74th Hunger Games Challenge: We Always Were
By: Jamie Sommers
Chapter Twenty-seven: One More Time...
Sigh... This is the final chapter of the story. Please look for my new story, Catching Fire: Rekindling, the sequel. As far as Gale is concerned...don't fret. What fun is reading a story if you get all the answers in one chapter? This is dedicated to all my readers and to S and A...yay! It's done. Now on to...
74th Hunger Games Challenge: We Always Were
The crowd in the town square had been overwhelming. Gale stood with his and Katniss' families watching as each member of the District 12 team walked onto the stage. His eyes scanned the crowd of people around him, several times, until they landed on the person he was looking for. The baker had been in the square, celebrating Peeta and Katniss' victory with his entire family. They gave each other a nod from across the jam packed square and turned their attention to the giant television screen.
"Ladies and Gentlemen! He won the Games with, not twenty-four, but forty-eight tributes in the arena! Now he's brought home not one, but two victors! District 12 mentor, Haymitch Abernathy!" Caesar Flickerman's teeth were exceptionally bright tonight thought Gale, and Haymitch isn't wearing something dingy. Gale had seen him many times in the Hob and every time he saw the man, he swore he was wearing the same clothes. Considering he had more money than everyone in their district combined, he thought the man should've dressed better.
Prim jumped up and down and clapped her hands. The entire crowd in District 12 was going nuts over Haymitch. The Capitol was going crazy for the man too. Gale's eyes were sparkling as he thought of the next introduction. Catnip. They hadn't heard anything about her for days. Gale stopped by her mother's house, thinking the Capitol…Haymitch…someone would've called the woman to tell her how her daughter was, but she hadn't heard a thing. The cameramen were back in District 12 too. They had done some interviews and now they were filming everyone's reactions to the crowning of Katniss and Peeta. The second a live feed of District 12 flashed in the corner of the screen below Haymitch's image, the crowd around Gale went wild. People were jumping, shouting, cheering… Gale's younger sister was sitting on top of his brother's shoulders. She couldn't see anything from her vantage point on the ground, now she had one of the best seats in the house. Gale noticed Prim standing on her tip toes trying to make out what was happening on television and he hauled her up to his shoulders. "How's that, Prim?"
"Better!" Within a few seconds Prim's face replaced the scene from District 12. "I'm on television, mom!"
"Yes you are!" Her mother looked up at her with a big smile. In all the years Gale knew the woman he had never seen her look so happy. He had never seen anyone in his district look this happy.
"Wave, Prim!" Gale called up to her. Speaking in a normal tone of voice was useless tonight; they had to scream to be heard above the roar of the crowd.
Prim followed Gale's instructions and the crowd went crazy once again.
Haymitch was waiving to the crowd and nodding his head as opposed to bowing like some of the others had done during their introductions. After a couple of minutes he looked like he had had enough of it and headed for his seat.
Caesar began hushing up the Capitol's audience and the noise from the town square started to subdue. "Please. Please." Caesar said to the audience and made a motion with his hands as if to lower their volume down. "Let's quiet down now." The audience's roar lowered down as did the crowd in the square. "She captured our hearts when she volunteered for her sister at the reaping. He captured ours when he declared his lifelong love for her on this very stage." Caesar accentuated the words by pointing at the stage below him. The crowd started getting louder as did the host. "And we were all on the edge of our seats as they risked their lives for one another…for love! Ladies and Gentlemen!" Everyone started screaming as Caesar dragged out the introduction. "The Star Crossed Lovers from District 12!" Gale was shaking with anticipation. "Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark!"
Gale could feel Prim's body bouncing up and down on his shoulders. His eyes were glued to the television screen as Katniss' and Peeta rose from below the stage and made their grand entrance. Gale wasn't sure if it was Katniss at first, the girl standing across from Peeta looked so young and innocent, but he recognized her eyes. The way she held her shoulders back, defiant. As if daring those around to challenge her. Catnip, you're always so tough, he thought to himself. They can put you in a pretty dress, but that won't change who you really are inside. Gale thought if they really wanted to capture Katniss, they'd set her on fire again.
"Wow! She looks so beautiful!" Prim yelled.
Yeah, thought Gale. She does. He was certain that she and Peeta would probably run and jump into each others arms. That's what he'd do if he were waiting for her, but they didn't. Gale didn't think their greeting would get to him as much as it did, but he felt like Prim was bouncing on his stomach and not his shoulders anymore at the sight of them. He closed his eyes as everyone around him celebrated their reunion. Gale couldn't bear to watch.
Katniss licked her lips.
Peeta tapped his cane.
She tugged at the hem of her yellow blouse.
He fidgeted with his belt buckle.
The sound was deafening. The lights blinding.
The first thing I'm going to do is grab you and kiss the hell out of you, thought Peeta. Then he saw her.
Katniss wanted to jump into Peeta's arms the second she laid her eyes on him and then…he was there.
The roar of the crowd that had just echoed through their ears vanished. The blinding, hot lights from the stage faded. Nothing existed. There was no one they could see or hear. Just each other.
They stood perfectly still for almost ten seconds just looking at each other. Katniss took a step towards him and Peeta a step towards her. She didn't notice his cane as she walked up to him. She didn't notice anything, but his eyes and the way they were looking at her. She placed her hand against his heart; he rubbed a skein of her hair between his fingers.
"Hi," she breathed out on a whisper.
"Hi," he blinked in slow motion. They rested their foreheads against one another's and briefly closed their eyes. He breathed in her scent as he tilted his head to the side and placed a soft kiss against her lips. "You're here," he whispered to her. She nodded her head slowly. Their lips met once again in a slow and effortless kiss. Her arms wrapped around his body. He pulled her against him by her waist with his free arm and braced himself up on his cane with the other.
"I love you," she spoke into his mouth between their kiss.
"I love you too," he answered her.
Their lips became feverish and slick with their confessions of love. Time ticked by and they paid no attention to it. They didn't know how long they had been standing there, kissing each other, saying I love you over and over again. Neither one cared. Their heads twisted from side to side. Their bodies melted into the others. Then Caesar Flickerman tried to break them apart.
It was then that Peeta remembered where he was. The whole nation was watching them. He continued kissing Katniss and pushed Caesar away. Peeta could hear the crowd going crazy for his actions, but the truth was he wasn't ready to stop kissing Katniss yet. He didn't give one iota about the Capitol audience or Caesar Flickerman, but the sound of the audience slowly penetrated their reunion and Haymitch came over to pull them apart.
"All right. All right. Enough you two," their mentor practically pushed them to a loveseat, as opposed to the throne that previous years victors sat upon, sitting on the stage.
