Thank you to my incredible betas, HGRomance and Katnissinme, for their invaluable contribution, and to Famousfremus for letting me badger her with questions that were like a wallop from nowhere.
In the Elysian Fields Chapter 7
"You are going to lose," the woman to my right, with her magnificent blonde hair that fell in elegant curls, whispered teasingly. We stood among a dense crowd, the excitement sizzling in the prickly afternoon heat. The sun bore down on us. Our skin responded with sticky sweat and my arms and thighs were not spared.
I raised myself to stand on my toes to look left, and then right, to see whether the chariots were here. But even if they were near, I would not be able to hear the thunder of horses among the swelling sound of excited murmurs and bets among friends. I was in one myself, with the man three persons to my left, already rowdy with his friends. People were looking at them.
"Do you even have drachmas with you?" the woman beside me spoke again, unperturbed by everything.
"I don't suppose you could lend me? If I lose?" I whispered back. I had been too brash when I made the bet, and I regretted it now.
She snorted elegantly. "Goddesses do not carry coins. They toss against one another most awfully. We wager with other instruments of value." She turned her head away and fanned herself.
If I had not known her, I would have assumed her to be similar to the daughters of the rich city officials in the mortal world. Without a care. Beautiful. Easily despised. Easily envied. The women who walked by showed these sentiments in their eyes, shooting the goddess a jealous look. The men were a different matter.
I had been surprised when I first found her walking in the Elysian Fields, outside the door to that secret place Peeta had built for me. Peeta had just left me to attend to his duties and I was getting restless. I had been intending to go back to his adamantine hall when I saw her. She approached me with a warm greeting and told me she had been curious to meet me. All of the gods and goddesses, I had concluded from her later stories, had been curious about me, especially after my encounter with the Titans. But she was pleasant, and her demeanor betrayed no ill feelings as she introduced herself as the goddess of wisdom, fount of strategy. However, I was more curious as to why she was there.
"The god of the dead asked me to keep you company," she replied when I had finally given in to my inquiring mind and we had known each other for more than four walks around most of the Elysian Fields and the Asphodel Meadows. "He said you might find it lonely, here in the underworld, so he asked me during that time he had asked your father for help," she added.
For this little trip, she took me to a place within Peeta's domain where her most devoted worshippers go after they die, where they spend their days and nights not unlike the ones they had in the mortal world. It was the reward for their steadfast worship, before their souls were reincarnated.
It was therefore amusing that they were oblivious to their beloved deity, then again she had never manifested herself to them while in the mortal realm.
I had come to appreciate the time I spent with her. She was my only friend now. The masked servants did not count and I only had acquaintances back home. The reaping had made it painful to sustain friendships.
A drunken man stumbled onto the woman to my left and dropped his sac of drachmas, ending my musing. The sight of the fallen coins reminded me of my lack of money and I was tempted to conceal one with my foot. But instead, I stood on my toes again to see if the chariots were near.
"So what do immortals gamble with?" I asked the goddess after seeing no sign of the charioteers, and saw that she had produced a goblet of ambrosia and had been sipping from it.
"Weapons, if you're the god of fire or the god of war. Frivolous things like jewels if you're the goddess of love or the god of wine. Secrets, if you're the god of the sea," she almost had to shout the last line. The crowd was becoming restless.
"I prefer weapons mostly, or music if the god of light loses to me. I ask him to play his lyre."
"And the god of the dead?"
She smiled and took a sip while thinking. "I have not any idea, to be honest. He rarely goes to Olympus, and when he does he's not very social. Always curt. And he keeps to himself. The nymphs and naiads are terrified of him, except for the stupid ones with only pleasure in their minds, especially after—" but she stopped.
"After what?" I asked, suspiciously, turning my head to face her.
She rolled her eyes at me. "Do not tell me that you are not the least bit attracted to him," she said, changing the subject.
I blushed. Something in my chest tugged at what she said about Peeta. My thoughts bolted to memories of what we had been doing, of him stretched across the grass in the pale moonlight and me hovering over him, a lazy grin on my face as my fingers danced on his taut chest. It suddenly felt even hotter, more unbearable. I was sure my thoughts betrayed me now as the goddess of wisdom still prattled beside me.
"The eldest son of the paramount Titan. Dark lord of the underworld. The only one among the three brothers without a queen…" the goddess trailed off.
"Do you find him attractive?" I asked incredulously, and nervously, the conclusion hitting me unprepared.
"Please," she said with a wave of her hand. "Wrong brother," she muttered, and took another sip of ambrosia.
I turned to her in surprise, my mouth hanging from glee. I had thought her reserved.
