CHAPTER 50

Plutarch sets up the equipment in our home while Peeta and I camp out in our respective rooms. We don't feel much like idle chit chat with the crew. Thankfully, I'm without a prep team this time. Haymitch wants it to be (well, seem) natural and genuine. Peeta's prep team is in his room with him now, though, probably drawing tiny dots on him or something. I have a pounding headache from the stress and guilt and shame of it all but remind myself that it's for the greater good. No one needs to go into a panic at the idea of a pandemic but, since we're on the brink of one, we might as well eradicate it if at all possible.

I lay my head down on the pillow for a nap before we begin shooting when Haymitch comes in with some sheets of paper in his hands.

"Thanks for knocking," I say, my words muffled into the pillow.

"I need to go over the outline with you. Now, you're going to ad lib all of this obviously, but here's the idea: you and Peeta are spending time together, doing the stuff you normally do like…draw and um, go jogging and play cards—"

"We don't jog or play cards, Haymitch," I say, rolling my eyes.

"Whatever, will you just listen? And then you uh…" Haymitch's eyes shift a little bit and he appears uncomfortable. "You kiss and," he runs his hands through his hair and I note he's past due for a trim. "And well, whatever. You kiss, some clothes come off—"

"NO," I tell Haymitch firmly and hide my head under the pillow. "No!" I yell again.

"Katniss…"

"I am not doing that, Haymitch!"

"What's the big deal, sweetheart? Everyone's seen everything already and it's not like it's anything special that you can charge people to see," he attempts to joke but I try to side-swipe Haymitch with my left leg and push him off the bed. It doesn't work.

"Look, it doesn't have to be much of anything. If it makes you feel better, you can just help Peeta take his shirt off. That's all we really need and I know Peeta isn't a prude like you," he says.

"Fine," I relent with a groan. "Then what?" Although, I have an idea as to where he may be going with this.

"Then you notice a few bumps or dots on Peeta's chest. You both look at it curiously and remark how he must have gotten poison ivy…." Haymitch goes on and on as if he scripted it himself. And maybe he did.

Sooner than I'd like, Peeta and I find ourselves in this situation. I again kiss Peeta with all I have for the cameras, but in spite of myself, I feel my heart rate begin to increase and feel a flush spread across my cheeks and chest. Things are so much different now and still, somehow so much the same. I don't need to be coached any further, however, because having any sort of fabric between Peeta and myself feels so obtrusive and the shirt must come off. The entire crew is silent; you could probably hear a pin drop.

I run my hands over his strong shoulders, over his chest and my hands creep their way down to the buttons of his pants. I'm pleased with myself as the movement seems so natural; it serves its purpose perfectly. I stop just short of unbuttoning and still my hands. Peeta feels me hesitate and pulls his lips away from mine. We both look down at my hands.

"What's that?" I say, pointing to a cluster of small dots just to the left of his navel. A shiver comes over me when I see just how exactly the prep team has replicated the pock marks. I hope it isn't noticeable on camera.

"I don't know," Peeta says curiously. "Maybe it's from when we were hiking. Maybe it's poison ivy." I'm not quite sure where to go from here. Peeta appears to shake off the inconsequential notion of poison ivy and moves in to kiss me once more. There, I see my opportunity. I push Peeta away.

"No," I tell him. "I don't want your poison ivy!" I say in an accusatory but playful voice.

"Katniss," he pleads, trying to pull me back into him. And I don't want to stop and halfway think that perhaps we could pick up where we left off after the shoot.

But I shake my head no and he sighs, defeated. I regard the dots one last time.
"Maybe we should have my mother look at that," I say with an uneasy voice. It's a joke, of course, because I would never take Peeta to my mother who is hundreds of miles away. But as far as most of the Republic knows, my mother is right down the road, unaware that Peeta and I are stealing some time to be alone together.

"Nah," Peeta says, unconcerned and replaces his shirt. Neither of us knows how to move forward so we kind of just stop and look at Plutarch who appears to be thinking one step ahead.

"Do you want us to shoot that one again?" Peeta asks, maybe too eagerly and I smile in spite of myself.

"No, no, that was great. You nailed it in the first take," Plutarch says. Peeta and I exchange a glance.

"So….no?" Peeta clarifies.

"No," Plutarch confirms.


We shoot out of sequence, I guess, because we sit around for an hour or so before the team moves outside.

"Walk away from the cameras in that field…yeah, you two start walking and then Peeta, I want you to brush against Katniss's hand and then decide better of it and take it in your own. Katniss, be surprised," Plutarch says.

I look out across the field that has started to mend itself despite having been a complete mess. Just a few short years ago after the bombings, it was strewn with ash and bone fragments. Now, in the early summer sunshine, the sun glistens off the shiny, waxen blades of grass. The long grasses sway back and forth while small, white butterflies dance just above the sea of green. I hear some birds in the distance and the chirping of insects close by. I'm absolutely caught up in the beauty and peace of it all so I am genuinely surprised when my inner calm is interrupted by Peeta's steady hand in mine. I look up at him and smile and feel a certainty and steadiness in the return of his smile. His eyes wrinkle just slightly at the edges and I see that a few summer freckles have begun to dot his nose. We walk in natural silence for a little while before I am reminded of the sound crew nearby and try to think of something to say.