Katniss wanted to tell Haymitch to go to hell, but she couldn't seem to wipe the smile off of her face. Peeta was here. He was holding her hand and limping. She took notice of the metal cane he was using to help himself walk. She immediately made him sit down first and then sat as close to him as humanly possible. He was stunning. Beautiful. His skin was glowing, his smile as striking as the day he looked up at her from the mud. He was wearing a pair of black pants with black boots and a soft, buttery colored shirt. His rosy cheeks shone and his eyes glistened as they looked at her. Katniss was sure that all of Panem could hear her heart sigh as she looked at him.
Peeta couldn't believe his eyes. He had never seen Katniss look so…innocent. If only people knew, he thought, this dress suits her more than any other one Cinna designed for her in the past. The world knew her as the girl on fire, but her flame wasn't always burning hot. Inside, she was soft…sweet, she had gentleness to her that she rarely let people see. Yes, Cinna knew what he was doing when he put her in this dress, he thought. She's still on fire, but it's not burning white hot. It's a shimmering glow. Peeta's eyes glanced down her form, appreciating the soft creation she was in and he smiled when he saw Katniss' expression. He could just imagine her saying, 'can you believe this thing? I'd rather be wearing your clothes than my own.' He lifted his arm and wrapped it around her. The warmth of her body radiated through his skin. Holding her was so natural. He remembered her telling him that he felt like an extension of her. He completely understood where she was coming from. Since he regained consciousness in the hospital, he had felt as though a piece of him was missing, and it wasn't his leg either. It was Katniss. He had no clue how he was going to face his future without her, but he put those thoughts to the back of his mind. Right now she was his and he was going to cherish every minute with her.
"Good thing you've got a mentor like Haymitch or else we could be here for another hour waiting for you two to stop kissing," Caesar joked with them.
"You would've been here all night," Peeta joked back and everyone laughed.
Caesar's face got serious as he said, "Congratulations to the both of you. Now!" He flashed his overly large white teeth to the crowd. "Let's see their story of triumph…of loss…" Caesar's expression changed with each word. "…of love!" His hand gestured to the large television screen.
The moment the seal appeared on the screen Katniss wanted to run. She had just lived through this year's Games, why would she want to watch it? Her fingers automatically reached for the hand that Peeta had lying in his lap and his arm tightened around her shoulders, pulling her closer against his body as if shielding her from what was about to be replayed on the screen.
Peeta had no desire to sit through the recap of the Games, but it was all part of the Capitol's unwavering manipulation of the districts. Win the Games; rehash it for the rest of your lives. They never wanted you to forget they were the ones in control. And control is exactly what the Capitol had in mind when it came to he and Katniss. He should've just stepped into the lake and drowned himself. Let his leg bleed out. Let the blood poisoning take over his body and kill him, he thought. Instead he thought of only himself. How his life would be without Katniss in it. What he would do if she had died. He never stopped to say to himself, maybe she was right? Maybe living a life like everyone else is just too dangerous. Love is dangerous. The scene playing out on the screen pulled him from his thoughts. Katniss was screaming out Prim's name during their reaping and then she volunteered. Peeta's name had been called. He flicked his eyes across the stage at Effie and noticed her clenching her lips together. Haymitch needed to warn her as well, Peeta thought. How many lives have Katniss and I affected by our actions in the arena? Katniss had set herself up as a threat the moment she took Prim's place in the Games and, without realizing it, he had made her stand out even more. He thought he could save her life. He thought he had been helping.
"There you are," Effie walked across the roof of the Tribute Center. "I've been looking for you."
"Sorry. I just wanted some air," Katniss wrapped her arms around herself as she stood in the center of the wind chime garden. She had broken every rule imaginable by going to the roof prior to their live reunion show, but Peeta hadn't been there and Effie was grateful.
"You'll be in a world of trouble if they find out you tried to see him, you know?" Effie chided Katniss.
"I just wanted some air, Effie." Katniss snapped at the escort. "Is it a crime now to breathe fresh air?"
"No," Effie wondered if she should say anything. If she were going to, it had to be now, she thought. They won't get another chance to have their words drowned out by the tinkling of the wind chimes. "Katniss?" Effie placed a hand on her arm. "You must know…I never wanted this to happen. Any of it."
"Any of what?" Katniss focused on the clouds floating above.
Effie knew the words she was about to speak could get her turned into one of the Avox that served them, but she couldn't hold her tongue. Hmph, a thought flashed through her mind, that's probably why they cut their tongues out, because they can't hold them. And yet you're going to open your mouth aren't you, Effie Trinket? She blew out a burst of air through her nose and pressed her lips together. "I never thought about the lives of a tribute outside of the arena. For years Haymitch had been telling me they're not tributes, they're someone's children. I never understood his meaning until this year." Effie saw Katniss' quizzical expression. "Until I met you and Peeta." She fluttered her pink lashes and said, "I'm sorry I called Prim and Peeta's names. Sorry I called out anyone's name for that matter." Effie's brow wrinkled. "I couldn't do anything about it…about your entering the Games, but I can do something now." She paused then added, "You're in a world of trouble over the berries, Katniss. It looked like you were defying the Capitol when you did that and now you both…" Effie covered her lips with her fingers.
"I wasn't trying to make a political statement, Effie." Katniss stood face to face with the escort. "Peeta and I…we couldn't do it. We couldn't kill each other and we didn't want to live without each other. We had no alternative."
"Can you honestly say that defying them never once crossed your mind?" Effie put up her hand to stop her from speaking. "Don't answer that. I don't want to know." She stepped closer to Katniss and lowered her voice even more than it had already been. "You must be careful now. Both of you." Effie looked around the roof of the Training Center. "Sneaking up here to see Peeta prior to the show was an impetuous notion and one that could get you into a heap more trouble. Please, Katniss…for your sake and Peeta's, follow the rules."
Katniss followed Effie back to the eight floor suite where they had been staying until after the live show. "Effie?" Katniss stopped the woman from entering her quarters with her voice. "Thanks for the lamb stew."
"Well," Effie flustered. "Haymitch sent that in, not I."
Katniss rolled her eyes and gave her a little grin. "Thanks for the stew, Effie. For everything."
