A/N: Well, here we are! The final chapter of STWOM. I cannot believe the response that I've gotten to this story. The amount of reviews I've recieved for this story is insane, and while admittedly a goal of mine, I never thought I would achieve a thousand reviews, quite honestly. However, I've never been so happy to be proven wrong.
That being said, I think that my reviewers need a special thanks. You guys were a wonderful confidence boost and definitely provided a sometimes much-needed push to get off my lazy butt and start writing. Reading your reviews always brought a smile to my face, and while I always tried to reply to your reviews to show my thanks, I think that a shout-out is owed to you guys as well. You guys are too important to not be recognized for your awesomeness.
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Random Disclaimer: I do not own the Hunger Games. Peeta and Katniss are just my puppet pals for a while; Smurfs make the best spies; I keep Jack Sparrow in my basement; Dumbledore or Gandalf?. . .biggest question in my life; I think seagulls are strange creatures; Spock rocks; I am terrified of hand puppets; Elves are real...Legolas and I talk...Be jealous; I saw Bob Barker drop kick a small goat once; Timon and Pumbaa are the ULTIMATE dynamic duo; the Fonz is the man; Peeta Mellark is a sexy beast; Vampires should NOT sparkle; Merpeople are real, they're just shy; "Voldy's gone moldy!"; Severus Snape is awesome; I am very fond of 'Gibbs slapping'; Oreos are the BEST; I start college in a month, yikes; OMG over 700 reviews!; I had an arguement with my wall yesterday. Don't worry. I won!; Whenever I'm on the golf course and someone says 'Four!' I yell, "FIVE!"; I listen to the theme from Pirates of the Caribbean every time I finish a story; I am a Sherlock Holmes fanatic; I once saw a man riding a cow like a horse, saddle and all. I swear I'm not kidding; Over a 1000 reviews!; I have the best readers ever . . . still think I own HG?
Beep . . . Beep . . . Beep . . . Beep . . .
My eyes flutter open, and immediately I'm wincing, the bright light too much. Slowly, I open my eyes once more, blinking rapidly as my eyes adjust. My senses are beginning to catch up with me. The air smells like antiseptic. The colors are bland and white. A soft yellow light is attached to the ceiling.
That explains the annoying beeping. My heart monitor.
The beeping suddenly gets faster. Peeta. Is he alive? Is he dead? I don't remember. I force myself to think back. I remember getting on the hovercraft. I remember pounding the glass that separated me from him. A flash of pink hair. Effie?
My heart rate speeds up even more, the beeping sounding frantic. Well, I'm feeling fairly frantic. Peeta might be dead. But he can't be. Not after everything we've been through. He's already survived so much. Cato. The mutts. He can't die. He can't die.
He can't leave me to face this alone.
People begin rushing into my room, asking me questions, but I ignore them all. "Where's Peeta?" I ask loudly, my voice cracking from disuse. "Where is he? Is he alive? Tell me!" No one answers me, and it only agitates me more. "Tell me!" I scream. "Where is he? Peeta!" One of them moves toward me with a syringe and I'm struggling to get away, but a large band around my waist prevents me from doing so. My arms are flailing and my legs are kicking. Several hands are on me, pinning me down, but I still fight. However, I'm overcome. The needle punctures my arm and everything fades to black.
The next time I wake up, I notice that my wrists and ankles are in restraints. Great. I'm that popular.
I hear a door slide open and my head turns to my right. The redheaded Avox enters the room, carrying a tray. She sets it down on my lap and then presses a button, causing the head of my bed to rise so that I'm sitting up. I see an attendant standing in the back of the room, but he looks too burly to be a doctor. No doubt he's here to make sure I don't do anything crazy. Like attack the Avox.
My eyes return to the Avox. "Is Peeta alive?" I ask softly.
She nods her head.
Yes. That means yes. Yes. Peeta is alive. Alive.
