One-shot for Prompts in Panem. Based on Cyrano and Roxanne (in role reversal) from the classic play, Cyrano de Bergerac.
Disclaimer: I do not own THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy. It belongs to Suzanne Collins. I merely want to spend more time with her characters.
Music: "Intermission" by Coeur de Pirate.
I am restless. I am exhausted. I am both of these things because of you. I don't think you've heard me say this before in my other letters, but you overwhelm me. You overwhelm me in the most enticing way. I think of you, and afterward I'm spent, and all I want to do is rest, to collect another warm flood of energy. So that I can return to more thoughts, more possibilities of you. The kinds that make me bite my tongue. Hard. And then sigh. Even harder.
The kinds of images that make me toss and turn, despite my fatigue. The kinds that make it impossible to smooth out my sheets in the morning, because I'd rather remember the effect you've had on me while I dreamed, and then awakened, and then dreamed, and then awakened.
Every vision lingers in my mind. Your fingers, your hands, your knuckles. The way all these parts come together to make a fist. A fist you press against your mouth whenever you're in deep thought. I've seen how this gesture alters the curve in your lips, presses them into the light just so, thus revealing a spot of flour you've neglected to wipe. I see this and I think, yes.
I think, mine. I think, touch. I think, when.
When we're apart, I'm impatient. But when we're together, it's worse. It's wonderful and painful, though you'll never really know how much. It's not enough to survey all these parts of you from a distance. I need contact. I need skin. I need your flour-dusted mouth.
Who knew that love took this kind of courage? It doesn't dull but gets clearer with age. My heart isn't strong. Not anymore. You've weakened it forever. This is why I'm so tired...it's been another day of loving you.
I don't mind.
When she meets him at their special spot by the lake, he's reading a sheet of paper that looks terribly familiar. Not knowing she's there, he does that thing with his fist and his mouth. She turns away quickly, picks up a stone, and flicks it as his head.
The snap, and the "Ow," and the way he blinks make Katniss laugh. He looks up, sees her, and grins. She halts in her step. His smiles often do this to her. They surprise her as though she's discovered something boundless and pure.
Peeta rubs his shoulder where the pebble had whacked him. "You suck."
Sometimes she feels like a childish bully trying to getting his attention. But then again, he does the same types of things to her. He's particularly fond of pranks.
They recline on the downy carpet of green and listen to the breeze tickle the lake. She rests her head on his shoulder, and he draws her close, and she wants to move away. Spring has returned, but everything feels changed. Fragrant and immense.
Peeta holds up the paper he'd been reading and wiggles it. "She wrote again."
Katniss makes sure to react enthusiastically, while her insides twist and unravel and split apart. A dandelion is stouter than her own heart.
"Wow," she manages. "Delly's on a roll. Any good?"
"It's beautiful. I mean, it's exciting. It's strange. I didn't know anyone could feel this way about me..." He waits for as long as it takes for Katniss to yank a blade of grass from the ground. When she twirls it and says nothing, he sighs. "It's...you know."
"Yeah, I know."
She does know. She knows him. She knows how things make him feel. He doesn't have to tell her.
He's her best friend. Her sweet Peeta. Her sweet Peeta who has been dating Delly, the new girl. The new girl that has his blue eyes and blond hair. It's like the two of them are halves of a matched set.
Delly, who gives him unsigned love letters. Katniss tilts her head and appraises the content. Just the right balance of confession and sentiment and flowery language. It's perfect for Peeta. He's always been romantic. He's always been clueless about what's real and not real.
He hesitates. "Is it too good to believe?"
"What do you think?"
"Don't tease me. Behave yourself."
"Fine. I'm saying, decide for yourself. Believe whatever you want and see what happens."
Peeta seems confounded. His head lolls to the side, facing her. The trees shadow his body and darken his lashes. "What did I ever do to win you?" he asks affectionately.
She says, "You didn't laugh at my scar like the other kids."
When she was four, a bobcat attacked her. Its claws left a plump scar on the side of her nose, which is why she hates looking in the mirror. A year later, she met Peeta. Unlike her classmates, he didn't flinch, didn't ask about the wound, didn't even look at it. It wasn't that he avoided it. He just didn't notice. He complimented her eyes instead. And that was that.
