Third and final chapter for this story. I have ideas for two more stories bouncing around, though. Thanks for reading and your reviews. I'm sorry this has taken so long to post. I found Peeta difficult to write and wanted to make sure it was as close to perfect as I could get for you guys. Again, I apologize.
Let's get it.
Somehow, I've developed a reputation as a liar.
I've no idea how this came about, as a lie told at home usually resulted in sharp rap across the knuckles from my mother's wooden spoon. The result of those slaps was an aversion to lying, and a deep hatred of that spoon. But, that's not to say I've never bent the truth, or given a version of reality that is real only to me. But, generally speaking, I'm truthful. Even with Capitol cameras covering my every move. And, I have never lied, strictly speaking, when it comes to Katniss. Not to her, or about her.
But that may change.
I watch the prep team run around the Victors as we gather below the stage. Tonight is Interview Night. All of Panem will watch us, former Victors and current Tributes, as we're paraded for them yet again. But, instead of winning their favor, we have a new goal: stoking their love for us into the flames that will fuel the revolution. We all have a role to play, but since Katniss and I will be closing the show, we have to make the strongest statement. It's crucial for our, her, survival. Katniss, in her Cinna-designed wedding gown, with her hair up off her neck is a statement all in herself. She catches my eye and gives me a small, shy smile which I readily return.
We both know that with the events of the past six nights, that dress should be any color but white.
I cast my eyes down and force the smile off my lips. I cannot look amused. I ponder what I want to work into the conversation with Caesar Flickerman that's coming up. It's not entirely true, but it's a definite possibility.
That certainly doesn't qualify me as a liar.
Five days ago, I woke up in Katniss' bed. Memories of her lithe, tan body beneath my bulkier form as we moved together filled my mind. My eyes drifted across her skin in the pale dawn light. I could barely make out the love bites I left on her neck, but they brought a smile to my lips all the same. Katniss woke up as I kissed the marks, and her eyes met mine. My heart nearly soared when I realized that there was no fear, panic or doubt in her gaze.
She looked happy for the first time in a long time. I wished I could make it go on forever for her.
I have loved her since my father pointed her out to me when we were five. My brothers have mocked me, saying I couldn't possibly understand love, not at sixteen and certainly not at five. My friends scoffed, wondering why I would want a Seam girl, skinny with hunger when I could have one of the more curvaceous merchant's daughters. Only my father seemed to understand, even if there was a slightly bitter edge to it, how one could fall in love, hopelessly and beyond reason, with a girl who sang so as to make the birds stop their songs.
Before I could become too lost in my thoughts, she leaned up and kissed me. Warmth flooded my being, and as she curled a leg over my hip I felt my groin stir. I could lose myself in her kisses forever. To think, a day ago my heart ached from the restraint I had to show. Even when she was leaning in to mimic Finnick, her lips millimeters from mine, I couldn't kiss her. I didn't believe she wanted my kisses without cameras on us. This time, in her bed, no cameras in sight, I knew each kiss from here on out would be real, pure. Just as Katniss pulled me to lie over her, and my fingers began to creep under her shirt, someone knocked on the door.
"Figures," I muttered against her mouth. To my delight, she chuckled, sending a pleasant shiver through out me before I pulled away.
Clad only in my boxers, I hit the door open button just as the knocking resumed. Haymitch, no doubt already drunk, stumbled into the room and landed on his backside when the door slid into the wall. He glanced at me, to the bed where Katniss had propped herself on an elbow to observe the scene and back to me.
"Well, this is a surprising development. Didn't think you'd come around this quickly, sweetheart," he spat out as he picked himself up off the floor.
The mixed look of surprise, embarrassment and hope as he walked out of the room took the sting out of his words.