Relief like I've never felt courses through me. The Avox frees me from my restraints. Just my hands though, to allow me to eat. I eye my food in dissatisfaction. A bowl of broth, a cup of applesauce, and a glass of water.
Okay, I may have attacked a bunch of doctors, but they really don't need to punish me this way.
Surprisingly though, I find that my meager meal is tough to finish. My stomach feels like it's the size of a nut. When was the last time I ate? I remember eating my last meal in the arena, a fairly large breakfast, and I'd had no trouble eating it all.
Suddenly, something cool enters my veins and I have just enough time to mutter a curse before I fall into the blackness again. It continues like this for what feels like days. I wake up just in time to eat and then they knock me out immediately after. I'm semi-aware while unconscious. I hear scuttling about my room. And I think I heard yelling at one time. But the voice was one that was familiar, reminding me of home. Haymitch. The thought that he's still watching out for me is comforting.
When my eyes open again, I notice that I'm disconnected from the tubes that were once in my arm. I also notice my skin. I'm practically glowing. I trail my fingertips along my arm, amazed by the smoothness. I run my fingers through my hair, and then I freeze. I run my hand through my hair again on my left side.
I can hear again.
I feel a smile tug at my lips. My hand flies to my forehead, and all I feel is a smooth expanse of skin. No scar from Clove's knife. Immediately, I'm feeling the skin of my calf. No scar from my burn. I begin to notice little things. The tiny scar on my forearm from an arrow that clipped me when I was just beginning to learn how to shoot—it's gone too. I'm completely scar free. There's no evidence that I was ever in the Games. Only my memories and the still-fresh fear and horror are left to remind me.
Hesitantly, I swing my legs over the side of the bed and get to my feet. I'm able to stand easily. I see the clothes laid out for me at the end of the bed, and I frown. It's the same outfit I wore into the arena down to the undergarments. I stare at it like it's going to attack me for at least five minutes before I force myself into it.
I glance around once I'm dressed. There's no one keeping me here, I realize, and I'm filled with an overwhelming need to see Peeta. I haven't seen him since he flat lined in the hovercraft. Technically, the last time I saw him he was dead. I need to see him alive and breathing. I need to feel his arms around me. I need him.
It's with this resolve flowing through me that I march out of my room into a hallway. There are doors lining each side, and I'm sure that Peeta is in one of them. As I'm debating which door to choose, I hear the telltale clicking of Effie Trinket's high heels, and she's gaining speed.
I turn to my left and see that Effie, Haymitch, and Cinna are walking toward me. Surprising myself, I take off at a sprint toward them. I don't care how 'unvictor-like' it may be. I surprise myself even more when the first person I greet is Haymitch. My arms are around his neck in a tight hold, my feet are dangling off the floor, but I don't care. "Nice job, sweetheart," he says to me genuinely.
"Thank you," I whisper in reply and I swear that Haymitch holds me a little bit tighter at my words before setting me back on my feet.
Effie is petting my hair, absolutely beside herself. She's happy for me. Genuinely. And I give her a little hug too. I approach Cinna last, and he gives me one of his kind, small smiles before opening his arms for me. I don't hesitate to wrap my arms around him in a big hug.
However, I notice that someone is missing.
"Where's Peeta?" I ask. "He's alive, right? I mean—"
"He's fine," Haymitch assures me. "They want to save your reunion live on air for the ceremonies."
I scowl. "Of course they do."
"Go with Cinna," Haymitch says. "You need to get ready."
Cinna puts a comforting arm around my shoulders, and leads me through the maze of the hospital. We don't meet many people, and I assume it's due to the route that he's taking. I'm grateful that he realizes I don't want to be around a lot of people. It's just too much for me right now. I'm too jumpy, half of my mind still in the arena.
"I hear you put up quite a fuss when you first woke up," Cinna says calmly, but I detect the smile in his voice.
We load the elevator as I shrug. "They wouldn't answer me."
"What was your question?"
"If Peeta was alive."
