Where the Truth Lies
. . . .
Today was a good day. Well, as good as a day can be for me now. I went hunting. I find that it's easier for me to focus on the one thing I know how to do. Especially now that things have settled into some semblance of normalcy. Or whatever normalcy can mean for me now.
I drop the bag of my kill on the table next to Greasy Sae. I got a wild turkey and a couple squirrels. She looks pleased with the game. Even more pleased when she sees that I have already cleaned the bird and removed all the feathers.
I sat by the lake in the meadow while I cleaned it. Mostly, I try not to go there. The memories are too painful. But Peeta says that memories are important for healing. He didn't say it to me, of course. Only to Haymitch, who was more than happy to pass along the information last month when I took him some more of the white liquor I got for him in the Hob.
I wonder how Peeta's dealing with his memories. He still has trouble with fighting through which ones are real and which ones aren't. I suppose there will always be that for him and that always makes me sad. Not just on the surface, but deep down inside my bones, my heart. And then I think that he is no longer the boy who stood before Panem and said that he loved me. Even if they hadn't taken and twisted his memories, I am no longer that girl that he loved.
Peeta doesn't really talk to me much. He's just there, always, woven in the tapestry of the life that I'm trying to rebuild. I guess you could say that I'm not really trying to do anything. Life means nothing more right now than remembering to breathe. It's no more complicated than telling myself that I need to put on clothes in the morning when faced with the sunlight of another day, pulling me out of the night that is always consumed with nightmares. Peeta used to hold me. Peeta used to keep them at bay. Peeta was always protecting me, even from the monsters that lived in my mind.
I wake up, startled and screaming. I feel my body tremble and shake with the memory of Rue dying in my arms. The silver moon streams in through the darkness, but it only serves to illuminate how very alone I am. I try to find sleep, but when I can't, I make my way down the hall. And that's when I smell the rose. I know that it's no longer there in the room behind the closed door that I can't seem to open. I destroyed it. Like him. Like Snow. But none of that matters as I sink down on the floor, cowering and still afraid. Even though he's dead, even though I watched him die, he will never stop haunting me. At some point, I fall asleep on the hard wood floor. Weak and crying and alone.
There is warm bread on the table when I walk down to the kitchen in the morning. I smell it and it smells good. I touch it and it's soft and warm. Just like its maker. And this is just his way. He brings when I'm not watching. He gives without ever having to be asked. If his dreams frighten him, I do not know. But still, he is up. He has already made bread with his hands. He is trying to move forward. And I decide I want to watch. Because maybe if I watch him knead dough and mix batter, just maybe what seems to be helping him will help me, too.
"You can come in," he says.
His voice is quiet like he's afraid that he will scare me. Like he knows I'm on edge. But then again, I'm always on edge.
"I just…I wanted to watch you work," I tell the truth. There's no need to lie. "Would that be okay?"
"You can't watch from all the way over there."
"I don't want to be a bother."
Blue eyes look at me and the tingle in my stomach tells me that I'm probably hungry. It's funny, I haven't really been hungry in so long.
It goes like this for hours. He mixes, and I watch. He kneads, and I watch. He bakes, and I watch. He creates, and I find that watching is actually soothing. He doesn't speak to me and I am content in the silence between us. I wouldn't really know what to say anyway. I feel like so much of what he does is like art and I wonder if he still paints. I wonder if he finds comfort in that. And I hope that he does.
People come and go and Peeta talks to them. He gives them bread and then goes back to work. I remain silent and if people notice me, they never say so. They probably think I'm crazy. And I guess that I am, so it doesn't really bother me.
"Your eyes are dark," he says, after asking me to hand him a bowl of dried fruit.
"I didn't sleep well," I tell him. "I don't. I don't sleep well."
Flashes of Snow and Coin, of Finnick and Prim darken my thoughts and I feel the anxiety bubbling up.
"Katniss?" he says and I look at him. Soft eyes. Strong, capable hands. And I see flickers of the boy I once thought I knew. I didn't really know him then. I wonder if I know him now. I probably don't. "The fruit."
And just like that, I'm centered. Calm. Or at least as calm as I can be now. I hand him the fruit and I notice something. Something from so long ago. Something that causes a flicker inside of me. A whisper of a memory. And suddenly, I'm staring at the boy who gave me the bread. The boy who saved my life. The first time.
"What are you making?" I ask. I only stammer a little. If he notices, he doesn't say.
He just calmly says, "Bread," as he adds the fruit to his mixture.
"Is that…?" I start, but of course, I can't finish. The words stick in my throat and I feel like I'm choking on them. Like I can't breathe.