Since then, they've made a history together. They've spent humid summers hanging out in his art room in their underwear, swatting paint at the walls. They've spent autumns walking in silence. They've spent winters trading secrets and attempting baking lessons, in which Katniss gave up immediately. They've spent springs experimenting with hair dye and going on hunting lessons, in which Peeta gave up immediately.
Years of him rubbing his pert freckled nose against her flawed one. Years of falling asleep together. Years of nothing more than that.
Katniss asks, "What I do to win you?"
Peeta's voice lowers. "You sang at the school assembly and then scowled at me when I clapped. I haven't been the same since."
Neither has she. Neither has she. Neither. Has. She.
"Are you okay?" He tucks a stray lock of dark hair behind her ear, his fingers lingering. "You've been acting distracted for the last couple of weeks."
He gives her that look. The I-know-you-Katniss look. The look practiced over thousands of days, crammed with inside jokes and crying episodes and platonic cuddle sessions and most-embarrassing-moments and tender hugs and fierce hugs.
Yes, it has been a couple of weeks since her mood changed. Fifteen days, four hours, and twenty minutes. Ever since Delly arrived in District Twelve.
Katniss smirks. "Mind your own business."
Peeta laughs. She dies.
"You sure nothing's wrong?" he probes.
"Nothing an hour with you can't fix."
He licks his bottom lip. Right away, she files the alliteration in a drawer in her mind: lush little lower lip. It rolls off the tongue.
Your tongue is...
"Actually, that's what I wanted to tell you. I can't stay." Peeta flushes. "I promised Delly I'd stop by her house. She likes when I respond to her letters the minute I read them."
So Katniss had been told by a gushing Delly on more than one occasion.
"But I don't have to," he says. "You come first."
That can't be true anymore, and they both know it. Still, neither of them moves.
Katniss slaps his arm. "Get out here."
He averts her gaze. "So you don't mind?"
He's quiet. Then the side of his mouth curls up. He locks his palm around the back of her neck and pulls her forward until their foreheads touch. "You know I adore you, right?"
But it's not the same.
"It's you and me," he says.
On cue, she recites their pledge. "Always."
"We're on fire," he finishes.
He squeezes her hand before he leaves, and when he's gone, she squeezes her eyes closed. She kisses the hand he'd held. She presses her fingers to her forehead. She feels the empty spot on the forest floor where he'd been resting. She reasons that at least he's happy.
So when she digs through her backpack and pulls out the original copy of the letter he'd received, she doesn't feel guilty. Delly did a good job copying Katniss's handwriting.
Katniss can't recall why she'd said yes to the ghostwriting in the first place. Something to do with Peeta and knowing he would love these letters, and that he deserves to be worshiped by more people than merely his best friend. And that she could admit the truth without having to ever do it in person.
She thumbs the original letter. If he ever got a hold of it, Peeta would be able to spot her loopy, clumsy script in two seconds. The prose is a little too thick and heavy handed. Not really the Katniss Way.
But it is the Peeta Way. With just a dash of Delly. The right ingredients. If Peeta likes it, that's enough. If he wants to abandon their tradition, their special spot, for one day, she'll let him. If he wants to spend that time with someone else, a girl who truly wants to please him, then Katniss will accept that.
Delly is good for him. She's of the same merchant class. She's pretty.
Katniss is from the Seam. She has a scar. She's not pretty. She knows her place. She will give Peeta whatever he needs. She always has. She always will. She's trapped. She's a loser.
She's so goddamn in love. And he can never know.
There's another reason you drive me mad. It has to do with that lush, little, lower lip of yours. It blushes at me. It's full and ripe and inviting and altogether a threat to my sanity. When you speak, when you smile, when you laugh. It's always there. It you weren't so cruel, you'd let me do whatever I wanted with that lip, whenever I wanted. Maybe I need to ask nicely.
It's not just the outer parts of you I love. Those are merely bonuses. Mostly, I crave what can't be seen. Your random thoughts. Your adorable confusion. Your unmatched charm. Your sense of humor, which you master even when you're sad or hurt. Your kindness to strangers. Your patience with slow people and children. Your selflessness. Your willingness to starve before letting anyone else go hungry. Your ability to remember people's names.
Your ability to remember me, despite all the distractions. You remember to tell me how these letters make you feel. Perhaps you don't believe them. Or you feel you don't deserve them. You're too busy placing value on others to notice your own worth.
There's more, but I could never list all the ways you own me. New reasons come up every day. I lose track.
