A/N: And here we go, the bonus chapter every single one of you helped to get. It's the final chapter and I really enjoy it. Thank you, thank you, thank you! You are all so amazing and I really hoped that you enjoyed my story. I really, really can't say how much appreciation I have for all of you who are reading this. I have had nearly 36 thousand hits on this story, which is so impressive and also quite a bit humbling. I really hope that you enjoy the rest of my stuff just as much as you all have seemed to enjoy my first attempt at this fandom.
For those who are interested about the one-shot series I'm doing, the Gale and Katniss one will be done within the week. It is going to be AU and it's going to be a different AU from this one. The name of the one shot is going to be First Times: Trying to Fix the Irreparable. Check it out if you're interested.
One more thing. I don't know if any of you have heard about the Pearl Awards that mockingjay(dot)net does. It's basically a way to honor outstanding Hunger Games fanfiction writers. It's a really cool thing and I'm not just saying this for me but because there are a good amount of writers on this site who deserves a little recognition. If you feel like taking the time out of your busy schedule to nominate some of the best stories you've read, please do. If you don't want to, please don't feel like I'm trying to pressure you to. Crap, I hate that it sounds like I'm fishing for nominations. And maybe I am, subconsciously, but I really do think it's a cool thing and wanted to share that information. Don't feel like nominating? At least, it's a good place to find fanfictions you know must be good.
Anyway, enough babbling! For the final time, please enjoy the chapter!
The Boy and his Girl
I step off the elevator at the training floor, where the ceremony will be taking place. I am the first to arrive, which displeases me. I have had quite enough of being alone these past few days. The roar of the crowd above my head makes me jumpy and uncomfortable, and I truly wish that Cinna had come down here with me.
Luckily, it doesn't take long for Haymitch and Effie to join me.
Effie envelops me in a large hug. She's so giddy that I can't help but feel myself affected by her good mood. "Aren't you so, so, so excited! There's only a few more minutes before you get to be with him!"
I nod. "I can't wait."
"Now, with the addition of Katniss' entrance, things are going to go a little differently," she says, suddenly switching over to professional mode. "Not for you, Haymitch. As usual, you'll go on right after Portia."
He scowls in annoyance and tries to fix his tie that has already gotten crooked. Because Peeta was a male tribute, Haymitch is being celebrated as his primary mentor. Since I am officially the female tribute's mentor, I am not being given any credit for Peeta's win in the arena. The truth of the matter is that if it wasn't for my "relationship" with Peeta, I would've had no part in the ceremony.
Effie turns to me just as a large female Peacekeeper walks up to us. "Katniss, you're not going to come up until a little later. Peeta's going to be introduced and there's going to be a little back and forth between him and Caesar; and then, you'll be announced. Did you get all that?"
The female Peacekeeper clears her throat and then says, "If you would then follow me, Miss Everdeen…"
"Wait," I say. "Follow you where?"
She points to a makeshift wall several yards away. "We are just going to stand behind that."
"Why?" I ask.
"Because they don't want you to see the boy before the televised reunion," Haymitch tells me. "No doubt that's where you'll make your entrance from."
"Okay," I say, understanding it now. I look at the Peacekeeper, whose dislike for me is almost palpable. "I take it that your job is to make sure that I keep myself behind that wall?"
She nods. "That is correct."
"Lead the way," I say, knowing the futility of arguing.
A few minutes after the Peacekeeper leads me to my metal plate, I can hear a small bit of commotion coming from behind the wall. The audience is too loud for me to be able to distinguish exactly what is going on, but I am fairly certain that Peeta's just made his way out of the elevator.
And I wait for the show to begin. Finally, after what feels like hours, I can hear the anthem reverberate all around me. Caesar Flickerman starts warming up the crowd, getting them ready before he begins the presentations of the winning team of the 74th Hunger Games.
I hear the applause increase with ever introduction: the first spike is for his prep team, who are followed closely by Effie, the crowd goes nuts for Portia, and a small chant proceeds Haymitch's appearance.
Caesar waits for the crowd to settle down before saying, "And now, the moment I know we've all been waiting for… the Victor of the 74th Hunger Games, and my personal friend… PEETA MELLARK!"
