I really wanted to write a one-shot detailing the end of Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (okay, so if you haven't read the book, be prepared for spoilers). I admit I was frustrated by the lack of Katniss/Peeta interaction in this book, although I loved the ending. I wanted to explain why Katniss had been so cold with Peeta for most of Mockingjay, and then finally realized her feelings for him in the last few chapters. I don't know if I'll write more Hunger Games fics, I guess it will depend on the reviews I get!
(Also let me know if you think the rating is too high)
Disclaimer: the characters, general setting and some quotes belong to Suzanne Collins.
I am done with my graceless heart
So tonight I'm gonna cut it out
And then restart
(Shake it out, Florence+The Machine)
As I lay my head on Peeta's pillow, my body relaxes just like it has done every night since the night he took me in his arms. He's lying next to me, rolled on to his side so we're facing each other, and as I look into his blue eyes I want to smile and cry at the same time.
I still remember all these nights plagued by nightmares. I remember seeing myself being buried by all the people I've loved in my life. I remember speechless nightmares where I stayed frozen, unable to move a limb, while my sister writhed in a circle of fire. Watching powerlessly as Cinna was beaten to a pulp by Peacekeepers. The tortured, animal screams of the Avoxes dying because of me. I still remember waking up screaming, arms and legs tangled in my sheets, a cold sweat running down my back. After that it was impossible to go back to sleep, and I just hung between night and dawn, nightmares and reality, panting, eyes constantly switching to every dark corner of my bedroom.
How many nights did I wake up like this? I can't count them. Not so long ago it seemed I would never have a sound night sleep again. It got slightly better when Buttercup came back to my house, our truce shaky by day but still holding on at night, when he would curl up next to me and watch me sleep. His soft purrs allowed me to drift into sleep instead of laying sleepless in the dark, bracing myself, waiting for the nightmares to come.
And then, there was this night when I found my way back into Peeta's arms.
We had spent the entire day together, as it happened more and more frequently. Our memory book was almost finished and technically we had no more reasons to hang out together, except we seemed to want to. I never allowed myself to dig too deep into the fact that being around him made me feel happier, stronger every day. I didn't want to focus and explain why every one of his smiles made my heart ache in a suspiciously good way, why the days when his eyes sparkled with laughter were always my favorites. He didn't seem to want to let go of me either. Which was good. It meant we could keep on getting closer, baby step after baby step, without having to talk about it.
We had come back from a long walk in the forest, where I had taken care of erasing my old memories of the woods, both good and bad, and replacing them with lighter memories of me and Peeta walking between the trees, picking up wild flowers, watching a squirrel fly from branch to branch, making the green leaves rustle. When we arrived at my house in the Victors Village, I didn't ask him if he wanted to come in, but nevertheless he followed me inside, as if this was what we did every evening. I was perplexed, but I didn't say anything, carefully threading around the subject as if scared that one meaningful look would send him running back to his house.
"Would you like some dinner?" I asked instead, a neutral, non-threatening question.
"Sure", he simply said, sat down at the kitchen table and looked at me, smiling.
I sat on the chair next to him, all thoughts of dinner immediately forgotten. I wasn't so hungry anymore. We stayed like this for a while, in the quiet kitchen, looking at one another from time to time and smiling almost shyly. Then, slowly, as if hesitating, as if trying not to scare a fragile bird, he lifted his hand and gently laid it on mine. It took me a moment to register what was happening. And then to register that it was the first time he touched me on purpose in months. His hand was much larger than mine, strong, but his skin soft and warm. Just the touch felt so incredibly good I had tears welling up in my eyes. It was so surreal that I had to refrain myself for asking him real or not real, the little game we kept playing from time to time for Peeta's sake. Ever so slowly, I turned my hand so that our palms touched. Ever so slowly, he caressed my fingers, and we stayed there, staring at our hands, learning to touch again, learning to hold hands, a gesture that seemed so easy and so simple a lifetime ago.
Suddenly it was too much, too good, and I briskly sat up and walked to a corner of the kitchen, pretending to get busy preparing something to eat for dinner. It was about time, too, because my lips were threatening to curl up in a big happy stupid smile, and my tears were threatening to spill over on my cheeks.
Behind me, I heard him sit up too. Good, I thought, go back home, Peeta. It's just too much for me right now, too much. But instead I felt his hand on my shoulder, and I had no choice than to turn and look at him, expose my ridiculous mixed emotions, these emotions I'd tried so hard to keep under control these past months. His expression was unreadable: concern, uncertainty, fear... longing? I had no time to speak. The moment he leaned towards me, I put my arms around his neck, and his arms closed around my waist. I laid my head on his chest and a long sob - was it relief? happiness? fear? - racked my body. He pulled me tighter into him, gently stroked my hair, and slowly, ever so slowly, we began to breathe again. I dimly realized how starved I was for affection, for his touch. We began to understand what was happening. That now we were in each other's arms, it would be impossible to let go. Because I didn't want to. Because at that moment, I wanted to stay here with him forever, soothed by his warmth, feeling the strong, steady rhythm of his heart against my cheek. Because it never felt like we belonged together more.
