Summary: While making the memory book, Katniss remembers first meeting Finnick Odair. "They've got years to eat sugar, whereas you and I…well, if we see something sweet, we better grab it quick." So she does.
Disclaimer: I do not own The Hunger Games.
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Times Like These
It has taken a long time for things to be this way, and she knows that she couldn't have done it without him. She remembers how it was at first, the hollow loneliness and the horrific nightmares her only companions. Not eating, not bathing, hardly acknowledging Greasy Sae as she cooked her meals. Ignoring the phone, ignoring Haymitch. Barely even moving. Barely alive.
Peeta swept back into her life the way he first did—unexpected, a little unwelcome, slightly inconvenient; he took everything she knew and somehow flipped it upside down again. He terrified her. Not because he had been hijacked, but because he was something she didn't want to want. Not in the beginning, and certainly not after her entire life had disintegrated. He was an emotional liability and after Prim—well, after she was gone, Katniss had sworn to herself that she wouldn't care about anyone again. Which didn't seem such a hard promise, since she was already dead inside.
She remembered how he hadn't even said hello when he had gotten back, he had just gone straight to work planting the primrose bushes. Thinking of her again, always caring too much about her, and it seemed like a dirty trick to play. That he could seem to care so much, like old Peeta. He wasn't old Peeta, though, but somehow he wasn't hijacked Peeta either; no longer crazed and murderous and angry. He was something different altogether, something fragile and sturdy and remarkably new, but his eyes were just like they had been when he loved her. Something she couldn't ignore.
He stirred her back to life that very day, before she could even realize it was happening. She did more in the twenty-four hours following his return—bathed, called her mother and Dr. Aurelius, went into the woods—than she had the entire time she had been back in District 12. Like he was some Capitol drug that magically pulled her from a coma.
He came the next morning as if they had arranged it, bringing fresh bread and something that seemed suspiciously like hope that Katniss wasn't sure she wanted a part of, and sat down at her kitchen table. Determined to make himself belong at her table, in her kitchen, in her life. At first, they didn't talk. They ate and took turns staring at each other, washing and drying the dishes with worlds between them.
Then one day, he mentioned his new painting. A week later she brought him the first squirrel that she had managed to shoot through the eye, and they both cried. After two months their feet brushing each other's under the table no longer made Peeta's body go rigid with a rage that wasn't his own, didn't send Katniss fleeing for the woods. A few days later she found him curled on his kitchen floor, trembling with memories that didn't belong to him, and she felt brave enough to hold him. It was the first time she could remember being the one to comfort him.
He opened up a new bakery in town. After everything, he was still well liked, still so charming; one day Katniss came in for cheese buns and found a line of young women fawning over him as he explained how he made his beautiful frosted cookies. She felt jealousy coil in her stomach like an angry snake, vaguely recalling Johanna stripping down in front of him in the elevator before the Quarter Quell; he laughed at her the same way both times. For me, you're perfect, he'd told her then and she had utterly ignored the sentiment. Now though, when she saw the same thought in his eyes, she found herself wishing he would say it, wishing she could tell him the same thing. For me, you're perfect, she wanted to let him know. But of course, she didn't. Instead she bought her cheese buns, making sure to glare as viciously as she could at the other girls before she left.
In the late spring, on a particularly beautiful day, she convinced Peeta to keep the bakery closed and she took him to her father's lake. She had never shared this piece of herself with anyone, but it felt right. They gathered katniss bulbs and wild berries and when they got home that night she asked him to stay with her. They've spent every night together since, wrapped in each other's arms, fighting the nightmares away.
One morning, while foraging for greens in the woods, she remembered the family book, and decided it was time to pass something else down.
It was hard work for both of them, remembering what they had longed to forget. They couldn't just memorialize the good memories, and shifting through the bad ones caused tears and trembling. While working on his father's page, Peeta had an episode, rocking back and forth in Katniss's arms, tears streaming down his face. It got easier after that.
Tonight, they work on Finnick's page. Peeta is drawing a lovely sketch of him, all sea green eyes and seduction, and she remembers how he saved Peeta over and over, and how she will never stop owing him. She remembers how broken he was over Annie's capture, how overjoyed he was when she returned. She remembers watching them dance at their wedding, wishing Peeta was there to hold close. She remembers his courage and determination, the look in his eyes while he died. She remembers throwing up after Annie called and told her about the baby, hiding in the basement for hours until Peeta came home and found her. She begins crying softly, and Peeta takes a moment to hold her hand before being lost in his work again. He is beautiful when he draws, intense and far away, only anchored by her head on his shoulder. Even after everything, perfect.
And then she remembers something else, something insignificant. She remembers the first time she met Finnick Odair, right before their procession through the Capitol. Barely dressed and oozing with a sexuality that made her uncomfortable. Offering her a sugar cube that was meant for horses, grinning. "They've got years to eat sugar, whereas you and I…well, if we see something sweet, we better grab it quick."
All at once her crying stops, and she realizes what he really meant. She will never stop owing him.
Peeta has realized that she is no longer crying and pauses in his work, brow furrowed. Always caring too much about her. "Is everything okay?" he asks softly, taking her hand again. She nods but then shakes her head, consumed by the thoughts whirling around in her brain. The moment seems too much and she has never been very good with words. Instead she takes his other hand in hers, intertwining their fingers. She stares down at their clasped hands for what seems like forever.
"Katniss?" He's getting worried now, so she looks into his eyes. Just as astonishingly blue as the day she found him dying and hiding in the mud.
Her mouth opens, but no words come out. Here, after all they've been through, she's not a tribute or a Victor or a star crossed lover or a Mockingjay. She's just a girl who is surviving. Here with the boy with the bread. They are alone, there is no one watching, there is no one to convince. So gently, carefully, she puts the memory book on the table and closes it on the page with Finnick's finished sketch. Peeta is silent now, something akin to understanding in his eyes, and she moves her hands to his face, thumbs grazing his cheeks softly. His eyelashes have grown back, long and blonde, and she sweeps her fingers over them. They flutter against her fingertips and he shudders. Peeta is entranced.
"I'm happy you're here," she finally whispers. She has gotten so close to him that their noses are almost touching. You made me alive, she wants to tell him. I need you. Instead she shows him, pressing her lips softly against his. It's their first kiss since the Quarter Quell and for a moment, when he fails to respond, she's afraid this isn't what he wants after all. But then when she pulls away his lips chase hers, hungry, gentle and rough and feather light and carrying the weight of forever.
She could stay like this for the rest of eternity, but he pulls away too soon when he remembers they have to breathe. Their hearts are beating wildly and her breath is ragged. And for the first time in a long time, it seems Peeta is at a loss for words. They clutch each other for ages, kissing and discovering new things and remembering things that will never change no matter what happens to the world. That feeling from the cave and the beach comes back, but this time there is no death lurking near, there is no one to interrupt.
He takes her face in his hands, tracing her scars, and she thinks he might be crying but she can't tell because the fire in the hearth has faded to embers. "You love me," he says with an urgency that breaks her heart, voice rough with emotions, "real or not real?"
She smiles to think that even now he is thinking of her, making something so hard for her suddenly easy. "Real," she tells him. He kisses her again, and she gets lost. Times like these are fleeting, but she will hold them as long as she can. That is really all she can do.
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I just can't help it; I'm on a roll. At least I broke 700 words this time! Review please!