The noise reached its pinnacle, and everyone around us shouted in excitement. The chariots approached us from the far right, emerging from the great arched stone gate of the goddess of wisdom. It towered over the chariots, eminently footed in marble, her statue gleaming in gold. They breathlessly raced down the uneven road towards the goddess' temple to the left, flaming torch in their hands. At the end of the race the massive vessel waited, where the fastest would throw his torch in and light it up, declaring himself as victor.
The chariot I was rooting for passed us, and I was jubilant that it was near the forefront. My fists were clenched tight. The charioteers furiously tried to outrace one another. The horses seemed tired but their master's tenacity fueled their stamina. I looked to the man I had wagered with. He could hardly stand but his eyes were tethered to the race.
I bit my lip in anxiety and cast a glance at the goddess. She seemed amused by the spectacle, and unperturbed by the chaos around us.
The crowd erupted in cheers as the fire finally roared towards the darkening sky. My chariot had won, its rider wearing a dusty onyx cape, and I raised my arms in victory, shouting alongside everyone. I had never won anything, and it felt so good. The woman beside me hugged me in delight. It was a euphoric moment and I savored it with another joyful shout to the evening sky.
I felt a tap on my shoulder and saw a bright silver drachma thrust in front of my eyes. The alcohol must have washed away the man's depth perception.
"Keep it," I muttered to him, folding his hand over the coin. I saw that the goddess had started to walk quietly towards the gate from which we had come. It must have been time to go back.
And a different rush of excitement flowed through me.
Fueled by my victory, I hurriedly extricated my fingers from the door of the Elysian Fields and walked briskly towards the Trivium. By now I was more familiar with this hall. I had made an effort to memorize the important doors in his adamantine hall, lest I wander unintended into Tartarus again.
Reaching the door, my heart still beating madly, I peeked slowly, my hand resting on the frame. The back of his throne was in my direct line of sight, and I wondered if he still sat on it. The thought of Peeta made me place my hand where my neck sloped down to my shoulder, at that sensitive place he kissed and kissed, until I gave in on our little game this morning and whispered his name and sweetly lost our bet. His eyes then were bright with the promise of something more, but after the judging. His duties were often the only distraction to our time together.
There he was, halfway down the steps. I spotted the golden waves of his hair and his majestic dark cape, fastened atop his shoulders to the palladium plates of his armor with dark coins. He must have been to Olympus, if he was wearing his armor. The immortals were all on alert after my little incident.
Ever since the first time I saw him magnificent in his armor, I've wished to see him in it more often. I viewed him so differently now.
As if sensing my admiration, Peeta turned his head halfway and looked up. My eyes met his steadily, holding his gaze, telling him many things, thinking of all the things I wanted. A half smile, a faint echo of my desires, left my lips as I turned around deliberately, my fingers lingering on the door to beckon him.
I heard his deep voice say something to his councilmen as I walked down the adamantine hall. My heart started to beat fast once more, knowing he would walk out any moment in pursuit of me.
The sound of his steps echoed around the hall, measured and clipped. He followed me leisurely because he knew he would find me wherever I went. But I wanted more excitement, so I walked faster. My breath quickened. I smiled as I spotted the door to the Elysian Fields again. I looked back at him before I entered the door. Peeta wore an amused look on his handsome face, his lips pursed as he paused, still far from me. His eyes never left mine.
Then I turned quickly and ran.
I ran across the field, the red and violet blooms cushioning my feet. I saw the hill where the tree with the weeping branches stood, where the door leading to my paradise, the one Peeta built for me, was located. I raised the hem of my dress as I raced up the hill, pushing my legs faster. I knew not how fast he ran, but I was so seduced by that feeling of victory that I wanted to win and then tease him once inside. Breathless once on top, I was about to push open the door when Peeta's hand shot out to close it. I yelped in surprise as his strong arm wound around my waist and pulled me to him. I closed my eyes as he whispered near my ear in that low, alluring tone of his, "You should have told me you like to be chased." The warm breath that caressed me felt wonderful.
"How did you get to me so quickly?" I asked, heaving from my run, turning to face him. He did not even look winded.
"I am a god, Katniss," he drawled, placing a kiss under my jaw. I gasped in response to the sensation. He looked at me again, cockily enjoying our exchange. Then he pushed the door open and led me inside.
I sighed at the beauty before me. I would never tire of the wonder of this place, at the blooming foliage bowing in the soft breeze, at the crisp scent of mint and apples, at the gentle warmth of its sun. I pressed myself closer to Peeta, placing my hand on his chest as we walked, and in turn, he curled his arm around my shoulder.
He led me to one of the blossoming trees that crowned the serene lake, where a linen cloth was spread out and a feast awaited us.