If I haven't wooed you yet, let me try. Let me listen. Let me be those first and last thoughts of the day. Let me show you why you've earned these written words. Let me watch you fall asleep. I promise I won't leave.
Delly is a sappy mess. She paces the length of Katniss's hunting shack, dramatic and naive and yet strangely likeable. She's like emotional bubble gum.
"Why is he showing them to you?" Delly whines. "From his perspective, he's showing you my intimate feelings, my heart's desire, my...he's showing you what you wrote for me! He's supposed to keep it private." She doesn't seem to grasp the hypocrisy or the irony of her own comments.
It had started out as a one-time thing. A ploy to get Peeta to notice Delly. It had begun like this: Being the new girl, Delly had wanted to borrow Katniss's English notes. That's when chaos and lightening and every ounce of bad luck had struck. Wedged between the notes had been a poem Katniss had stupidly written and forgotten to stash away. The minute the new girl had read it, her eyes gleamed.
"Please, Katniss," Delly had begged. "You have such a way with words."
This had made Katniss snort. She was simply better at jotting down her thoughts instead of speaking them out loud.
Now, here she is. Still ghostwriting for the woman in Peeta's life.
"There's something else." Delly wrings her hands. "From now on, I think I should dictate part of the letters. To convey my true essence more."
Katniss glowers. "No. It wouldn't work. You don't know Peeta. He double knots his shoelaces. He drinks his tea without sugar. He makes sure to carry extra change whenever he leaves the bakery, in case he runs into beggars. He hates movies—"
"He does?" Delly looks panicked. She must have made him watch something.
"But he cries over a good novel. He'll pretend he didn't see you cheat in a card game. He sleeps with the window open..." Katniss trails off because Delly's squinting at her. "My point is that I know Peeta. I know what he wants to read. What will charm and please him. You want that, right?"
If Katniss weren't certain this girl would be good to Peeta, she wouldn't be doing this. But that doesn't stop her from making extra security checks now and then. Delly nods and gives in and lets Katniss continue to fabricate the letters on her own.
Unfortunate side effects occur when Peeta tells Katniss he can't make it to their spot for a second day in a row. Nor the next day. Nor the next.
Katniss pretends this doesn't puncture tiny holes into her soul. She shrugs and makes a joke that Peeta doesn't laugh at. If anything, her indifference irks him.
It's the fourth day of him bailing. As they stare at one another from across the counter of his family's bakery, he frowns. "Really? This isn't a big deal for you?"
"Will you stop asking me that?"
He slams a dish rag on the tiles. "Fine."
They whirl away from each other and head in opposite directions. She storms off to their spot. Mostly, she's mad because he should know she's mad without having to ask her. Instead, he's acting mad because he thinks she's not mad. Which makes her even madder because that makes no sense at all. She can't figure out when they'd started getting pissed at each other, but it had happened swiftly, and now she can't tell where her anger ends and his begins. The reality is, he doesn't know her as well as he thinks.
Twenty minutes later, he shows up at the lake. He crawls toward her on all fours, making apologetic puppy noises while she struggles to ignore him…and not to laugh. When he rises on his knees, curls his hands like paws, and lets his tongue hang out, she bursts into chuckles.
"It's you and me," Peeta says.
"Always," she answers.
"We're on fire."
They curl up together on the grass. The happy truce doesn't last.
"Delly's seems completely different than in her letters." He wavers. "It's like two separate people."
Katniss sits up. What is he saying? That the writing isn't authentic or heartfelt or good enough?
"Could you not talk about the fucking letters for, like, the five measly seconds you've set aside for us?"
Peeta grunts. "Great. Are we back to where we started?"
She crosses her arms. "I guess so."
"You know what? No. No, we're not." He stands up and marches away, muttering, "I'm done."
They don't see each other until two days later, on the night of District Twelve's spring bonfire. While Peeta huddles by the flames with Delly, Katniss festers on a bench, with neighbors and friends dancing and mingling around her. The air smells of burnt marshmallows and kettle corn and petulance. From across the distance, she and Peeta swat each other with embittered glances.
"Katniss Everdeeeeeen," a baritone voice says as a colossal weight thuds beside her.
Katniss turns and finds a ruggedly handsome countenance and a pair of glazed gray eyes twinkling at her. Gale Hawthorne. He worms his arm around her shoulders. She tries not to cringe. Gale's not a bad guy, but he thinks too highly of himself. He's also intoxicated.