Our training sessions for the Quarter Quell were the exact opposite of last year. No one, other than Katniss and I, were on time. No one seemed to give a damn about competing. We worked together, learned together, ate together and joked together. Even though some of the Careers were standoffish, it was a far more relaxed atmosphere. I could tell the Gamemakers were uncomfortable, even as they drank their wine and nibbled on their roast turkey, with the level of camaraderie we displayed. But, I still went about my business. I joked with the men at the wrestling station, but was careful to keep my eyes averted when Johanna stripped down. I could feel Katniss watching me, waiting to see if I'll look, so I kept my focus. It was harder to do than I expected, especially with Finnick Odair catcalling the shorter woman every chance he got. So, I moved on to the camouflage station. The morphlings from District 6 didn't speak, per se; they communicated with smiles and touches. I fell in with them naturally and found myself genuinely enjoying their company as we took turns painting different patterns onto each other.
I felt my chest tighten as I realized how childlike the drug has made them. Anger began to fizz under my skin as I thought about how willing the Capitol was to have this pair fight to the death before them another time. Fortunately, Katniss saved me from making a scene with her archery display. I was able to watch her with the rest of them.
I made a mental note to take a swing at Odair if I ever saw him stare at her rear that way again. In the meantime, I joked along with him about putting in an official request to ally with her during the Games.
Although I made the same joke as we headed back up to our floor after training, in truth, Katniss and I cemented our partnership that night, in a more interesting way.
As soon as we were out of sight of the dining room table, she took me by the hand and pulled me with her into her room. I barely managed to close and lock the door behind me when she'd whirled to face me head on. I realized her eyes were narrowed, and felt my stomach drop out as I tried to figure out what I could have done wrong between that morning and that evening.
"You really weren't distracted by Johanna Mason and her oiled breasts?"
I nearly laughed. "No, Katniss," I said as I took her hands in mine, "I was not distracted by Johanna Mason and her oiled breasts." I debated for all of a millisecond before pushing forward. I gave her a goofy grin and an exaggerated leer, aimed at her chest. "Now, if you wanted to oil up…" I left the thought to hang, for effect.
It worked. She snorted and kissed me, a deep lingering kiss that found my resolve to take a shower before bed wavering. It was amazing what could change in a day. I planned on helping her, again, make it out of the arena alive. I'd made a deal with Haymitch. I also knew that Katniss had likely cut a deal with him. But, I was set on getting my way this time around. She would make it out alive, to get married and have children and live her life. A thought niggled at the back of my brain, even as I toed off my shoes, sat against the headboard and pulled her onto my lap, but it was quickly pushed out as my tongue plundered her mouth. She was pressed fully against me, her nails scraping against my scalp as she suckled my neck, sending what felt like bolts of electricity through my body. I ripped my shirt over my head and went to work on hers. I was not leaving that bed until I'd felt her clench around me at least once. The thought came thundering back, even as my fingers worked on the clasp of her bra.
If we kept having unprotected sex, she could make it out of the arena alive and carrying my child.
Part of me felt elation at the idea. Part of me, hopefully the best part of me, could live on with Katniss. I wouldn't be dying for the Capitol, but rather for my child and the girl I'd always imagined marrying. But I was hesitant to force her into a life of raising my baby if I wasn't around. I knew there were elixirs she could take to terminate a pregnancy, but I also knew Katniss. She would never shirk responsibility, even if she wanted to, and if I were to die I know she wouldn't want to kill off a piece of me. Whether out of honest love or simple remembrance, I wasn't sure. I just didn't want her to have to make that choice.
But, surprisingly few Tributes have sex before or during the Games. If there had ever been Tributes screwing during the Games, there would be video evidence. It would have been ratings gold in the Capitol. And given the lack of condoms or other birth control in the Training Center, it was clearly not an issue they had to address before.
"Katniss, stop," I gasped. She pulled away, her lips swollen and eyes disappointed. My gaze fell on her now exposed chest, and my hands cupped her breasts of their own accord. She fit my hands perfectly. I could feel the nipples pucker against each of my palms.
"Do you want to stop?" she whispered, uncertainty edged with something close to anger lacing her words. It pulled me from my distraction.
"No, no I don't want to stop," I confessed, my head lurching forward to rest between her breasts as my arms wrapped around her, holding her close. The pants they give us for training are thin, and I could feel where she'd grown wet against my hard on. Without warning, her fingers were cradling my head, pulling it away from her warmth.