Effie nodded at her and accepted her thanks. She wondered if she had done the right thing by giving Katniss a warning. Effie hadn't heard Haymitch say anything, but she could sense there was something going on by the way the Gamemakers reacted to her and Haymitch when they expressed their gratitude for their hard work during the Games. The sponsors were ever so grateful she and Haymitch had taken the time to say thank you, but the Gamemakers looked as though they were aggravated by them. Effie could only assume it was due to Katniss' actions in the arena with the berries. When she had seen them on television and what they were about to do, it didn't register with Effie the significance of what they were doing…saying. It hadn't been until she overheard a few of the sponsors making a comment about showing up the Gamemakers, that Effie allowed herself to face all of their actions during the Games.
She waited until Katniss' prep team took her into their custody and sought out Haymitch. He and Peeta were back from wherever they had disappeared to and up on the roof of the Tribute Center.
"Peeta?" Effie smiled at him.
"Effie!" He hobbled towards her and she walked into his hug. "I've missed you."
"Oh," Effie made a flippant hand gesture to him. "You just saw me a couple of days ago."
"My head was still a little foggy from the anesthetic." He squeezed her tightly. "Listen, thanks for everything. Katniss and I really appreciate all your hard work."
Effie found it endearing that Peeta included Katniss in his gratitude. "I was merely doing my job."
"I know," Peeta winked at her. "Thanks just the same. Is she here?"
"She's staying somewhere else until after the show tonight." Haymitch answered. Effie wanted to tell him he had just missed her, but she couldn't bring herself to do it.
He turned to Haymitch and said, "Guess I better go meet up with my prep team. Got to look handsome for Katniss."
Effie waited until he was gone and walked to the familiar noise of the chimes. Thankfully Haymitch followed her lead. They stood silently for a few seconds before Effie asked, "How much trouble are we in?"
"A lot." Haymitch didn't bat an eye. "But nothing that can't be fixed."
"How do you presume we fix this?"
"We don't fix anything. You need to forget about it and go back to…" Haymitch spun towards her. "Damn it, Effie. I never meant to get you into trouble."
"You didn't do a thing to me. I'm responsible for my own actions."
"Well, I didn't help any."
"So help me now," Effie suggested. "What do I do? Where do I go from here? Do you think they'll…" she lowered down her voice until it was barely above a whisper. "Will they turn me into an Avox?"
The thought had entered her mind over and over again and from the look on Haymitch's face, he had thought about it too. "I don't think so." Haymitch looked towards the side of the roof then back at Effie. "I don't want you to take this the wrong way, but…you need to go back to being one of them. Back to…" he lifted a piece of hair from her wig and dropped it. "…to getting your hair done and doing your nails and whatever else it is that you did before. Pretend like none of this happened. Like you were just doing your job and you could care less about those two kids."
"Tributes," she swallowed as she said it. "Those two tributes." It killed her to refer to Katniss and Peeta as though they were nothing more than an afterthought.
"That's right, Effie. Only they're victors now."
She nodded her head. "How do I do that, Haymitch? How do I act as though they didn't alter my life?"
"The same way you've been acting all the years that I've known you. You put on a smile and never let them see you sweat."
"They'll be watching me closely, then? To see what I do next."
"Probably," he answered.
Effie took it all in. At first she had just gotten caught up in Haymitch and Peeta's plan for the arena, but then her world seemed to rotate on its axis. Now Effie had to go back to afternoon luncheons with women she couldn't stand. Giggling as married men flirted with her. "On the bright side…I won't have to complain about my district anymore." She smiled at Haymitch. "Now I can rub it in all my fellow escort's faces. I've got two victors." She lifted her chin with pride.
"Make sure you take credit for that, Effie. For keeping me sober during the Games…things like that. Don't give away too much information, but…"
"I know how to behave." It took Effie aback as she said, "I've been behaving like a pretentious snob my whole life. I think I've mastered it by now."
"Welcome to the Games, Effie," Haymitch said with sorrow in his voice.
"May the odds be ever in your favor." As she headed to her quarters to prepare for the live show, she realized what a farce those words were.
Peeta hoped Katniss wouldn't think less of him as they watched the recap of the Games. He heard her gasp when he jumped out of the forest and attacked the tribute from District 4. He stared at the television screen, but he wasn't watching the battle between himself and the boy from Four, he lived it, no need to watch it. He kept focused on the box that had a live view of him and Katniss' reactions during their Games. He wondered what she thought of him as he plunged the knife into the boy and immediately dodged Marvel's spear; getting him in a choke hold, much like the one Cato took him into. He had expected her to be disgusted by his actions, regardless of their motivation, but she looked petrified instead. Peeta turned his attention to the screen and watched as he made his first contact with the Careers.
It was him, Katniss thought. Peeta had killed the boy from Four. She remembered the night she saw the male tribute's face in the sky and said a silent thank you to the person that killed him. Peeta. He had protected her from the very start of the Games. What were you thinking, she thought to herself. You could've gotten yourself killed. She didn't recognize Peeta when he spoke with the Careers until he smiled. He didn't look like himself. Had Katniss not known the reasons behind his alliance with them, she would've thought he was one of them. "No matter what I say…no matter what I do…it's all for you." She now understood why Peeta told her those words on the rooftop of the Tribute Center the night before the Games. It didn't take long before she saw Peeta's hidden agenda. The bow and arrows. How he had misled the Careers by telling Glimmer she had no clue how to use them. She squeezed Peeta's hand in her lap. They showed the Careers on their hunt and Katniss hiding up in the willow tree. The way the Careers tormented the girl from District 8 made Katniss sick to her stomach. She didn't know how Peeta was able to tolerate being with them for so long. Then they showed him going back to the dying girl. He was stroking her hair and whispering that he was sorry as he slit her throat. Katniss wondered what had happened before that. What he had said to get the girl to lay her head in his lap. It didn't surprise her. Peeta could talk anyone into anything. Katniss knew what the Careers were up to at that point, they were threatening to kill Peeta while standing precariously close to her willow tree, but the Capitol didn't show the Careers' conversation. They showed him finding her snares and lifting them up for all to see. "Don't worry, Katniss. They won't find you. I swear it." Then his lips moved, 'I love you.' Even then he was speaking to her and not the audience. She watched as he deceived the Careers about the direction she had gone in. The moment they were out of sight Katniss hopped out from the tree and she saw Peeta's live reaction to how close they had been to her. His eyes closed and took a deep breath. "My God," he whispered from his seat next to her. Katniss squeezed his hand to comfort him. When she lifted the snares up to show the rabbit she had caught in the wire the Capitol audience went wild. If she were a viewer of the Games, this would be the part in which she'd realize that the real alliance was between herself and Peeta. Not him and the Careers.
The morning of the Careers' search for Katniss had been aired next and Peeta remembered how close the Careers had come to her that day. They showed her sitting on the rock and him filling up the water jugs.