Cinna is frowning, but says no more on the subject. He doesn't need to. His silent disapproval is enough for me. I realize as we shoot upward in the elevator that the hospital must be deep underground because we pass the floor where we trained for the Games.
When the doors open we're swarmed by my prep team, all of whom begin to chatter incoherently about the Games. It makes me sick the way that they go on about the Games. It's all about them. What they were doing when. Octavia was in the shower when I found Peeta in the mud along the stream. Flavius had just gotten his eyebrows dyed when I blew up the Career's supplies. Venia was getting her nails done when Peeta and I first kissed in the cave.
It was all about them. Forget the twenty-two children that died.
In District 12 we watch the Games because we have to. We grit our teeth until it's over and then we quickly work to get things back to normal. Here in the Capitol it's the complete opposite. Everyone won't shut up about them. In order to prevent myself from strangling one of them, I effectively tune them out.
Hours later when Cinna comes in, carrying a simple yellow dress over his arm, I'm relieved to be in the presence of someone who understands how I feel. My gaze lingers on the dress though, so seemingly ineffectual. "Doing away with the fire?" I ask.
"You tell me," he replies as he slips it over my head. The first thing I notice is the extra padding over my breasts. I grab the padding and look at Cinna questioningly.
"The Gamemakers wanted to alter you surgically," he explains. "Haymitch had a huge argument with them. This was the compromise."
I'm eternally grateful for Haymitch. It's nice to know I still had someone on my side, watching out for me.
I return my attention to the dress. It's a light fabric that hits above my knee. The material crosses under my chest, adding to the effect of curves that I don't possess. My eyes finally look at my reflection in the mirror and I'm stunned. I look so . . . so innocent. A young girl. A young, vulnerable girl. My hair falling in innocent waves over my shoulders. And my dress, my dress seems to glow like candlelight.
This is a very calculated look. With this look, it's hard to believe that I just won the Hunger Games.
"This is . . . not what I was expecting," I tell him honestly. "It's beautiful of course, but I was expecting something a little more sophisticated."
Cinna smiles, but it looks oddly forced. I sense a warning in his dark eyes. "I thought Peeta would like this better."
No. This isn't for Peeta, though I'm sure he will like it. This look is for the audience. Why? Why go for this look? This move is calculated. I have to fight a shiver. A bad feeling settles in my stomach as Cinna helps me into my shoes, which are simple, flat leather sandals.
We make our way to the level where we trained for the Games. I'm led to a pedestal far too smiliar to the one that launched me into the Games for my liking, and told to stand on it. The pedestal will rise and take me up to the stage where Caesar Flickerman will be waiting for Peeta and I. Cinna and my prep team leave me, having to change into their own outfits for the ceremony, and I'm left alone. I see a hastily constructed wall ten feet to my right, and I know that Peeta must be on the other side.
I'm just about to bang on the wall, to see if Peeta will somehow deduce that it's me and pound on the wall in reply, when I feel a hand on my shoulder. I jump and spin around to face my attacker, but it's only Haymitch.
"Easy, it's just me," he says in understanding. "Let's have a look at you."
I turn in a full circle for him, and he nods decisively. "Good enough," he says but something seems off.
"But nothing," he shakes his head. "How about a hug for luck?"
An odd request coming from Haymitch, but I wrap my arms around him anyway. Suddenly, he's speaking into my ear, very quickly and very quietly. My hair provides a sort of curtain so that his lips aren't seen. "Listen up, you're in trouble. Word is that the Capitol is furious about you showing them up in the arena. The one thing they can't stand is being laughed at, and now they're the joke of Panem."
I force myself to laugh, like he said something funny. This news is most definitely not funny.
"Your only defense is that you were so in love with Peeta that you weren't responsible for your actions," Haymitch continues.
"But I do love him," I say softly.
"It's not me you need to convince, sweetheart," Haymitch replies before stepping away from me. He straightens my headband, so I fiddle with his red bowtie that Cinna must have strangled him into wearing tonight.