"All by your lonesome?" he inquires.
"Get your arm off me."
"You have a rep for being quite the archeress." He eyes the bow she'd brought along. As part of the pre-sunset festivities, the district had hosted a target competition, among other sport contests. She'd won first place, but some naughty children had already stolen her plastic medal.
"I'd love to see your skills," Gale coos.
Stand over there and I'll show you.
"I'm alright," she says.
"I'll tell you what. You must have good aim. Because you shot an arrow straight through my heart."
She just stares at him, deadpan.
"I'm a snare man myself. I must be good at it, too, because I've caught me the freshest little—"
"Don't." She holds up her hand. "Just don't."
"Come on, archeress. It's not like your buddy, Mellark, will mind." Gale pumps his thumb toward Peeta. "He's busy with Cartwright anyway."
Katniss's chest aches as she looks past him and sees he's right. Peeta's in deep conversation with Delly. She's tucked against his side. He's staring at her so intently while she chatters. It's like he's trying to figure something out.
Delly tips her head back for a kiss. He obliges, shutting his lids and pecking her lips. Katniss's vision explodes into a mushroom cloud, leaving nothing behind but dust and a big red light.
"He's a merchant." Gale's voice invades her jealous mind. "But you—" he points drunkenly at himself. "And me—" he points at Katniss. "We're the same kind of people."
In the background, she catches a set of blue eyes blazing in her direction. Peeta's watching them now, an unfamiliar expression on his face. She realizes what it is. She has seen him with other girls before.
But he's never seen her with another boy.
She slams her palms onto Gale's cheeks, hauls him forward, and kisses him, long and deep. It's not bad, actually.
"Get up," Peeta says, suddenly standing in front of them, blocking their view of the bonfire. "We need to talk."
"She's with me," Gale slurs.
Peeta ignores him. He's never looked more furious or confused in his entire life.
"What happened to Delly?" Katniss baits.
"She's staying behind with friends. I'm taking you home."
Home. The roof at her house. Where they always have their serious talks when it's too late to go to the lake.
Grunting, Katniss retrieves her bow, gets up, and ruffles Gale's hair. She lets Peeta guide her toward his car. The tight shirt he's wearing reveals tense muscles. He opens the door for her and then slams it once she's inside. The drive is silent. She can't remember a time she's ever seen Peeta squeeze the steering wheel.
The instant he pulls up in front of her house, he leaves the engine idling and swerves toward her. His voice hits the roof. "What is going on? Acting moody and not telling me why. Acting like it doesn't matter if we meet anymore. Acting like you give a shit about Gale Hawthorne. Really? Gale Hawthorne?"
"What do you care?" she shouts back.
"Because it's Gale Hawthorne! Whatever guy you're looking for, he's not it!"
"Why? Because he won't write me stupid love letters like Delly?"
"Leave my girlfriend out of this."
"Oh, that I could. I should be so lucky. You only want her because she bullshits you!"
"Gale only wants you for five minutes behind the slag heap—"
She slaps him. Peeta's head jolts to the side. She throws open the door, mumbles, "And by the way? Fuck you," and runs into her house. After three minutes, she hears him drive off. He'd been in such a hurry to be an asshole that he'd unleashed on her in his car instead waiting until they got to her roof. He'd been in such a hurry to tell her that no guy would ever take her seriously. Not with her disfigured looks. He's never said anything like that to her before. He knows how sensitive she is about her scar.
Chin quivering, she tiptoes upstairs, careful not to wake her mother and sister. That night, she writes Peeta an enraged love letter. One that doesn't mar a thing, doesn't use soft, calculated words. It's blunt. It's raw. It's her.
When she's done, she stores the letter beneath her pillow and starts the next romantic one for Delly. She touches her disfigured nose and cries the whole time.
I hate you so much.
I'm crazy about you. I can't stop thinking about you. I can't stop touching myself. I pretend it's you. I close my eyes. I open my mouth. I moan. I hiss. I can't speak. I'm lost. I'm babbling. I'm not myself. I've never been happier. I'm miserable.
Because I hate you so much.
I want your breath. I want your voice. I want to give myself to you. I want to undress you. I want to feel you. I want to surround you. I want to encourage you. I want to satisfy you. I want to blind you. I want to confess. I want to keep silent. I want everything. I deserve nothing. I want to kiss you. I want to strangle you. I want to slap you...I did slap you.