"My God, I love you." His image was taking over half of the screen and the Capitol audience sighed their response to his admission of love.
Katniss sitting on a rock and holding a flower was taking up the other half of the screen. "It matches your eyes, Peeta." Peeta smiled at her words. He kept meaning to ask her what was on her mind that morning.
"What are you thinking about over there?" I was thinking about you, thought Katniss.
They turned from the screen to give each other a soft and loving smile.
Fireballs. Tracker jacker nests. Cato's fight with Peeta. Katniss cringed when she saw the sword slice through his leg. And then there was Rue.
Peeta watched as Katniss forged a friendship with the young girl. The way she blew up the Careers' supplies brought a grin to his face. But the deaths of his fellow tributes brought him back to reality. The Careers had taken out the boy from Ten while Katniss was unconscious. Cato snapped the boy from Three's neck and Katniss hid in a tree just a few yards away from them. Peeta couldn't help but wonder how angry Cato would be if he were the one sitting there watching the recap instead of him. There had been so many times that Katniss was right next to him and he had no clue. He watched as Marvel's spear entered Rue's body and blamed himself for her death once more. He wanted to feel bad that Marvel had died at the hands of Katniss, but after watching him kill Rue, there was no pity to be found. The sound of Katniss singing to the little girl caused Peeta to clear his throat multiple times. They didn't show Katniss' tribute to the girl by burying her in flowers, her receiving the bread from District 11 or their district's three finger salute she told him she had held up to the cameras for all the world to see. All of these things had Peeta's mind racing. Katniss had no idea what she was doing. From her volunteering for Prim, to these actions in the arena, Katniss had made herself a prime target for the Capitol to seek its revenge. A large part of the recap had been their time in the cave. Katniss caring for his injuries, Peeta begging her not to go to the feast. The sleep syrup Haymitch had sent in and Katniss' deceiving him in order to save his life. They showed Katniss going into the feast, they couldn't cut out her rescue of Thresh, though Peeta was certain if the Capitol had their way, they would've. Thresh killing Clove and Katniss racing through the woods back to Peeta. Then it was Peeta's turn to care for her. They cut out his harsh words for the Gamemakers when it started to rain, but left in his and Katniss' fight about the feast. They had even showed what happened next in the sleeping bag. Peeta's eyes flashed to the box that held Katniss and his live reaction. Her face was beet red as was his. They had been certain no one could hear them at the time. They were so wrong. Their picnic of lamb stew. Foxface dying. They didn't show Peeta telling her he was sorry and he was grateful they didn't rehash it for too long. Killing that girl bothered the hell out of him. Killing all of them bothered him. Then there were the mutts. Now that Peeta could really see them, he understood why Katniss reacted the way she did when she saw the one that was supposed to be Prim. He had fallen victim to those huge puppy dog eyes many times in the meadow while they were picking herbs. He cursed the Gamemakers for doing such a thing to them. Cato's death was gruesome. The thought of Katniss having to look down at his mangled flesh, knowing he was still alive, made him want to wretch.
Here we go, thought Katniss. The berries. She had tried to watch their recap as though she were just any other viewer. Instead she saw it through the eyes of the Gamemakers. Through President Snow's eyes. She and Peeta, mostly her, had been a menace to the Capitol. She was surprised they didn't let them die by eating the berries. "They have to have their victor, Katniss." Peeta's words echoed through her mind. We forced them to have two. She was thankful they didn't show them lifting the berries to their lips or their being announced as the winners of the Games, but they did show her flinging herself against the glass that separated her from Peeta as his heart stopped. She didn't recognize herself. Her hair was a tatted mess. She was filthy and her hands, though she had washed them, were covered in blood.
President Snow stood above them with a crown in his hand and twisted it into two separate pieces. Peeta held his breath as the man placed it on his head. He smiled, the way he knew he should and could feel the man's stare piercing him. Snow threw a glance towards Katniss and Peeta could feel the man's hatred. Peeta's mind flashed back to the warnings Haymitch gave him when they stood in the secret room. He watched as Snow placed the crown on Katniss' head and in that moment, Peeta knew what he had to do. Peeta would be breaking her heart, but it was the only way to keep them all safe.
"Come. Come now. We need to make an impressive arrival," Effie bustled about Katniss and Peeta prior to their Victory Banquet.
"We're coming," Katniss lifted her eyes to Peeta's.
"It's a big big big day," Peeta whispered to Katniss in a false Capitol accent causing her to smile.
They were announced to the guests at the banquet and took their seats at their table. They were surrounded by everyone that had helped them during the Games. Their prep teams, Cinna, Portia, Haymitch and Effie. Katniss felt as though they were being put on display so everyone would know who needed to be punished by the Capitol.
"I'm surprised we're not eating lamb stew," Peeta leaned over to her and whispered.
"I think that might be a little too…unsophisticated for this type of event." Katniss tried to relax, but she couldn't. Effie's warning kept haunting her.
"Katniss! Peeta!" they lifted their eyes to a man and woman scurrying towards them. They were waiving as if they had been best friends for life.
"Hello," Peeta stood up and shook the man's hand. Katniss followed suit.
"Katniss. Peeta. Allow me to introduce to you two of your very generous sponsors," Effie stood up as did Haymitch. The four of them walked around their table, leaving their plates of food barely touched and greeted the sponsors.
"This is Quillan Vulgaris and his wife Iola Primrose," Effie flashed Katniss a smile and Haymitch flashed her a look that said, say something, sweetheart.
Peeta jumped on Effie's introduction. "Primrose?" He pulled Katniss close to him by her hand. "Can you believe that, Katniss?"
"What are the chances?" Katniss smiled and thought, pretty good if you live in District 12.
The sponsors fawned over them. Iola gushed over Peeta's admiration of her wedding china. "We had no clue you had such an eye for exquisite things, Peeta."
"They were stunning. Thank you for thinking about sending such a lavish gift to us. We adored them." Peeta squeezed Katniss' hand.
She took his hint and said, "Yes, Peeta was completely in love with the design. We both were." It was a frigging dish, Katniss thought to herself.
They spent their night putting on smiles, talking to sponsors and avoiding President Snow. Peeta caught the man's glance at times and felt his icy stare penetrate him when he looked at their clasped hands. There was never a moment in which they hadn't had someone next to them, talking to them, congratulating them. All of these strangers were clueless, Peeta thought. You have no idea what's happening right now. No clue as to what our lives are going to become.
"The sun is coming up," Katniss said to Peeta as they dragged their feet to the elevator in the Tribute Center. Effie had gone to her quarters and left them on their own for the first time since they'd been in the arena.