Haymitch leads me to the pedestal, and then places a kiss on my forehead. "This is your night, sweetheart. Enjoy it."
I swallow convulsively as Haymitch leaves. What have I done? Angered the Capitol? The Gamemakers? Worse. President Snow. Now that I'm out of the Games, it's not just me anymore. It's Peeta, too. My family. Prim. My mother. Maybe even Gale.
At the time, I had only been thinking of a way to get both Peeta and I out alive. It wasn't about defying the Capitol necessarily. It was just keeping Peeta alive.
I hear Caesar Flickerman's voice, warming up the crowd with a few jokes to get them excited and laughing. Then, I hear my prep team introduced, followed by Effie, who is soaking this up, getting the recognition she thinks she's due. Which, I suppose she is. I wonder how much trouble she realizes we're in. There's something about Effie, an instinct she has, that makes me think that she does realize, somewhat at least. The audience is a roar when Cinna and Portia come out, and they deserve it wholeheartedly. They were stars, having made the grandest debut. Next is Haymitch, and the crowd goes wild, stomping and cheering for a solid five minutes before they quiet down enough.
And then my pedestal is rising. Bright lights blind me, and their cheers threaten to deafen me. But that barely registers to me once I look to my right and see Peeta. He's dressed up in a coal black suit, his shirt matching the color of my dress. He looks perfect and healthy.
He smiles at me, and before I realize it I'm closing the space between us in three bounds. I leap into his arms, clinging to him for dear life. He's alive! And warm and comforting and strong. His arms tighten around me, and he twirls us in a circle before setting me down on my feet.
Our lips meet and I glue myself to him. My hands are in his hair, no doubt causing his prep team to flinch, but I don't care. The strength of Peeta's hold borders on being too tight, but I wouldn't have it any other way. We kiss and kiss and when Caesar tries to break us up, Peeta shoves him away with one arm, his lips never leaving mine the entire time.
All I can think about is how he's alive and whole. How his arms are strong again, wrapping me protectively in his embrace. I don't care that we're in front of an entire nation right now. All that matters is Peeta and that he's alive and with me.
Finally, Haymitch climbs on stage and breaks us apart, pushing us in the direction of the victor's chair. Well, this year it's more like a victor's couch. It's a soft velvet loveseat, and I can't help but surreptitiously run my fingers over the material.
Peeta sits first, and I sit beside him. However, it's quickly not enough for me, and I kick off my shoes and then fold my feet under me, leaning my head on Peeta's shoulder. Immediately his arm is around me, holding me close, but I can't help but notice that his embrace has a more possessive connotation. Protective, too. Did Haymitch tell Peeta what he'd told me?
If so, the feeling I get from his actions makes sense. It also comforts me a great deal, knowing that I'm not in this alone, knowing that there's someone watching over me.
Caesar gets the ball rolling, and then it's time for the show. This will last three hours, and I'm sure it will be torture. Peeta and I are about to be shown the video of the Games. I do not want to see my fellow twenty-two tributes die. I don't want to have to relive the past few weeks again. But as the seal of Panem appears on the screen, I realize that I have no choice.
If I could, I would take Peeta's hand and run. As it is, the only thing keeping me here on the loveseat is his arm around me, which has tightened like he knows what I'm thinking. I don't want to watch this. I'm completely unprepared for it. Sometimes they will show the victor's reaction to a certain scene in a small box at the top of the screen. I've seen some victors fist pump in triumph, while some simply smile. Most stare, stunned.
How the editors have managed to condense weeks of film into three hours is quite a feat, and they have to choose what story they want to tell. This year, for the first time, they choose to tell a love story. It's almost obscene, the amount of time that Peeta and I occupy the screen. I'm glad though, because it gives evidence that my actions were motivated out of love. That the berries were not a rebellion against the Capitol. I was simply trying to get Peeta and I out of there alive.