The cheer from the raucous crowd is so loud that it hurts my ears. Full minutes go by and the crowd still hasn't calmed down. I believe that Caesar tries to talk a couple of times, but it is hard to hear over the audience. When the volume of the crowd finally decreases, I can hear Peeta chuckling.
My heart begins pounding. He's so close to me right now and I'm going to see him again in any second. Caesar and him start making inane chit-chat and jokes and I want to scream for them to get on with it!
"Peeta, I hope you don't mind me saying so, but you look awfully distracted tonight," Caesar says. "Is everything all right?"
"Yeah," Peeta replies and I can hear the embarrassment in his voice. I wonder if he's blushing and if his ears have turned red and I wish even more that I could see him. "I was just told that someone would be here."
"You wouldn't be talking about your other mentor, by any chance?" Caesar laughs loudly and the crowd cheers.
"I do think we've tortured him long enough, don't you think?" Caesar asks and the crowd shouts back in agreement. I can't help but nod myself. "Miss Katniss Everdeen, come on out and greet your boyfriend!"
The plate begins to rise and I'm momentarily blinded by all the lights. I feel a little disorientated and suddenly I'm lifted off my feet and being kissed oh-so-passionately. I close my eyes and wrap my arms around his neck and kiss him back, just so happy to have him back in my arms.
The longer we kiss, the more my mind goes blank; it gives me a peace of mind that I haven't had in a long time. I don't want this moment to ever end but I am vaguely aware of Caesar trying to talk to us. I can feel Peeta trying to wave him off without his lips ever leaving mine.
I feel a strong hand clap Peeta on the back with so much force that it nearly knocks us both over. Haymitch's voice booms from behind Peeta, "All right! Give each other some space to breathe."
Peeta pulls away from me, looking sheepish; but I grab his hand and pull myself to his side. He grins down at me and wraps an arm around my shoulders. "You're wearing my jacket."
"I've had it longer now that you did," I tell him, grinning back at him. "I think that means that it's my jacket, now. But if you want it, you're more than welcome to try to take it back."
The crowd reacts wildly and that's when I realize that they must have heard our exchanged. Will we never have any privacy between the two of us? Then I remember what is to happen the following day and know that the answer to that question is a resounding no.
Peeta leads me to the ornate chair that the Victor typically sits in during the crowning ceremony. I wasn't told where I'd be sitting for the show and I start searching for my seat when Peeta sits down and pulls me down to his lap. I can hear that the crowd is in an uproar over this and I can't help but smile.
He leans his head close to mine, "I hope you don't mind. I've missed you so much that I'm not ready to let you go just yet," he tells me in a quiet voice. I don't know why he even bothered whispering, because his words are picked up by the microphone and played through the speakers for everyone to hear.
"I don't mind," I say leaning my head against his shoulder. "I'm not quite ready to let you go, either."
"Aren't you two just the most darling sight I have ever seen?" Caesar grins at us as he takes the chair near us. "Katniss, I was going to show you to your seat, but I think you look quite comfortable where you are."
"I am very comfortable," I tell him. "Thank you."
"Now, as I understand it," Caesar says, leaning into us. "You two haven't seen each other since the Games ended, is that correct?"
"Unfortunately, that is true," Peeta says and the audience voices their pity for us. "I wasn't allowed to see her because I was told that I needed my rest and that seeing Katniss would only stir me up."
"Why do I get the feeling that you didn't just accept it?"
Peeta grins mischievously and gives the audience a very slow and deliberate shrug. "There may have been a couple of times that I tried to escape my room in the hospital so I could try and find her."
"I heard it was more than that," I say, poking at him.
"Maybe it was," he says.
"They had to sedate you!" I remind him, laughing.
"Only once," he tells me, pulling me closer to him. "I just needed to see you again, is all."
I turn and place a kiss on his lips. "I know."
Caesar sighs. "You two are just too cute and I wish we could just spend all night talking about how much you love each other!"
But we can't and I know this because it's time for the show to start. The lights are lowered and the oversized screen hums to life as the seal of Panem flashes across it for a minute. I feel Peeta stiffen up from behind me and I know exactly how he feels. Being forced to relive the death of the 23 tributes you went into the arena with is not a pleasant experience. I take his hand and give it a quick squeeze before I start writing on the back of his hand with my finger.