"Yeah and I'm ready for bed." Peeta pulled her closer to him and kissed her head.
"Don't suppose you want company?" Peeta gave her a little smile.
"I might," Katniss rested her head against his shoulder as they rode the elevator to the twelfth floor.
"Let me grab some clothes and I'll meet you in your room."
"I said, might, Peeta." Katniss teased him.
"Fine," he sighed playing along with her. "I guess I'll have to find someone else to cuddle up with me."
Katniss rolled her head towards him and kissed his chin. "Not if you want to keep that other leg."
The second they stepped off of the elevator Haymitch pounced on them. "Were the hell have you two been? Doesn't matter. Peeta," Haymitch took him by the arm. "You need to go with Portia. She's got to do a fitting with you before the show today."
Portia had already fitted and finished Peeta's clothing for their interview that afternoon, so Peeta knew Haymitch must've needed to speak with him privately. He placed a kiss against Katniss' forehead. "Go to bed. I'll come in when we're through."
Frigid knives flew from Katniss' eyes towards Haymitch. "Don't take too long." Peeta pitied his mentor. He'd hate to be on the receiving end of that look.
Once Katniss was out of earshot Peeta asked, "What's up?"
"Portia's getting some air. Why don't we join her?"
Peeta followed Haymitch to the roof as soon as Katniss' bedroom door was closed. Cinna and Portia were standing in the center of the wind chimes. "I bet this area has never seen so much action," Peeta said as he stood in the noisy garden.
"Peeta, we won't have another chance to talk before you go," Portia gave him a sad smile.
"What have you decided, kid?" Haymitch asked.
"I'll do it." Committing to this decision was killing Peeta and he had no clue how he was going to explain his actions to Katniss. "But stop trying to keep us apart, Haymitch. We're only safe while we're here or when the cameras are rolling. At least let me have this time with her. Can you do that?" Peeta's eyes were hard when he looked at his mentor.
"Peeta, no one wants to keep you from spending time with Katniss," Cinna said softly. "We just needed to know your intentions."
Peeta felt as though his hand was being forced and not only by President Snow, but by his so called friends. "Now you know." Peeta tried to soften his words when he spoke to Portia. "Why don't we go to my room and you can…fit me for my interview tomorrow." It was important they kept up appearances.
Portia nodded and followed him down to his room. She scanned his body with the electrical device she had used at the hospital and said, "Okay. Looks like everything should fit properly." Peeta stood with his back to her. He had trusted this woman and now she was helping to tear his life apart. "Peeta?" Portia's hand rested on his shoulder. "I'm sorry," she whispered to him before she left.
Peeta squeezed his eyes closed and hung his head. It wasn't Portia's fault yet he was taking it out on her. He was ashamed of himself for acting the way he did. He needed to apologize. To tell her he was sorry too and he didn't blame her. She had done so much for he and Katniss. Peeta wanted her to know he was grateful. He pulled on his bedroom door. Turned the knob over and over again, but the door wouldn't budge. He knew Haymitch hadn't locked him in. No, this wasn't anyone from his team. This was a direct message from the Capitol. Peeta let go of the doorknob as though it were burning his hand and walked backwards away from it. Their punishment had already begun.
"What do you think she'll be wearing?" Prim's face was bright with excitement.
"I don't know, Prim." Her mother answered her.
"I thought the dress they had her in last night was the best one yet!" Prim smiled up at Gale. "Didn't you?"
"I was kind of partial to her being set on fire," Gale rubbed the back of his head as he answered Prim…honestly.
"Oh, Katniss is always on fire." Prim flapped her hand at him. "Last night she was just showing us a different type of fire. She was…radiant." She did look pretty last night, but Gale still preferred her when everyone saw who she really was. The girl on fire, like she was in the Tribute Parade.
After watching the recap of the Games last night, Gale attempted to keep his emotions in check. Had Katniss and Peeta hurled themselves against one another their greeting would've been easier to take, but the way they stared… Gale tried to forget about it. He tried to forget the way they sat together on the little sofa the Capitol provided for them. The way they held onto each other while watching the recap. Everyone could see that they were relying on each other to get them through it. Prim had put her hands over her eyes during the mutt portion of the recap. Afterwards she said, "There was no reason for those Gamemakers to make such monsters out of the people that love them." But Gale knew there was. The Capitol always had reasons for their actions. The main one being intimidation.
"Welcome. Welcome." Caesar Flickerman sat across from Katniss and Peeta who were once again huddled together on a little sofa.
"Caesar," Peeta smiled at the host.
"Hello," Katniss seemed to be nervous.
"I can't tell you how thrilled I am to be sitting with the two of you again. Peeta?" Caesar turned his attention to him. "Looks like the dream you shared with the nation has come true."
"Not exactly," Peeta grinned and gave Katniss a squeeze. "She's supposed to be running into my arms when I get home." Caesar and Peeta laughed. "Guess I'll just have to be satisfied with her riding back home on the train in my arms instead." Katniss flashed Peeta a smile and Caesar let out an, "Aww." Gale rolled his eyes and thought, I'm going to puke.
"And Katniss how do you feel about that?" Caesar asked her.
"I think that can be arranged," she placed one of her hands against Peeta's chest. Why do you keep doing that, Catnip? Gale asked himself. It's not like he's ripping with muscles anymore. I've seen him with his shirt off since entering the Games. He's not that impressive.
"Peeta? I'm going to just go ahead and ask whose idea was it for the alliance between you and the tributes from Districts 1 and 2?"
"Mine and my mentor's. I had to keep Katniss safe from them and the only way I could do that was by joining up with them. As someone once said, 'if you can't beat 'em. Join 'em.'" Yeah, that was me dough boy, Gale thought to himself. Maybe I'll tell Catnip that when she gets back and she'll see just how much I wanted to keep her safe in the arena too?
"It was brilliant!" Caesar lifted his hand to his chest and said, "Sheer genius! What amazed me was how effortlessly you fit in with them. We had no clue you were such a proficient actor."
"The secret to being a good actor is having great motivation." Peeta lifted Katniss' hand to his lips and kissed it. "I had the best."
"You won't get any arguments from me," Caesar agreed. "So, Katniss had no clue as to what you and your mentor had planned?"
"Not at first. How could I explain it to her while we were in training?" Peeta shrugged. "At the time I thought she barely knew I existed. If I had told her what the plan was…she probably wouldn't have gone along with it."
"You're right about that," Katniss said as if scolding Peeta.
"See what I mean? We won the Games and she's still giving me a hard time about it." Peeta and Caesar chuckled.