His eyes meet mine again, only briefly this time. But I see the blue, I see the emotion. Or is it confusion? Before I can try to puzzle it out, he answers me.
He goes back to work and nothing more is said. I sit there and watch him and I wonder if maybe the boy who saved me too many times for me to even count is still inside his broken body, his wounded heart and stolen mind. And I hope that he is. Because if one of us can be better, I really hope it's him. I've hoped a lot today.
It's twilight as I walk outside my door. The first thing I notice, besides the nervousness I feel in my stomach, is all of the primroses Peeta planted around my house. Even though it's almost dark, I can still see the colors. They're mostly yellow, with a smattering of pink throughout. But it's the random patch of blue flowers off to the edge that catch my eye. I walk over, without much thought, and I stare at them. In the soft, low light, they are the exact same color as Peeta's eyes. They are beautiful. I think they're the first real beauty I've noticed since returning to Twelve. Then, I think, that's not the truth.
Standing at his door is awkward. I knew this was a mistake. If he wanted to come, he would come. He comes all the time. He doesn't even knock. He leaves the bread and goes as quietly as he came. Greasy Sae told me that he doesn't come because he's never been invited. And when I told her that she was more than welcome to invite him, she scoffed and mumbled about not wanting the invitation to come from her. I wonder if I should knock, but then I think I definitely should. Peeta and I aren't what we used to be. I don't even know what we used to be. Friends? Fake fiancés? Allies? I don't even know what's real anymore.
I take my hand and I knock softly on the door. Nothing happens. I knock again, louder this time. When he still doesn't come, I begin to worry. I turn the knob and the door is unlocked. I tentatively walk inside and I don't see him. I make my way to the kitchen and he's there, standing at the sink.
"Peeta?" I whisper.
He turns around and I see the terror on his face. It scares me as I watch him try to put the pieces of this moment together in his mind. My heart breaks a little as I see the fear, the way he has to fight through it as he tries to understand what is real and what isn't. And all at once, I'm back in the hospital room in Thirteen and Peeta wants to kill me. A part of him – a very real and still present part – still thinks that I am evil. That he needs to kill me.
He grips the towel in his hand as he works through the emotions of what's real and what isn't. By the time his eyes soften, I know the recognition is there, but it's too late. My eyes are already watering. My hands are already shaking.
"You don't want to hurt me," he says. "Real or not real?"
"Real," I breathe.
"I just wanted to invite you to dinner," I tell him, hating the way my voice trembles. "And I wanted to give you these."
I hold my hand out and inside my tight fist and white knuckles are the pale blue flowers that I picked from the bush that he planted in my yard. The stems are smashed together between my fingers and they're probably broken. Just like me. Just like him. He approaches me slowly, like I'm a wild animal about to attack. But I would never hurt him. I want to scream it. I want to cry. I want to force him to understand, to remember. I just want him to know. But I know it's not his fault. His hand covers mine and his skin is so soft. He pries open my fingers and he takes the flowers from my hand.
"You brought me flowers?"
"They're yours," I tell him. "The ones that you planted."
He looks at them and then back to me. His eyes hold a million questions I'm sure I'll never have the answers to. And he's so close right now. I can feel his breath, his warmth and my own confusion swirls as I try to adjust to his proximity.
"I planted them for you," he says.
I nod my head because he did. He's always doing things for me. Making me bread, letting me watch, helping me take care of Haymitch.
"Do you want to come to dinner?" I ask. "Greasy Sae says she made too much. There's plenty for you, too."
His brow furrows and I wonder if he doesn't. Maybe he doesn't want to spend time with me like that anymore. Maybe it's just too hard for him now.
"Do you want me to come to dinner?" he asks.
"Yes," I tell him. "I want you to come to dinner, Peeta."
Something happens inside me. Here in his kitchen in his house. I wonder if this is the room that he makes the bead that he brings to me in the morning. Every morning. This feeling is all new. New and terrifying. I feel the tips of my fingers tingle and twitch like they want to reach out and touch him. Any piece of him. I have touched and hugged and kissed Peeta more times than I can count. The number is as incalculable as the number of times he tried to save me – the times we tried to save each other. But those touches were different. They were always a show for people who thought they really knew us. But they didn't know us at all. Here, alone with Peeta, it means something different. I push the idea from my mind and my hands are held tightly in fists at my side. The moment passes.