I. A. M. H. E. R. E. F. O. R. Y. O. U.
He turns my hand and responds. T. H. A. N. K. Y. O. U.
The first thirty minutes is just scenes of the things that happened before the actual start of the Games. It is still difficult to watch knowing that most of the people onscreen aren't alive anymore. They show snippets of the other district's reaping, but the one from District 12 is given extra attention. Not surprisingly, since they were the final two tributes alive in the arena. They do a quick run down of the tributes and their training scores, like they do every year. But then I'm surprised by the next thing they show.
"They're not bad looking at all, are they?" I see myself say. I can't believe that they're showing this! "Especially Peeta."
I turn around and see that Peeta looks shocked by this. When he notices me looking at him, he gives me a questioning look as he tilts his head towards the screen. All I can do is blush and shrug my shoulders.
"Are you trying to get me in trouble, here? There's nothing improper going on between us, as I'm sure that it would be frowned upon. However, there's nothing wrong with having a little crush."
Peeta's eyes widen at that.
"There's not," Caesar agrees. "Especially when the target of the crush has captured the hearts of so many other girls."
"Exactly. I couldn't help myself, I'm only human."
I don't like the expression that Peeta has on his face right now and I do the only thing I can think of; I kiss him.
He kisses me back for a second before pulling away, but I relax considerably when I can see that he's fighting a grin. He takes my hand again. W. H. Y. D. I. D. Y. O. U. D. O. T. H. A. T.
I flip his hand over and respond: I. L. O. V. E. Y. O. U.
It's his turn now and my skin tingles as he writes his reply on my hand. I. L. O. V. E. Y. O. U.
The tribute's interviews are next and Peeta's the only one who has his entire three minutes shown. When it gets to the part where he confesses his love for me, Peeta hides his face in my neck.
Unfortunately, he raises his head just in time to see the next surprise. His hand grips mine when the photo that Snow showed me in his presidential suite is aired for all of Panem to see. I should've known that the filmmakers would decide to include a picture of Peeta and me kissing on the roof, but I can truly say that I didn't expect it. I sneak a look at him and I can tell by his expression that he's even more flabbergasted about the picture than I am. The crowd, on the other hand, loved it and it seems to fire them all up again.
However, the mood changes immediately when the picture is replaced by an overhead shot of the arena.
The scenes from the bloodbath are as terrible this time around as they were when it was happening. The death of the twelve tributes mostly are shown in rapid succession, the only exception being that of Clove's. The filmmakers allow for the whole story of her death play out. From Peeta saving Rue by knocking the girl from District 2 out, to him running away as Misu charged at him, to Misu finally slitting the barely conscious girl's throat. I know that it must be difficult for Peeta to be watching this and I give his hand another reassuring squeeze.
There's the death of the girl from 8 and the girl from 3 by the Gamemaker's fire and then it slows down to show the tracker jacker incident with Rue and the Careers. I get choked up watching him care for the hallucinating Rue, knowing that her end will be coming up soon.
More deaths and then it's time for the feast. I'm horrified when I realize that they didn't leave a second of Rue's death out of this recap. I can feel the tension in Peeta's body and I know that he's trying not to cry. I am too, but I seem to be failing as the tears fall down my cheeks.
I turn his hand over. I. A. M. S. O. R. R. Y.
His only response is to take my hand and kiss the back of it.
And then the final three tributes are at the top of the Cornucopia. I notice that the filmmakers seem to be avoiding showing any and all close-ups of the mutts and I can't help but wonder why. I can't say that I'm displeased by their decision, but it just strikes me as a little odd. At least, Peeta won't have the opportunity to recognize his fellow tributes in the creatures, and I'm grateful for that.
Misu's fall is shown in slow motion, and from several different angles. And then she disappears underneath the pack of mutts. Her screams echo through the speakers and I feel Peeta cringe at the sound.
I.T. I. S. O. K. A. Y.
He shakes his head. I. F. A. I. L. E. D. T. O. S. A. V. E. H. E. R.
