Well, I had a lovely excuse to write an outtake for this. The illustrious iloverynmar is celebrating her birthday this weekend. For her gift, she wanted a scene mentioned briefly in the epilogue: how Everlark made Robin, which started with a quarrel and ended in the lake.
Here's to a wonderful and supportive friend. You are stardust!
Many thanks to Chelzie and Court81981 for their help on this.
He ducked just before the flying plate could make contact with his head. It smashed against the kitchen wall and shattered into claw-shaped fragments on the floor. He lurched back up, balked at the sight, and whipped around to glare at his wife. "What in hellfire, Katniss!"
"Answer me!" she yelled. She'd stationed herself beside the pottery shelf, well within reach of ale jugs and bowls, potential domestic weapons all suitable for a marital beheading. Her hands balled into fists. Her side-braid hung like a tattered rope and her crown of yellow flowers sagged at an angle across her forehead. She had a passionate, wild-eyed, dethroned queen look about her.
It might not have been wise to bring up children.
It had started out well. Their room, their bed, their blankets. A fetching midday romp of kissing and touching.
The moment his head disappeared beneath her skirt, things took a turn. A messenger, windblown from his gallop through the forest, had pounded his fist on the treehouse door. Groaning, Peeta answered, his annoyance dissolving when he read the scroll addressed to him. He felt a smile brim across his face.
Katniss had appeared in the kitchen and peeked over his shoulder. "What is it?"
Peeta quickly rolled up the parchment. "Heavensbee. He needs me to report at Court tomorrow morning."
Her brows drew together.
His lie hadn't worked. Perhaps he'd been telling too many lies lately. Perhaps he should have counted how many times messengers had knocked on his door in the past weeks.
He kissed her, hoping his tongue would maneuver her thoughts away from the scroll and back into bed. Instead of demanding the truth, she cooperated and pretended to believe him. She kissed him back but without the fervor of earlier.
When he tilted his head to intensify the kiss, she wiggled away. "How long will you be gone?"
His dragged his lips down her neck while mumbling, "I've no idea."
"Because we're expected to visit Gale and Johanna in the village tomorrow," she said, an edge to her voice. An edge that he treaded along carefully. Such a precarious edge that were Peeta to make one wrong move, he'd plummet over the side and break his neck.
Johanna, plump with child, had been feeling uncharacteristically weepy, starving for company and depressed because Gale wouldn't let her near an axe. Peeta and Katniss promised Gale they would cheer her up with a visit.
Peeta sighed. "We'll call upon Jo when I return."
"You do not know when that will be. Moreover, I can only spare time for a morning visit. The rest of the day isn't possible."
"It simply isn't," she said between her teeth.
"Oh?" he joked. "Come, Katniss. You speak as though you have important things to do."
Katniss sucked in a breath. Peeta checked himself. It was the wrong thing to say, the wrong tone to use, perplexed and amused. Mocking, even. The way a husband might speak to a wife. The way Peeta had never spoken to her before.
She pulled away from him, but he stopped her from retreating. "You know what I meant."
"Do I? It must be a relief that you don't have to explain yourself."
"Look at me."
"Would you fancy a pint with that relief? It's hardly suppertime, but we've been known to break the rules before. On a more radical scale, amid peril and destruction."
"Look at me this instant."
Her gaze had crawled toward his, eyes like armor, like polished shields. He slid his palms over her arms, but his touch made her recoil. She'd retreated to the pottery shelf where she furiously began refolding dish rags. Lamely, he considered asking her if she needed help, but he knew what her answer would be.
Peeta sought to redeem himself, but the devil must have been riding on his shoulder because instead of issuing an apology and beseeching her forgiveness, he found himself growing irritated. Commonly, he thought her stubbornness arousing. Not today. Not when it was dampening the celebratory mood he'd been in.
He said, "In any case, Gale didn't convey when tomorrow."
"Indeed, he did. He said it just before he left our house."
"I heard him say that we were welcome at any hour. You were the one not paying attention."
"When Gale says 'any hour,' he means as early as humanly possible. It's the way people of The Seam talk. You would not know, my lord."
"My name is Peeta. And allow me, Peeta, to point out one fruitful fact: I've known Gale longer. He was in my gang before he was your friend."
"That means nothing. He and I are from the same region."
"But not the same class. That's where we prosper from a kinship you cannot grasp. He said any time."
"And I'm telling you, he did not mean any time. Johanna does not accept any time."
