Written for PromptsInPanem's AU week on Tumblr.
It's virtually unheard of for a 12 year-old to win the Hunger Games. Of course, it's also unheard of for said 12 year-old to have her 16 year-old male counterpart protect her every step of the way.
Yet that's what Peeta Mellark had told Caesar Flickerman that he planned to do. The night of his interview, he had leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees (maybe in order to stop them from shaking), and said that he would protect her. That he would do anything for her.
I knew then that what he really meant was that he would do anything for me.
My heart had already started to break, and at that moment, I swear I could feel another crack splinter its way across the surface.
"Winning… Winning won't help my case."
"Why ever not?"
"Because I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure her sister is the one that makes it out of the arena this year."
And he did. He made good on his promise. That doesn't make the hurt any easier to bear.
The first time that Peeta Mellark ever said that he loved me, I slapped him across the face. And then I kissed him so hard that he swore he saw stars. We were 14, and I was angry because he had made me do something that I'd promised myself that I would never do. He made me love him back.
I hated him for it.
And, when I saw him take Primrose by the hand as they stood atop the cornucopia that he had just wrestled Cato from, I hated him even more. The final two remaining, I watched my little sister break down into tears and beg for him not to go as he dropped to his knees in front of her. His voice cracked as he told her that she could do this, and a sob so loud that it didn't even seem human escaped from my throat. When she shook her head, he had no longer been able to keep the tears from streaking down his cheeks. They washed away bits of dirt and blood, leaving tracks over his skin that I was sure mirrored my own. He went to stand and my baby sister wrapped her arms so tightly around his waist that I watched him actually wince.
"Prim… Prim… You have to let go, Prim."
He sounded so tired. Worn thin.
My throat had slowly closed in on itself and I remember thinking that surely my legs were about to go out from underneath me. Instead, they brought me closer to the screen, to the front of the crowd gathered in the square.
"I'm sorry, Prim. I'm so sorry… I'm so, so sorry."
He pulled her fingers, one by one, from their grip on the fabric of his torn t-shirt, and held her hands as he leaned down to kiss her forehead. She still didn't speak, but a broken wail that sounded only vaguely like the word 'no' rang out over the arena. Over the snarls of the mutts that still remained, circling the bottom of the temporary salvation that they stood on top of..
Releasing her hands, he walked backward toward the edge. I could tell that he didn't want to face her, didn't want to see the look of terror in her eyes as he drew nearer and nearer to the drop off. He had to be sure that she stayed put, though. He couldn't have her following him. He couldn't come this far, only to fail at the very end.
"You'll be okay, Prim. You'll be okay."
When he turned his face upward, cameras immediately zooming in on red-rimmed, bluer than blue eyes, I felt that crack in my heart forge itself deeper.
"I'm so sorry."
And that's when it completely broke in two.
I hated him for making me love him, but I've never loved him more than I did in that moment.
His boot found the edge and his shoulders tensed, arms extended from his sides. He let out deep breath as he started to topple to the ground below, but I couldn't watch.
My eyes closed tight, and the sound of the blood pounding in my ears drowned out everything else. By the time that I looked up again, the screens had already faded to black and I realized that I had missed Prim being announced Victor.
She was safe, though. He had kept his promise, but I was too numb to be grateful.
I was too numb for anything. I barely even felt the sting of Mrs. Mellark's hand as it raked across my face.
I should have seen it coming when Prim barely spoke two words during her post-Games interview with Caesar FIickerman.
She'd looked so lovely sitting there, pale pink dress, gathered at the waist with a silken sash. The stylists there in the Capitol really knew how to showcase all of her best features - glossy, flaxen hair, slightly upturned nose with just the barest dusting of freckles over it. But they couldn't fix the blank stare in her eyes. They couldn't add the smile that refused to find its way to her mouth.
That was the first time that I can remember seeing Caesar actually struggle with an interview. He was unable to coax a more than one word answer from her until the very end.
"So, Primrose, I'm sure that you're looking forward to seeing your sister again. Is there anything that you'd like to say to her before you go home?"
Even after winning, she still never made it home. I should have seen it coming.
Despite the bruises that I had pounded onto Haymitch Abernathy's chest, he still let me cling to him as they lowered the bodies of the only two people in this world that I was sure I loved into the ground this morning. It's amazing how different things feel when you no longer have anyone that you have to be strong for. How easy it is to allow yourself to break down.
It's also amazing how light I feel with my heart no longer in my chest. It's buried with them now, one half in each cheap, pine box, but I'd be lying if I said there isn't a phantom ache as I pass by the cemetery on my way to the meadow.
There are still bits of mud staining my knees from where I sank to the ground once everyone had gone home. I've heard people say that home is where the heart is. I guess that means that I don't really have one here anymore.
I lean back against the tree that I always sat under while Prim let Lady graze after school each day. The same tree that has KE + PM carefully carved into its trunk, complete with a lopsided heart surrounding it. The bark is rough and catches on the smooth, silky material of the dress that I'm wearing. It's the same dress that I was wearing the last time that I saw either of them.
I'm waiting for the sun to dip down just below the horizon. It shouldn't be long now, and I let my eyes close - a small smile on my lips that I'm sure seems out of place at the moment. It's hard to suppress it when I feel so weightless, though. When I feel so sure of myself.
He woke me up once - to make sure that I didn't miss it - and I can almost feel the ghost of his lips brushing the shell of my ear now.
The sky is brilliant when I open my eyes. The soft orange that only fills the sky at this time of day makes my eyes water. It was his favorite and, for a split second, I get another one of those phantom pains somewhere around where my heart used to be. I wish that he was here with me to see it.
I reach into the pocket of my dress and breathe deeply once my fingers close around them. It had taken me two days to find them - deep in the woods, hidden under a thick tangle of flowering vines by the creek. I almost feel like I'm cheating. I won't feel a thing, not like they did.
I think back to Mr. Mellark's words at the service earlier today.
"Hope is what will keep us going. Hope that we can live our lives in a way that will honor their memories. Hope that tomorrow, and the day after that, will be kinder."
But just as I place the berries on my tongue, just before my eyes close, I take a look one last look around and know that he's wrong.
There are no more dandelions left in this field.