When we get back to my house, the table is prepared and Greasy Sae and her granddaughter are gone. I'm nervous. I'm nervous about being with Peeta alone. And this is different than anything I've felt with him before. I have been alone with him before. Too many times to count, really. And now, it's just us. There are no other tributes. No one is lurking in the shadows, waiting to kill us. There are no soldiers. There is no war. It's just me and Peeta alone. And that is scarier than anything we hold in our memories.
Dinner passes by in silence. Just the sound of us eating. The food is simple but good. And after a while, I find that there is comfort in this familiarity. We work together to clean the dishes. It's been so long since I've done anything so normal, so domestic. Greasy Sae usually cleans up before she leaves every night. I wash and Peeta dries. And when it's all done, I find that I am so tired. I don't know if it's from the nightmare last night and sleeping on the floor or the full day I've had.
"I guess I should go," he says.
He looks at me and his eyes are soft and clearer than before. There's no panic and confusion there at all. Soft and blue and expressive like him. And I wonder if in this moment, he sees me for who I really am. I wonder if he'll ever really be able to look at me without some kind of fear lurking in the back of his mind. Probably not. It's just another thing they stole from him. From both of us.
"Do you want to sit by the fire?" I ask.
I don't know why I ask because I'm so tired. I only know that I'm not ready for the day to end. And there is something so soothing about the thought of sitting next to him right now. My body tingles from the pleasure of the thought. I try to remember the last time anything felt good. I can't, so I look into his eyes and wait for his answer.
We sit and it's warm and the light from the fire is the only thing illuminating the space. Peeta is close to me, closer than we've been before. But I am not scared and I don't think he is either.
"Thank you, Katniss," he murmurs.
"Greasy Sae made the dinner," I tell him, happy he was pleased with it.
"Not for the dinner," he says. "For the flowers."
The tingling in my stomach is back, but this time, I know I'm not hungry.
"I thought they were beautiful," I say softly. "They reminded me of you."
My eyes tire, my lids sag and I feel my head bob and fall to the side. It's resting on Peeta's shoulder. I wonder if I should move, but I don't want to move. He doesn't seem to mind and eventually – almost immediately – I fall asleep. I think I feel his arm wrap around my shoulders before the world goes black. It's probably a dream.
When I wake up, I am in my bed. My body is not tense and I can't remember the nightmares that surely plagued my sleep. The sun shining through the window covers me in a blanket of warmth. I'm still wearing the same clothes as yesterday and I think that Peeta must have carried me to bed. If I came on my own, I don't remember. I breathe in deeply and that's when I smell it. Peeta. Soft and clean and masculine and sweet. Just like the fruit bread he made yesterday. The same bread he gave me when I was so young, starving and dying. Peeta is still saving me. He saved me then. He saved me in the arena. He's saving me now. I wonder if he held me in my sleep. And if he did, I wonder if his nightmares were absent like mine.
My favorite cheese bread is on the table when I go downstairs. I pick it up and smell it, breathing in deeply. I tear it apart with my fingers and I eat it piece by piece. And when I am full, I go to the bathroom. I strip off my wrinkled clothes and I take a bath with warm water. I wash my knotted hair with its jagged ends that have been burned. And I comb it through, working out the tangles and only crying a little bit.
I stand before the mirror, naked and burned with skin that is ugly and scarred, with eyes that are jaded and hollow. I don't even recognize the girl staring back at me. The woman I've become. I am no longer Katniss of the Seam. I am broken and battered; a tribute, a mockingjay, a soldier with battle wounds that will never really heal.
I wonder if this is what Peeta sees when he looks at me. I wonder if any part of him can still remember the girl he said he loved since we were children. I can still see glimpses of him. The soft, sweet boy with the bruise on his face. The charismatic boy who so easily won over the crowds. He's still there in glimpses – in moments. It doesn't matter to me that his leg is mechanical, that his skin is battered and burned and patched like mine. So, I put on my clothes, collect my bow and gather my arrows. I walk outside and into the woods and I go hunting. We will need fresh game for dinner tonight. Peeta will be hungry.
It passes like this for us. Days turn into weeks and weeks into months. Peeta makes bread and I watch. I hunt for food and we eat together. Sometimes we are with Greasy Sae and her granddaughter. Sometimes, Haymitch even joins us. Usually only when he's waiting to get more white liquor. I begin work on the book. Peeta helps. It's how we pass the time in the evenings. Sometimes we talk about what we remember. Sometimes we don't. Some of the memories are too hard to relive like that. And there are some things, some feelings that you can never put into words. Things like Prim. Things like Finnick. Things like the torture and terror that Peeta survived at the hands of the Capitol and Snow.
