After going over our itinerary for the following week and planning the home interviews and showcase of talents that would take place in the meantime, Effie and her Capitol cronies took off for the night to sleep in luxury elsewhere, leaving me, Peeta and Haymitch alone at the dimly lit kitchen table. We sit in silence regarding one another for a minute or two before Peeta speaks.
"Well, I guess I'll call it a night, too." But he doesn't get up, just looks at me expectantly. He doesn't look away.
"What?" I demand.
"He wants his goodnight kiss," Haymitch stares at Peeta, his arms folded across his chest.
"C'mon, Haymitch, I just did that to save your ass." Wow. I've never heard Peeta talk like thisbefore.
Haymitch barks out a laugh. "Oh, you did it for me, did you?"
Suddenly I'm feeling like I want out of this room.
"Yeah, I did," Peeta reacts, "because I couldn't let you ruin everything we have going here!"
"Everything you have going here?" Haymitch's voice is barely above a whisper, but it's deadly.
"WE have, Haymitch! Our lives! We're lucky enough to be alive and here you are, our fuckingmentor and you're giving her hickeys days before our Victory Tour. I said I'd be okay with this, for her sake, but goddamn it Haymitch, you're making me start to change my mind."
"So I give her a hickey and you make out with her on my kitchen counter."
"You pull a stupid stunt and I cover for you," Peeta corrects him.
"A stupid stunt? No, that's what this whole star-crossed lovers thing is, Lover Boy. Or did you forget that?"
"Well it didn't start as a stunt," Peeta backs down, his eyes acquiring water.
Haymitch stays silent after that one. He can't argue because he knows it's true.
"Peeta," I try after a few seconds of silence, "I think you should go."
"And you're just gonna stay the night?" he asks pathetically, as if praying that he's asking me a stupid question.
"Well I'm not leaving with you if that's what you're asking." I decide I have to stand my ground. I'm with Haymitch now, Peeta has to know that.
He simply gives me one last long, conflicted look before getting up and turning to leave.
"Can you at least try to control yourself?" Peeta throws at Haymitch as he walks out the door.
I stay at the table, listening as the door slams shut and Peeta's footsteps echo down the porch steps, followed by a fading crunching sound as he retreats through the snow.
When I can't hear a sign of him any longer, I look over to at Haymitch. He's leaning back in his chair, one arm leaning on the table, his face screwed up in a scowl.
"What?" he demands when he finally notices me looking.
"You know, we can revisit this any time you want," I say, pointing to the spot on my neck that caused so much trouble today.
Haymitch's scowl leaves his face, and something like relief plays over it for just a second before he checks himself.
"And you can stop with keeping your guard up around me so much," I add.
He turns to face me in his seat, letting out a jet of air.
"I'd like to, sweetheart, but I don't want a repeat of today anytime soon."
I know right away that he's talking about Peeta's lip-attack.
"Yeah," I confirm, "just when I thought he and I were on the same page..."
"Well you didn't think he'd let you go that easily, didja?" He asks, incredulity dripping from his tone.
"Well I..." And I don't know how to finish the sentence without admitting that, yes, I did think that Peeta and I could be simply platonic again. Haymitch seems to sense my unspoken answer.
"People don't close doors or burn bridges that fast, sweetheart. My bet is it'll take him a while to stop wanting you like that, and even longer to forget about you. His best chance would be to just stay away from you for as long as possible until he starts to forget. But that could take years, and you can bet that the Games won't be letting that happen."
This is exactly what I don't want to hear, but I know that Haymitch has a point.
"You'd think it wouldn't take so long to get a couple of sloppy kisses out of your mind."
"Yeah well, it was about more than lip service for Bread Boy. Think about it. He's loved you since you were five. And now that he's had a chance to live it, to make his dream girl his in reality, why in hell would he stop? How could he, even?"
"But it wasn't reality, it was the Hunger Games. I didn't even think I'd get out alive, not until the very last Tribu-" I have to stop talking because the onslaught of memories that accompany those thoughts are just too much. Haymitch's hand reaches towards me across the table, and I lift mine out of my lap to grab onto his. "It was just circumstance," I argue anew. "He knew I knew it wasn't real..."
"But you did, you had to make it real. You had to make it real for the cameras, for Snow, so you made it real for him too. Whether you wanted to or not."
My forehead plummets into my palm as I prop my elbow on the table, staring directly down onto the rough, brown surface without seeing it. Yes, I realize, I made my fake feelings for Peeta seem so real that they became real. The only one I wasn't fooling was myself. Though maybe I'd even done that for a little while.
Haymitch squeezes my hand and scrapes his chair back in a move to get up, but I clamp down on his hand to stop him.
