If you're wondering about the title, I took it from lyrics to the song "Let Love In" by The Goo Goo Dolls. There are the lines that particularly resonate with my story:
"The end of fear is where we begin. The moment we decided to let love in...The only way to feel again is let love in."
Hope you like it!
(I do not own either The Hunger Games trilogy or "Let Love In")
And it was just like it always was. Walking through the trees, cautiously looking for game. I have my bow and arrow poised at the ready, prepared for any game that should come along. But what I anticipate the most is to see him again. Gale. My hunting partner. My best friend. My confidant. My other half. These excursions wouldn't be half of what they are without him. Sure, I love the feeling of being in these woods, part of everything around me, away from the sooty and polluted air inside the gates of District 12. Breathing in the fresh air. Basking in the sunlight. Being surrounded by the trees. Even the animals comfort me. Although I kill them with ease and without thinking twice, I can't help but recognize their grace and beauty in their natural surroundings. And of course I am ever grateful for the fact that they have sustained me and my family's lives.
I round the bend in the path, and I see him. He's at our usual spot, waiting for me. I can't help but smile, seeing him here.
This is where we belong, I think to myself.
Without giving a care in the world, not even for scaring off the game, I quickly drop my bow and arrow and run to him. He catches me, we embrace, and I kiss him.
I can't help feeling like this. Like I'm home.
It hadn't occurred to me before that this would ever happen. Gale wouldn't simply be standing there, waiting for me. He would have been out setting traps, checking existing ones for game. I would never have just dropped my precious bow and arrow like that.
But…after all we've been through together…it would make sense, right? For us to act, I don't know…differently?
And that's when I remember. The bomb. Gale's bomb. Prim.
This isn't real. This isn't actually happening.
I'm in a dream.
I wake up screaming. Peeta is quick to put his arms around me. He's the only one that has ever been able to calm me down whenever I wake up screaming like this; frantic and completely terrified. This is one of the many recurring dreams I've had since returning to my home in District 12 after the fall of the Capitol. Although it's not in the realm of my typical nightmare, what else can I call this? A dream? Surely not, if it leaves me feeling like this whenever I wake up. Empty. Because it wasn't until after everything, after he was gone from my life, did I realize that I had truly and honestly been in love with Gale Hawthorne.
I never let these feelings of love enter into my heart. Not since I had lost my father. The only one I had ever openly acknowledged my love since then for was Prim. Prim. And look where that got me. Prim is dead because of this war. The only one I had ever openly loved. The only two people I had ever acknowledged my love for, taken from me in the most painful way possible. Prim, my little sister, killed in front of my eyes. My father, forever entombed in the mines. This is why I never wanted to love Gale, or Peeta for that matter. It's why I shut my mother out of my life after she had abandoned me and Prim after our father's death. Because I knew feeling anything and letting people in could only lead to pain. This terrible, aching pain that never went away. My pain. And now I add Gale to that list of loved ones I have lost. Because I know, deep down, I will never see him again. Not after what happened to Prim. He knows that he could be the one responsible, and that would be all I would ever see if I looked at him again. And I know I would only ever see the guilt in his eyes.
Which makes it this much harder. Admitting my love for him, as well as having to let him go.
I let myself curl into Peeta. He simply rubs my back and doesn't say a word. He never tells me that it's going to be OK, because he knows these dreams will never go away. He knows that I'll be haunted by my past, because he is too.
He never asks about my dreams, and I never tell him. These especially. I'm afraid they'll break his heart. And I'm afraid that by admitting my love for Gale out loud, it will be that much more painful for me.
But tonight, something changes. We haven't been quite as free with our kisses as we used to be because we're both tentative and afraid. Peeta, always worried that it could trigger the still lingering tracker jacker venom somehow, even though I've told him I don't think kissing would necessarily do this, since we have kissed since then. But still, nonetheless, he has continued to be overly cautious around me, only giving me a hesitant kiss here and there. And me, well, I'm just afraid of…what am I afraid of?
Of loving Peeta. I have always been afraid of loving Peeta. Of loving anyone. Or, realizing that I love anyone.
Of course. It's why the pain of realizing the fact that I love Gale is so strong. I have never let myself love, or let love in. Haven't I always just brushed love aside? Or never fully allowed it to sink in? I remember what Peeta's mother told him before the first Hunger Games.
"She's a survivor, that one."
