"Katniss? Could you come in here for a sec?"
I toss the book I was flipping through onto the couch and wander into Peeta's painting room. "Yeah?"
I do a double-take when I see that, while all the usual paints and brushes have been brought out, there isn't a blank canvas in sight. Oh, wait. Is that it, draped over Peeta's arm? No, the fabric's too thin and smooth-looking to be canvas…
"I'd like to paint you," Peeta says. It's not exactly an uncommon request. He usually doesn't need a reference, but every once in a while, he'll drag a stool into the studio, in front of the window, and arrange my posture until he's satisfied. It gets tiring, after a while- just sitting there, trying to be perfectly still and keep a certain expression plastered on my face- but it's one of the only times we play real or not real anymore. Silly as it sounds, I miss playing that game.
So, now, when Peeta asks to paint me for the first time in months, I smile and turn to get a stool. "Sure. Let me-"
I look back at him questioningly. In response, he lifts the white thing off his arm. I blink at it. It's a strapless ivory dress that would come down to my knees, if I wore it. It's loose, but there aren't any ruffles. In fact, there aren't any adornments at all. It looks like it was made all from one piece of cloth.
"What's this?" I ask, completely bemused. But then I understand. Peeta wants me to paint me wearing the dress. "Oh. I get it." I take it from him and head for the bathroom to change. I chuckle to myself as I tug it into place. If it was anyone but Peeta, they could kiss both this dress and their fingers goodbye. But it is Peeta. So I'll wear it.
Peeta still doesn't have a canvas out by the time I get back. In fact, his easel is propped up against the wall. "Okay, what's going on? I thought you said you were going to paint me."
Peeta grins mischievously. "I am." He comes over and deftly takes my hair out of its braid, spilling it over my shoulders. He takes a large, bright yellow flower from the windowsill and tucks it behind my right ear. Then he looks at me critically for a few seconds. I fidget. At last he smiles and repeats, "I am going to paint you. I had this idea a few days ago, and… I don't know, I just wanted to try it out. So I had Effie send a white dress… You know. White. Blank."
I just stare at him. What's he talking about?
"You're going to be the canvas. I'll paint the dress. And your arms, if that's okay."
I look down at what I'm wearing. "Oh. Uh… yeah. Sure." Now, this is an odd request.
Peeta gets right to work, starting at the hem of the dress. He uses the tips of his fingers to swirl shades of green onto the absorbent fabric. I lean against the doorframe because I know, once he gets to my waist and arms, I won't have that luxury anymore. Sure enough, after about ten minutes, during which we chat about the newly finished justice building, I am required to go stand in the middle of the room. I'm reminded of the times that Cinna would inspect his work, making little adjustments as he circled me.
"Lift your arms for me," Peeta instructs, and I do as he says. Little bursts of blue and pink are sprinkled throughout the green. A pattern is starting to form. I've always been fascinated by Peeta's paintings, and this is no exception. The way his hands move so quickly and surely capture my attention like one of my snares catches a rabbit. Of course, this time I have to watch him paint it upside-down, but that doesn't bother me.
Now I can see what Peeta's painting. It's a field of grass and rue flowers. Curling up the skirt, starting at the left and bending gracefully up to the opposite seam, is some sort of stem. At the base of the stem are long, jagged leaves. "Oh." I smile. "It's going to be a dandelion, isn't it?"
Peeta nods and glances up at me. "How did you guess?"
"The leaves. Where will the petals be?"
He gently pats my mid-back. "I was thinking here."
We fall silent for a while. The grass abruptly cuts off just at my waist and is replaced with light blue dotted with wisps of white. Peeta pauses and looks at me hesitantly, blue paint dripping down his arms, when he reaches the last portion of the dress. I just shrug. We've been though two games, and one war together. This is nothing. Peeta seems to think differently, and I have to laugh when I see his cheeks turning red.
"What?" he asks. I just shake my head. Explaining would be more awkward than helpful.
When, at last, the whole dress has been covered in paint, I look down and find myself staring at a seemingly endless meadow with one delicate dandelion stem in the foreground. Peeta hands me a small, handheld mirror and I twist around to examine the back of the dress. My breath catches in the back of my throat. Not only is there a large, cheerful, yellow flower spread over my back, but at the hem of the dress is a pale, shimmering pearl, with the blue of the sky and the green of the grass reflected in its surface.
"Oh," I breathe. "It's beautiful."
"I'm not quite done yet," Peeta chuckles. "Still have to paint your arms."
It's an incredibly weird feeling- the paint-soaked brush gliding over my skin. Peeta smoothes pink and white onto my arms, green on my hands and blue on my shoulders. I hold my hair on top of my head while he adds the finishing touch to the back of my back. I have to stay like that while the paint dries. Thankfully, that won't take too long. It's a hot day, even inside the house.
"So," I venture. "What prompted this?"
"Not sure. I just had dandelions on my mind, for some reason."
"And pearls," I add.
He dips his head in agreement. "And pearls."
I smile again. The dandelion and the pearl. The two things that keep me tethered to sanity. I don't usually wear dresses- I find them frivolous and stupid- but in this case… I think I'll make an exception.