It was an ordinary day in District 12 until it wasn't.
"No!" I started to punctuate my words by smashing plates. You know, for emphasis.
"Katniss, I'm a painter, not a potter. Ease up on the good china." Peeta danced away from the ceramic shards falling to the floor like snowflakes; no two exactly alike.
"You ruined it." The look I threw him could have roasted a Groosling.
"I'm sorry." Peeta backed up a little further, his face falling just a little bit more with each step. But he wasn't sorry. I knew he wasn't. Peeta doesn't do things he doesn't believe in. He follows his heart more so than his mind. It was one of the reasons I had started to fall in love with him.
And the then idiot had to go and propose.
"Don't apologise, take it back!" I tried to sound calm, rational and cool. It wasn't working very well, even to my own ears I sounded pissed.
"I can't take it back...I lo—"
"Don' you dare use the 'L' word to get yourself out of this one Peeta Aran Mellark!" I crossed the room and punched him. Right hook to the jaw.
Even out of practise, I left a mark. Peeta stumbled backwards and landed on the couch.
It had all been going as well as expected. We were settled in easy comfortable conformity. The consistency of our lives was so contrary to that of before. It was refreshing. The Capitol no longer hungered for the blood of the young and innocent. The hunger pains in my stomach could be easily sated in a couple of minutes rather than a couple of days. Every day I walked to the makeshift graveyard I made for prim, adorned by her namesake and talked to her until it felt like my heart would begin to bleed. It was not the perfect life. It wasn't a great life. But it was a good one.
It was mine.
And that was all there was to it.
Peeta was my constant. I was his. We relied on each others in the good moments, and in the episodes. We didn't judge. We understood.
Or I thought he understood me. Obviously not, or the idiot would never have dared to propose.
What was he thinking?
"I was thinking that I love you," he said, rubbing his tender jaw and counting the notches in the wooden ceiling.
"Not good enough."
"Isn't love the best reason? The only reason."
I didn't even bother to reply, just gave him my patented Katniss scowl.
"Is it my fault that you can't say how you feel? That you bottle everything up, piling each little thing on top of the other until it blows like a tropical storm?"Peeta didn't sound angry. He sounded tired.
"I'd rather you just made up your mind." The words cut through me like broken glass.
"You're one to talk, Peeta. Not everyone's like you. They don't fall in love at first sight, at four years old and holding onto that for twelve years, not saying a word until they have to fight to death in an arena. Twelve years, and you said nothing. Not a word. And you can't give me three years? And you say I'm the one who can't make their mind up?"
Peeta just stared at me from the corner of the couch, wide-eyed and shocked. I suppose it wasn't something we talked about. I never expressed my feelings in words. Words were Peeta's speciality. He could articulate so much more in one sentence, with so much more sentiment and heart than I could in a lifetime.
He was the words. I was the action. Together we made progress. Just in different ways.
The sun beat my eyes into submission as the rays scorched me through the kitchen window. I moved, and somehow stubbed my toe on the doorknob. A string of profanities and a jarring numbing in my mind made me miss what Peeta had said.
"Are you okay?" He jumped up and raced to me. To be my saviour, my prince. Like always.
But I was not a damsel. I was not in distress. I could take care of myself. I preferred it that way.
His closeness jarred me and I backed up, keeping a safe distance. Even if it was Peeta, and I was pretty sure I was in love with him-after all this time, and all his kindness, I knew I had-I was not used to closeness; to opening myself up to someone else. He had trapped me, broken down walls.
I didn't like it.
It made me feel like prey.
And I was a hunter by nature.
So, with an arms distance between us and a warning look, Peeta gave a resigned sigh and I once again asked what he had said.
"I said that you were wrong."
"I wasn't in love with you."
"I wasn't in love with you when we entered the arena."
It felt like I had swallowed a bottle of sleep syrup and was just waking up from a drug induced haze. Or maybe I was having a tracker-jacker delusion. Whatever it was, it didn't feel real. It felt like I was outside my body, hearing the words, seeing his lips move, but not quite drinking it in.
"But...what? That makes no...NO!"
"Sit down." Peeta said kindly, brushing his hand gently against my arm to guide me, and feeling the muscles tense beneath his touch, immediately drew his hand away.
"I never knew you thought that I loved you all along."
"I thought it was pretty obvious."
"But it's not true."
There was a small circle of tension building up between my eyes, the kind of headache I get when I'm extremely pissed off or in pain. I wasn't really sure which one, which surprised me just as much as his confession.
"But you kept sacrificing yourself for me. You always do. It's kind of annoying actually." Peeta laughed, and I scowled.
"I never chased you." I noted. He smiled.
"You would think I would have given up, wouldn't you?" he smiled. "Guess I'm masochistic."