"Something I never said to you," I begin quietly, my voice croaking a bit in my anxiety. I swallow my saliva and take a deep breath to give myself time to formulate a sentence. "I'm sorry about the baby, Peeta. I'm sorry about the way everything turned out."
I'm surprised to find a tear glistening in the corner of my eye and I'm not sure I really know how it got there. Peeta stops and turns towards me, looks at me for a minute…and then I think we both have an understanding of what I mean. He folds me in his arms. I rest my head in the crook of his neck and he kisses the hair covering my temple.

"Don't say that," he says soothingly, hugging me closer.
"We'll never get it back," I say and lose myself in the moment, burying my face further into his neck while managing a few anguished gasps for breath. I think we both stumble upon a new meaning. There obviously never was a baby. We know that. But Peeta and I had begun to create something that never quite got the chance to develop into something more mature. I was rescued. He was not. I didn't get to him in time and he can never be repaired because of that and we will never have the relationship we could have had. The Games were bad enough without torture and war and drugs. We had only begun to discover each other outside of the reality that had been thinly constructed for us by the Capitol…and then Haymitch and Plutarch. And here we are again.

"Katniss, Katniss," Peeta says, smoothing my hair. "Listen," and he pulls me away so that we stand face to face. He tucks a stray bit of hair behind my ear and looks me in the eye. "You're right. We can't go back. But…there will be more babies."

I look at him and smile weakly, not entirely convinced. And then Peeta places his lips over mine. There is no lust or desire behind that kiss but it serves more like a reassuring squeeze of the hand, a signature on a document, a promise. I wrap my arms around him and rest my forehead against his, and can think of only one closing line for this scene: "You love me…real or not real?" I ask him.

I hear a light chuckle escape his lips and I can almost see him shake his head in disbelief.

"Real," he whispers before placing a soft kiss against my bottom lip. But it's so hard to know, so hard to believe him or even myself when half the time we're playing a part and the caricatures of ourselves are the only certainty we have of anything.

"That's a wrap," Plutarch says in a near-murmur. I see that the sun is beginning to set. "Nicely done, kids. Okay everyone, let's pack up!"

I look over at the crew and at Plutarch and see Haymitch. He doesn't look as pleased as everyone else. Instead, he looks away and I can see him shake his head slightly. Is he shaking his head at us? Does he think we're just big fakes? Or better yet, is he disgusted with himself, for this ridiculous soft core display we have to constantly put on for everyone at his behest?

Peeta moves to join the others and help them pack up, ever the team player, but I catch his hand, "Wait," I say. "Let's stay." I can tell he's surprised that I would request it but he smiles. We continue to walk hand-in-hand until the land's elevation rises and we are able to sit on a slight mound overlooking some trees in the distance. We sit, mostly in silence, and watch the sun set.

"This would be a perfect scene for the show," Peeta remarks. "They're missing out."
I say nothing in response. I feel a bit of unease in the pit of my stomach but I'm not sure why.

"Do you remember when we sat to watch the sunset on our last night before our last Games?" Peeta asks. I nod.
"We both thought that was the last sunset either of us would see," I say.
"And yet, here we are," he says. "Still around to see another sunset." He's quiet for a moment, pensive. "Why, do you suppose?" he asks.
"Why what?" I ask.
"Why do you think we're still here and not the others?"
"I don't know," I reply honestly and wonder if his mind is on Johanna. "For each other?" I ask. He doesn't say anything for a long while. He's quiet. Too quiet. And I fear I've said something wrong.

"Did you really mean what you said?" he asks. I regard him for a moment. His face is blank but searching, as if he's reading some facts from a book. The truth is, I have a hard time separating what's real from what's not. Maybe it was just part of the act. Maybe not. I look across the field, searching, as if I'll find the thing for which I've been looking. A lightning bug lazily flies toward me and I catch it between my hands. I can see its yellow-green glow emanate from in between my enclosed fingers. I motion for Peeta to bring his hands to mine.
"I hope so," is all I can think of to say. I gently place the firefly in the palm of his hand. It sits there for a moment, perhaps too stunned to do anything, and soon flies away to attract a mate.
Peeta and I sit for a while, watching the fireflies dapple the dusky air with their sprinkles of light.

It's dark now and the air is getting cooler so I move in a bit closer to Peeta for some warmth.
"Getting cold?" he asks and wraps his arms around me. He kisses my shoulder lightly. When I say nothing, he kisses my neck and lingers a bit. "I've been kissing you and letting you undress me all day," he says, sadly.
"No one feels bad for you," I tell him and he laughs.
"Can't you feel a little bad for me?" he asks playfully and lifts me to sit on his lap to face him. I make a show of kissing him contritely but when I go to pull away, Peeta follows and our kisses deepen. His hands make his way to my breasts and his lips find my neck.
"Should friends sleep together this often?" I ask him pointedly. He chuckles defiantly and for some reason, that makes me want him more.
"Only if they're best friends," he says. It's chilly and I don't want to remove any of my clothing.
"Are we best friends?" I ask him as I simply shift my panties over to one side and lower myself on to him. I can't really see him in the dark but I hear him shudder a little.
"Mhm. The best of friends," he whispers as he grasps my hips with both hands and pulls me closer than I thought I could get. I look up and notice how brightly the stars are shining and think about how little the stars have changed above us and how much and more have changed here below their watchful gaze.