Because I hate you so much.
I agonize over you. I compare everyone to you. I sob. I smile. I'm ugly. I feel beautiful with you. I'm your best friend. I can't be your best friend. I've put you on a pedestal. I have to take you down. I miss you. I have no reason to miss you. I'm whole. I fall apart. I burn. I crash and freaking burn.
Because I hate you so much.
And I love you. I love you. I love you.
Delly has ruined everything. In one horrible chess move, she managed to destroy their delicately choreographed deception. Katniss refuses to embrace the girl while she flails on Katniss's bed and weeps her air-brushed heart out.
"Didn't I tell you to let me do the writing?" Katniss snaps.
"I got the jitters," Delly sniffles, peeking at her from beneath a waterfall of blond hair. "He started saying stuff, like how I was so different from my letters, and asking me what I meant when I wrote this line or that passage, and what writers inspire me. I had no idea what he was talking about." She gulps. "And then he kept looking at you and Gale Hawthorne at the bonfire, and it was like I wasn't even there. What's up with you and Gale, anyway?"
Nothing, for crying out loud! Gale has already moved on and gotten cozy with Madge Undersee. And this isn't the point. The point is that Delly had irrationally composed her own letter, hoping to keep a leash on Peeta, and it hadn't worked. She'd used classics like, "Red as a rose" and award-winners like, "You're so hot. I'm so lucky."
Peeta hasn't spoken to her since yesterday. He suspects Delly. He's upset and feels stupid, like someone dared Delly to sweep him off his feet. Katniss knows this without having to confirm it. This is something he would have come to her about...if they weren't fighting.
He'd left a note for her at their spot by the lake, the day after the bonfire, after she'd refused to answer his repeated calls. The note had been simple but honest.
I didn't mean it. I'll be sorry forever.
You're worth so much more than that.
She'd reread the apology countless times. He knows exactly how she'd interpreted his accusation in the car. Telling her she is worth "more" is his way of saying that she's too precious to be taken to the back of the slag heap and carelessly used.
It's just like him to tackle his mistakes immediately and effectively. It's just like her to create more problems. Namely, the weeping blond girl on the bed.
Katniss blames herself for everything. It's her fault. All of this is her fault. She's worthless. Her maimed nose is still there when she glances in the mirror.
She has to do damage control. She grabs her hunting jacket and tells Delly to wipe her nose and follow her. On the way to Peeta's house, they make a plan.
It's midnight when they sneak into his yard behind the bakery. He's a light sleeper, Katniss has excellent aim, and tonight is a very important hunting trip. She flicks pebble after pebble at his window until his bedroom light pops on. Katniss ducks behind a bush, leaving Delly alone and standing in the moonlight.
"Remember," Katniss says. "Do not improvise. Say exactly what I tell you."
Delly's nod is hyperbolic and makes her look like a wind-up toy.
Peeta rolls up his shutter and pokes his blond head out. He sighs and drags his hand over his face. "Delly, it's late."
Delly's eyes flicker toward Katniss, waiting to be fed her lines.
"I'm sorry," Katniss whispers. "I had to see you."
"I'm sorry," Delly says. "I had to see you."
Peeta braces his forearms on the windowsill and regards her with minimal tolerance. He waits for her to go on.
Katniss cups her hands around her mouth and whispers, "I want to prove my words are real."
"I want to prove my words are real."
"That they came from me."
"That they came from me."
"You're a balm to my soul."
"You're a bum. I've got a mole."
Peeta frowns. "What?"
Katniss groans. "Shit."
"Huh?" Delly blurts out.
"What?" Peeta repeats.
"You're. A. Balm. To. My. Soul."
Delly repeats it, this time correctly. Touched, he smiles that Peeta smile. He's stunning with his hair mussed up from sleep.
Katniss is lost for a second. She stares at him. She stares and stares and stares.
Delly clears her throat. Katniss shakes herself and continues. "I'm a coward."
"I'm a coward."
"And I'm clumsy when I'm with you. I lose my nerve every time you come close to me..."
Each sentence spills out of Katniss. Delly succeeds in echoing them.
"It's impossible to speak candidly out loud because I'm afraid I'll fail you...it won't live up to what you deserve...you deserve words that have been patiently sought and painstakingly gathered...you deserve perfection...I'm not perfect."