"Then what's wrong, Peeta?" Her gray Seam eyes were boring into me, demanding a simple answer to a not-so-simple question. She knew, on some level, what was bothering me, but she was going to make me say it. And then she was going to confront me about my plan to sacrifice myself to let her live.
So, I kissed her instead of actually answer, and laid her down and tugged off the rest of her clothes. That must have been satisfactory, because soon she had me naked, too.
I don't remember much from the next three days of training, other than painting flowers with the morphlings and trying to keep an eye on Odair whenever he was working with Katniss.
I soon found that the redhead, despite his legendary prowess, had no effect on her. She pulled me to bed with her each night. There were two truths that both of us knew: I slept with her because I loved her, while Katniss, confused about her feelings, used it as a diversionary tactic. But, it served its purpose either way, so we didn't bother to stop.
We signed our death warrants in the final day of training. They all thought we had it planned, that it was an orchestrated act. Could anyone blame them for thinking that way, when we hadn't exactly made any move to hide my presence in her room at night? But it wasn't, and I had to fight to keep myself from grinning at her like a fool over the dinner table. We had started to work as a unit without any planning on our part.
That night, she wrapped me in her arms in the middle of the hall. I was caught off guard; it wasn't like Katniss to show affection where people may see it. Not without cameras around. I pulled her tighter to my chest, my hands drifting of their own accord into her hair. It felt strange, to be speaking so candidly about the likelihood of President Snow plotting our deaths with the Gamemakers after our display today. Even stranger to say that we planned to go down fighting, to acknowledge that something is brewing in the Districts, where his cameras would most likely pick up our conversation. But, there was an odd kind of courage coursing through me. I felt it before, last year, when I was ready to die, ready to be a martyr for my love of her. Now, I felt it because I knew I had something to live for, that dying meant something as long as I knew I'd shared something precious with her, and her with me, and that could live on. Even if it only lived on in her memory.
So, when she asked me what we should do with our last few days, I answered honestly.
"I just want to spend every possible minute of the rest of my life with you."
On what should have been our Media Coaching Day, Effie and Haymitch cut us loose. I could sense that Katniss wanted out of the Training Center, something that didn't seem possible… until I remembered the roof. Hand-in-hand, we made our way to the garden on top of the Training Center. In the center of all the brightly colored flowers, there was a well-manicured lawn complete with a pergola overrun by flowering vines. We set up the blankets and picnic basket at the very center of the lawn and sprawled out to enjoy the sunshine. There was never time to just laze in the sun in District 12; everyone was always busy, from the young kids toting their parents' tools to the teens preparing to either take on a trade or head to the mines. Even the few times we were allowed to assemble in the school yard for recess, there was too much coal dust in the air to really enjoy the sun's rays. Before long, I stripped off my shirt and Katniss was down to the tank top she received for training. Our boots sat at the edge of the blanket. Her hair was loose, free of its usual braid, cascading over her shoulders. Katniss looked relaxed, unguarded, for the first time I could remember since the accident that took her father.
I took out my supplies and began to sketch her as she leaned back on her elbows, eyes closed.
I was nearly finished when I felt the grape smack me in the forehead. I glanced up from my work in time to see her pop another in her mouth as she grinned at me. Feigning annoyance, I asked, "Is there something I can help you with?"
Still on her elbows, she rolled her head toward me and teased, "I thought you wanted to spend time with me, not your sketch book."
So, I put my things away and focused on her, not that doing that was ever difficult for me. I had been focused on her for years. But, as we played catch off the force field, I learned new things about her. How her father taught her to sing, hunt and fish. That her mother had been joyful, full of life and humor before her father passed away. That Prim hated to be woken up too quickly. I discovered more about her life in a few hours than I had living in the same District for 17 years.
