Disclaimer: I do not own The Hunger Games.
"Peeta?" I call out, "I've been thinking we should -" but when I reach the kitchen, I stop speaking and come to a standstill.
Peeta's there, clutching the back of one of the chairs, his eyes squeezed shut, and his body rigid. Oh, no. He hasn't had a flashback in a while, weeks maybe. And I'd foolishly hoped they might stop. I know it doesn't help to do anything during; I learned that the hard way. So I stay where I am, waiting for it to be over so that I can go to him and do what I can, which isn't much.
After what seems an eternity, but realistically couldn't be more than a minute or so, I see him start to relax. Slowly at first, his white-knuckle grip on the chair loosens, his back straightens a little, and then he raises his head and eventually opens his eyes to look at me. He looks so sad I can't stand it. I rush over to Peeta and he lifts his hands from the chair and wraps his arms tightly around me, leaning forward so that his chin rests on my shoulder. I run one of my hands up and down over his back and the other gently squeezes the back of his neck.
"It's okay," I say softly, trying to sound as consoling as I possibly can, "It's okay, Peeta, it's over." I turn and press my lips into his cheek.
I feel him nod as he continues to return to the present, then he pulls away enough to look at me. His eyes are wide as they stare into mine, and I feel his hands tightly gripping my shoulders. He always does this after the flashbacks. I don't know if it's to reassure himself that I'm all right, or if seeing me has the ability to anchor him to reality somehow, like the handcuffs used to. I've never asked, because it's obvious he doesn't like to talk about the flashbacks. I don't know if they'll ever stop, but they happen less frequently all the time so I'm hopeful. We both are, I think.
He raises one of his hands and rests it on my head, then runs it back over my braided hair as his hard stare keeps softening. I smile up at him and eventually he manages to smile back. We stand there silently for a bit, and then he speaks.
"What were you saying before?"
"Oh," I say. I'd completely forgotten why I came into the room. "I was thinking that we've been neglecting Haymitch, and maybe we should go see him."
"You just want to tell him about the toasting," Peeta says, grinning.
I laugh and a part of me wonders if he's right. Besides each other, Haymitch is the closest thing either of us have to a family, as strange as it feels to admit that. Sure, my mother sent me a present for my eighteenth birthday and she's called a couple of times, but I never see her and hardly ever think of her.
"I don't know why I would," I say, "I can't imagine I'll like whatever he has to say about it."
"Let's go now," Peeta says, taking my hand in his.
"You're okay?" I ask.
Peeta nods, and I can't help thinking it's strange that he seems to be able to return to complete normalcy so quickly after his episodes. But I suppose it makes sense, in a way. Once they're over, they're over. "I'm okay as long as I have you," he says with a smile. We walk, hand in hand, to Haymitch's house and have to knock several times before we hear him staggering to the door. It swings open and he's standing there, hunched forward.
"Oh, it's you," he says with a smirk.
"Who were you expecting?" Peeta asks.
"You," Haymitch says. He shows us into the kitchen, the cleanest room in his house, and we all sit at the table. He quickly picks up his bottle and takes a swig. "I appreciate it," Haymitch says, "being checked up on. But you do realize I managed just fine for twenty-four years without you two, right?" Right. He's been managing just fine…
"Actually, Katniss wants to tell you something," Peeta says, obviously trying not to laugh. Why is he teasing me like this? Ugh. This is almost as bad as that time in the elevator before the Quell when he laughed about how Finnick, Johanna and Chaff were acting because of my 'purity.'
"What?" Haymitch asks, looking over at me. "Don't tell me it's boy trouble."
"Um," I say, stalling.
"We're going to have a toasting," Peeta says.
"Oh," Haymitch says, turning to him, "well, I have plans, so…"
I smirk and shake my head. He knows perfectly well that the toasting isn't done with an audience; everyone knows that. Unless, maybe he thinks we expect him to sing the traditional wedding song to us...but we've decided to skip that part, anyway. It's supposed to be done while we cross the threshold of our home, but since Peeta and I already live together it wouldn't have much meaning. And there's no one to sing to us, either.
"We didn't even tell you when," Peeta points out, with a smile.
"Whenever," Haymitch says. He thinks for a moment, then turns to me again, "I have two words for you, can you guess what they are?"
I know I'm wrong, he's not this kind, but I guess, "Congratulations, Sweetheart?"
Haymitch laughs. "No," he says, "Lucky you."
I feel my smile fade. "I know I am," I say.
"About time," Haymitch says, taking another sip of his drink.
I feel a little guilty again, but when I look over at Peeta and see how amused he is by this whole thing, I relax and return his smile.
"Don't let me keep you, then," Haymitch says with a dismissive wave. He often does this, pretending he doesn't want us around. I know it's just a ruse, though. We all stand up and Haymitch sees Peeta and I to the door, even though I know it must be hard for him, in his state of drunkenness.