"Peeta," I said, turning to him.
He placed a kiss on my forehead. "I have been away for longer than I had intended, and I apologize," he said.
I sat down on my folded legs and examined what was before me. Bowls of grapes. Heaps of figs. Clementines. Nectarines. The golden apples. Jugs of honeyed mead. Bread. Olives.
I took a fig and bit into it, its flesh swelling against my lips. Peeta sat beside me. "Thank you," I said. "But you didn't have to."
"I wanted to," he said, solemnly. "How was your little adventure with the goddess of wisdom?" he added, after he filled a goblet with the mead and I had reached for some grapes.
I chewed and swallowed, thinking what to tell him first. Then it burst from me like a summer thunderstorm. The bet. The race. The exhilaration of the crowd. I relayed everything to him so enthusiastically that he had to refill my plate for me—I did not even notice it was empty. But he wore that smile I was so fond of. A genuine one that reached his eyes and made me feel as happy as he did.
When I finished my tale, he beckoned me. "Come here, I've missed you," he said, and I gamely sat on his lap as his forehead rested on my chest. My cheek pressed against the top of his head and he exhaled as I ran my fingers through his hair, thoroughly content. I knew how tired he got after the judgment of the souls. His arms, by habit, wound around me. Then he murmured, "I just remembered. My brothers are requesting your presence. What do you think of going up to Olympus now?" His face tilted up at me.
He had mentioned this before, in passing. The truth was, I was quite terrified of meeting the other gods. I only knew three deities: Peeta, my father, and the goddess of wisdom, four if one counted the stoic messenger of the gods. After my slip with the Titans, another encounter with immortals was not very enticing.
I replied by distracting him, my hands brushing through his golden hair and the tip of my nose touching a sensitive spot on his neck I had recently discovered during one of our tussles. Peeta was quite ticklish, I was surprised to learn, and that he would go rigid, as he did now, whenever I would be relentless in my actions.
He grumbled. I exhaled against his skin with a smile. He hissed. "Alright, alright, you've won. I will not bring you to Olympus yet."
I lifted my head to look at him, earnestly trying to be stern with me. My hands moved to his broad shoulders, slipping mischievously beneath the plates of his armor. "Yes, I would much rather prefer to be here," I said in a low, private tone.
His eyes responded to my touch and my words. His hands moved to my hips, steadying me in place. "Hmm, you're quite right," he said, his eyes roving down my chest. I wore something that cut deeper against my skin, and I knew Peeta appreciated this.
I felt desirable and terribly shy at the same time. I was still unused to the spring of emotions he inspired in me. It was frightening and welcoming, a lightness and a happiness that married beautifully.
"Besides," he continued smugly, "I would not want to share you with my brothers."
I laughed, and he tucked a lock of hair behind my ear. I had never seen him as elated as he had been lately. It seemed our joy grew together, one needing the other to flourish.
Once our initial delight settled down, and I contented myself with leaning against Peeta, a thought embodied itself in my mind. I had been irrepressibly curious lately.
"What's it like to live interminably?" I asked. It had always been on my mind since I found out about my paternity and dual heritage.
Peeta teased, "I'm unsure whether your limited half-mortal mind could fathom it."
"I resent that!" I said, slapping him in the arm playfully. "I am half immortal, and it should not be held against me that I grew up among humans."
He shrugged. "But you had not experienced immortality yet. And your mind still isn't equipped to handle something of this magnitude."
I rolled my eyes.
"It should change eventually, especially with you drinking our immortal sustenance," he said, referring to the ambrosia. I did not want to think of that sweet drink, not when it represented the dwindling time I had left with Peeta.
"What about my mortal thread then?"
Peeta gave it some thought. "It will die, as all mortals do, but the ambrosia will slow your aging almost imperceptibly. If you had not drunk ambrosia, you would have sailed through life the same as everyone in that realm did, then only your immortal thread would have been left and your father would have brought you up to Olympus."
Another thought burst in my mind. "Would you have noticed me then, if fate had gone down that path?"
Peeta smiled endearingly, and he probably had never considered that alternate possibility. He pretended to give it some thought. I pretended to be stern at him for taking so long.
"Yes," he said confidently. "Your scowl alone would have merited notice, and we would have battled first in stern gazes before you surrendered and gave me a smile."
"And who says I would surrender first?" I demanded, twirling a lock of his hair around my finger. I gave a surprised yelp when he pushed me down on the grass, and hovered temptingly over me.
"Because my way with words and my persuasion are without equal," he boasted.
"Is that so?" I challenged, my foot rising up his leg, finally securing it above his hips. It was the first time I had done such an act, and I knew exactly where his mind went and what it did to him. His hand secured my leg tighter and higher against him.