After lunch, Katniss snapped off some of the flowering vines and brought them back to the blankets. She surprised me by lying down and putting her head in my lap. Even after the new dimensions our relationship had taken on in the past few days, any kind of outward display of affection startled me. But, I went with it, and took advantage of the opportunity to play with her hair while she practiced her knots. It didn't escape my notice the way her eyes closed in pleasure as I wound my fingers through the wavy, chestnut-colored strands. Eventually, she fell asleep.
I woke her in time for us to watch the sun set over the Capitol. The air was turning cold, so I settled her between my legs and wrapped a blanket around us. Katniss gathered her hair over her left shoulder, leaving me a perfect place to rest my chin and watch the colors change in the sky. I whispered in her ear as the sun painted orange, pink and red streaks across the glass facades of the buildings. The effect made them look like pillars of fire encased in ice, burning hot and ready to explode, but barely contained. It was a chilling sight. Every resident of District 12, miner or merchant, fears fire on some level.
Katniss must have felt me stiffen in fear behind her, because the next thing I knew, her lips were carefully working their way from below my left ear, over my jaw and up to my lips. Ice cold terror melted into desire when she turned to face me, rising up on to her knees to more firmly press her lips to mine. I was aware of her barely-clothed breasts as they pressed against my still-naked chest and the low growl that escaped my throat. She pulled away, a mischievous glint in her eye as she took my hand and pulled me to the pergola.
I staggered after her into the shadow, only stopping when I had her pressed between me and the wooden lattice work of the structure. Her lips quickly found the spot on my neck that made my knees grow weak and lavished it with her tongue; I had to grab her hips to keep myself steady. Soon, I recovered enough to go on my own offensive, pushing her tank up and over her head and unzipping her pants as I kissed her. Our kisses were intense and rough, our tongues battling for dominance in between nipping at each other. Everything was fast with a passionate edge, as if something had broken inside of us, and perhaps it had. Facing your impending death twice before the age of 18 will do that to a person.
I doubt either of us could give a detailed account of what happened next, but before long Katniss was naked from the waist up, her arms wrapped around my neck as we kissed. I unzipped her pants and worked my hand inside her panties, stroking the warm, wet flesh I found there. I felt a surge of masculine pride when I felt her sag against me as I hit the little bundle of nerves Rye had stressed was so important. I worked my hand in time with the rhythmic thrusting of her hips until I felt that magical clenching around my fingertips. She was beautiful when she came, my name a whisper on her lips, her face buried in the crook of my neck. I did my best to be patient, to let her calm down, but I'm sure I was over eager and pulled away too soon.
Katniss could never be called a selfish lover. When I pulled away, she shucked off the rest of her clothing before catching the waist of my pants and yanking down the tab on my zipper. I gasped when she found me through the cloth of my boxers, and had to pull her hands away when she began to stroke me. I stripped off my pants and soon, all I was aware of was the feel of cool, damp grass beneath me, rough wood against my back and Katniss, soft, warm and feminine above me. Some of the edge had come off her passion with her orgasm; she was content in that moment to straddle my lap, kiss me and give the occasional light scratch to my nipples. She relished in the way I moaned into her mouth, my hips reflexively jerking upward into her, searching for her heat. When I couldn't stand her teasing any longer, I grabbed her by the hips to still her motions. In response, she framed my face with her hands and kissed me as she sank onto my cock.
Even after five nights of making love to her, I wasn't prepared for the slick heat of her body, the feeling of home I felt whenever I slid into her. And I absolutely loved the little sigh she always gave when I was fully seated deeply in her. I rubbed small circles on her hips and sides as she got used to the new angle, this new feeling, fighting every instinct to surge up into her as hard and fast as I could. Katniss rested her head against the wood behind me and suckled at my earlobe as she started a slow up-and-down pace. I pulled her hair out of her face, giving me room to lavish attention to her neck and collarbone. I listened carefully to the sounds she made and took care to kiss the spots that made her moan twice.
When I realized my own orgasm was imminent, I dropped a hand to where we were joined. Katniss had laced her fingers through the lattice on either side of my head and was using it as leverage to maintain a faster rhythm. I did my best to match her and was again rewarded with the feeling of her tightening around me before I spilled into her. Spent, her head slumped to my shoulder and her nails ran random patterns between the freckles that dotted my shoulders. I held her close, enjoying the feeling of her and wishing to stay in that moment forever. I was so focused on that fantasy that I nearly missed what she asked.