"I'm not...perfect." Delly has difficulty uttering that last bit. She's also breathing heavily from following Katniss's tangent.
"You're doing fine to me," Peeta says softly, then straightens from the sill. "Delly, listen. I need to tell you something. I'm—"
"I'm doing fine only because you've tricked me with your avoidance...you gave me no choice but to come here and declare myself...you make me break my own rules."
Delly parrots the line, but she's getting nervous. Katniss knows she should slow down for the girl, yet she can't. She can't. All these sweet moments from the timeline she and Peeta have created over twelve years surge through her.
"I admire you...I'm intimidated by you...I'm in awe of your goodness...You're my sunset...You're my hope."
"It can be better for us." Katniss swallows. She's not thinking clearly. Only one thing feels right to say. "It's you and me."
"It's you and me," Delly repeats dramatically.
"We're on fire."
"We're on fire."
Katniss's pulse comes to a screeching halt. No, she thinks to herself. No, she pleads to herself. What has she done? She did not just babble their pledge for Delly to recite! She did not!
Peeta's draws out his words slowly. "What did you just say?"
"Um..." Delly shuffles. She has no idea what she's done wrong.
More silence. Deafening silence.
Then this: "Katniss!"
At the sound of his accusatory voice, Katniss buries her head in her hands and pulls at the roots of her hair. He knows. He knows she's there.
"I've gotta go," Delly yelps. "Peeta, I'm sorry. Really. I do like you. It's not her fault. I'm sorry. But this is too much for me. I can't take your drama." She casts a pitiful, and pitying, glance at Katniss. She dashes out of the yard, abandoning Katniss to Peeta's wrath and judgment.
The sound of crickets scratch the air. His house smells like bread even in the middle of the night.
"Katniss," he says. "Get out here."
She inhales, exhales, peeks over the bush. Through the silhouette of leaves, she sees his face hovering in the window. Those blue eyes find her quickly, crossing the distance of the back lawn and trapping her, turning her feet to clay. She rises to her full height.
Confusion, pain, betrayal, shock, and fury cross his face like a riptide and converge into one immeasurable expression. "You planned this?" he asks. "You were telling Delly what to say?"
Shame crushes her from head to toe. She holds up her hands, mortified that she's about to do something stupid like cry. "Alright. I can explain—"
He disappears from the window. Katniss listens to him pound down the stairs inside his house, then jumps when the back door whips open and he emerges in a tank top and flannel pants. Katniss backs up as he heads toward her. She debates whether to run.
He passes her completely. He doesn't spare her a glance. Baffled, she sprints across the yard to follow him. The further away he gets, the more determined his stride becomes.
She catches up to him. "Peeta?"
The streetlights illuminate his blond hair. The left side is tousled—the side he sleeps on when he's having a rough night.
"Listen to me. Please. I got your note. I read it and..." she trails off when she realizes they're approaching her house.
Peeta's pace quickens. Foreboding creeps up on her. When he rushes up the porch, she darts after him. Her mother and sister aren't home. They're both working the night shift at the hospital. Peeta knows this. He also knows where the spare key is. He grabs it from beneath a potted plant, unlocks the front door, and storms into the house before Katniss can get to him. She halts for a second, thinks, and then panics.
"No!" She sprints inside, but Peeta is already on the second floor, heading toward her bedroom. She flies upstairs. He shuts her door and locks it. Shrieking, she beats her palms against the wood surface. "Peeta, no! Let me in! Peeta! You can't do this!"
She hears him rifling through her stuff, helpless to the noise he makes as he opens drawers and then searches her closet. Her home has always been his home. They've shared everything. This is the price she pays for their closeness, she realizes. Whimpering, she begins to pace. She digs her knuckles into her eye sockets.
The commotion stops. The door opens. Suddenly he's there, standing in the darkness of the hallway, staring down at her. The original copies of the love letters are choked in his fist.
"You lied to me," he says.
She stares at her feet. "I'm sorry."
"Was this some game to you? You, Katniss?"
She shakes her head. So many thoughts and desires have flooded her mind and ended up on paper. Yet in this moment, she has no words.
Peeta's shadow stretches across the floor. Releasing an angry sound, he drops the letters on the floor. All except one, which he pockets as he walks past her, down the stairs, out of the house.
Katniss sinks to the ground, surrounded by leaflets. She sucks in a deep breath, and when she breathes out, it turns into a giant sob, followed by another, and another.