I grip his hand hard as I use to other hand to tell him what I think about that: T. H. A. T. W. A. S. A. G. O. O. D. T. H. I. N. G.
He shakes his head again but doesn't elaborate and the screen goes back to the seal of Panem as the anthem begins to play. The lights go up and we are directed to stand. I nearly jump out of Peeta's lap and help him out of the chair when President Snow makes his appearance.
Snow, who is followed by a little girl carrying the crown upon a cushion, makes his way to Peeta. The President's eyes flicker down to our intertwined hands and I feel the goosebumps go all the way up my arms.
The crowd cheers as Snow takes the crown and places on the top of Peeta's head, smiling at the newest victor. The President takes Peeta's free hand and gives him a firm handshake. "Congratulations, Mr. Mellark. You truly are a Victor in every sense of the word."
"Thank you, sir," Peeta says, bowing his head in a show of respect.
Snow lets go of Peeta's hand and gives me a small nod as he makes his way past me. "Miss Everdeen."
"President Snow," I respond, keeping my eyes on the ground until I know that he's off of the stage.
The crowd continues to cheer as Peeta smiles at them. A chant of "Kiss her!" starts up; and after a short while of hearing it, he takes me in his arms and dips me into a very deep kiss.
Caesar whistles at the sight and I can feel that I am blushing furiously when Peeta sets me on my feet again. He gives me a sheepish smile and I push him playfully; the crowd just eats up the whole display. Caesar has to shout over the audience to do his farewell and the reminder that Peeta's final interview will be on tomorrow.
"Great show, Peeta. You really have a talent for this," Caesar says as the three of us walk off the stage towards Haymitch and Effie.
"Thank you," Peeta says in response, looking surprised. "That means a lot coming from you."
Caesar puts his hand on the younger man's shoulder and nods. "Believe me when I say that it was a pleasure to see you again."
It is my turn to be startled. There was a sincerity in his voice that I knew had to be genuine. I can't help but think that maybe I have underestimated Caesar all these years. Maybe he isn't as unaffected as I had believed by having to meet all these children year after year, knowing that only one of them would come back.
But then Caesar gives me a warm smile and I wonder if I hadn't just imagined the whole thing.
The ride to the President's mansion, where the Victory Banquet is taking place, goes by in a blur. The actual banquet? Not so much. Peeta spends the evening being pulled in every which direction by very important people. I spend it all by his side as I refuse to let his hand go for even a second but no one seems to mind us appearing as a pair. We oblige request after request to see us kiss and at one point I'm afraid that my lips are going to fall off from overuse.
I catch a smug glance from Taygen Torrklin and I immediately know that he is aware of what is going to occur tomorrow night. That's when I realize that a large portion of the people here tonight probably know about it. Anxiety eats at me as I worry every time that we meet someone new that they are going to let something slip about it.
But surprisingly, no one does and by the time that we all climb into the car to take us back to the Training Center, Peeta is as blissfully unaware of Snow's vile demand as ever. I keep thinking that I will finally be able to spend some time alone with Peeta once we get back, but then I feel my eyelids start to droop and I realize that nothing ever goes the way I planned.
I awaken a few hours later to Cinna coming into my room. I sit up in bed confused, not knowing how I got there.
"Good afternoon," Cinna says, coming over and sitting at the edge of my bed. "How did you sleep?"
"Fine, I guess," I tell him, frowning at the idea that it's already past lunchtime. "What happened?"
"What do you mean?"
"The last thing I remember was sitting in the car coming back here from the Victory Banquet."
"It's actually quite sweet," Cinna says, a teasing little smirk playing on his lips. "Apparently, you fell asleep in the car and Peeta carried you all the way up to your room. As you can see by the fact that you are still wearing what you wore last night, he was a perfect gentleman."
I let out a curse and my friend raises his eyebrow at my filthy mouth. "Sorry. It's just that I was hoping to spend some time alone with him."
Cinna seems to study me. "You should have plenty of time for that after the interview. It seems like your trip home was delayed due to some mechanical issues with the train. It looks like you're stuck here until tomorrow."
I nod, not even attempting to appear surprised. "Then I am so glad that you're here, Cinna. Peeta deserves to have a great final night in the Capitol and it's up to me to make sure that it's really special."