I can't remember how we walked up to my bedroom together. I don't remember me asking him or him asking me. I don't remember feeling shy or self-conscious. I don't remember crawling fully dressed under the sheets with him. All I remember is that when I woke up the next morning, something felt off - until I realized it was the first time, in such a long time, that I'd woken up quietly, feeling rested, safe, happy. No nightmares. Peeta's arms still enclosing me.
We never slept alone after that night. It became a silent agreement between me and him. I realized how much I appreciated his silence, just like I appreciated his words. Knowing when to speak, knowing when to just convey his thoughts in one look at me. Precisely what I needed to take my time and sort my issues.
Haymitch knew, though. I wondered how he did, since I never told him, and I was pretty sure Peeta never mentioned it either. But I could tell, by the glances he threw me and Peeta when he thought we didn't look, the small, satisfied smile that fluttered on his lips every time Peeta and I would finish each other's sentences, say something at the same time. Somehow, it made me feel better about my conflicted emotions, about the way things were. It made me like Haymitch even more. It felt like family.
All these thoughts, all these emotions I don't have the courage to face. All these questions I don't have the courage to ask, all these I can read in Peeta's eyes tonight, and I know he'll never ask, not until I'm ready, not until I know.
We haven't moved, we're still lying on his bed with our daily clothes on, our breathing calm and steady, looking into each other's eyes. It could be a night like all the previous nights, when we would just curl up in each other's arms and quietly drift into sleep. But it's not, and we hold each other's gaze a second longer than we're used to. That is why I finally do something I've been dying to do since the moment he took my hand into his.
I raise my hand from the pillow, slowly lift it to his face, and gently stroke his cheek, his hair. Peeta closes his eyes. I feel scared, I feel shy. I feel as if I'm breaking an unspoken rule of our agreement. We've slept in the same bed so many times. Before the Quarter Quell. Before tonight. But we never really touched. I believe I'm the one who set up that rule. As if me stroking his hair, him kissing my forehead, would trigger something too big, too scary. As if it would force me to answer all the questions I've been pushing away at the back of my mind. And my gesture tonight is not something a friend would do. It's a tentative way to say something on which it's too hard to put words.
But I keep my hand where it is. Eventually Peeta opens his eyes. They're deep blue in the semi darkness, kind and soft and quietly happy. He reaches for my hand, takes it in his, and moves imperceptibly closer to me. He's so close now I can smell him. Funny thing is, after all we've been through, the memories it brings are only happy ones. He smells of warm skin and clean laundry and cinnamon. I remember the skinny, starved, dying boy that I learned to know in that cave, during our first Hunger Games. For a moment back then, we were as close as we are now. But back then I didn't know. Back then I didn't appreciate him as much as I should have.
I lean towards him and slowly, slowly, touch my lips to his. It's my turn to take the first step, to reach out to him. When I pull away, the look he gives me is so full of feelings it's almost painful. But my face must mirror his because he lifts himself up on his elbow, cups my cheek in his hand, and slowly, slowly, rolls me on my back and kisses me.
It is a sweet kiss, almost innocent. It's a kiss that lets me know he's willing to go down this road if that's what I want. That we can be together, for real.
An innocent kiss, and yet I feel that thing again. The thing that I only felt twice in my life, each time with him. An unexpected kiss in a dark cave. A desperate kiss on a beach. An innocent kiss on his bed. Peeta and I have shared thousands of kisses since our first Hunger Games, but only these meant something to me.
Something stirs deep inside. It's like starting a fire. At first a spark, then a few timid waves of warmth. And then the warmth spreads all over my body, out along my arms and legs, to the tips of my fingers and toes. Before I can stop myself, I slide my hand along the back of his neck, into his hair, and I pull him closer, deepening our kiss. My mouth opens under his and he moans softly against my lips. Our kiss feels a little less innocent now. Just like back in the second arena, instead of satisfying me, the kiss has the opposite effect. It only makes my need greater, and this new kind of unknown hunger takes me unawares, knocks the air out of me. My hand leaves his hair, crawls down his back, follows his arms, meets his hand. Our fingers entwine and we roll back on our sides, our breathing a little quicker. The second we break our kiss, we throw ourselves in another one, hungrier, more passionate.
We've never kissed with such passion before. I've always been a spectator of our kisses, and even the few times they stirred something in me, I was so surprised and overwhelmed by the sensations that I'd focused exclusively on myself. This is different. Although the pleasure these kisses give me is threateningly strong, I'm sure he feels the same - unlike the other kisses we've had, when I was never certain he felt the same warmth that I did.