He got defensive. "She'll forgive me if I'm delayed by His Majesty."
Peeta wasn't really meeting the king. He had to remind himself of that.
"When Johanna wishes for something, she wishes for it with haste," Katniss argued. "Even more since she's with child. Expectant women are sensitive about their needs, however trivial."
"You shall find out soon, I suppose."
She slapped a dish rag onto the countertop. "What do you mean by 'soon'?"
"You're a lady of breeding. You've been educated. I'm sure someone of your stature can figure it out."
"Now you're deciding when your child will be conceived."
Peeta chuckled at the ridiculousness of such an accusation. "I'm a former outlaw, not a wizard."
They'd been married for fifteen glorious months, and it wasn't as though there were many methods of controlling when they became parents. And he was not about to stop rousing her in the middle of the night, stirring her sighs up from the darkness.
"It will be our child," he corrected. "Not mine."
She pretended to give this earnest thought. "Ours."
"Unless you had other plans," he grated, thinking of one male face in particular.
"I shouldn't dream of doing anything without your permission. Did you know that's against the law?"
Peeta glowered at her.
"Oh, yes," she continued. "Heavensbee abolished that law. If only husbands would take care to remember that. Alas, they forget so often."
"Too many battle blows to head, I suppose."
"And I suppose it will be a trial to obtain your help with an infant. I shouldn't bother hoping you'll be around for us."
The assumption slashed its way through him like a finely crafted blade. She didn't mean it. She couldn't believe that.
"My lady," he warned. "I'll thank you to know me better."
"What was in the message?!"
Goddammit. That again.
He'd feigned ignorance. "I told you—"
That's when she had reached for the plate.
Now, Peeta tried to quell the storm brewing in his gut. It wasn't her fault, he told himself. She was upset. At least she hadn't gone after the bread pan. That would have been the final stroke. The pan was heavy, but it wasn't unbreakable, and it wasn't wise to underestimate the strength of his wife's arm.
He pointed to the hall. "Katniss, I'm going to leave the room, and when I come back, your sense will be here waiting for me, and your temper will be somewhere far away."
"You must think me a fool," she trilled.
"I don't marry fools."
"You're lying to me."
"No. I truly don't marry fools."
"I am not jesting!"
"Johanna might be uncharacteristically sensitive, but you're the one being irrational."
"When we met, it was my irrationality that joined your gang. It was my irrationality that believed you were more than a renegade. It was my irrationality that was willing to do anything for you. And each of those irrational things were the right instinct. So yes, my irrationality believes you're guarding a secret."
"I'm in the king's confidence."
"How fortunate for you that you have something important to do."
"I never meant—"
"It must be nice being praised and admired, have people fawning over you, bowing and curtsying—" She bowed and curtsied dramatically "—all because you can hit a moving target blindfolded from a mythical distance. How wonderful it is performing tricks for people. The stocky, golden, straight-teethed legend. Ooooh," she sneered, wiggling her fingers. "Meanwhile, your lady fair has the privilege of capturing rodents for supper."
"Permit me to enlighten you, Lady Mellark," he snapped. "My bow skill is not some whimsy. It's no mere diversion."
"Are you saying mine is?"
"I train an army to protect us."
"I put food on this table! You hardly bother to thank me!"
"You don't like me to thank you. You scowl at compliments. What are we quarrelling about? You love hunting."
"I love it more when I do it with you!"
When her voice split, so did his heart. "Katniss..."
"You haven't hunted with me in weeks. You leave me alone, you've been hiding your life from me, and then you mock me over it. Is this what happens when you love too much? You know each other too well, and it gives you leave to hurt so easily? Whatever is the point of that?"
Katniss had no fear of speaking her mind, but she rarely ever spoke it in heaps. He approached and framed her shoulders, desperate to atone for his callousness, but she shrugged him off. She strode out of the kitchen and slammed the front door. Peeta sagged into a chair and dumped his face into his palms. He was an ass.
Not a moment later, the door opened. Katniss strode back into the kitchen.
Peeta lurched to his feet. "I—"
"I should like to be admired for my skills as much as you."
"I should like people to regard me as a worthy hunter."
"I would like to do more with my bow, but do I have the chance? No."
"Might I talk?" he asked, his voice rising again.
"I can't do more because I haven't the time. I have bread pans to wash!"
He eyed the loaf pan on the second shelf. She'd better not.