"You need me to help you look spectacular, don't you?" Cinna asks, but I know that's not the question he wants answered.
"Since you asked so nicely, how can I refuse?" He brushes his hand on my face. "One question, though. Just how special are we talking about?"
"As special as it can get," I tell him.
"Are you sure?"
I'm not sure, but that's not the only answer I can give him. "I love him. I really, truly do."
He accepts that and I'm thankful for it. "You know, I'm all on my own today and the look we're going for is a little time-consuming, so we probably won't make it in time for Peeta's interview."
"Oh," I say, feeling terrible about it.. "I guess that shouldn't cause a problem; no one told me that I was going to be needed for it."
"Maybe if I'm quick enough,, we'll only miss a few minutes," he tells me and I smile gratefully at him.
"Don't thank me yet," he says and he begins to help me get ready. Cinna's a master at creating a full look with hair and makeup. Before I'm even dressed, he's made me look like a mature and seductive woman. Staring at my face in the mirror, I find it difficult to grasp that he's made me look so completely different without making me look absolutely ridiculous.
Every stitch of clothing that I put on has been made specifically to call attention to the curves of my body, even my under things. Having only worn very utilitarian ones all my life, these new ones feel weird and constrictive and I have no idea how Cashmere can even stand constantly wearing things like this. It doesn't help my situation that I have to constantly remind myself not to think about the fact that Snow helped with the design of them.
The dress is tight and shows more than enough skin. It's terribly uncomfortable but then one thing I can't complain about is the color.
"This is his favorite color," I tell Cinna, and he nods at me indicating that he knew. "How did you find out?"
"That was easy. All I had to do was ask Portia," he says as he fixes a few things on the dress.
"It's a beautiful color."
"And you look beautiful in it," he tells me, looking a little wistful. "Peeta is going to love you in it."
I think of the alternative to Snow's request. "Let's hope so."
As Cinna is doing the last finishing touches on my outfit, there's a knock on the door. A second later, a redheaded Avox girl appears, carrying a little folded piece of paper on a silver platter. She walks over to me, presenting it. I lift it from the plate and then she gives Cinna and me a quick nod and leaves the room.
I open up the note and begin to read it.
"Who's it from?" Cinna asks me, making sure that the little tendrils of hair are framing my face perfectly.
"Snow," I tell him.
His hands stop moving immediately. "What does it say?"
I look up from the paper and meet his eyes in the mirror, sighing. "He's prepared a meal for Peeta and me on the roof. He thought that it might help get things moving in the right direction."
"That was awfully kind of President Snow," Cinna says and his voice is very even and very deliberate.
I ball up the note in my hand. "And then he reminded me that the act was to be performed in my room."
He snorts softly but doesn't comment on it; he just grabs Peeta's jacket and helps me put it on. "We don't want you getting cold up there on the roof."
"No, we don't."
He fixes the way the jacket hands on me and then steps back to examine the full look. "There, all done. If you hurry, you can probably make it to see the a good amount of the interview."
I nod and rush out into the hallway, making my way to the sitting room where I know that the interview is taking place. I quietly slip through the door, not wanting to call any attention to myself. I go and stand next to Haymitch, making him jump when he finally notices me. Caesar and Peeta both turn in our direction at the little sound that Haymitch had made.
Peeta's face breaks into a huge smile when he sees me and I can't help but to reciprocate. I give him a little wave and he blows me a kiss.
"For those of you who are wondering what just happened," Caesar says, addressing the camera. "Peeta's lady love just joined us. And I must say, she looks absolutely ravishing today."
"She does. But I always think that she looks beautiful," Peeta says with a wink in my direction.
"Spoken like a true boy in love," Caesar says, and he wipes at invisible tears. "Do you think that knowing she was waiting for you to come back helped you survive in the arena?"
He nods. "There was a moment there, right after Rue died…" Peeta stops and swallows a couple of time before continuing, "I don't know, I was just tired of it all and was really close to just giving up. But then I thought about Katniss and I knew that she would be so mad at me if I did."
"Well, I think we've all seen how good that girl is with a bow and arrow," Caesar says, tilting his head towards where I'm standing. "And I know that you most definitely don't want her angry at you."