They play our reaping, focusing on mine and Peeta's grasped hands. They move on to the opening ceremonies, where we are seen once again together, holding hands, an united front. They play the entire length of each of our interviews. And then it cuts to the Games. I see the blood bath unfold. I watch my struggle with the boy from 9 over the backpack. I watch Cato and the Careers kill tribute after tribute. Peeta's fingers dig into my waist as I watch him kill the boy from 4. I squeeze his knee in comfort.
Finally, the blood bath is over and I watch as they follow Peeta and I. Me teasing Peeta about being afraid of heights. The wall of fire descending upon us. Peeta carrying me. Our fight with the Careers causes me to cringe, especially when I stab Glimmer with my arrow before ripping it out of her and firing it at Clove.
It's like I'm watching an entirely different person. I feel oddly disconnected from what I'm watching. It's not me. That can't be me. I cringe during Peeta and Cato's fight, which was much more brutal than I anticipated. This fight makes the one they had atop the Cornucopia look like a scuffle. The tracker jackers fall, and Peeta and I are separated.
While Peeta is camouflaged in the mud, whispering my name in his fevered sleep, I've allied with Rue. I blow up the Career's supplies. And then they show Rue's death in all its facets. I see the spear enter her body once more. I hold her hand. I sing to her. They play every single note. Something in me shuts down at this point, and I retract within myself.
Of course, they don't show me covering her in flowers. Even that is a form of rebellion.
They spend an inordinate amount of time on Peeta and I in the cave. Me nursing him back to health, all our kisses. I can't help but blush when they play our heated kiss in the sleeping bag. Peeta asking me if I was warm enough, and my response of being on fire. And, of course, they show my flushed reaction on screen.
Peeta leans down to kiss my temple, playing for the audience, but also reassuring me, reminding me that he's here with me.
When they play the scene at the Cornucopia with me, Peeta, and Cato, I can't help but bury my face in Peeta's shoulder when they go over the edge. I feel the fear of that time, the panic, and it's unbearable to be on stage under the bright lights. Peeta holds me closer, but it doesn't help much.
Cato's death is gruesome. I can't even think much more on it without feeling sick.
And then the moment with the berries fills the screen. The desperation. But even I can see the love on the screen. Me. Katniss Everdeen, the girl who can barely discern her own emotions, let alone anyone else's. Surely there's no one that needs to be convinced that my intentions were done to save us both? Because I literally can't imagine surviving without Peeta Mellark.
Finally, it's all over, and I can't get off the stage fast enough. Peeta's hand never leaves mine as we're escorted to the banquet held for us. The entire affair is a hassle and an odd form of torture as I'm forced for hours to smile and greet people who congratulate me for winning the Games. Peeta, of course, is better at this than I am, a lot of the time doing the talking for both of us, for which I am extremely grateful.
Occasionally, I catch Haymitch's eye, and it reassures me. But all the reassurance in the world could not stop the fear that shoots through me when President Snow meets my gaze. Snake is the first thing that comes to mind as I look at him. A very venomous snake, poised to strike.
When they call Peeta and I to the stage to present us with the victor's crown, everyone is in a riot. President Snow comes onto the stage, all smiles and congeniality. I still think he's a snake. A dangerous one.
However, I'm slightly confused when I see that he only has one crown in his hands. Whose head will he put it on? Mine or Peeta's? Snow suddenly gives the crown a twist, and it separates into two pieces, two crowns.
He crowns Peeta first, giving him a smile. But when he reaches me, I feel fear freeze me in place. He's still smiling, but his eyes are shining with blame and hatred. Because I'm the one responsible. The berries were my idea. I'm the one to be punished.
The sun is rising when we all stumble onto the twelfth floor of the Training Center. Haymitch looks to both of us. "Get to bed," he says. "Separate beds. No funny business," he smirks at the end before leaving Peeta and I in the hall.