"Now you're contradicting yourself..." Peeta took my hand in his, drawing slow, lingering circles between my knuckles, calming me down like only he could. He'd learned this during one of my episodes, like I had learned that if he ever broke down, a hug made him unfreeze, melting him from the inside out.
"I know you hate this. I'm not explaining it very well, am I?"
"So let me explain."
So he did.
"You know, we were drafted for the reaping, and my heart just stopped, froze like the trees during winter in the forest. Because the girl who I had a crush, and I emphasise crush, on was sacrificing herself for her little sister, leading herself to certain death to protect someone she loved. That showed me you were noble, kind, caring. It made me care about you that much more. It was the beginning of the end for me, I guess." He smiled. "But I didn't love you. Not then."
With the mention of Prim, a lightning storm bolting through me. I said nothing, just saved my tears for later and stayed silent.
"My heart shattered into icicles. I would never get the chance to casually bump into you in class or in town, slowly gain your trust, make you laugh with a line I had already made up and practised in the mirror to make sure it sounded effortless and cool. No first date. No first kiss. No holding hands and watching you fly through the forest like a bird. You seemed so alive there. Every time I saw you leave the forest through that gap in the fence, it was like you tensed up. Like you had lost your freedom. Like you had lost yourself...And now I sound like a stalker. Great."
I snorted, which earned a sweet self-deprecating smile from Peeta.
"But then I was reaped, and I finally grew a pair. If I was going to die, I was going to die knowing you."
"Of course, everyone was sure I was a goner. My mother," he gasped at the pain of remembering. Nothing is worse than memory. Give me arrows. Fire. Bruising, bleeding...anything.
But the scars memories bring? Those you can't erase. Those you need to deal with on a daily basis.
"Well, you know what she said." He gulped. "When no one else believed in me, it was hard to believe in myself. But never, not once, did anyone doubt you. You're powerful, strong, and yes, aggressive most of the time. But hey, that helped us both, right?" Peeta's smile was warming me like the embers of a fire. "But no, I didn't love you. I just realised my crush was growing into something deeper. And I had to protect you. I had some innate need to make sure that nothing would happen to you, even if it meant I died in the process. Because I couldn't imagine a world without Katniss Everdeen in it. I still can't."
"Entering the arena, I was in like with you.
Leaving it, I was completely and totally, irreparably in love with you."
"It started in the cave. That's the turning point; the axis I base our relationship on. You were sweet and shy by the river while you cleaned my wound. Barely able to look me in the eye as you felt me up." I punched him in the arm with my free hand and scowled.
His laugh could light up the entire district.
His smile, the whole world.
"But then, during my delirious haze, I remember this one moment where you were guarding the entrance and you thought I was asleep. I sat up in the sleeping bag and watched the rain drop around you and the light capture you in a moment so perfect I wanted to paint it. The rain and light mingled to create this halo, this aura around you...and you looked back. All I could see was dark hair, dark eyes, and a half smile.
And I knew it, in that moment. I knew I was in love."
"I was willing to do anything for you, die for you. And after we left the arena, and you told me it was all an act? I began to grow numb. The only girl I had ever loved had never loved me back..."
I wanted to interject, but what could I say? I let Peeta go on.
"But it didn't stop me loving you. The Quarter Quell made me love you more. The forest. The beach. The aching in your face as we lost more people...all of it made me ache for you. Long for you. Not want to be without you.
Then the Tracker-Jackers made me see things in a new perspective. Seeing you was pain. It was hurt, anguish...I couldn't handle it.
But even then I couldn't forget you.
I couldn't let you go.
I still can't."
Peeta looked me straight in the eye; his were filled, unmistakable with love. He touched his forehead to mine, brought out entwined hands to his lips and kissed it sweetly.
"I love you Katniss Everdeen. But my world does not revolve around you. I just enjoy my day so much more when you're in it.
You are not the sun and stars to me. You just make them shine all that brighter.
So I don't regret everything we've been through. It's sad and heartbreaking, but without it, I never would have found you. And my world would be less without Katniss Everdeen in it. And that's why I proposed to you."
"For my own selfish reasons, I wanted to keep Katniss Everdeen."
Peeta automatically backtracked. "Not that I could ever own you. You are your own person. I just hoped that maybe...I could make you as happy as you've made me."
I said nothing.
"Um..."Peeta swiftly mused his hair, looking like a kid who had been caught trying to have a second serving of dinner..."so are we okay?"
I said nothing.
"Mellark." I smiled.
"What?" Peeta's confused face was adorable. And I did adore him. All of him. Inside and out.
"What's my name?" I asked, smiling.
"Katniss Everdeen." I shook my head.
"I want to give Katniss Everdeen-Mellark a try. It has a nice ring to it."
With that, he kissed me. And my sun and stars shone brighter than ever.
Peeta shone brighter than everything.