"You did something in the arena, Peeta…something we've never seen before." Caesar had a thoughtful look on his face. "You willingly put yourself in danger for a fellow tribute. That in itself is truly heroic." What about Katniss' heroism, Gale thought. She put herself in more danger than Peeta did.
"Katniss, you did the same for Peeta. Tell me…when you entered these Games you were trying to win for your sister and then it all changed. Why do you think that is?" Stupid question, Caesar. Gale really wanted to punch the man in the face. I'm pretty sure she answered that one when they were holed up in their little love shack.
"I already told this to Peeta…well, you know that Caesar. You saw it in the recap last night." Katniss held onto Peeta's hand. "I'm not complete without him."
"Oh, how darling," Caesar made a face as though he were enamored with the pair, directly into the camera. "Well, Peeta, we know from our days in the cave, that it was love at first sight for you from what, age five?"
"From the moment I laid eyes on her," As if to prove it, Peeta laid his eyes on Katniss.
"But, Katniss, what a ride for you. I think the real excitement for the audience was watching you fall for him." Oh, yeah. That was a big thrill for me, Gale thought. "When did you realize you were in love with him?"
Katniss looked down at Peeta's hand and stared at it. "The moment I lifted up that snare with my rabbit in it, I…I realized how much he was willing to sacrifice for me, but love? I guess when Rue asked me about it. Prior to that, I tried not to think about it too much. It was too painful. Then Rue asked me if everything was true about us," Katniss turned to Peeta. "And I found myself asking the same question. It was then that I knew…that I let myself accept it." Gale closed his eyes as her words sunk in.
"And the rule change…how did you feel when you heard that, Katniss?"
"I think the whole nation knew how I felt," Katniss blushed. Catnip doesn't blush, Gale told himself. Then what is she doing now? "I was just thrilled that for the first time…there was a chance…I could keep him."
Caesar started wiping his eyes with his handkerchief and Gale wanted to shove the thing down the host's throat.
"So," Peeta put his head against Katniss'. "Now that you have me, what are you going to do with me?"
"Put you somewhere you can't get hurt." Katniss lifted her hand and cupped Peeta's cheek. When they kissed Gale could almost feel the bile rising to his throat. Then you'll want to keep him away from me, Catnip, he thought.
Caesar continued with the interview showing their injuries and all the ways they got hurt in the arena. Gale let his mind wander. Catnip, I thought I was okay with this. After hearing about the things that Peeta did for you…the way his mother treated him… I thought I could handle this whole thing, but I can't. I still want you in my life. You have to know that I'll do anything for you. I'm willing to fight for you…for us.
Katniss had been tired of waiting for Peeta to show up. She showered and went to the roof, but he wasn't there. She went back to her room, continued to wait and finally gave up. She didn't care if Portia had him standing buck naked in the middle of his room, she was going in there, but she couldn't. Her door was locked. She had been trapped inside of her bedroom. It couldn't have been Haymitch, he was gone. Everyone was gone. Then who, she wondered? And was Peeta trapped too? Is that why he hadn't come to her? The Capitol. They were keeping them imprisoned intentionally. Effie's warning to her was no joke. She and Peeta were in a world of danger.
When her prep team entered the next morning to prepare her for the interview that afternoon, she raced out of the room to "get some breakfast," she had said, but Peeta wasn't there. She walked to his room and knocked, but there was no answer. She tried his knob, but the door was locked. Peeta was still a prisoner in his quarters. The bowl of grain she had tried to eat sat like a rock in her gut. She went back to her room and let the prep team make her over.
Peeta could barely sleep that night. He tossed and turned trying to figure out what he was going to tell Katniss. His plan was to take her up to the roof, a very popular spot as of late, and try to explain with as little detail as possible why he had to do what he was planning on doing, but the Capitol made that impossible for him. When he finally did fall asleep he was plagued with nightmares. He was looking down into the eyes at the female tribute from District 8. He closed his eyes and slashed her throat, but when he looked down, it wasn't the girl from Eight that he had killed. It was Katniss. Peeta woke up in a cold sweat, shaking as though his fever had returned. In the morning he took a shower and studied the buttons carefully. He didn't want to smell like a bunch of flowers. When he took notice of one of the settings, he smiled to himself and pushed the button. He stood in the shower for over an hour waiting for someone to break him out of his room. His prep team was due to come soon, he was sure, but no one showed up for almost two hours. Now he was standing in the hallway of the penthouse they were staying in and waiting.
"Hey," he heard Katniss' voice and headed for her.
"Hey," he took her hands in his. "Sorry I didn't make it to your room."
"That's okay," Katniss squeezed his hand tightly and said, "I understand. Do you have a feeling Haymitch is trying to keep us apart," she whispered to him, knowing full well that Haymitch hadn't been the cause of their overnight stay in 'prison.'
Oh, Katniss, he thought, if only you knew. "Well, as soon as we're done here then we get to go home."
"Then no one can keep us apart," Katniss smiled at him.
It took every ounce of restraint for Peeta not to pull her into his arms and cry. Instead he pulled her against him and kissed her.
"Mmmm," Katniss smiled. "You smell good."
"Oh, yeah." He had hoped she would like it.
"Cinnamon… The only thing missing is the dill, but I think I can live without that." She nuzzled her head underneath his chin.
Their interview was tedious, but necessary. Peeta was cool and charming, making sure that no one questioned his love for Katniss. His heart broke when she found out about his leg; he had meant to tell her about that on the roof too. He couldn't take the guilt he was feeling. "Hey," he lifted her face away from his shoulder. "It's better than the alternative, right?"
"Right," she said softly.
"Now Katniss," Caesar interrupted them. "I know you've had a shock, but I've got to ask. The moment when you pulled out those berries. What was going on in your mind…hmmm?"
Play it up, Katniss, Peeta thought to himself as she waited to answer.
"I couldn't stand the thought of living without him. What would be the point?" She turned and looked at Peeta. "I can't survive without him."
But you have to, Peeta thought, and you will.
"Peeta? Anything to add?" Caesar asked.
He wanted to pour his heart out to her. To tell her how much he loved her and how incredible she was. How he had no life until she came into it. Instead he replied, "No. I think that goes for both of us."
Effie had escorted them onto the train after their short farewells to Portia and Cinna. Peeta had taken the opportunity to tell his stylist he was sorry for being short with her and how much he was going to miss her. Portia had hugged him and called him a, "dear boy," then kissed his cheek.
They went through the motions. Dinner. A recap of the interview, changing out of their clothes and into something more appropriate for their ride back to District 12.