Afterward, when she's dried up, she grabs a quilt and pillow from her room, and then stumbles to the roof. Out on the flat expanse of her house, she unpacks the air mattress stored in the corner, fills it up, and collapses on it. This is where she and Peeta have spent many warm nights whispering under the stars, sleeping under the stars. She covers herself with the blanket.
One hour. Two hours.
A creak from behind alerts her. She shoots to her feet. Her heart contracts.
Peeta stands a few feet away. They watch each other. The surface croaks beneath his weight as he approaches. She wants to touch him. She wants and wants and wants.
"I knew it," he says.
She blinks. "Knew what?"
The intensity of his gaze causes her to retreat. He begins to stalk her across the roof. Now, she's afraid. Afraid of where this is going. What's going to come out of her mouth. What he's going to make her say.
His expression is serious. He whispers, "You love me."
"No. No, I was just—"
"You love me."
"You love me."
Peeta backs her into the ledge. He holds out the paper he took with him earlier. "This is the only one I didn't recognize."
The tenderness in his voice encourages her to take the note. Fingers shaking, she glances down. It's the love-hate letter she'd scribbled and hidden under her pillow. "I wrote it the night I slapped you," she says.
"That explains the hating me part," he muses. "But it's real. The writing. It's really you."
She nods, unable to face him but also unable to hold back anymore. "Yes."
She hears his intake of breath. "And the other letters?" he asks.
"Real, too. But not for me to give."
"You let Delly take the credit." Amazement fills his voice. "Why didn't you ever tell me?"
"She's better for you," Katniss sputters, angry because she can feel more tears coming. "She doesn't have this." She points to her nose.
Peeta's brows draw together. Without hesitation, he tips her face up. "Don't you know you're beautiful? Don't you know...no, don't cry."
"I'm not," she mumbles, but she is. She is crying. She has lived for a moment like this. She has woken up every morning hoping for such words from him and gone to bed each night without them. She's waited so long and can't pull herself together.
"You're beautiful here." He kisses the side of her nose, turning her into putty, terrifying her because this has to be a dream, it's too surreal. "You're beautiful here." He presses his mouth to the spot on her chest where her heart beats. And when he straightens, his gaze thick and heavy and determined, she knows what comes next. It's something they've never done. It's thrilling.
His hands are on her waist, tugging her close. His lips find hers, open and grazing. Her mind goes blank. Any moment, she's going to faint.
"And you're beautiful right here," he murmurs against her mouth. They sigh at the foreign contact, a first in their relationship, but it's clear from the way he quakes in her arms that he's thought about this, too.
Katniss can tell how it feels for both of them. They're drugged. They're shocked at how easy it is.
They kiss. Hungrily, fiercely. Peeta crushes his hands in her hair, his mouth insistent, his tongue splitting her lips apart and dipping into her, mirroring the movements of a greater need that's building fast. But perhaps not so fast when she thinks of the length of their friendship.
When he lifts his head an inch, his breathing is labored, his tone husky. "We're idiots."
"Yeah. Kiss me again."
They kiss and kiss and kiss, making up for too many years. She tastes what her letters have done to him, feels it as his hands begin to do things she's wished for on paper. They find their way to the air mattress. They grin and remove their clothes one by one, the excitement to see each other increasing. They crawl into a new position, one they've never found themselves in before.
Peeta's skin is pale, like he's fallen out of a constellation. His chest rubs hot against hers. There's a hardness, and a wetness, and they join these two things together. They moan because they fit so well. She secures his body with her legs and leads him deeper. His mouth falls open in bliss, that lush lower lip swelling, a high-pitched sound bursting from his throat.
They settle into a rocking motion. They strain to keep quiet because they're outside, above the district, beneath a canopy of stars.
"I love you, my friend," he gasps, moving faster.
She almost can't get it out between her desperate cries. "I...I love..."
"Shhh. Write it to me."
The sky pulsates little white lights behind his head. Those lights are burning. Because it's her and him. Always. They're on fire.
The moist sheen on your hips...you taste like salt and sugar...I'm filled...I'm loved.
She pays attention to everything because he'll want to read about this in the next letter. A different kind of letter. Direct. Experienced. Well-versed in his nakedness. Aware of his feelings. And signed with her name instead of Goodnight, because that's something she can say out loud, right here, once they've stopped trembling. Once they've picked the fallen blanket off the ground and tucked each other in.