am, and sometimes she does just want to hide away by herself. Like in her sleeping bag in the Games, only now it would be her literally hiding from everyone.
She doesn't say anything as a response again, this time shaking her head. Maybe she just wants the silence, I think, some solitude while we're out here. I stop myself from making conversation, and we just walk. Up ahead, I see some really pretty flowers growing along the side. They're bright pink and white, and vibrant; not wilting at all. Beautiful, vibrant, and alive. Just like Katniss. I give her a smile and gesture at the flowers, before dropping her hand and walking over to pick them.
I first intended on picking up maybe one or two to tuck into her hair, but not that they're in my hands, I can't stop myself from picking over a dozen, forming a bouquet, before I stand and present them to my love. I'm starting to get really concerned that she's not feeling well, when her face goes a bit paler, and she struggles to give me a tense smile. Her hand on the stems of the flowers is tight and I put my hand on the small of her back, "Are you sure you're all right?"
She waves off my questions, "I told you, I'm fine."
Those remain to be her only words as we resume our walk. She holds the flowers in her hands, and even as I make lame attempts at conversation, I can tell she doesn't hear me and that her mind is on other things. The longer we walk, the worse she looks. Finally I stop, "What's wrong?"
I can't tell if she's startled or annoyed when she says, "Nothing." And then initiates our walk to continue. But there is clearly not 'nothing' wrong. Because it nothing was wrong, I wouldn't be feeling this anticipation and anxiety if there was nothing. It's like the same feeling I had on that last day in the Hunger Games.
Even when we reach the end of the train, we don't stop. I only slow down when I think I hear footsteps coming from behind, and all of the sudden Haymitch is with us, speaking before we can greet him, "Great job you two. Just keep it up in the district until the cameras are gone. We should be okay." And, just as quickly as he came, he's gone.
What was he talking about? 'Keep it up' and 'we should be okay'? I know it must have to do with when he said 'don't blow it' but I still don't know what. Then I realize that Katniss must know. I look at her, but she's making a point of looking down. The sinking feeling in my stomach expands. It has to be something bad. Sick of waiting for her to look at me, I just ask, "What's he mean?"
She tells me, "It's the Capitol. They didn't like our stunt with the berries."
But that still doesn't make any sense to me. What stunt? We're in love – I don't think anyone sees love as some 'stunt.' "What? What are you talking about?"
When she says, "They thought it was too rebellious." Make sense. I can understand why the Capitol didn't like the fact that we broke their rules, regardless of the reason. It makes sense. However, her next words, about how Haymitch has been coaching her through our return to the world, doesn't. Why wouldn't I need the same coaching? I could make a mistake that's vital in whatever plan she and Haymitch have hatched, whatever it may be. "Coaching you? But not me." I just can't wrap my mind around it.
She says, "He knew you were smart enough to get it right."
It just doesn't make sense. I'm smart enough? If anything, Katniss is smarter than me. Clearly she is, because she knew that there was something wrong and I didn't even know something was off. I say as much.
I wrack my brain, trying to think, what in the world am I smarter than Katniss at? I can't think of any answer other than lying, which makes no sense in this situation. So I try to think of what I've been doing in the past few days. There's nothing. Except just being with Katniss. Then it starts to occur to me what she's talking about, ""So, what you're saying is these past few days, and then I guess…" I'm starting to feel a little dizzy as it all dawns on me, "back in the arena… that was just some strategy you two worked out." My heart starts beating incredibly fast and I realize that it was a ploy. Like my strategy during my Caesar Flickerman interview, only I was being genuine. And she's not.
She stumbling over her words now, but she doesn't give a convincing defense. "No. I mean, I couldn't even talk to him in the arena, remember?"
"But you knew what he wanted you to do, didn't you?" Of course she did. She's a smart girl and she and Haymitch can read each other like no other. My chest is tight and anger – real, true anger – is welling up inside me. I already know what I've said is true, and yet I can't let go of this small – dumb – hope I have that I'm wrong. But when she bites her lip and doesn't respond right away after I ask, "Katniss?" That stupid light of hope is put out. I can't even bare to be touching her while these thoughts and feelings whirl through me, and I let her hand go like it's acidic.
I turn away and clench my hands, not sure whether or not I want to yell or cry or pretend I never heard the truth, but all I do is say, "It was all for the Games. How you acted." I'm expecting the tears that I'm always so susceptible to, and I'm not disappointed. My throat constricts, and I swallow them down before I can turn back to face her again.
"Not all of it," she tells me. Her hand is squeezing tightly onto the flowers I picked for her. It looks like she's strangling them, the same way this conversation is strangling me. The bouquet looks wrong in her hands now. It's not just a simple gesture of love – it's cruelly mocking me.
My voice is tight from the tears I'm holding in as I ask, "Then how much of it? No, forget that." I think for a moment, trying to calm myself before I add on, "I guess what's going to be left when we get home?" I think of all the expectations I had for our future. Dating, being a real couple, not in the arena. Maybe even marriage or kids and a real life. And I know that no matter what she says, none of that is going to be possible. Because she doesn't want it.