When the train stopped for fuel, that night, Peeta took Katniss by the hand. It was now or never. "Let's take a walk."
"Are we allowed to?" Katniss smirked.
"Yeah," Peeta gave her a halfhearted smile. He led her past the train and down the tracks until he was sure that no one could hear them. "Katniss, I love you," he kept his voice down.
"I love you too," her tone matched his.
When he kissed her, he tried to memorize everything about her. The feel of her lips against his. The way her breath would catch in her throat. Her tiny whimpers when she let herself go.
He pressed his forehead against hers and said, "I have to tell you something impor…"
"Great job, you two." Haymitch spoke quietly even though the only thing surrounding them was some scraggly bushes. "This separation is only temporary while we're in the district. Once the Victory Tour comes…you can go back to normal."
Katniss stood frozen in place. Her mouth was opening and closing like a fish out of water as Haymitch made his way back to the train. "What…What's he talking about?"
"That's what I was trying to tell you. I wanted to tell you last night, but I was locked in my room until my prep team showed up." Katniss felt her heart drop to her stomach. "The berries, Katniss. The Capitol didn't like it one bit."
She knew that already. Hadn't Effie told her just as much? "I know."
"Then you know they think we're too…rebellious." Peeta took her limp hands in his and gave them a little shake. "They think we planned it to make them look stupid."
"We didn't plan anything? We thought we were going to win."
"I know, but that's not how they're looking at it."
"They're mad. I know that, but if we show them that we did it because we love each other…because…because…"
"Oh, Katniss." Peeta pulled her into his arms. "We both know why we did it, but they don't care. They think we're a threat to them. That we might start trouble in the district if we stay together."
"Is that why they locked us in our rooms?" Katniss lifted the arms that were hanging at her sides and gripped his back.
"Probably…yes. I'm sure it is." Peeta was almost thankful now that the Capitol had done that. "They're sending us a message. Stay apart or else."
"No." Katniss pulled away from him. "No. I won't let them continue to run my…our lives."
"We've got no choice." Peeta stepped closer to her. "If we don't do as they want…they could hurt the people we love."
"But Peeta…" Katniss' heart was racing. Her mouth was dry. "I can't. I just can't." Her eyelids were blinking rapidly.
"Yes you can, Katniss. You can do this. We have to do this."
"No. I won't let them take you away from me." She threw her arms around his neck and choked into his ear, "I won't leave you."
"Even if staying with me means endangering Prim? Because that's what we're doing if we don't take the Capitol's warning to heart. We're putting everyone we know…everyone we love in danger."
"We can protect them." Katniss was crying into his neck. "We can keep them safe."
Peeta's fingers dug into her scalp. "Someone once told me I couldn't protect everyone."
"Don't!" She lashed out at him through her tears. "Don't throw my words back at me."
"That's not what I was trying to do." He knew they'd argue over this decision. He hated it when he was right about these things. "But it's just you and me against the Capitol. How good do you think our odds are?"
"I'm going to be sick," Katniss pulled away from him and walked further down the track.
Peeta followed her and put his arms around her from behind. "Please, Katniss? This isn't just you and me we're talking about anymore."
She pulled his arms off of her and turned to him. "I never asked for this. For any of it."
"Neither did I."
"Yes you did. You wanted this from the very beginning." Katniss licked her lips with her dry, scratchy tongue.
"What are you talking about? You think I wanted the Capitol to…"
"I'm not talking about the Capitol. I'm talking about this…us. I told you that very first day I didn't want a relationship with anyone. I told you loving someone would only cause trouble and now look what it's done."
"No, Katniss. No," Peeta tried to take her hands in his, but she pulled them out of his grasp. "Love doesn't have to be that way. Love is what makes life worth living." He waited for her to say something but she didn't. She just kept chewing at her bottom lip. They stood in silence until Peeta asked, "Do you regret it, Katniss? Do you regret…being with me?" He paused. "Loving me?"
"You hooooo," Effie's voice rang out to them. She was waiving them back to the train.
They didn't move. They just stood there looking at one another.
"This is it, Katniss. This is all the time we have left together. This train ride and the dinner back in Twelve."
The sound of Effie's heels clicking on the train platform was closing in on them. "We've got a schedule to keep, you two."
"We'll be right there, Effie," Peeta called to her over his shoulder. "Answer me, Katniss. Do you regret loving me?"
"We better go," Katniss walked up to Effie and mumbled, "Sorry."
"No need for apologies. We just don't want to dilly dally."
Peeta went to bed that night without seeing Katniss. She had entered the train and locked herself in her room claiming she was tired. He roamed around the train into the wee hours of the morning, staying close to Katniss' room in case she appeared. When he could no longer keep his eyes opened he went to bed thinking, she hates me now. I did exactly what I told her I wouldn't do and now she hates me. How are you going to keep her safe if she won't talk to you? How will you keep her safe? You can't, Peeta. That's not your job anymore. That honor belongs to someone else now; he blew out an exasperated sigh with this last thought.
He brushed his teeth and choked when he tasted the flavor of cinnamon filling his mouth. She had to see him; they still had a role to play. He threw his clothes on and searched the train for her. "Effie? Have you seen Katniss?"
"She hasn't left her room since last night," Effie had a look of remorse on her face. Peeta wondered if she knew. Had Effie been aware of what was going on? He knocked on her door and waited for her to answer.
"Go away, Haymitch! I don't want to talk to you!" Peeta couldn't help the smile that blossomed across his face.
"It's not Haymitch."
"Oh…" there was a moment's hesitation then she said, "I don't want to talk to you either," but her voice wasn't as cold as it had been when she thought he was Haymitch. It was filled with heartache and sorrow.
"Please open the door, Katniss?" He rested his palms against the wooden surface. "Please?" His head joined his hands.
"Go away, Peeta." He could hear the hitch in her voice.
"I'm not going anywhere." His head flew off the door when she swung it open.
"Funny," she was angry again. Peeta preferred this to sad. "That's not what you said last night."
"We need to talk, Katniss."
"You said everything you had to say and so did I."
"I didn't say nearly as much as I wanted to." He leaned his back against her door so she couldn't slam it in his face. "Why don't we go to outside and talk? We can stand at the end of the train. It's kind of noisy, but…" Peeta left the suggestion hanging in the air.
She was tempted to punch him in the stomach like she did Haymitch the night before. He had followed her into her room and asked if she was all right. Katniss turned on him and started screaming at him. He hauled her by the hand to the outside of the train, into the night air.
"If you want to talk to me, do it out here. I'd rather not get killed because you want to have a hissy fit," Haymitch said to her.