"But this is real, isn't it?"
He slides back to the table, to me, and continues to grip my hand.
"Yeah," his voice is rough. "Even though it seems like I'm living in a fucking dream."
"No!" I spit out before he's hardly finished the sentence. "I'm not a dream. Peeta always-"
"I know you're not," Haymitch cuts me off. "At first you were a fucking nightmare. But living has a way of changing everybody… and right now you're what's right."
He catches me off guard with that one. I can't seem to find my words, I just sit there, petrified. Haymitch squeezes my hand, the corner of his mouth attempting a smile.
"I love you, Haymitch."
It just comes out of my mouth. Without even thinking, without planning to, without warning. But I say it, and I feel at peace. Relieved. Because it's true. Haymitch continues holding my hand in his, and finally lets himself smile.
"I love you too, sweetheart."
I tread home through the fresh coat of snow that has fallen since I've been at Haymitch's, leaving long footprints trailing behind me. I tread slowly, wandering more than walking, not wanting to enter back into reality. The reality of the Victory Tour at my heels, of having to go back to what it was like in the Games, of having to convince the world that Haymitch is my mentor, and Peeta is the one I love. In other words, hell. To keep up appearances, I make sure to unbraid my hair enough to hide the mark Haymitch left on my neck. When I stomp through the front door, Prim is there to greet me.
"Oh Katniss, oh Katniss!" she chirps. "I saw the crews coming! Did you meet them at Haymitch's?"
"Nice to see you, too," I joke, pinching her cheek. She grins, then bats at my hand. She's getting too old for this, but I can't help myself. "Yes I did," I say, "Peeta and I were making breakfast when they all came."
"At Haymitch's house?" My mother's voice echoes into the entryway before she appears.
"Yeah," I instantly deflate at her presence. "I talked to Peeta at the bakery this morning and he knew they were coming." At the last minute, I try to elaborate, to put things into a light that the Capitol would approve of. Because now that the camera crews are here, that means other things are, too. "So we met up again at Haymitch's. He even made me cheesebuns."
"Peeta?" Prim asks brightly. "You're talking to him again?"
Flustered, I gather my hair to pull it into a braid again.
"Yes, Prim, why are you making me sound so gossip-worthy?"
"Because you are! You're famous now, all my friends ask about you. They'll be so happy to hear you're talking to Peeta again."
For the first time that I can even recount, my blood is boiling at Prim's words. What has she been telling them about me? Are these people even her friends or are they just using her to gain popularity? I wouldn't put it past any of them, that's for sure. But if they're using my little sister they've got another thing coming.
"Oh, she's doing more than talking to him." I can feel my mother's stare on my neck after she speaks and I bristle even more. A streak of anger and indignation rushes through me and I want to scream at her, no, not Peeta. It was never Peeta, mom but I know I can't do that. I don't talk to my mom about what or who's important to me. Especially not now when there are undoubtedly bugs planted in our house that can pick up every word of our conversation and send it straight to Snow. So what can I do? I rearrange my hair again, harshly forcing it to fluff over my left shoulder, damning my mother for bringing it up. If I wanted to talk about it at all, the only thing I could do was play it off as Peeta.
I ignore my mother's comment however and turn to Prim seriously. "Prim, you can't let the fact that I was in the Games affect you like that."
"It already has," she says.
My mother nods silently in agreement.
And I know it has, in certain ways. But that's not what I'm concerned about. "I know little duck. You've grown up so much since I've been gone. And growing up is fine, it's what everybody's supposed to do, but what I mean is... Don't become friends with someone just because they ask you about me. Being... Famous I guess?... It's important to certain people. They don't care about you, they care about who you know. You have so much more to offer than that, Prim. Remember who you were friends with first is all I'm saying, okay? Don't lose yourself to these gossip mills, don't get dragged into it all."
"I won't Katniss," she agrees. But she's looking at me strangely, and though her words should be reassuring, her body language isn't. It's like there's some rift between us. Like maybe she knowsthere's something I'm not telling her, or maybe she just senses my discomfort at her telling strangers about my personal life. A sudden wash of fear runs through me. How have I become so distanced from my sister, from the one I went to the Games to protect? It was the Games, of course. It's always the Games.
I go to bed that night alone in my cold, dark room, a black cloud hovering ominously over my thoughts as I try desperately to get some rest. If the camera crews weren't here, I'd be sleeping at Haymitch's.
AN:How are y'all feeling about Peeta? About Prim? Are things panning out as you expected or am I turning you off to this little saga? Tell me in reviews! Gracias for the read, and happy soon-to-be Valentine's Day! #teamforeveralonesoiwritefanf ictioninstead