And I fully realize, in this moment, that I am. And in order to survive, you can't get close to anyone, or else you will become a victim yourself. It's why I had the ability to become a victor in the Games. It's why I had the ability to provide for my family when my mother couldn't. It's why my mother and I never got along. Because she felt so deeply she allowed her emotions to take control. I couldn't afford to be like that, so I simply vied for not feeling anything at all.
So I do what I had never let myself do before; I open the flood gates, and let my emotions come pouring in. If I thought I had been in pain before, I was wholly unprepared for what was to come.
Now, crashing down on me was wave after wave of all the pain I had never let myself feel before: the abandonment of my mother as a child; the starvation; my complete and utter hate of the Capitol, for everything they had done to me, for everything they had taken from me; the loss of my father; my love for Gale; the loss and abandonment of Gale; the loss of Prim, seeing her blown to pieces before my eyes; the loss of Rue, seeing the spear, piercing her tiny, birdlike body; the loss of Thresh, with his bravery and kindness; the loss of Cinna, being beaten and tormented; the loss of Finnick to the horrible mutts in the sewer; of taking the lives of Glimmer, the girl from District 4, Marvel, and Gloss; of Cato being attacked by the mutts, and of taking his life; of fighting; of seeing the hospital go up in flames; wanting to kill President Snow; not actually being able to take his life with my own hands; the smell of the roses and blood; killing President Coin; Peeta's hands around my throat; the thought of losing Peeta forever; hearing the screech of the jabber jays mimicking Prim's piercing screams.
The pain begins in my chest, and spreads throughout the rest of my body, slowly. Entombing me. Engulfing my entire body in its flame. Burning. No, drowning. Now I'm being pulled in every direction. No, I'm breaking. Every part of my body is shattering. Heaviness. Something like the entire world is sitting on my chest. I can't even breathe. I'm being compressed into something the size of a matchbox. The pain is so much I'm past the point of being able to scream. Instead I make wretched, gasping noises. It hurts to even do this. I curl even more into myself.
It's all I can do to keep from falling apart.
And then, just when I don't think I can bare the excruciating amount of pain any longer, the emotions begin to change. Other memories begin to creep in: the feeling of when I hunt game, being out in my woods; swimming in my pond; my father's voice; the feeling when I sing; the sound of the mockingjays; Rue teaching me her song; the sight of my entire district saluting me at the reaping; the bread from District 11; Greasy Sae's stews and soups; buying Prim's goat and seeing her face light up at the sight of her; my mother braiding my hair; the sight of Haymitch, Effie, and Cinna after my first Games; Cinna's constant encouragement throughout my interview; seeing myself in the dresses he designed; a loaf of burned bread; a dandelion; nights in the cave; being on the roof with Peeta; that moment on the beach with Peeta...Peeta. Peeta. Peeta.
Startled, I look up and see his clear blue eyes boring down on me. All I can read from them is utter anguish. Tears streaming down his face freely. I hadn't realized he had let go of me in my emotional turmoil. I want to explain. I want him to understand. In this moment, I want him to know exactly what I'm feeling. I can no longer bear to see that look of hurt in his eyes.
But how do I even begin to explain? To tell him all I've felt and begun to understand? I've never been good with words.
So, I do the only think I can think of to do. I lean into Peeta and kiss him. I kiss him as I have never let myself before, and it is unlike any we have ever shared. What I felt during our kiss on the beach? The feelings have been magnetized tenfold, woven with the pain we have endured since then. I try to convey through the kiss every thought, every feeling, every emotion pulsating through my body in an attempt to let him understand.
Peeta responds by wrapping his arms around me, as if to both protect me and embrace me. He shudders, not from lust, but from the deep pain he has endured doubled by my own. The kiss runs deep, our passions running stronger than a tide. And then we begin to move with each other, as if a strong current is pulling us in the same directions. Our emotions seep through our pours and wash over us. We no longer know whose pain or whose anguish or even whose euphoria we are experiencing. We become intertwined within each other. We continue to ebb and flow, one moving with the other, until we reach a perfect balance of sheer, utter bliss.
After the whirlwind of our passion has finally subdued, Peeta breaks apart from me. He looks into my eyes with a look full of love, understanding, and a hint of uncertainty.
He whispers into my ear, hesitantly,
"You love me. Real or not real?"
And surely this time, I know the answer. I look up at him and smile.
"Real," I reply.