"So, am I still pure, Peeta?"
I could practically hear the way her brow was arched as she asked the question. I shifted her off of my shoulder so I could look her in the eye. She was suddenly shy, the way she always seemed to be after we made love, but there was a degree of teasing there, too. I smiled at her, and earned a smile in return before I leaned in to answer her.
"For the Capitol? Yes. For District 12… well, let's just say you're not the only bride who shouldn't technically wear white on her wedding day. You're certainly no Aurelia Huxley, though." She slaps me lightly on the chest when I mention the loosest girl in our class at school. I continued, "There will always be a type of purity to you, Katniss. You see certain things very clearly: your convictions will never be compromised and you would not hesitate to lay down your life for those you love." I could tell she had to fight to not look away when I said the word "love". Perhaps it was too much, too soon, but I pressed on, "The Capitol can never take that. That type of purity will always be there."
I kissed her softly before shifting her off my lap and retrieving her clothing. I could see the lights of various rooftop discos in the distance, signaling that the hour was later than I thought, nearly 10. We got dressed in near silence, and gathered our picnic things in the same manner. But, just as on the way up, we held hands all the way until we reached her bedroom and fell into bed.
We made love twice more before dawn.
I keep thinking of the past week as we sit on stage, blinding lights thrown into our faces. I think of all the things I've learned, all the new things I've discovered to love about Katniss as I listen to Odair read his poem and the other Victors stir up dissent among the crowd. By the time Katniss takes the stage, it's a madhouse with everyone weeping. She looks beautiful in the dress, her wedding dress, dazzling in white and impossible not to look at. My heart aches as I think about a wedding that will never happen, but the pressure alleviates as I think about the potential that she could be carrying my child. It would be too soon to tell for a pregnancy test, but it's not impossible.
The crowd truly loses it when she twirls and goes up in flames. My first instinct is to run to her, tackle her and put out the fire, but I've learned to trust Cinna and Portia. This is happening for a reason. And what a reason! She is suddenly a mockingjay, a symbol of rebellion to all the Districts of Panem; to the Capitol viewers, she's merely a girl who went from being in a wedding gown, full of life, to wearing a burial shroud. She comes and sits next to me after her interview and gives my hand an encouraging squeeze as Caesar calls me up.
Our banter is as light as ever, but I'm on autopilot. I'm imagining the life the Capitol and President Snow and the Gamemakers have stolen from me a second time. I'm imagining the way she would look in District 12's typical wedding dress, a plain white garment cut similarly to the dress she wore for her first reaping. I can see how she'd look, her hair up in braids and laced through with white flowers picked by Prim. I imagine how she'd taste when I kiss her after the mayor makes it official and assigns us a domicile. I can see our few family and friends joining us for a bit of cake I'd make at home and a song or two. I can even visualize how Katniss would smear cake across my face instead of allowing me to delicately take my first bite from her fingers. I can even imagine our Toasting, completed with bread I'd make from the finest white flour I could find.
So, even though I find it difficult to breath, I easily navigate the questions Caesar asks and can convincingly tell him about our "Toasting" before the Quarter Quell announcement. I know I sound bitter, I mean to. It gives me the opening I'm looking for.
"Surely even a brief time is better than no time?" Caesar asks, his eyes surprisingly earnest.
My mind flashes back over the past week, the feeling of Katniss beneath and above and around me, the dual feeling of elation and fear at the idea of bringing a child into this world. My voice shakes with genuine emotion as I light the fuse of the bomb we Victors have been building all night in one swift sentence.
"Maybe I'd think that, too, Caesar, if it weren't for the baby."
I hope you enjoyed this story as much as I enjoyed writing it! Thank you for sticking with me, and as always, please read and review.
PS- Many thanks to Kerinh22 for pointing out things spell check/my addled brain didn't catch at 1am!