Peeta and I both blush when we look at each other. "Guess I'll see you in a few hours," Peeta says, moving away from me, but I grab his hand.
"No, stay with me," I blurt. I don't want to let him out of my sight. Bad things seem to happen when we're separated.
Peeta smiles, wrapping his arms around me and giving me a sweet kiss, "Always."
Neither of us sleeps. We simply lie there on the soft Capitol bed holding each other. I think I might have actually dozed off a few times though, because when Effie knocks on my door, announcing that it's another big, big, big, day, I jolt.
Peeta shifts so that he's lying on his side facing me. He leans down toward me and I reach up and meet him halfway, kissing him almost lazily. Peeta's hand rests in the curve of my waist, and mine have found purchase on his shoulders. When we break away, Peeta is grinning. "I should probably sneak back into my room before Effie finds out that I'm not there."
I laugh. "I shudder to think of the riot act she'd read us. Improper! Poor manners! Unbelievable!" I say in my best Effie impression.
"Right," Peeta agrees, giving me another quick kiss before making a grand show of sneaking out of my room that has me in hysterics, especially when he shoulder rolls across my floor before pressing himself to my wall, opening my door in a flash, and practically leaping across the hallway.
Cinna comes into my room not a minute later. "I heard you all the way in the dining room," he says with a smile. "Care to share?"
I shake my head, a laugh escaping me.
Cinna gets me ready for the interview with Caesar Flickerman all by himself. My hair, my makeup, everything. I'm grateful. I don't know if I could deal with the excitement of my prep team again, especially if they were like they were last night.
Even though Caesar was with us last night when we re-watched the Games, we didn't have an interview. This is what's happening this morning. We don't even have to go anywhere. The interview will take place in the sitting room of our suite. No live audience. Just me, Peeta, Haymitch, Caesar, and the camera crew.
When Cinna declares me ready, I'm clothed in a gauzy white dress with pink shoes. My makeup makes me look young and vulnerable again, like last night. Keep with the theme.
When I walk into the sitting room, Caesar is already there waiting. Peeta is absent. I sit down and we make idle chitchat very briefly. He assures me that nothing I say can be wrong. I inwardly scoff. He has no idea.
Peeta's arrival relaxes me a little, and he immediately puts his arm around me, pulling me closer. I take the same position I did last night. My feet tucked underneath me and my head on his shoulder. Peeta and Caesar easily have a rapport going, and I say a few words here and there, mostly smiling a lot, redirecting the conversation to Peeta. However, eventually Caesar gets down to business, asking the hard questions that require longer answers.
"Well, Peeta, we know from our days in the cave that it was love at first sight for you from what, age five?"
Peeta glances down at me with a smile. "From the moment I laid eyes on her."
"But, Katniss, what a ride for you. I think the real excitement for the audience was watching you fall for him. When did you realize you were in love with him?" Caesar asks.
Could he have asked a harder question? Seriously. How do I answer that?
"I-I don't know . . ." I pause. "I guess it was when I thought he was dead. Until that point, all my feelings were so confusing and I was trying to ignore them, but when . . . when I thought he was dead, I just . . . I realized how much he truly meant to me. It's true when people say that you don't realize what you have until it's gone," I say quietly. My eyes find Haymitch and he gives me a subtle thumbs-up. My answer was acceptable.
The camera crew actually has tears in their eyes.
Caesar looks to Peeta. "Do you have a response, Peeta? What are you thinking?"
"Well, Caesar, now that she has me, she's stuck with me." Peeta looks down at me. "There's no force in the world that can make me leave her."
His response draws sighs from everyone on set except for Haymitch, who rolls his eyes.
"Now, Peeta," Caesar begins. "What were you thinking lying in all that mud for days? I applaud your ability by the way! You completely disappeared. But what were you thinking all that time our Katniss was running around blowing things up?"
Peeta laughs. "Well, thanks for the compliment. Who knew frosting would be my last defense against death?" Caesar chuckles. "Honestly, I was just hoping that Katniss was alright. I was always looking toward the sky at night, praying that I wouldn't see her face."