Peeta sleeps with me every night. We have moved passed pretending that it doesn't happen. I know that we both feel the same. If there is comfort and rest in each other's arms, don't we deserve it? It's not something we discuss; it's just something that we both know we need. And in the quiet darkness of my bedroom, we both take and we both give. It isn't sexual; I'm pretty sure that Peeta will never view me like that again. My body is no longer alluring in that way. And I'm okay with that. It's just relief and reassurance, swathed in strong arms, tangled legs, warm breaths and a steady beating heart. He centers me, protects me and in his own way, he loves me…still.
My mother came today. She hasn't been here since I returned. We exchange short calls every couple months. I realize that while she is my mother and will always be my family in some sense, she is not really my family now. I didn't go to the bakery. I haven't seen Peeta since I fell asleep last night. He was gone before I woke, but he usually is. There was banana bread and honey butter on the table when I woke up this morning. It was good. It was warm.
I spend the day with her. She tells me of all the things going on in District Four. What's she's doing and how she is assisting in the medical center. This is good for her. I know how much she must suffer at the thought of how we lost Prim. I know how I suffer at the thought. I don't ask about Gale. I've seen him on TV and I can tell how he's doing. She doesn't bring him up either, even though I know they've remained in contact. She doesn't ask about Peeta. It's just as well. She'll see him tonight at dinner and if she wants, he can fill her in himself. Some things are private. Peeta, to me, is private.
The table is set. My mother, Greasy Sae and Haymitch are all around the table. I have prepared a wild duck from the lake at the meadow. Greasy Sae made the orange sauce to go with it. There is a salad of wild greens with oil and red wine vinegar. There are boiled potatoes, but there is no bread. Peeta is not here.
We eat and conversation is stilted and forced. Haymitch is long past trying to be social and accommodating. None of us are really social anymore. But Greasy Sae and my mother make the best of the situation. Everything is off. He's not here and somehow, this is wrong. He is supposed to be here. And why isn't he? The food that I eat tastes bland and dry and I try to swallow it. The sassafras tea tastes like water, like nothing. I look to my left, to the chair that Peeta is supposed to occupy, and it's empty. Something inside me twitches and aches. Something, some feeling I don't understand. I don't understand it; I just know that everything is wrong when he's not here.
When the kitchen is clean, when Haymitch and Greasy Sae have made their way home and my mother is safely tucked away and sleeping in her old room, I stare out the window and look at Peeta's house. The lights are off, but I know he's home. Where else would he be? If he's not here with me, there is no other place for him. I slide on my shoes, not bothering with a coat, and I make my way over to his house in the dark. I'm only frightened of the dark a little. It's silly really, that I should still be frightened of anything. There is no one waiting to attack me. Snow is dead, along with the people I loved that he took from me. I shiver as I push away the thought. I open the door without bothering to knock. My home is Peeta's home. And I suppose that somewhere along the way, I began to feel the same way about his home.
It's dark inside and Peeta is nowhere to be found. I slip off my shoes and make my way up the stairs. I walk down the hall and find the door to his room closed. I falter momentarily. I wonder if I will frighten him by coming in. The episodes are few and far between now. But sometimes they still happen. Sometimes, when he looks at me, he still sees the girl the Capitol taught him to hate – the girl he thought wanted only to hurt him. I hate those moments. I rarely cry, but I do when his eyes are clouded and confused. I cry and I wait for the gentle blue to replace the piercing, bewildered grey. And when he comes back to me, I hold him in my arms while he asks me, "Real or not real?" And I always tell him, "I am real. I would never hurt you, Peeta. Not ever."
I slip inside. If he's awake he doesn't acknowledge me. When I reach the bed, the silver light of the moon shows me that his eyes are still open. I sit down on the edge and he doesn't move. It doesn't go unnoticed; that this is the first time we've been alone in his room at night. We always sleep at my house.
"You didn't come to dinner," I say softly.
"You didn't come to the bakery," is his response. "And I wasn't invited."
"You're always invited," I tell him. "And my mother is here. That's why I didn't…couldn't…that's why I couldn't come today."
"That's why I thought I needed to be invited."
And this is it, isn't it? I realize that Peeta is still waiting for me to choose. When the truth is, I've already chosen. Doesn't he know? How can he not know? Everything I have left to give in this messed up and thieving world that has taken so much from us is his. All of it belongs to him.