"See?" I said, gloating. He chuckled. It was a tantalizing sound I wanted to capture and keep. Peeta bent down to kiss me, and I responded eagerly.
When we parted, he pulled me up against him again, and we sat as we had before.
A birdsong stole my attention, and I turned my head towards the soft melody that rang like mellifluous bells through the falling petals. This moment could not be more perfect.
When I felt him move, I looked again at Peeta, and my perfect moment shattered as he offered me the goblet of ambrosia, earlier nestled against the jug of mead.
My last goblet.
I had come to resent this.
"I'm sorry," he murmured. I nodded, stiffly taking the ambrosia from him. Peeta's eyes were sad, and my heart mirrored this, for time sprinted so quickly while we were together, alone against the world and against everyone, everything, with only the ambrosia to tell us of the time we had left.
I drank slowly, not to savor the sweet drink, but to try to decelerate time, even if I knew this was futile. As I placed the goblet back down, the sadness had marched forth, bringing tears to the edge of my eyes. I was torn. I wanted to bask in the glow of these emotions I had never experienced, but I felt guilty as well for being happy, because every moment spent here was time lost with my family.
Before I could turn my head to hide my tears, Peeta wiped them affectionately with his thumb. Then he kissed me again, a quick and chaste one at first, then more passionately. His kiss drove deeper into me, tempting me and cruelly making certain I knew what I would be leaving behind. Instead of being sated, my greed for him grew. It was his turn to weave his fingers through my hair. I breathed in his adoration. The ambrosia heightened his taste on my lips.
I had dreaded coming here before. Now I dreaded letting go, waiting so long until I could go back.
We broke for air. I had not opened my eyes. "When?" I asked, my voice trembling.
"Very soon," he said. I heard the sadness in his voice. I opened my eyes. The expression in his own eyes was tender. "But not yet," he added fiercely, then he tilted his head once more to kiss me. My body melted against his as though we were long broken pieces that had found one another again, mending the separation with our touch. Our kiss soared, and then it slowed, and we were content for now.
I rested my head against the crook of his neck and shoulder, my hand over his gently beating heart.
"I do not wish to say goodbye," I confessed.
"Then it shall never leave our lips," he replied.
"Then what should we say?"
"That we will be together soon," he said. His words were optimistic. It would do for now.
It was unusual that the god of light, bearer of prophecy, requested Peeta's presence, but that was why he found himself returning to the dark wasteland where the decisive battle of the Divine War had been fought.
Many a cycle of rest and judging had passed since Katniss had returned to the mortal realm. He checked on her once more with his blue flames before he took a step forward. He had not been here for thousands of years.
The massive gate before him, forged from bronze in the deepest volcano by the god of fire, was littered with the dreadful creatures the Titans had unleashed— manticores, chimeras, and scyllas—all frozen in motion and encased in the darkened metal. From the corners and sides, gnashing teeth, spiked tales, and scaly wings protruded, paralyzed in eternal struggle. The lesser immortals who had sided with the Titans were not spared by the gods, either. Satyrs and centaurs occupied the crevices between the monsters, their faces alight in agony and in asking for reprieve.
The gate opened upon his will, revealing what remained of the Titans' stronghold. His father's palace still stood in the middle, gray and terrifying even until now. The shards of granite crunched against the sole of his sandals. He had felt them once against his cheek in battle as a Titan had caught him off guard. The broad pathway was still lined with conical trees, with sharp green leaves as immortal as the gods. He still felt the ancient power suffused in the air, of olden rituals from times before his own father reigned.
A hundred steps down, a turn of his head to the right made him see the hidden path that his brother, the god of the sky, had taken that day he rescued Peeta and the god of the sea. He remembered it led to a subterranean cave deep in the forest surrounding the Titan stronghold, which he could see in the distance. Peeta's first memory was in that cave. It was of his younger brother's face, with his coppery hair shiny with sweat. He and the god of the sea were very weak as they slumped to the floor of the cave after their daring escape, having spent their existence in the belly of their cruel father. Their youngest brother, the god of the sky, saved them. Disguised as a female cupbearer, the god of the sky had given their Titan father a tonic that regurgitated the two older brothers. Their father had lost consciousness and they were able to flee.
The god of the sky found the cave with their mother's help, and they rested there until the Titans charged with finding them gave up the hunt. Then the god of fire, who had been his brother's guardian, came to their aid, bringing ambrosia and other essentials. They escaped after a few days to the island where the god of the sky spent his years growing up.