"Did you think she'd come find you?" Caesar asks.
"Well I hoped she would," Peeta chuckles. "I wasn't really thrilled with the idea of dying."
"Of course not, of course not," Caesar laughs with him. "Especially with a girl like Katniss to live for, right?"
The interview continues on, and I can tell we're about to wrap it up when Caesar asks the biggest question yet. He looks to me. "Katniss, I've got to ask. The moment when you pulled out those berries . . . what was going on in your mind, hmm?"
This was it. "It's like I told Rue and Peeta. For me, love is being unable to imagine surviving without him. I . . . I just . . . I can't live without Peeta. For me . . . I . . . the world just wouldn't be right without Peeta in it . . . my world wouldn't be right."
"Peeta? Anything to add?" Caesar asks.
In answer Peeta kisses me, soft and sweet. He doesn't look away from me when he replies, "No. I think that goes for both of us."
Caesar signs off and it's over. Haymitch then corrals us together and before I know it, we're fighting the throng at the train station on our way back to District 12. The moment the doors shut and the train begins to move, it all seems to crash down on me.
I'm going home.
Home. My mother. Prim. Gale . . .
We eat a large meal, all of us together, me, Peeta, Effie, and Haymitch. Afterwards, I excuse myself to change out of my dress. I change into a simple outfit of pants and a shirt. I meticulously wash all traces of makeup from my face. I braid back my hair. When I look into the mirror, I see Katniss Everdeen, the girl that I was before the reaping, before the Games. The Katniss that hunted in the woods with Gale. The Katniss from the Seam.
But inside, I'm not the same Katniss. I am no longer merely those things. I am now Katniss Everdeen, the Girl on Fire. I'm one of the victors of the Seventy-fourth Hunger Games. I'm in love with my fellow victor Peeta Mellark.
Two separate people, and I don't know how to mesh them. My past before the Games and my present now after the Games. They don't mix in my mind. It's like two separate lives. I feel the need to choose one. How can I possibly meld the two together? They are so completely different.
What will life be like when we get home? It won't be the same. I'll live in the Victor's Village, no longer the Seam. Peeta and Haymitch will be my neighbors. What will my life become? I now have more money that I know what to do with. What am I going to do?
When I return to the living area and take a seat beside Peeta, his arm around my shoulder does not carry the comfort that it has. It almost feels stifling. What will become of Peeta and I once we're back in 12? Before the Games, we hardly spoke except when trading in the morning. I'd been so distant then, afraid and wary of how my emotions seemed to roil inside me when I was near him. What now?
That was the question.
The train stops for fuel and Peeta asks if I want to 'escape the train, again.' Feeling the need for fresh air, I accept. We hold hands as we walk along the side of the tracks. I can't help but notice the little pink flowers that are growing in the grass to our left. They're wild onions. They remind of the woods, of Gale, of my life before the Games, before Peeta.
My hand slips from his.
"What's wrong?" Peeta asks.
"Nothing," I lie. "Did Haymitch tell you about the Capitol?"
"Yeah," Peeta sighs and runs a hand through his hair. "It'll be okay, though. They'll have to believe us. I mean, everything is true."
When I don't answer, I feel Peeta's hand on my shoulder. "Katniss?"
"I'm sorry," I apologize. "I'm just . . . I don't know . . . the closer we get to 12, the more confused I feel!" I admit frustrated. The words are spewing from my mouth without a thought. "I don't know who I am anymore Peeta. So many things have changed. Before, we hardly spoke and now we're in love and I just, I don't know how to deal with it. Everything is going to be different now. My life. Everything. I just, I don't know who I am!"
"Katniss, slow down," Peeta puts both his hands on my shoulders. "You're still you. You're still Katniss. That hasn't changed."