"Plus, I had told her that I would fight for her," he says, looking down at his hands. "I couldn't let her down like that, especially since I knew that she wouldn't keep her promise to me."
"And what was her promise?"
"I don't think I'm allowed to say," Peeta says, trying to lighten up the situation. He looks right at me and asks, "Right?"
"That's right!" I answer. "Sorry, Caesar, but I think you should move on from this topic."
Caesar hams it up, pretending to be terrified of me. "Well, sorry Panem. You heard the lady and I am NOT going against her wishes."
"You are a very smart man, Caesar," Peeta says.
And the two of them have a laugh about that. "So, tell me, do you two have any plans for when you get back to District 12?" Caesar asks.
"Not really," Peeta answers. "But we really haven't had a chance to sit down and talk about anything."
"I bet that you hadn't realize how busy the life of a Victor was until you won!" Caesar says. "Am I right?"
"I certainly wasn't expecting this," Peeta answers. "I'm even more awed by Katniss making it all seems so effortless."
I tune out the rest of the interview because I remain focused on Caesar's question. What are we going to do when we get to District 12? It's more than obvious to me that we can't just go back to the way things were before the reaping, but I don't know how if I can be a girlfriend in my normal life.
What does Prim think of all this? What about my mother? I hope that she approves of Peeta, and I can't imagine why she wouldn't. However, I know his mother hates me; what about the rest of Peeta's family? And what of the rest of District 12? People from town and those from the Seam never had serious relationships with each other; except for my parents, of course, but look how well that turned out.
And then that's when I remember that I'm overlooking one important fact. The truth is that I'm not a girl from the Seam any more than Peeta's just a baker's son. We are both Victors, and that fact alone separates us from everyone else. I meet Peeta's eyes again and decide not to make any decision about the future right now. I'll worry about what we'll do in District 12 when we get to District 12.
"So anything else you want to say, Peeta?" Caesar asks, snapping my attention back to them. Peeta shakes his head and Caesar continues," In that case, let me say that it has been an absolute pleasure being on this fantastical journey with you and I can't wait until we see you again for the Victory Tour!"
"Thank you," Peeta says.
"But for now, I'm Caesar Flickerman with our newest Victor, Peeta Mellark, signing off," Caesar says before blowing a kiss.
And the interview is over. I wait at my spot as Peeta gets swarmed by people congratulating him and wishing him the best. My patience is beginning to wear out when Peeta finally steps away from the group and pulls me into a hug.
"I missed you," he says into my hair.
"Are you going to say that to me every time you see me, now?" I ask, snuggling into his embrace.
"Maybe," he tells me, moving away enough so he can look me in the eyes. "I always miss you when you're not with me."
I can't help but smile. I take his hand and start leading him out of the sitting room. "Maybe I might understand what you're talking about."
We walk a few feet down the hall when I notice that Peeta is looking all around him as if searching for something. "What are you looking for?" I ask him,
"Oh, I keep waiting for Haymitch or Effie to come running in and try to keep us from spending any time alone together."
I laugh. "It did kind of seem like there was a plan to keep us apart. But I promise you that tonight there will be no interruptions. You did hear that our trip home was delayed until tomorrow, right?"
"I did hear that, yes," he tells me and I have to commend him on being able to sound like he wasn't disappointed.
"I was thinking that you and I could sneak away from everyone and have a private night, just the two of us," I inform him. "How does that sound?"
"It sounds absolutely amazing," he says, as he squeezes my hand. "So can I ask where you're taking me, or is that a surprise?"
"You'll see," I say.
He stops walking and pulls me around to look at him. "You do look beautiful in that dress," Peeta says. "But I don't mind if you want to stop by your room and put on something more comfortable."
I immediately press myself to him. My actions catch him by surprise and he nearly falls over from the force of my body slamming into him. He recovers quickly enough to avoid a spill but before he can say anything, my lips are on his.
When we part, Peeta has a goofy grin on his face. "Well, not that I'm complaining, but what was that for?"
"Because you are you," I tell him, not knowing how else to explain. "And yes, this dress is horrifically uncomfortable but I want to wear it for you. It's your favorite color and everything!"