There, Peeta met the other gods and goddesses his brother had recruited in his plan to rebel against their tyrannical father. Some were daughters and sons who had also been imprisoned by their Titan parents, while some came into being without any progenitors and had simply heard about the rebellion.
The days that followed were a blur of combat training and strengthening, strategy meetings and recruitments. Peeta often trained with his brothers. He was fierce, but always calm, until the day he had learned of the prophecy, the basis for their father's treatment of them. Their father feared his sons would supplant him, as he had with his own father, hence he had swallowed Peeta and the god of the sea as soon as they were born.
Peeta had been training with the god of the sky, their swords clanging aggressively, when the bitterness took hold of his heart. The knowledge could not be undone. He could never fathom why their father did what he did, and Peeta's anger flowed down to his arms, until the god of the sky lied flat on his back against the sand. Peeta hissed at him to get up, moving around him like a predator. His anger made him see not his brother but the cruel face of their father. He brought his sword down on his brother's shield, and it clanged ominously. Peeta realized what they were, what he was. A pawn to his father. Unloved. Unneeded. That was the first day he ever felt rage, that undeniable need to destroy. He shouted at his brother to continue fighting him.
Then it was time to attack the stronghold. And it resulted in their mother's death.
The Titan of Time and Ages knew what his wife had done to protect their sons, and he knew they would be back for her. Peeta and his brothers and their allies met no resistance coming up to the palace of their father. But at the center of a massive hall deep within the palace, the brothers saw their mother chained to the ground. And the monsters of his father lined the concentric decks that rose up from the hall. It was a trap. Their father made sure they saw their mother killed for her treachery. Then the monsters attacked them, scaly claws swiping from every side and their putrid breaths clouding the air.
They had to retreat or risk defeat. The creatures were too many. Their father hoped they would die in battle and had left the carnage moments before it began.
They had returned to the island dispirited, but not Peeta. His hatred towards his father only grew, and it fueled him during his intense training.
Then the Cyclopes had approached him and his brothers. They forged the armor and weapons that would hand victory to the gods. The god of the sky received his thunderbolt, the god of the sea his trident, and Peeta his invisibility helm.
This time they knew they would face the Titans themselves, aided by their fearsome creatures, as well as other immortals. But the gods and goddesses were ready. They had built a trap to a prison deep in Tartarus and needed to drive the Titans towards it.
The battle raged for days and weeks. The earth shook and wept fire. He almost lost a brother. The other gods and goddesses were feeling the fatigue and despair. But they persisted, having intense faith in their plan. They eventually drove the weakened Titans to Tartarus and sealed the prison with a special key. The god of fire trapped the remaining monsters in bronze and built the gate to the fortress.
After their victory, the realms and responsibilities were divided and Olympus was built. The humans were also created and the gods derived power from their prayers.
The reincarnation into the mortal world came as a unanimous agreement among the Olympians, a means to know their creations better. It was undertaken by a few immortals at a time, and Peeta was among the first.
He had chosen a poor fisherman who lost his wife giving birth to their still-born son. Peeta incarnated himself into the infant and inhibited his immortal memories, to return only when his time in the mortal world was over. The fisherman had been overjoyed at the miracle of his son coming back to him.
Peeta, the name given to him by his mortal father, grew up in a humble boat, in misty dawns while catching fish, under cloudless evening skies where he and his father drew patterns among the stars, in carefree afternoons chasing dandelion buds on secluded meadows when they would dock. It was the happiest he had ever felt, he realized afterwards. His mortal father had a gentle heart, and taught him how to hope, how to care, and that there was kindness in the world. He learned companionship and trust, and felt sadness when it was time for his father to die.
When he went back to the underworld, he brought with him remembrances from his time in the mortal realm. He added dandelions that swept the Asphodel Meadows and the mists in the Elysian Fields, as well as its quiet blooms.
But the glow of happiness he had felt was eroded by his responsibilities. He saw the savage side of humans, not unlike his despised immortal father. There were so few who were benevolent. The cycle of duty stretched on. The years moved so slowly and Peeta found empty distractions in the arms of nymphs and naiads and in the meaningless festivities in Olympus. When these did not satiate him, he retreated further and further into himself and to his realm, growing bitter and despairing that happiness would never be within his reach again.
Until the day the bravest woman he had ever known volunteered for her sister and upended his world.
He smiled at the memory of their first meeting. He reached the end of the path, and could see the pool of the god of light. It was built around the heart of a defeated Titan, and the god of light's visions came to him there.
Peeta approached where the god of light, bearer of prophecy stood. The deity looked troubled, but that never stopped Peeta from being blunt.
"What matter is so pressing that we need to convene here?" he asked, coming nearer to the edge of the pool, seeing the serene surface.