We break apart again, panting. Our eyes finally meet in the darkness. His are full of love and longing. It's been months, years, maybe, since I've seen these feelings in his gaze. Honestly, my expression must be the same, because he smiles, lightly stroking my cheek. He moves closer to me, touches the tip of his nose to mine, and half-chuckling, half-whispering, he says, "Katniss".
I feel my insides melt. And finally, finally, I know. I know it would have happened anyway. I can't believe it took me so long to see this. That the person I needed to survive wasn't the fiery, raging Gale. I needed Peeta, his kindness, his patience, his brave, good heart. I needed the hope of the dandelion in the spring. The hope that despite all we had suffered, life could be good again. Because he's the only one who can make it good again.
I just murmur his name in answer, and I kiss him. I wrap my arms around his back, my legs around his. The hunger grows stronger. I don't know what I'm doing, but my body does. My body, that has never brought me anything expect starvation and pain. My body that only seems to come alive in Peeta's hands. I gasp when his hand brushes my breast, and then gently settles on it. My right hand lays on his left, presses it more firmly into my skin, and my left hand caresses his chest, the place where his heart beats against my fingers, crawls further down to his stomach. His eyes never let go of mine and I lose myself in his gaze, in his touch. My hand slides under his shirt and I lay my palm on his warm skin. It feels so good that we both give a sigh of pleasure at the same time. I roll away from him and help him take off his shirt. Then he helps me take off mine, his fingers brushing my skin as he lifts the shirt over my head, leaving goosebumps in their trail. Slowly, with infinite care, never looking away from each other's eyes, we undress each other, the soft blue moonlight pouring out the window on our skin.
And then we're naked, lying on the bed, facing one another, our breath slightly shaky as we take in each other's body. My heart gives a painful squeeze as my eyes trail along his body. The scars, the soft pink skin that replaces the burns, the juncture of his artificial leg. I remember something he told me such a long time ago, before the Quarter Quell. 'It's like when you wouldn't look at me naked in the arena even if I was half dead. You are so... pure.' I can look at him now. I could just lie there and look at him all night. Explore his body with my eyes. I don't know if that makes me less pure. I don't really care anymore.
"You're beautiful", I whisper.
I move closer to him. His fingers follow the line of my waist. It's like we don't dare to breathe.
"Do you still think I'm pure?" I ask under my breath. I'm not concerned about the hunger I feel for him, our nakedness, our kisses. This is not the kind of purity I'm concerned about. I've seen and done things I'll never forget, and until tonight I've never wondered how much they would affect my soul.
But he looks into my eyes and says, "You're perfect."
I let out a shaky chuckle. He smiles and kisses me. I throw my arms around him and bring him against me. Our bodies touch, the sensation knocking the air out of us. I wrap myself around him and him around me. Our hands grasp our skin, our hair. His fingers crawl along my thigh, caress me between my legs, and I gasp for air, shivering with pleasure. He moans softly when I instinctively press my pelvis against his, when my hand cups him. I don't have time to wonder how little I know, despite all the naked, wounded bodies I've seen in my life.
Then finally the hunger overcomes me. I roll on my back, bringing him on top of me. His blond hair catches the moonlight, turning into gold. His eyes never look away from mine. I think once again, you're so beautiful, and I say, "Peeta", his name escaping from my lips. Then I arch my back, sliding him inside me. We both let out a gasp of surprise and pleasure, and slowly, carefully, we begin to move in unison. I forget where I begin and where he stops. I look into his eyes and he looks into mine, and our breaths mingle, our kisses last forever, and I think, so this is what love feels like. I forget about everything. Time doesn't exist anymore. I lose myself in him. I've never felt more alive, more loved. Ripples of pleasure run through my body, slowly changing into waves, waves of pleasure that crash on my entire being, overwhelming me, and we both cry out at the same time, shivering, holding one another, saying each other's name in shaky whispers.
I keep my arms tightly wrapped around him, my cheek against his, my brown locks mingling with his blond hair. Our heartbeats slowly get steadier, our breathing quieter, but we don't let go. My body feels blissfully light and content, but my heart is so full it's almost painful. I wonder if it can actually burst from the mix of fear and extraordinary happiness I'm feeling. Eventually, Peeta presses his lips to my hair, my forehead, the tip of my nose. I close my eyes and smile. When I open them again, I find him looking at me, his blue eyes sparkling with happiness. I take his face in my hands and kiss him full on the lips, and when I pull away, we start laughing. The light, happy laughter of people who have somehow, against all odds, found a way to mend the broken pieces of their bodies and souls.
So after, when he whispers: "You love me. Real or not real?"
I tell him, "Real".