Chapter Ten: Awake
It took a long time. Longer than he'd hoped. Longer than he thought he could bear. But she did come back.
He watched her stare at the plant books Prim showed her; trying to teach her about life in District Twelve. She was excited to teach her new big sister about her the flora she loved, while Katniss would stroke the flowers on the page and ask if she could visit the rose gardens.
His father taught her to bake apricot turnovers and she struggled with the dough. "Why doesn't the pastry chef do this?" She looked at Mr. Mellark. "Are you the new pastry chef?" He'd look to Peeta over her shoulder. He shrugged helplessly.
Out in the woods she seemed to find her ground. When Gale confessed with bewildered adoration that she was a better hunter than even him, Peeta was thrilled. She had something to focus on. A reason to survive.
He had first put her in his room next to Prim's and he slept on the sofa by the hearth, but when the nightmares started and she woke up screaming he started sleeping by her side again. It made him less frightened too. His father had been very understanding, but told Peeta if he was living with a girl he might want to have his own space. Peeta took Katniss to their new house in the Victor's Village the next day.
One night after dinner, she had been staring at the cookie in her hand. It was painted with a katniss flower. He was washing the dishes distractedly, wondering if he should make her some popcorn and turn on the television if he could figure out how it worked. She suddenly smiled that wicked little smile that he had grown to love and said, "These will go right to my hips." It startled him and he dropped his plate. When he looked up she was lost and staring out the window. He thought he'd imagined it.
But the next week she told him she always got her mark when she came home covered in deer's blood after taking down a buck that took four men to carry. That night she told him she absolutely hated that lamp in their room, why didn't he throw it out the window?
He laughed as she opened the pane and he did so.
"Where are my parents?"
He'd been waiting for that question for weeks. Months. Nearly seven months, he calculated. She'd slept by his side in his room for two seasons. She was lucid now. She seemed to know him. She seemed to know herself.
She looked up at him from where she sat on the floor. The feathers she had been stripping for her arrows lay untouched at her feet. "They're dead, aren't they?"
He nodded. He wondered if he should be grateful she didn't remember seeing it.
"Why am I here?"
"You live here."
"Because Coin would have killed you if you stayed in the Capital," he grumbled at his charcoal drawing of Prim for his father's birthday. He hunched over his desk. He still hadn't forgiven that woman.
"I meant, why with you, Peeta?" He turned around. She was standing behind him. "Why did you bring me back here?"
He breathed. "I couldn't just leave you."
"Why?" she whispered. "You had every right to."
She was back. He could see her. It was her.
"Peeta, I'm so sorry. I caused all this horror for you. I destroyed this country," she sobbed, collapsing onto the floor. "I killed my parents!"
"Katniss!" He threw the charcoal pencil down and grabbed onto her. "That's not true! You know that's not true!"
"It is!" she sobbed. "It's because I wanted you. I took you from your family. I took you from your friends. They started the uprising that tore everything apart."
She looked up at him. "It was all my fault."
He gazed down at her grey eyes. They weren't silver anymore. They didn't reflect the opulence of the Capital. They reflected the trees and skies and birds and him. They looked like sea glass. He wiped away her tears. "Katniss." He pulled her in tighter, pressing her temple to his shoulder. "This was bound to happen. You know that."
She sighed. "I did. But I was the catalyst."
"Katniss, I was the catalyst."
"Because of me."
"You're so conceited," he teased.
"I know," she sighed. "I always thought I should get my own way. I guess I didn't realize the consequences of a life like that," she whispered. "Neither did Daddy." She looked up at him. "I know it was wrong. I always knew that, Peeta. I did. I know it had to happen like this. But," she squeaked, "I still miss them."
He looked at her. "They'll always be with you. Because you love them. Just like my mom."
She smiled. "What was your mother like?"
"She was a healer," he remembered. "I know she was funny because I remember Dad laughing all the time with her. She loved being a mom. I even remember when she told me I was going to be a big brother. She was so excited and happy. I promised her I was going to be the best big brother I could."
"You kept that promise," Katniss sighed, resting her head on his shoulder. "Was she gorgeous?"
Peeta smiled. "Nope. She was very plain."
Katniss twisted to look up at him.
"But that doesn't mean she wasn't beautiful."
That night he lay by her side and gazed at the stars outside the window he'd left open.
"Peeta? Are you awake?"
"Yeah," he twisted to look at her.
"You said...a long time ago...you said you loved me." He saw her bright eyes in the darkness. "Was that true?"
"Yeah," he murmured, brushing a long strand from her cheek. "It was."
She bit her lip. "Is it still true?"
He smiled. "More true."
She breathed out a laugh. "You still make me happier with your words than any gift I ever got." She laid her head back down on her pillow and sighed.
He looked over at her. Her dark hair was splayed out over the pillow. Her heavy-lidded eyes wandered the cieling as she toyed with the sheets draped across her ribs. He felt something he hadn't dare act on in a long, long time.
He leaned over and kissed her. She smiled under his lips and returned the kiss.
His hands found her hips and rolled her to him. She gasped. He stopped and searched her eyes.
She grinned and kissed him roughly and fervently.
He smiled a wicked little smile.