I burst through Peeta's front door with a bucket dangling from my fingers and a jar of goat's milk in my other hand. The bucket slips and falls to the floor with an echoing thud. Luckily, it lands on its bottom and nothing falls out.
Peeta juts his head into the hall doorway, perplexed. "Hey," he calls as he rushes over to take the bucket I've just bent down to grab. The handle's been missing since before I was born, so it's a little awkward to hold. "Strawberries?" he asks.
"Yes," I grin, "the last of the year, probably. Have you had them before?" We step into his kitchen and I set the milk down on the counter.
Peeta's brow furrows as he picks one up and gingerly sniffs it. "I think so, maybe once or twice. A long time ago, anyway. I can't remember what they taste like."
"Try 'em," I say, prodding him with my finger. He looks at it a little wary, so I tell him, "They're the best. I just dropped some off at Gale's and Madge's houses."
"Well, I remember the last time you tried to feed me berries," he jokes.
"You mean that time I saved your life?" I roll my eyes and pluck the biggest one from the top of the pile and take a bite. "Mmm. See?" I ask a little too innocently.
"And the time before that!" he smirks and apparently waits for me to get sleepy.
I surprise him by snatching his hand and pushing his strawberry into his face. With it inches from his lips, he's laughing and takes a bite. I chew the rest of mine and watch him nod his approval.
"Very good," he says before popping the rest of it into his mouth. "Are these all for me?"
"Yup. I didn't know if you'd be over for supper or not tonight. Here's some milk, too. From Lady." I slide the jar over.
"Mm-hmm, any excuse to come see me," he says before sidling over and giving me a kiss.
Slightly indignant, I tell him, "I wanted to reciprocate a little. For the bread."
"You don't have to reciprocate with me, Katniss," he whispers, the mischief gone from his blue eyes.
I wrap my arms around him. "I know. But I wanted to. And I did want to see you."
He smiles so happily that my heart warms, and I can't help but return it. I lean into his chest and close my eyes, breathing him in deep. I'd wished I'd stayed over the last few nights, after we made up from our fight.
I keep having this dream, where he's agreed to climb a tree and sleep for the night in the arena. A parachute lands far out on the branch above us. He hops up to go get it, and I try to tell him to wait, that I'll get it, but he scrambles after it before I can stop him.
The first night he just fell. I screamed his name before climbing halfway down and jumping. He wouldn't wake; he was gone. I stayed with him, crying, until he grew cold and the sun came up. Then Cato's face loomed above me and his sword came down, and that's when I woke up, covered in sweat, my heart racing. Prim was there, all ready to hug and comfort me.
The second night, he reached the parachute. But when he opened it, it wasn't a gift from our sponsors—it was something else: a contraption that was rigged to burrow a knife into the face of the person who opened it.
And last night, after he'd retrieved the parachute, a mutt squirrel leaped onto him and tore open his jugular with its hideously sharp teeth. He bled out in minutes while I tried to staunch the flow with his shirt. I woke up before I ever found out what was in the parachute this time. Then I shot at least half a dozen squirrels this morning with a vengeance. Right through the eyes, like always.
I think that I'm more scared to lose him now that I've given in to keeping him. I don't feel so helplessly drawn to him anymore (which is a good thing), but I miss him more. And here he is, heart beating and healthy. Maybe a little tired, but looking good. I realize I haven't kissed him nearly enough in the past few days, and link my arms around his neck while my lips touch his. His blond hair keeps falling into his eyes, so I comb it back with my fingers and let out a yelp when he lifts me up onto a stool.
"Better?" he asks, laughing. We're at eye level now.
I nod, and grab his shirt collar to pull him towards me. "What were you doing when I came in?" I ask between kisses, suddenly curious.
"Painting. Upstairs," he replies.
I flash back to him covered in mud and plants, and him tinkering around at the camouflage station in the training center. "Can I see?"
"Okay. Yeah," he says, "c'mon," and takes my hand in his.
Sunlight streams in the room upstairs. A gentle breeze blows the lacy curtains in through the one open window out of five. Peeta's paintings line the walls beneath the windows, totaling about twenty canvases. My chest tightens when I see them. They are all images from the Games. Every drop of blood and every blade of grass. I am a recurring theme throughout several of them. I'm washing his clothes; I'm looking through the trees; I'm making the blind we couldn't use in the cave.
He startles me when he asks, "What do you think?"
At a loss for better words, I offer lamely, "they're so lifelike."
"Do you like them?"
"No," I say. "I hate them." I don't know what I'd thought I was going to see. Sunsets and flowers, maybe? I relive the Games each night, but he's here, alone, reliving them each day. "All I want is to forget the arena, and you've made it real all over again."
"I can't forget it. I see it again and again every night," he says.
"Me too," I say hollowly. "They're excellent, though, Peeta. Really." I turn and see the one that's propped up on the easel, unfinished. "When was this?" I ask. It's me, emerging from a cloud.
"I don't remember exactly. It might have been when I was sick, or after you gave me those sugar berries," he answers.
"I'm never gonna live that down, am I?"
"Never. I was so mad at you for that!"
"Well I'm not sorry. That was me, saving your life. Again," I say.
He's quiet a long time. Then, in a small voice, he says, "you really scared me, Katniss."
"Come here," I say, stepping closer to him and giving him a hug.
"I'm grateful you saved me," he continues, "but I'd never have forgiven you or myself if you didn't make it."
"Well I did make it," I tell him. "I didn't leave you all alone."
He shakes his head and says, "that's not what I mean, Katniss. I didn't—I don't—want to lose you." I kiss him, but he pulls away. "That's what my nightmares are like. I keep losing you, every time I shut my eyes. And I'm scared that one day I'll wake up and you'll really be gone."
"Peeta, I'm right here. You're not going to lose me," I assure him, and when I kiss him again, he does not pull away. I realize that I don't like the idea of him here, cooking just for himself night after night. I have my mother and Prim for company; he is alone here.
"Hey, it's almost suppertime. Will you come over to my house?" I ask.
He touches his nose to mine and gazes into my eyes. "Sure," he says.
"And I want you there every night after," I say.
He laughs. "Okay."
Grinning, he says, "I promise," and laces his fingers with mine. And I lead him down the stairs, away from his bad dreams.
A/N: Thanks for all the positive reviews, everyone! I do appreciate them. I know it's been awhile since I've updated this. I thought it was pretty much done because of where I'd left off, but then I was craving strawberries this weekend and that seemed to inspire me. I totes bought some when I was in the middle of writing this, too. JSYK, they were delicious. Anyway, I may be motivated to continue this. I guess it depends on where the story takes me. And my mood. Normally, I have a plan with stories and I map everything out. But I just keep pulling all this out of a fluffy place in my brain, though, so I have no idea where I'm going with it. I guess we'll see, hehe.