"You're the one who didn't want an influx of servants," he replied. "Twice each week, a few hands for the household and the horses. You insisted on doing everything else."
"I thought you'd be helping me!"
"I do as much as I can."
"As of late, you've put little effort into it, and then you do it wrong. I stock the pantry in one order, but the next day, it's disorganized again. I haven't the patience to remind you endlessly how to store bread and cheese."
Peeta braced his knuckles on the kitchen table and leaned forward. "I know how to properly store bread. I'm the one who bakes it."
"Pfff. You're not the one who has game to skin. Water to collect. Clothes to mend."
"Putting it mildly, my lady? Hell would freeze over before you'd let me near a mending needle."
"Indeed, because if I did you'd stitch your codpiece shut without realizing it!"
He chuckled meanly. "As it is, nothing happens when it's open."
Katniss reared back as though he'd slapped her. Good God. What folly was he saying? There wasn't a surface left in their home that they hadn't made love on. They'd been enjoying a decadent interlude not ten minutes ago. And if the messenger hadn't turned up, Peeta would be inside her by now, pushing her to the brink.
She recovered rapidly. Her ability to do so was one of the reasons he worshipped her, even if it caused his downfall more times than he could count. Outside, a raven's call scratched the air.
She crossed her arms. "I loathe going to His Majesty's palace."
"Fie and fuck," he hissed to himself.
"It's mutiny. All the women at Court do is bustle their bloated breasts in your face, bat their lashes, and lick their adulterous lips while you do nothing about it."
"Exactly. Nothing. I do nothing."
"Outrage is the spawn of denial. Denial is the spawn of guilt. Guilt is the spawn of betrayal."
"My lady, if madness were its own monarchy, you would be first in the line of succession."
"I hate going there, but I do. I reach down into the pit of my stomach, summon my tolerance, strap myself into a gown, net my hair into a crespine with enough jewels to strain my mood as well as a my neck, and endure hours of politics and vanity."
"I never make you go if you don't wish to."
"It's impossible to refuse the king."
"Oh, now you think so. It's a pleasure to know that your beliefs are malleable when it suits you."
"Only once did I feign illness, and what happened when I did? You attended Court alone. And what happened? She was blond, was she not? Like Delly."
Peeta's eyes flitted to the ground. Bracing his fists on his hips, he inhaled through his nostrils.
"Oh Sir Mellark," Katniss praised while fanning herself. "I admire you so much. What a long arrow you have. You aim it so well. Swoooon." She touched her finger to her bottom lip. "Might you show me how to hold it one starry night?"
"You weren't there. Who told you this?"
"In every rumor is a drop of truth."
"I'm not going to defend myself. I shouldn't have to."
"Tell me you weren't with her. Tell me you didn't take the little noble wench behind that tapestry."
"You mean the one I dragged you to during Christmas whilst the minstrel performed for Court and Heavensbee snored into his cup? The one I fucked you behind? That tapestry?"
"Yes. Your favorite one."
"You receive messages from the king at dawn, at dusk. I know a scroll that bears a royal emblem on its seal and one that doesn't! Where do you go without my knowledge? Who are you truly with?"
"You don't deserve an answer to that question."
"I'm your wife!"
"Henceforth, act like it!" he roared. "The problem isn't that I'm not answering you. The problem is that you're asking in the first place! I shall not lower myself to that muck, Katniss."
"Forgive me for hoping we wouldn't keep secrets. I assumed that's what we promised each other."
"We also promised to trust one another."
"Trust is earned!" she screamed.
"Yes!" he screamed back. "And I'm not the one who has ever failed that test! I'm not the one in this room who has a history of deceiving!"
Katniss fell silent. As she wrung her own hands, the Seam bracelet she'd given him chafed the skin around his wrist. It was an unfair attack, but he didn't care. It felt good being despicable and seeing its effect on her.
So he continued. "Doubt me, do you? You're the one who mars our past with lies, not me! If there's anything I've ever been, it's dedicated to you. Can you say the same?"
"Peeta," she sighed. "That was over a year ago."
"Very well. I'll give you something more recent. Darius."
"He's become a constant companion of yours at Court."
"No more than Finnick."
"Finnick does not dally that close to you even during a dance. Finnick does not touch your elbow. Finnick does not offer to share the same goblet with you."
Katniss's gaze took on a fascinated gleam. "Are...are you jealous?"