When Peeta and I are out on the porch, we turn back and say goodnight.
"Goodnight," Haymitch says, and I almost think that the smile he gives us is a genuine one; a smile of approval and maybe even congratulations.
"So…" I say, once we're home and door is closed behind us.
Peeta smiles and lets go of my hand. "You start the fire," he says, "I'll get the bread." He disappears into the kitchen and I get a box of matches from the closet. I rearrange the logs in the fireplace and sit in front of it, waiting for Peeta. I look over and see him come into the living room, a small loaf of bread in his hands. "I baked it special," he tells me, sitting down next to me.
I nod and smile, then light the fire. While we're waiting for it grow, Peeta hands me the bread and I examine it. The bread is filled with raisins and nuts and as I break into it, I feel tears gathering in my eyes. "This is just like -" But looking at Peeta, and seeing his knowing smile, makes me stop speaking.
"I know," he says, "I hope you liked it, before."
I wipe the back of my hand over my eyes and stare down at the hearty bread. It's just like the bread that he burned and then threw to me, when we were eleven years-old. I haven't had raisin and nut bread since then. Peeta knows how much I love the cheese buns and we usually eat those. Sometimes we have plain white bread, too, with things spread on it. But he's never given me bread like this since that day.
"I did, it was the best thing I'd ever tasted," I say, raising my eyes to his. "I can't believe you remember." I know what he's going to say.
"I remember everything about you," Peeta tells me, still smiling. Of course.
I raise the bread to my face and gently touch my lips to it. It looks and smells delicious. I break it apart further, until it's in two pieces, and hand them to Peeta. He stabs the fire poker into both pieces, then holds the metal handle and sticks the impaled bread into the fireplace. I watch his face as he experiments with where he should let the bread hover so it doesn't take forever to toast, but doesn't burn too much, either. Without even thinking about it, I slide closer to him, winding my arm around his and resting my head against his shoulder. But it's not enough, so I look at him again, then lean in and kiss his cheek, then his jaw, then his neck.
Peeta pulls the bread out of the fire and rests the back of the poker on the ground, the so the bread sits, impaled, in front of us. I reach out and gently press my hand against the side of his face, turning it toward me, but Peeta pulls back.
"Wait," he says, with a chuckle. Then he kisses my forehead. "I want to do this right," he tells me, and I know he's right. We should wait.
Peeta reaches out, touches the bread and, content that it's cooled enough, pulls it off the poker and hands a piece to me. "For you," he says.
I pull away from him a little, and we turn to face each other directly. He takes his toasted bread off the poker and holds it. We interlace the fingers of our free hands, then begin to eat the bread, slowly at first, looking at each other the whole time and smiling as we chew.
I find myself thinking of everything that's happened between Peeta and I so far. When he threw me the bread, when I saw him at school the next day with the welt on his face, and then saw the first dandelion of spring. I remember seeing him come up onto the stage when his name was drawn during the reaping, and being saddened that it was him who was chosen. Talking to him on the roof of the Training Center. Our time in the cave, seeing him on the stage in the Capitol after the Games and kissing him. I think of dancing with Peeta on our Victory Tour, and his proposal in the Capitol. I remember kissing him during the Quell and getting that feeling that I never got with Gale, that I know I could never have with anyone but Peeta.
I remember the first time I willingly touched him after the Quell, after the hijacking. I smoothed the hair back from his face and reminded him that he and I always protect each other. I remember kissing him with the hope that it would bring him back to me.
Seeing him for the first time after we got back to District Twelve, the first time I told him I loved him, moving his things in and agreeing to this toasting, and…now. Then there's now. Because I will always remember this moment, too. I wonder if Peeta is remembering all of these things, also, but I don't ask him. I don't want to speak yet, I just want to keep eating.
The bread is delicious and warm and we finish eating almost simultaneously, having methodically taken each bite together. Once my bread is gone, I only have to wait a few seconds to see Peeta swallow the last of his.
"Now?" I ask, smiling at him.
He smiles back, then reaches his arms out for me. "Now," he says.
I lean into him with enough force to push him backward, so we're both lying down on the floor, and the whole length of my body is pressed into him. I feel his arms around me, holding tightly, and I place my hands on both sides of his face. I look into his beautiful blue eyes and slowly move my face toward his. But this time, it's Peeta who is impatient and he lifts his head hastily so that his lips meet mine. We've kissed so many times that I didn't think it was possible for there to be any surprises anymore. It was always nice to kiss Peeta, whether it was for show or not. Even before I could admit to myself how much I really cared for him, I liked it. And of course I loved that other feeling he gave me, which was rare at first, but now happens all the time.
But somehow, this kiss is different, still. I've never felt quite like this before. It's more than nice, it's more than hunger eliciting. It's wonderful and perfect and I know it's a preview of what is to come. I know that this is what the rest of my life with Peeta, my husband, will be like.
A/N: Thanks for reading!