He laughs, his ears turning a little red. "Trust me, I noticed. I have never liked the color more than I do right now."
I take his hand again. "Come on."
When we get up to the roof, we find a small table for two all dressed up for us. An Avox, the same redheaded girl who handed me the note earlier, stands nearby, waiting for our arrival. When she sees us, she motions to the table.
"Oh! Yes, thank you," Peeta says before he turns to me. "Katniss, you didn't have to do all of this just for me."
I sit in one of the chairs. "I know. And maybe all this isn't just for you."
"Well then, it's just perfect," he says, taking one of my hands over the table. "Although, maybe we should've done it somewhere other than the roof."
"Why?" I ask. "I have your jacket on, so I won't be too cold."
Peeta waits until the Avox disappears into the building before replying. "It was more concerned about the matter of privacy."
"Privacy?" I repeat.
"I'm sure you didn't miss the picture that they showed last night of us kissing up here," he says. "Doesn't it make you uncomfortable knowing that we could be surrounded by cameras?"
"There's cameras everywhere in the Capitol," I tell him and then wonder if I should have said that. "Listen, I know what you mean; but I want to make tonight special, so can we forget all about the Capitol and the Hunger Games and everything else but just us for a while?"
"I can do that," he says as he stands up and leans across the table to give me a small kiss. "I love you."
"And I love you," I tell him.
The Avox reappears a few moments later with our first course. At first our dialogue stills with all the restrictions I had put on the topics but slowly it picks up. By the time we are finishing up our desserts, our conversation is flowing easily between the two of us. Dinner with Peeta had been so pleasant, that I had almost forgotten what the whole night was really about.
But all that comes rushing back as Peeta helps me up from my chair and asks, "Where to now?"
"My room," I tell him as I force myself not to blush.
Peeta hadn't been expecting my response as I can see his eyes widen in surprise and he lets out an uncomfortable chuckle. He rubs at the back of his neck nervously, before taking my hand. "Okay, then. Let's go to your room."
I lead him to my room and pull him inside. His nervousness has seemed to have increased exponentially. I scan the room once, wondering where the cameras might be located. And then I think about the Games and the seemingly millions of cameras they have and realize that I probably would have a shorter list if I focused on places that there weren't cameras.
But I refuse to let my resolve falter now. I have not let go of his hand yet, and I pull him along until I reach my bed. I can hear him gulp behind me.
I cut him off with a kiss, afraid that I might lose my nerve. "Shhh.. Just lie down and kiss me for a while."
I can feel him tremble at that but when I glance at him, he doesn't look like he thinks this is a good idea.
I let go of his hand and lay myself on the bed. "Please?"
It's like his mind shuts off and suddenly, he's lying on top of me, capturing my lips with his own. These are different than all the previous kisses we've shared. There's a passion, a fire, a need behind them that was missing from all the other ones. The longer we kiss, the more that there's this warmth that spreads over my body. I can feel this hunger rise up in me and I lose myself in want.
It's not until he shifts on top of me that I realize that I'm not the only one suffering from arousal. This seems to snap him out of his lust long enough to try to pull away from me. I keep my grip on him tight, refusing to let him go.
"Katniss," he whispers. "Please, we need to stop."
"Because if we don't stop now, I don't think I'll be able to stop at all," he tells me, looking away in embarrassment.
"What if I don't want to stop?" I ask him, trying to pull his head back to face me but he resists.
"Don't," he tells me. "Don't say that. It's too fast, it's too soon. We have to stop this, right now."
"Too soon?" I repeat incredulously. "Peeta, you've been in love with me since you were five! How is eleven years too soon?"
"Because that was me," he says. "This is new for you and we are both still dealing with the arena and-"
"This isn't new for me either," I tell him, my voice cracking a bit. "You saved my life with the bread, remember?"
"And what, this is supposed to be repayment for that?" Peeta asks and tries to pull away from me again.
"No!" I exclaim. "Peeta! Look at me."
He stops struggling, but it takes another few tugs from my hands to get him to defeatedly turn to face me. "What?"
"I love you and I want to be with you," I tell him as our eyes meet. "I can't claim that I felt this for as long as you have but why do you think that it must mean that I love you less than you love me?"