But, like the idiot I am, I stand, waiting for her answer. Finally, she says, "I don't know. The closer we get to District Twelve, the more confused I get." Then she pauses. As I wait for her to keep going, I realize that it wasn't a pause. It was the end of her statement.
All I can manage to say is, "Well, let me know what you work it out." Then I turn my back to her, and my face crumples, the tears no longer being able to be put on hold. I get back to the door to the train quickly, and I make a half-hearted attempt at wiping my tears and snot away, but it doesn't really matter what I look like.
Effie sees me immediately and starts asking questions, but I'm not in the mindset or temperament to deal with her right now. I can see Haymitch out of the corner of my eye, and I realize that I've never had this strong of an impulse to punch someone in the face. I break into a run to my room before I slam the door behind me, and lock it.
And then I don't know what to do with myself. I stand with my back to the door, my mind replaying with images from the Hunger Games. I hardly even remember walking to the desk and pulling out paper, but here I am, drawing out moments that I thought were perfect. Times in the cave, gestures that were so telling. Blood rushes in my ears, and tears mark the pages. It's hours before I'm done, but by the time it's dark out, everything is finished. There are over fifty drawings in total.
Then I go through each one and rip them into little, tiny pieces, and sprinkle them into the trash. Where all those phony memories belong. I don't realize how long that took me, until I look outside and see daylight. And I realize that my tears are gone. My sadness remains, but the tears are gone. I feel like I had to have cried myself dry.
I don't bother changing my clothes as I flop onto the bed. Until I realize that these clothes, these beautiful clothes that Portia made for me, are tainted with the love I felt for Katniss only yesterday. With the love I still feel. They're soiled by the lies I learned of yesterday. I don't bother to stand up as I lay here and strip down to my underwear. What does it matter? What does really anything matter anymore? Those are my last thoughts before I slip into my day of fitful sleep.
I first wake up to knocking on my door. It's Effie's voice, and I think I hear real concern as she asks, "Are you coming out for lunch?"
My voice is weak and raspy as I answer, "No." And I hear her footsteps as she walks away.
Then I fall asleep again, waking up to a side of my bed inching down. I open my eyes, and see Haymitch. "You're up." His tone is flat.
I say nothing in return. That's as much as I have to say to him. I only look at him blankly. I don't even want to do that. I don't want to see his face.
He gestures to the bedside table, "I brought you some food. You missed every meal today."
I look over and see it, then shrug. I'm not hungry.
He heaves a sigh, "Katniss isn't being a chatty person lately, either. But I'm guessing she told you…" he trails off.
Now I speak, "Yeah. She told me about how everything she said and did was a lie you two came up with. Thanks for letting me think she really loved me back."
He looks at me in alarm, "Be quiet." Then he looks around, before standing, "This is bigger than you. It's bigger than any single person. So shut up and stop being such a little bitch about everything." Then he leaves, and I hear him lock the door from the outside. Good.
But I don't know how it affects other people, and I don't want to think about it, either. For now, right now, I want to stop thinking about taking care of anyone else's needs except for Peeta's. And now, when I lay back and think about everything, I don't feel that crushing depression of yesterday. I feel rage. Did I say before that she couldn't lie? Because now I'm certain she's the best con woman alive.
I didn't even think I could ever feel this way about Katniss, but I didn't think she was lying about us, either. She just thinks I'm the biggest fool. All of Panem must. Because it was fake. We were fake. My dream come true, the best time of my life is just a sham. Every time I thought she enjoyed being in my arms as much as I enjoyed having her there, every time I thought she elated in our kissing the way I did, whenever she took care of me, it was all an act.
I lay awake all night. I want to sleep, but every time I let myself doze off, I end up having dreams of Katniss. Katniss really loving me. And when I wake up, it's terrible, because it's all not true. By the next morning, when Effie knocks on the door and tells me we'll be arriving in District Twelve in an hour, I get up and make myself shower before getting dressed. And I realize as I make my way to the compartment that we'll be getting off of, that the anger is gone. There is no more fury, no more sadness. I just feel… empty.
As I stand next to her on the train, for the first time the closeness to Katniss doesn't excite me. There's nothing inside me to excite. No tears are clogging my throat, clouding my eyes. There is no more of anything left. There's nothing.
I offer my hand to her and ask, "One more time? For the audience?" As she takes it, I realize I didn't have to say that last part. For her, everything has been for the audience.
She doesn't care about me, she doesn't love me back. Her actions weren't because she couldn't live without me, they were to play the crowd. Someone has reached into my chest and taken out my heart, and stomped out all of the blood. And the stomper is Katniss Everdeen. Now it's back in my chest, beating and making me breath. I survived, but I am no longer living.
And this is it!Please give me some feedback in a review.
Thank you so much to everyone who's read it and enjoyed.
Also, I've decided to write Catching Fire from Peeta's point of view! But don't expect it to be up for another two or three weeks.