"For Christ's sake, spare me the astonishment! It's pure magic that you happened to notice the women flocking around me whilst Darius preoccupied you so thoroughly. Laughing. Whispering." Peeta threw up his arms in disgust. "The man cannot hold a bow steady!"
"What were you saying earlier about the nature of anger?"
"You're jealous! Admit it!"
"I don't care what you do with him, so long as you're honest. An unpracticed pastime for you."
She stomped out of the kitchen. The front door of the treehouse slammed a second time.
Peeta scrubbed through his hair and stared at the hearth. The front door groaned open again. Katniss marched back in. Damp air slithered in from the open shutters. It was a late summer day, festering with humidity and a stale smell that he couldn't identify in his own home.
"Yes, I fancy Darius," she said. "I'm hopelessly fond of him. I don't search for you as much when he's at Court. I've sung for him, too."
Peeta envisioned the hearth blazing, then dying to ash. He remembered Rue once telling him that Katniss never sang in front of people. Yet, one night long ago, still a prisoner of his gang, she sang for them. For him.
All this time, he thought...he thought it was something special between them.
"You never sing in public," he whispered.
"I sing for those who care."
"The one who cares is me! Once upon a time, I risked my life and my heart for your voice!"
"I doubt you would again."
Peeta clapped his hands. "Bravo, my lady. You've exhibited sufficient self-pity. Darius would be impressed. Assuming he doesn't shoot his own foot, maybe you should invite him to hunt with you as well. He'd feel at home with all the vermin."
"Who says I haven't already?"
Peeta had wanted to crush her soul before she did it to him, but he was too late. Her words dangled in his face at the end of a brittle noose. He hung his head. "I'm destined to love women who lie."
Katniss's voice twisted. "Peeta."
"Thank you for this moment of candor."
"Thank you for reminding me of what a fool I am."
The front door slammed a third time. Peeta turned away. He stored the rags she'd refolded into the cupboard, stacking them by size, the way she preferred it. He did not go after her. He did not need to.
The door winced open again. Katniss stepped back inside. A blistering look passed between them.
She bit her lip. His jaw ticked.
The argument drew a deep breath and resumed. "You demand an explanation about Darius, but I'm not allowed to question you about the banquet of women who flounce their skirts at you or the messages you receive."
"I don't encourage those women. They're not you."
"Darius is not you, either!"
"What do you want me to say, Katniss?"
Some of those messages had been, in fact, from Heavensbee. The kingdom was still new under his reign, thus Heavensbee had been keeping Peeta busy.
The other messages...well. Katniss doubted him. She doubted him in the most horrid way. He wanted to comfort her. He wanted to shake her.
He cocked his head. "So you do believe gossip over my word. Interesting. Tragic."
"Not real. I've never betrayed you. I never would. I never will."
"Because you're noble?"
"Because I love you! I loved you the first moment I saw you!"
"Ahhh. So you had time to fall in love while watching me with Seneca. Did you still love me hours later when you tried to skewer off my finger with an arrow?"
"You exaggerate your feelings."
"It's a pity that I didn't feel the same."
"Of course you didn't. You would have needed a heart for that!"
Katniss snatched the bread pan. Peeta ducked again. It struck the wall, split into two pieces, and hit the floor.
They stared at each other in shock. Something tightened and revealed itself on his face because Katniss inched backward, then whipped around and flew out of the kitchen, out of the treehouse. If there were a way to fuse the pieces back together, he would still see the crack in the pan every time he looked at it.
Peeta went after her. He smacked his palm against the front door so hard it rammed into the house's foundation. He wondered if there would be a crack there as well. He hoped so.
He followed the trail of her clothing, hastily tossed to the ground, stained of sweat and forest, wrinkled bitterly. He found her in the lake wearing only her lopsided floral crown. Swimming often remedied her ill-humor, yet there she was, petulant as she slapped the pool's surface.
Unaware of him until he was bootless and ankle-deep.
She watched like a caught animal, saw him yank apart the cords of his jerkin and pull it over his head. His belt. His hose.
The scroll. Gale. Swollen and needy Johanna. Katniss exhausted from a day of work, hunting alone, hating Peeta as much as he hated her in this moment. Her prickly glances across the gilded banquet halls of Heavensbee's domain. Darius. Salivating Darius. Katniss singing. The damned bread pan. The only one Peeta owned!