"I don't think that," he says, but the guilty look on his face tells me otherwise. "It's just that this is too perfect to be real. I'm afraid that this is all a dream and that I'll wake up back in the arena with Rue's blood on my hands."
"This isn't a dream. I'm here and you're here and all of this is real. Do you hear me?" I ask him. "Real."
He searches my eyes and sighs. "Okay, but it's still a big step and I don't know if you're ready for it."
"Is it that you don't want me?" I ask him, frustrated that he's still putting up a fight. I get what he's doing, but enough already.
"How can you even ask me that?" He gives me a deep kiss. "Just look at you! Of course I want you!"
"And I want you!" I tell him and somewhere, in the back of my mind, I wonder if Snow is going to edit all of this out or if he's going to leave it in. "Why is it so hard for you to believe?"
"I just don't want you to make a mistake," he tells me. "I don't want you to do it and then immediately regret being with me like that."
"Peeta, I will never regret…" I pause for a moment, trying to find the right words. "I will never regret making love to you."
Those words seems to work magic as his face suddenly softens and I can feel the tension leaving his body. He gives me a small kiss on the forehead. "Katniss, are you sure you want to do this?"
I look deep into the blue eyes of the boy who saved my life and say, "Yes, Peeta, I'm sure."
What surprises me is that it's not a lie.
The next morning, Effie bursts into my room and shrieks when she finds Peeta and me, still naked and wrapped around each other, in my bed. She leaves my room screeching about propriety and etiquette, stopping her rant long enough to tell the both of us that we have fifteen minutes to get ready to go to the train station.
I am completely mortified about being caught like this and try to pull the covers over my face. Peeta just laughs at me, tickling my side, a far cry from the hesitant boy from last night. I push him off me and really notice his nakedness for the first time. I look away, blushing furiously.
Peeta stops laughing suddenly. He takes my face and turns me to look at him. "What's wrong?"
"Yes, as are you," he points out. "And as we were last night and you didn't seem to have such a problem with it then."
"And I don't have a problem with it now," I assure him. "It's just that I didn't really look at it last night."
It's his turn to blush. "Oh. Maybe we should get dressed. I'm afraid that Effie might actually leave us here if we are late."
He gets up from bed and I force myself not to look away. "You're beautiful, you know that?"
Peeta stifles a laugh. "That's supposed to be my line."
I shake my head. "I bet I'm a complete mess."
He leans in and kisses me. "You're wrong, Katniss; I've never seen you look more beautiful than you do at this moment."
Peeta quickly puts on the clothes he wore last night as I pull out a clean shirt and a pair of pants. I'm braiding my hair when Peeta leans over and places a kiss on the top of my head.
"Tell me that you don't regret what we did last night," he says, looking in my eyes in the mirror.
"I don't regret it," I tell him. He smiles widely and gives me a quick peck before running back to his room to change into a fresh set of clothes.
When he's gone, I examine my reflection in the mirror. I see the flush in my cheeks, a reminder of last night's activities. I feel bad that I lied to Peeta when he asked me if I regretted it, but I couldn't tell him the truth without explaining the whole situation to him and I was unwilling to do that.
The fact of the matter was that I did regret what I did last night. Not the actual act of making love to Peeta, though, but allowing Snow to film us. I sold something so amazing and private and I am disgusted with myself because of it.
I understand that I didn't really have a choice as I still believe the alternative would have been much worse for both Peeta and me. I can't help but hate Snow for putting me in the position where I chose to have my first time tainted by Capitol filth. He ruined the most amazing moment of my life and there is nothing I can do to fix it.
My loathing for Snow is currently fighting with my affection for Peeta for the paramount position in my mind. I can't decide which of the two I feel more strongly. I can't help the feeling that the two conflicting emotions are going to cause some problems for me in the future.
But I know that somehow, I am going to find a way to destroy Snow and his horrible Capitol, all the while keeping Peeta and everyone else I love safe. It's not going to be easy, I know, but retribution is rarely simple and never effortless.
I must have lost myself in thought because the next thing I know, Peeta is poking his head into my room. "Hey, are you ready?"
"Yeah," I tell him, crossing the room and taking his hand. "Let's go home."