A/N: An alternate ending to the first Hunger Games book.
For the most part, this is un-edited and un-cut. This is something of a reaction one-shot to the final pages of the first Hunger Games book. To put it simply, Katniss dissatisfies me romantically. She's a romantic zombie, even at the end of Mockingjay. I tried to make this as cute and fluffy and romantic as I could without disrespecting the characters. Apologies for the clichés, I couldn't help myself. Go eat fluff.
Disclaimer: the first 150 words or so are taken directly from the final pages of the Hunger Games. Everything else is mine.
Words Not Spoken
"It was all for the Games," Peeta says. "How you acted."
"Not all of it," I say, tightly holding on to my flowers.
"Then how much? No, forget that. I guess the real question is what's going to be left when we get home?" he says.
"I don't know. The closer we get to District Twelve, the more confused I get," I say. He waits, for further explanation, but none's forthcoming.
"Well, let me know when you work it out," he says, and the pain in his voice is palpable.
I know my ears are healed because, even with the rumble of the engine, I can hear every step he takes back to the train. By the time I've climbed aboard, Peeta has disappeared into his room for the night. I don't see him the next morning, either. In fact, the next time he turns up, we're pulling into District 12. He gives me a nod, his face expressionless.
This isn't fair. Not to him, or to myself. Because the boy with the bread was given years to love me and to sort out his feelings for me, and I'd been given three weeks of close contact with the expectation for an answer. An answer I don't want to give, because I've been running from it.
I want to run. I don't want to face Peeta. I don't want to face what I'm feeling.
Denying myself affection with another person is a gut reaction, and Prim is the only who I'm willing to share it with. And this was only dawning on me now, now that I'm back from the arena and under fire by President Snow and the rest of the Capitol to be Katniss Everdeen, the Girl on Fire, so desperately in love with Peeta Mellark that I'd die with him in the arena. No rebellion, just a girl in love.
I had Haymitch fooled. I had myself fooled. I'm rebellious and I'm lethal, but my act with Peeta wasn't all for the games.
Some of it was for me.
"One more time? For the audience?" He says, extending his hand towards me.
I see how this story could end. I could take his hand and I could say nothing. I could shut out my emotion and label it as "confusion." I could run. I could run for the following months and cause myself more pain in the long run than it was worth
But now I see there was very little to be confused about.
"This isn't fair," I say. I suck back some pride. I was never a very vocal person. "There's so much you don't know."
"Believe me, Katniss, I get it."
"No, you don't."
"I'm not stupid. I've seen the way he looks at you. And I know you love him back—" it takes me a minute before I realize he's talking about Gale, "—you just can't face it."
I flounder for a second. How am I supposed to put into words what feels so safe in my mind?
"Three weeks ago, we were strangers. You were the baker's boy, and I was an illegal hunter. And Gale was my closest friend. And he still is." It sounds so plain, coming out of my mouth. But also strange. My heart is racing as I continue. "You're not the baker's boy to me anymore."
"Then tell me."
"I . . . can't."
He opens his mouth to say something, but shuts it. He doesn't have to. I already know.
You're killing me here, Katniss.
And, just like that, he grabs my hand, ready to walk out into the light of District Twelve and to flaunt us as the couple the audience wants to see, while we leave the reality of us to hang on by a thread. And I know that reality would remain unresolved for a long time unless I said something.
"The truth is, for such a lethal person, I'm really quite squeamish," I splutter. "And I can't stand the idea of being too personal and letting myself care too much, because I'm afraid I'll get carried away. And if you were just the baker's boy to me, I wouldn't be so scared." I'm talking so fast, and I know Peeta wants to interject, but I won't let him. I need to get this out, before all of my courage is swallowed up. "But you're not. We should be strangers, but we're not. And I was a fool for thinking it was all for the Games." That's it. Just say it Katniss.
All I have to do is say it. Three little words. Then we were free.
And yet, my mouth hangs open, and all I can feel is shame as it washes over me in waves. I've failed him, and I've failed myself. But the way he's looking at me doesn't read like it should. He looks at me like I've just spoken a monologue, explaining everything. And as I stand there, floundering, I find his arms around me, and the two of us are locked in an embrace that isn't for the audience or for anyone other than ourselves.
"Katniss, don't say it. You don't have to. I'll say it for both of us."
"I'm in love with you." He says it so softly and tenderly I almost miss it. He pulls away, just enough so I can look him in the eye. "But you already knew that. And you don't have to tell me, but I just need a sign, something—"
I cut him off, unable to bear it any longer as I kiss him right on the lips, saying everything and nothing at the exact same time. I'd kissed the boy countless times before. I told myself it was for the Games. It was for the sponsors. It was for our survival. I had never let myself feel what it was really like to kiss Peeta Mellark, not without running from the truth. And the truth is right in front of us, leaving no room for debate or confusion. The truth is that I'm scared, and I've been too scared for the longest time to accept that our charade was more than a part of the Games. I've fallen for Peeta Mellark, harder and faster than I believed I was capable of.
He pulls away, and I can't tell if he had kissed me back or not, and if I'd just given myself away and worn too much of my heart on my sleeve.
Then I realize. You can't really wear your heart on your sleeve much more than telling someone you're in love with them, like Peeta had.
We don't say anything for a minute.
"I didn't think you'd come around," he says.
"I didn't think so either."
He pauses. "What changed your mind?"
I think for a second. And then the answer comes very clearly.