"You do not wish to wait for your brothers— "
"No need," the deep voice of Peeta's brother, the god of the sky, interrupted them from behind him. The god of the sea emerged from another path.
The god of light nodded.
"What have you seen?" Peeta asked briskly as soon as his brothers stood by the pool.
The god of the sea smirked at his impatience.
"Nothing. I thought you should know that my visions have ceased," the god of light said with a grave expression.
The god of the sky looked alarmed, a mirror of the other two brothers' expressions. They had used the god of light's talent of seeing the future as a preemptive defense against possible threats.
"Nothing," the god of light repeated, "except for one." He touched the pool with his hand and the water began to undulate.
Peeta grew rigid as he beheld the vision in the water. It was Katniss, and she stood alone in a vast, white realm, with weapons on her feet. A bow and arrow, a sword, some axes, and a lance.
"She is always in the periphery. Never moving forward. Never choosing. And I sense that beyond her is where all my other visions are, just waiting."
Peeta exhaled deeply.
The god of the sky's expression grew darker. "Is she a threat?"
Peeta glowered at his brother. "There is nothing in this vision to indicate such a conclusion."
"But we must anticipate all the possibilities, and act on them before they can come to affect us," his brother replied crisply.
Peeta felt a snarl simmering in his throat. Nobody threatened what belonged to him.
The god of the sea, ever the mediator, pulled his gaze away from the pool and addressed them. "Both of your arguments hold merits, but until we have something more sufficient, we must exercise prudence in our decisions," he rationalized.
"Then call me only when you've had more certain evidence." Peeta turned on his heel and stormed out of the enclosure.
Dismayed, he heard the Fates summoning him.
One baleful look at the spun thread and Peeta knew where he had to be.
The three sisters stood in their dais, their dark clothes ending in wisps of smoke, holding out to him the frayed thread that glowed feebly against their spotted, leathery hands. Cackling, they had informed him of whose thread they were severing next.
Peeta raced as swiftly as he could out of the shadowy home of the Fates, past the wall of gnarled and petrified trunks, and straight into the door leading to the mortal realm.
He did not often venture to the mortal world. The last time was the night when Katniss first left his realm, when he gave her dreams to soothe her heartache of seeing her changed family.
He sensed her house was empty, save for her.
A gust of wind blew the dried leaves that had fallen, sending them swirling by his feet. The air was sultry, and the swollen clouds finally promised the respite of rain the summer sun had stolen.
Peeta trudged towards the house's looming door. He had a peculiar feeling that he had failed Katniss somehow, that even though it was pointless, for immortals bowed to destiny, he should have bargained with the Fates. He should have done something to prevent this. He felt the phantom of a pain that had haunted him before, when he lost his mortal father, but knew it would pale next to Katniss' now.
He knew where she was the moment the door opened, the house bathed in a sense of loss even he could feel. Her feeble cries tugged him, urging him to go to her.
She lay on the bed, tucked to her side. If she sensed him nearing, she did not move or get up to face him.
The bed curved to his added weight as he laid behind Katniss, the crook of his left arm resting on her waist as his hand found her tear-soaked ones. His body molded protectively around hers as she continued to sob. He moved her braid aside to place a tender, comforting kiss by her nape. She held his hand tighter. Sweat painted a faint pattern on the cloth of her back.
She broke the silence with hope that surged from her lips. "May I see my mother?" Katniss cried. The pain in her voice pierced his heart.
It was a bold request, though not unreasonable. She had never asked anything from Peeta, it was always he who had given. He knew how much she longed to see her mother again. It broke him to say the truth.
"Not yet," Peeta whispered.
"Why?" Her voice came out forced, but it splayed at its end like a fragile vase.
"Because you will never accept that she has gone if you see her now. This is the way of the world, Katniss. I am sorry."
"Go away then," she whispered. "I don't need you here."
Peeta did not move.
"Go!" she shouted, her anger cracked like thunder splitting from the clouds. She sat and broke away from his hold. "Leave me."
Her words whipped at his pride.
But he did as she requested and slipped away quietly, as the liquid song of the early evening swept through the house, dimming her cries. The door closed behind him, and he walked across the meadow and back to his lonely realm, feeling powerless for the first time in his extended existence.
With Peeta gone, I was alone again. Loss so deep hollowed me. There were no words for loss, for it could only be felt.
My father dared not come back home. It was too painful for him and impossible not to remember my mother, so he stayed with my sister. But I chose to remain here, for this was the only place I connected to her.
She was gone, as swiftly as a candle's flame surrendered to the passing wind. This was but a first taste of my fears, my inescapable fate. I felt sadness wider than my heart when I realized I would no longer be coming home to her.