"Yes it has!" I say frustrated. "I've changed. I'm different. Peeta, I feel like I'm two different people. One is from the Seam. She hunts in the woods. She doesn't believe in relationships or love or anything remotely romantic. And then the other is a victor and in love with you and feeling so much at one time that I don't know how to handle it!"
I can feel my emotional walls crumbling. Peeta cracked them and then the Games destroyed them. I'm feeling so much more than I'm used to and I don't know how to deal with it. It's like my father's death all over again. Overwhelming.
I don't know how to deal with it.
My eyes meet Peeta's when his hands come up to cradle my face. "Katniss, everything's going to be alright," he assures me. "We'll go home, move into the Village, and sure it will take a while, but everything will slowly go back to normal. I'm still going to work at the bakery. You'll still go into the woods. Our situation is changing Katniss, not us."
"I'm not good with change."
"I'll help you through it."
Peeta kisses me, and I can't help but kiss him back. I want to believe him. I really do. But things aren't that simple for me. I don't have Peeta's faith.
"Katniss, everything will be fine."
I shake my head. "You don't know that."
"Yes I do," Peeta says. "Listen, we love each other. I love you. You love me. That's all that matters. Everything else will fall into place."
I open my mouth to say something, anything, but words escape me. I love you. You love me.
My hesitation causes Peeta to look at me worriedly. I see rising panic in his eyes that he's fighting back. "Katniss?" he asks. "You do love me, right? I mean, you said . . . all this time . . . and . . . right?"
The answer is yes. I do love him, so much that I can hardly comprehend it. But I just can't seem to say it because it feels as though Gale's Seam-grey eyes are boring a hole into my back.
Run. Flee. That's my instinct. I can't deal with this right now. I just can't.
"I'm sorry," I apologize, feeling tears spring into my eyes before I turn on my heel and run back toward the train.
My thoughts are in a haze. My heart is beating like it's afraid it's about to beat its last. My breaths are coming in gasps. I don't know how to deal with everything that's changed me so completely. Still, selfishly, I can't help but look back at Peeta.
What I see makes me I wish I hadn't.
(runs from angry mob)
Sorry! But I did drop hints! I made sure she thought about Gale at the appropriate times. I know this sucks, and we all want to throw Katniss against a wall and slap her silly, but we all know that she's an emotional idiot. Not to mention she's sixteen . . . a nice, ripe, confusing age. It had to end this way. I couldn't see a 'happy ending,' especially with Katniss and all these new feelings. In the Games, she really didn't have that much time to explore them. Yes, she could acknowledge them and accept them, but that's different from exploring these feelings and seeing how they will affect her life. She's just now realizing exactly how much her life will be affected, and frankly, it's practically a one-eighty from what she's used too. That's scary for anyone, but for Katniss it's downright terrifying. So, that was my thought process for ending it the way I have.
Just trust in the fact that I am no fan of senseless drama. I won't drag this 'break up of sorts' out. It will be dealt with rather quickly . . . with lots of yelling involved, but hey, they're teenagers.
Okay, let's talk about MLB. Today I'm actually moving into my dorm for college. Woo! Anyhoo, because the upcoming week is my very first week of college, and I want to really get settled in before I begin posting MLB, I'm going to take off that week from posting. That being said, mark your calendars, the first chapter of My Last Breath will be published Monday, August 27. I will update MLB on Mondays and Fridays. Again, Aug. 27 the first chapter shall be awaiting you! So put me on author alert if you haven't already! :)
So now I guess that I owe you guys one more teaser quote from MLB. I've saved my favorite (and in my opinion the best) quote for last. Since it's my favorite quote, naturally it comes from my favorite character . . . the one and only Haymitch Abernathy.
"Stop playing grab ass and get out here!"
I have to smile every time.
Signing off (however briefly),
P.S. I know that I've never seriously asked for reviews before, but this is the last chapter so . . . please review? I've got a ton of readers that I haven't heard from and I want to! Drop me a line, please? Even a smiley face. I love smiley faces. See? :)