He rolls over in bed, the sheets shifting and exposing his chest. He always sleeps completely clothed with me. I can see the scars in the moonlight, the remnants of the fire that seared and burned us. But something inside my chest presses and flutters and I think that it's my heart. I can tell he wants to reach for me, but I reach for him first. Peeta is always giving. Now, it's my chance, my turn. I need to give. I need to show him that he is my family. That I need him to survive. Gale's words echo in my mind. I remember being so hurt that they could find me so selfish, but the truth is that now I understand. I need Peeta. I need him and that doesn't make me selfish. What has made me selfish is keeping that knowledge to myself. Because deep down I know that on some level, I've always known it. Maybe since he saved my life with the flour and sugar and fruit that made the bread that fed me and my family…and the bravery I saw in him when he gave it to me.
My hands push out and my fingers find purchase on the skin of his chest. His skin is soft and rough and what others might find ugly, I find completely beautiful. And I wonder if it's the same for him. Does he see me the same way? I hear him whimper at my touch and he pulls me down and into his arms. It's warmth and safety; it's perfect and it's home. He wraps me up and holds me tight. Our legs tangle together and I press my face into his neck, breathing his scent. His nose runs along the side of my head, buried in my still-short hair that has only grown out a little. He breathes in deeply, too, and all of this feels right.
"I can't sleep without you," I tell him. It's the truth and I mean it, but it's not enough. "I can't be without you, Peeta."
"Katniss," he sighs my name.
He pulls me closer and I feel his hand trail down over my back. It slides across my hip, reaching behind my thigh and pulling it over his his own. And there is this heat, this hunger. I feel it in every part of my body. I haven't felt this since he kissed me on the beach. The few moments we took when neither one of us was in the game. It feels good, it feels right. And because I haven't told him what I've probably known all along, my lips seek out his and I kiss him. It's soft and wet and awkward, but soon, it's deep and needy and so, so real.
All of this is new to me. And while that scares me, I don't want to stop. I want to explore him, I want us to explore this together. His hand finds mine. Our fingers twine and grip and press and squeeze. We don't stop kissing and it feels like it will never be enough. Is this how he feels? Is this how he's always felt? I think about him by the tracks at the train station. I remember the pain in his eyes when I told him that my feelings for him weren't real. And at the time, I thought they weren't, but now I think that maybe they were and I just didn't know. But I can only see his face in my mind, behind my closed eyes, confused and hurt and still in love with me.
He pulls back, his lips leaving mine, his eyes fierce and searching. I'm nervous, but I know. Now, I finally know. It has always been Peeta. It will always be Peeta. So, I nod my head, and with as much tenderness as I can manage, I reach my free hand up and my thumb traces his eyebrows that are finally growing back. My fingers slide through his hair and I push the blond waves from his face. And then, I touch his lips. The same lips that just kissed me. And even though we've shared countless kisses, this is the first time that it's just us. Just me. Just him. Just the two of us together. He kisses my fingers that are no longer polished and painted with the vivid colors of fire.
"Are you sure?" he whispers against the skin of my hand before kissing my fingers again.
I nod my head yes and tell him what I now know is the truth. And I am no longer ashamed when I say it because I know it's not a bad thing.
"Yes, Peeta," I breathe. "I need you."
We touch and explore everything together. Neither of us knowledgeable about anything other than this…what we discover together. His marred skin mirrors my own and since I find every piece of him perfect, I stop wondering what he thinks as he feels me under his hands and mouth. I don't know if I can explain the way it feels when Peeta finally enters me. It's not entirely uncomfortable, but soon, I understand that this is how it's supposed to be. This is how we are supposed to be together.
We stop and start all night. Sleep finds us in intervals, quiet moments of exhaustion with wet skin clinging to one another. When the sun wakes me in the morning, I find the blue eyes I always want to see. They're looking at me, wide and open. And in the light of dawn, I lay there exposed, with nothing to hide, because my Peeta has seen it all. All of me. My scarred skin and heart, my broken mind and spirit.
"You love me," he whispers. "Real or not real?"
I place my hand over his heart that is beating because of me, and now I know that it's beating for me as well.
"Real," I whisper in return. "It's always been real."
And the truth lies in that.
Reviews are love.
Please leave me some.
So, yeah. This is my take on what happened post Mockingjay/pre Epilogue. I hope you enjoyed it.
Thanks to Marvar for being the beta-goddess that she always is. And thank you for reading and editing words that are not about Edward. I love you, soulmate. (Solemeat)
Thank you to LuvsMeSumEdward, xoEMC and quietruby for pre-reading. And for holding my hand while I read the books and snot-sobbed.
In case you were wondering, I own nothing. The characters and all of Panem belong to Suzanne Collins. That's all.