"No, you'd rather I give up my entire life to appease the Capitol and their goons," She spat at him.
"This wasn't my idea," Haymitch defended himself.
"So it was Peeta's?" Katniss found it hard to believe that Peeta would suggest such a thing.
"No. It was the Capitol's." Haymitch informed her.
"The Capitol," Katniss said with disgust.
"Just what did you think would happen when you practically threw their own Games in their faces?" Haymitch threw his hands up in the air and asked, "Did you think you two could just ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after?"
"This is bunch of crap, Haymitch. Those people cannot tell me how to live my life."
"Oh really?" Haymitch folded his arms and said, "When did you get appointed President of Panem? They tell all of us how to live our lives. It's how they work."
Katniss knew he was only being honest. Isn't that why she hated the Capitol so much? Because they were the end all, be all of everything in everyone's lives. "What good will this do? Keeping me and him apart? Aren't' they worried they'll look like morons if we act like we were lying to them about our relationship?"
"They want to hurt you, Katniss. They want to hurt, Peeta. And this is the worst thing they can do to you right now. They could kill your family…" Haymitch shrugged. "…but you said it yourself. You aren't living your life for them anymore. You're living life to love that boy."
"And that's how they've chosen to hurt me? By taking away Peeta?" The reality of the situation was finally sinking in.
"That about sums it up."
"Why do I have to let them? We beat them in the arena. We can beat them…"
"Where are you going to hide at home, Katniss? There's no arena to hide in back at Twelve. No trees to tie yourself to. No cave you can take shelter in. They're everywhere." He gripped her by the arms and gave her a shake. "They're even in your home."
"My home?" Katniss had always felt like their home was safe, but she wasn't moving back into her old house. She was moving into Victor's Village. "What about your home, Haymitch? Are they there too?"
"Yeah, sweetheart. They are," He resigned.
"You knew all of this…" Katniss stepped backwards, away from him. "You knew this and you didn't bother to tell me?"
"Why would I tell you? So you could enter the Games with even more of a chip on your shoulder?"
"And Peeta? Did he know?" If he had, Katniss was sure he would've told her.
"No…the kid didn't know a thing about it until I told him before the crowning."
"So they win regardless of whether or not we leave the arena? Only now it's worse. They'd rather us stay alive and live miserably without one another then die in peace." Katniss paused and said, "Being a victor means a lifetime of servitude not living in the lap of luxury."
"Now you're thinking like the Capitol officials."
Katniss didn't know why that pissed her off, but it did and before she knew it her fist was flying into Haymitch's stomach. "You son of a bitch. Why couldn't you just let us die out there? We would've been fine with that." She stormed into her room and locked the door behind her.
Peeta stood in her doorway, begging her to talk to him. "Please come outside with me?"
Over the course of the night she had gone from downright pissed off to weeping like a baby over Peeta and Haymitch's words. She didn't want to do it. Several times she thought maybe she and Peeta could just hide it, like they did before. They could arrange to secretly meet, but she pushed the thought out of her mind when she realized Haymitch had been right. There was no place to hide in District 12. "What's left to say?" She asked Peeta.
"There's a lot to say, but we only have a little while to say it." He held his hand out to her. "We need to work this out." He breathed a sigh of relief when she placed her hand in his and let him lead her outside.
"Haymitch said I pretty much brought this on myself."
"He what?!" Peeta was going to kill the man. "You did not. Neither one of us did."
"Didn't we?" Katniss stood at the edge of the train listening to the sound of the engines rumbling and the metal wheels on the tracks.
"No we didn't," Peeta walked up behind her and took a breath before placing his hands on her waist. "This isn't our fault. We didn't volunteer for the Games."
"I did." Katniss felt the heat of his fingers seeping through her shirt.
"You know what I mean, Katniss. Neither one of us wanted to be a part of it." He stepped closer to her.
She wanted to lean back against his chest. To feel the comfort of his arms around her. It was safe there. "No, we didn't."
"The thing is…we're still playing, Katniss. We'll always be playing."
"I'm tired of it. So tired of playing the Games." She gave in and relaxed her back against his chest.
His arms immediately wrapped around her torso. His lips were at her ear. "It's only for a little while. We still have to keep up appearances in the other districts…at the Capitol…"
"For the viewing audience." Katniss' was more than tired. She was beat…broken at the thought of Peeta not being a part of her life.
"Unfortunately, yes. But once the tour is over and we come home…we can live the way we want to, Katniss. They can't stop us then."
"You think they'll have…what…magically forgiven us by then? That they'll allow us to go on the tour and say, 'oh…well, they did the tour for us, so I guess we can let them live. Let their family live.'" Katniss felt the tears that had plagued her the night before coming back.
"No…I guess not." His longing for her was overwhelming. She wasn't even gone yet and he missed her. He turned her around in one swift motion and kissed her hard on the lips. She didn't respond to him. She just let herself be kissed. When Peeta pulled away from her he said, "You do regret loving me, don't you?"
She wanted to tell him, no, but she was numb. Peeta was leaving her, not because he wanted to, but because of the things she had done in the arena. She lifted those berries to her lips thinking she couldn't live without him and because she refused to let the Gamemakers win. Yes, it was her fault all of this was happening. How could she claim to love Peeta if she wasn't willing to protect him when it really mattered? She was being selfish by thinking she and Peeta could continue on and not pay a price. She had to let him go no matter how much it hurt. By the time Katniss pulled herself from her thoughts, the door to the train was sliding closed and Peeta was gone.
The next time Katniss saw him was as the train was pulling into the station at District 12. He was standing across the compartment looking at her.
I'm sorry, Peeta, she thought to herself. I should've never agreed to meet you under that damn tree. I should've never put you in so much danger, but I can keep you safe now. I'll do what the Capitol wants. I'll try and forget that I love you. Try to forget that you love me. They won't leave us alone after the Victory Tour. They'll never leave us alone so, I'll go back to the person I was before I ever let you into my life…my heart.
Peeta walked up to her and held out his hand. "One more time? For the audience?"
They stepped onto the train platform holding onto each other's hands. Their smiles hid the inner turmoil going on within them.
Peeta could swear the entire district had shown up for their arrival. His eyes scanned the crowd as he and Katniss held their hands above their heads in triumph. Peeta looked at Katniss' face and noticed that the artificial smile she was displaying for the audience, when they had first walked out, was now genuine. He followed her eyes and saw where they were focused. Gale. He had a huge smile on his face and Prim on his shoulders. Gale mouthed the word, 'hi' to Katniss. Peeta looked at Katniss to see how she would respond. Her lips moved, but no sound came out, 'hi.'