At once, tears fell again. I ached so deeply to see my mother, to say a proper goodbye as she had left us in her slumber, to tell her I loved her, for one last time to let her know what she meant to me. My heart broke when Peeta could not fulfill my request.
I sensed another presence by the bed, but this time the weight settled by my feet. If it was Peeta again, I did not know if I should apologize.
I stirred and found the god of harvest sitting on the bed, his eyes full of concern. His arms spread and I did not hesitate to go into them.
My tears had not been used up, it seemed, and they poured more and more. The waves of the sea beneath the cliff continued to kiss the shore, as though nothing had changed. But nothing would ever be the same for me.
In the arms of my immortal father I found comfort. I knew he would understand. He would in a way Peeta probably never could, because my father loved my mother. He, too, had suffered a loss at her passing.
"He won't let me see her," I disclosed.
"Because it is the way of the world," he replied.
"It's unfair," I bit back. "Can't you do something?" I looked up to ask him. I was sure my tear-streaked face looked pitiable. My crying had been so uncontrollable that my eyes hurt already, having been crowded and heavy with tears.
All he did was brush the glistening trails, not replying, and I realized that he didn't need to. I had known the answer all along.
There was no way for me to see my mother again.
"But she's not gone from you, my child," my father said after a while. "Come." I leaned against him, weak from a lack of food.
"Close your eyes," he said, "and let your heart dictate where it wants to go."
I thought of my mother at once, prompting another wave of tears and that continuous ache in my chest. But I felt a change come over us, as though our bodies materialized into dreams.
Before I opened my eyes, I smelled my mother's perfume in the air. I heard the lilt of her voice on the soft wind.
I opened my eyes.
It looked like our house, but at the same time, it was not. The walls were painted in the same hue as her eyes, bright as the sky. There were no tables or chairs. Fallen leaves the color of her cornhusk hair swept through the doors from outside.
"Where are we?" I asked my father, not daring to step forward and break this bittersweet dream.
"Where your heart wanted to go."
"I wanted my mother," I said.
"And that's why we're here. The sadness in your heart rewrote your deepest desires, leading you here. She is still within you, my child. A part of her will always live in you, as you remember her, as you hold her in your memories."
I gazed at his kind face. He seemed so sure, so secure in his words and knowledge, comforting him from the pain I knew he felt.
I took a step forward, on the gently dancing leaves that reminded me of my mother's gait. I touched the walls. They felt as silky as her lovely dresses I remembered trying secretly as a child. The air was serene, like my mother's temperament.
She was everywhere.
I fell to my knees, sending the leaves upward, and then falling and surrounding me like my mother's love.
And I wanted to be everywhere too, spread thickly like summer honey, yet also nowhere near this place that pierced me like a spear of searing emotions, as my grief over my mother's death, and my hope that she was not truly gone, each fought for prominence in my bursting heart.
Her grief had been breathtaking. Peeta saw in his flames in the days after how it devastated her, like her sadness ravaged him. But he resisted going to Katniss, instead letting the god of harvest comfort her, knowing her immortal father was who she needed then.
There were other ways to show he cared.
Peeta was now in the sunken enclosure in the realm he built for her, all stone arches and secret nooks, waiting for her. He rose from the bed, passing through the curtains like sea foam that swayed with the ebb and flow of the sweet air, passing the golden fountain in the middle to approach Katniss as she walked down the steps.
She looked apologetic upon meeting his eyes, no doubt their last encounter still fresh on her mind. Her lips still quivered in guilt. He smiled to reassure her. He held out his hand as she approached the bottom step. His eyes told her it did not matter. She smiled back, but it was just a passing shadow on her beautiful face.
Peeta led her back to the bed, and he sat on the edge. He drew her nearer, until she stood between his thighs. He kissed the back of her hand. She touched his cheek.
She was still meek from pain. She was far from his Katniss. He wanted to change that.
He held her gaze. "There's something I would like to try, if you'd let me," he said, echoing words he had uttered before.
She nodded slowly, looking unsure but dropped her hands to his shoulders. In turn his arms ascended slowly, tracing the curves at her waist, skimming the side swell of her breast, and resting finally at the brooches on her shoulders.
She gasped and stepped back as the jewels slid down to the floor, her arm shooting across her chest to stop the cloth from dropping.
"No," he said, gently prying her fingers clasping the finely stitched edges.
"Do you trust me?" he asked.
Holding her waist, he pulled her closer to him, until her face tipped down toward his. He reassured her with sweet words. She started to breathe heavily, and his own breathing synched with hers in an anticipatory rhythm.