She spun, tried to get away. He grabbed her by the elbows, turned her back around, and hauled her up against him. She raged and shrieked and twisted her shoulders. She had always been a fighter. "Release me!"
"I said let me go, Peeta."
"I can't," he growled. That was the problem. It would be his problem for the rest of his life.
He backed her toward the rock wall, the place where they found each other one night, when his mouth taught her to kiss and his fingers made her cry. From joy. From loneliness.
He wanted both again. He wanted to fill her throat with his name and tear up her voice. He expected more resistance, but by the time their wet bodies found support against the wall, Katniss was panting and knotting her legs around him and relishing his insulted, hungry kisses. The sweep of his tongue. The tilt of his hips.
Her thighs squeezed him to the point of bruising, aiming to punish, daring him to try to please her. Her expression declared that he wouldn't succeed. Fine. He would punish back.
Grabbing her knees, he raised her legs higher over his waist and filled her with one resentful jolt. Katniss yelped. She struggled to hold back, but he saw. Her breasts hitched. Her lips quivered a silent yes.
He unleashed. He rolled his hips at an aggressive pace, his body lancing through hers, unlocking the tightness in her. Her fingers dug into his shoulders, the crown of flowers jostled, and her mouth hung open. His hand slid down to cup her bottom while the other cradled the back of her head, protecting it from slamming into the rock. Water kicked up a frenzy around their legs.
She thrashed back, bucking herself into him, willing him to give in first. They glared at each other. They called out for more. Their groans scattered through the trees.
When she flexed around him, nearing the blurred edges of completion, he stopped. He gritted his teeth but enjoyed her baffled moan, the greedy way she squirmed for him to continue. So glorious. So beautiful. So painful. He held still until she focused on him, those torrential eyes waiting.
He began again, probing with quick strikes. Impatience caused them both to whimper, but then he felt it rush upon him, contracting and flooding his anger with a different sort of heat. If only she knew how much he would do for her, how she consumed him, how she mesmerized him. No one had ever inspired in him this much rage, protectiveness, devotion.
Katniss was his flame. He couldn't be happier to burn.
His movements sped up until they tensed together. He pressed his face into her neck and shouted. Katniss arched backward, surprise coloring the one long moan that flowed out of her.
They dissolved against the wall in a riot of exhaustion. As she wished, he finally let her go. And she came back to him, tugging him closer, gathering him to her. Peeta lavished her with kisses, pecking up and down her throat. Katniss kissed him back just as clumsily. His cheeks. His chin. His forehead. They knocked noses as if they had never done this before.
"I didn't mean it."
"I didn't, either. None of it."
"I'm sorry I threw the bread pan."
"I'm sorry I haven't been hunting with you."
"I lied. I never sang for Darius."
"There's no one else. I'm yours. I promise."
"I believe you. I love you."
"The scroll was a surprise."
Katniss leaned back. "I hate surprises."
Peeta chuckled weakly and kissed her lower lip. "For your birthday."
He told her. He'd ordered a bow specially made, just as she once presented him with one of his own. It had taken weeks. He had requested a certain thread be transported from The Seam, the same kind of material they used to weave their special bracelets from.
Then he'd gotten carried away and commissioned a quiver as well. A sheath of gray-blue, inlaid with silver scrollwork and the image of a tall tree. The design of his gift entailed frequent trips from their forest, requiring him to concoct various excuses to Katniss over his whereabouts. The scroll from the messenger today had informed Peeta that the gift was complete.
"You're a brilliant hunter," he said, straightening her flower crown. "I would never mock that. I've missed being in the woods together. There's no place I'd rather be."
Katniss blushed. "I misjudged you."
"I gave you a reason to."
"I should have known better."
"We're growing into that."
Peeta let his fingers drift between her breasts, then lower to her navel where he absently traced her dewy skin. Katniss intended to say more, but something about his touch caught her attention. She gazed at him.
Slowly, she smiled. "You did not need to give me anything."
"No present for my wife? Why would you think such a thing?"
"Because you just gave me one." She rested her hand on his, flattening their palms over her stomach. "Here."
Peeta's life halted. She couldn't know that for certain, but the lake had its own way of making unexpected things happen. He felt Katniss's weight supported by his hips, her ankles tying him to her, her body dripping with his. He was terrified. He was elated.
He released a breath, ragged from their fight, grateful for it. His lips found hers. He tasted her grin.
He needed to have another bow made.
I'm at: andshewaits (d0t) tumblr (d0t) com.