Slowly they let go of her dress, and it fell between them like her shyness. She was bare now, soft against the edges of his leather tunic.
Her fingers traced his jaw. "I trust you," she said, finally.
His lips inched towards hers. Peeta kissed her gently, letting the fires start. Her tongue was supple. Her first moan a drug.
But they had only begun.
When her hand tugged at his clothing, he smiled lazily but stopped her. "Not today," he said. "It will be all for you, this time," he promised. Her eyes shone at what he said, at what it meant. He sensed her hesitation returning at his bold statement, racing down the ends of her nerves. That would need to be addressed first.
His hand brushed down her chest, her abdomen. Desire and surprise widened her eyes as it dawned on her where he wanted to go. His gesture made sure she had no doubt about his intentions. But he drew out the anticipation by stroking her inner thighs repeatedly instead, until she shuddered. He teased and teased, kissing her breasts, laving them with his tongue, tempting her and raising her hunger. Her nails scratched outward along his throat. She was responding, casting away her reserve. She was awakening.
Then he found her sanctified place. He bit her lower lip and drank her sigh, his own thirst growing as he began to probe, his fingers gliding slowly. But Katniss started to think too much once more, the newness of the act encouraging her shyness back.
"Accept it, Katniss, don't shield your desires from me," he whispered in her ear, nudging her legs apart.
Her knees bent, and Peeta accepted more of her weight as she leaned into him and now kneeled on the edge of the bed. He kissed her gently once more, letting the familiar calm her. Then the kiss intensified, her hair caressing him and falling around them.
When she became more pliant, he stroked upward and was gifted with a sigh. He explored her lovingly. His thumb rested on that nugget just as her fingers wound around the waves of his hair.
Then the turbulent ballad of his fingers took over her.
Katniss started to shake from his assault, the storm brewing within. Her mouth hung open. Her desires took over, dictating the rhythm of her hips.
"Look at me," he demanded huskily, his eyes boring into her simmering ones. He could almost taste the sweet fire that rose within, coloring her face, their breaths merging.
He wanted her to be alive in another way. His other hand joined the one already pushing her to the pinnacle. They worked in perfect cadence, one caressing, one pulsing a thumb against that hardened kernel.
"Let go," he moaned. He, too, was dizzy with lust, but he resisted. This was all for her.
Then the passion he gave her devoured her completely, like the sea coming for the shore, and she came. He slipped a finger in her and sighed against her breasts.
She shuddered again, her shout enshrouding them, telling him of the wave she rode. He pushed his fingers into her deeper, carnally learning every ridge the pads of his fingers caressed.
Her beautiful face, unbound and soaring, was his reward. There was purity to her exultation. Her ecstasy was sweet. His face journeyed upward and kissed her open longing mouth.
"Katniss," he breathed. His next words were ones he had never said before. But they were ripe for the moment. He took her unresisting hand and lifted it to his lips, turned it over and kissed her palm, her wrist, and each of her fingertips.
"I love you, now. I love you, always," he swore in a passionate undertone.
And he felt liberated a second time, once when he gave in to how he felt and built her paradise, and now when he released those words to her and to himself, the fragrant air and the seductive sun the only witnesses to his declaration. He remembered foolishly battling it, but it was too strong.
His heart turned over at her tender expression, her surprise mingling with the glow of her ecstasy. "Peeta…"
"Return it only where you're ready," he said. And they were quiet and the wind was quiet, too, as if in worship of what had transpired.
"And there is something else I have to ask of you," Peeta added. He drew her to him, his arm around the slope of her waist.
Katniss smiled. "You're being greedy today" she admonished, the tips of their noses touching.
Then he asked the question, vulnerable like her at the moment, but reflecting what he had been wanting.
"Will you be my queen?"
:D Hope you enjoyed that one!
Greek Mythology notes:
- The Greeks were a terribly fatalistic culture, and this reflected in their concept of Fate and the Fates. In spite of their power, the gods and goddesses were powerless against Fate, and could never change an individual's destiny no matter how earnestly they tried. The Fates, Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, were the three sisters and their duties included spinning, apportioning, and severing the thread of every mortal, as well as being the powers that decided what must happen to individuals.
- Hades was the eldest among the Olympian siblings, and was the first to be swallowed by his father the Titan Cronus at his birth. He was followed by his brothers and sisters, Poseidon, Demeter, Hera, and Hestia, until they were rescued by Zeus, who had been smuggled away at birth by their mother Rhea.
Thank you so much for still reading! I would be delighted to hear what you think of this chapter. And drop by on my tumblr too! I usually post sneak peeks there, and if you have questions or just want to chat, feel to drop me a PM or an ask :D
See you soon!