Thank you to everyone who has waited patiently for this update, I have no good excuse for it taking this long but I do apologize.
I also to thank my betas, without whom this would be one huge, incoherent mess, kismet4891 and Court81981, they are great betas, talented writers, and overall fantastic friends. Thank you ladies!
In addition I would like to show my gratitude to Ro Norman for my new banner.
Love Without Reaping
Katniss sat at the edge of the lake and watched Peeta draw, although it wasn't the picture that captivated her—it was him. The sunlight that filtered through the trees cast a glowing light around him. In this light she saw things about him that she'd never noticed before, like the faint freckles that were scattered over the bridge of his nose and how impossibly long his eyelashes were. They were so blond that she never really thought of them before, and she wondered how they kept from getting tangled when he blinked.
She was noticing a lot of things about Peeta that she'd never realized before. He always doubled-knotted his boot strings, never took sugar in his tea, and often over estimated how many cheese buns they would sell and would insist on Katniss taking them home. If she didn't know better, she would think that he did it on purpose.
It had been three months since the Hawthorne wedding and she had started working at the bakery. Their 'pretend' relationship had been an overall success. Cray, while ever present, had never approached her again. Not that he'd ever had the opportunity—Peeta or Mr. Mellark always walked her home. He spent most of his time working in the bakery kitchen while Katniss was constantly hunting and working, cleaning the Mellark homes and the bakery. Although they seemed to spend what little time free time they had together, whenever Peeta walked her home he ended up staying for hours. Usually they worked on the plant book or played cards with Prim. Peeta was now such a part of her life she could hardly imagine what life would be like without him, or at least she didn't care to.
After the nightlock incident, Katniss insisted that Peeta become more knowledgeable about the plants in the forest if he was going to accompany her in the woods and loaned him the family plant book. While studying it, he noticed several missing pictures and offered to fill them in. She saw no reason not to let him; she would wager that he was as good as any artist from District 1.
Peeta now came with her every Sunday and would typically forage and attempt to set snares while Katniss hunted. They would meet together at lunch time and swim while their meal cooked over hot coals. Peeta was able to swim short distances, but still was nowhere as fluid with the movements as Katniss was. But now it was September and it was getting too cool to swim, so today Peeta was working on drawings for the plant book while their fish and some katniss tubers cooked in the hearth of the abandoned cottage. She was supposed to be cleaning game but found herself transfixed with watching him.
"How does this look?" Peeta asked and lifted up the picture of smartweed that he had just drawn.
"Um." She snapped out of her stupor and pretended as if she'd not been staring at him for who knows how long. "It looks great. You're the best artist that I've ever seen."
"Thanks." He chuckled. "Not that you've known all that many artists."
She smirked. "No, but that doesn't change the fact that you're talented." The picture was perfect: the image of the page was an exact likeness of the spear-shaped leaves and the purplish-pink clustered flowers.
Peeta smiled and a faint blush appeared across his cheeks. "So what does this plant do exactly?"
"A lot of things, actually. It is also called 'heart ease' because it's good for heart ailments. Mom uses it for kidney problems, but it can treat skin rashes, sore throats, and it helps stomach aches too."
"So it would be good for my dad?" he questioned. Hank had recovered some, but was still often tired and no longer had the strength that he'd once had.
"I think that my mom has prescribed it to him before," she replied. While Katniss was no healer, she sensed that there was far more wrong with Hank Mellark than just ulcers.
"He still doesn't eat very much," he said somberly. "He can't even lift the large sacks of flour any more…I'm worried about him, Katniss."
Without a hesitation, she reached her hand to his shoulder and gave it a squeeze; it was her way of letting him know that she was there for him, although she really didn't understand it herself. Being physically close to Peeta came naturally; they had even started to hold hands while they walked through town. At first, it was only when they saw a Peacekeeper, but soon it was all the time, witnesses or not. Katniss did not realize it until Prim pointed it out one night after he left, and asked her if Peeta was officially her boyfriend. Katniss emphatically denied it and meant to make it a point not to be so clingy with him from then on, but it was always forgotten in his presence. He made it easy to forget.
Sometimes she almost dreaded the day that they wouldn't have to pretend anymore and Peeta would go his way to that beloved girl that he spoke of every now and again. Then she would go hers, a future with no lover or children. It was a certainty that once brought her a sense of security, although now she wasn't so sure.
"Come on, I bet the fish is ready." She stood up and pulled him with her. "Overcooked fish is not very good."
"I'm sure it wouldn't be the worst thing I ever ate. Did I ever tell you about the time I broke a baby tooth on a stale loaf of brown bread?" Peeta joked and followed her to the cottage while telling the comical story.
They ate straight out of an old pot that her father had found years ago and used their fingers to eat, occasionally touching fingers. They doused the small fire and sat a while, allowing their meal to settle.
"What time do we have to be at your aunt's?" Katniss asked. They had been invited to yet another dinner with Peeta's great aunt; they had met with her a handful of times since that first Sunday lunch. Vesta had taken a shine to Katniss, much to Mrs. Mellark's annoyance.
"We'd better leave then," she announced. "It is a long walk and I would like to hit the Hob when we get back. I have a groundhog, and Sae is about the only one willing to give me anything for them."
Peeta gathered the flour sacks that he used for foraging and a couple of squirrels that got caught in his snares. "So what did you find today?" she asked as they walked.
"Oh, I meant to show you earlier but I found this oil sack in a hollow of a walnut tree. The bag looks like it's been left there for years so I thought that it was safe to take. The bag was ruined, but I found some old arrowheads and this funny little metal tube." Peeta paused to pull the item out of his pocket to show Katniss. "I didn't know what it is, but I thought that I'd ask you."
Katniss looked at the strange little metal object in his hand and then took it from him; she couldn't believe it and gasped when she looked at it closely. "Dad's stile," she breathed. She'd forgotten all about the little tube; it was just one of the many things that she'd thought of as lost forever when her father died. She felt her eyes filling with tears.
"Katniss did I do something wrong? I-I can put it ba—," Peeta was cut off when she threw her arms around his neck and hugged him tight. He reciprocated.
"Thank you, Peeta," she whispered.
"Okay…what did I do?" he wondered and looked down at her.
"You found my dad's stile," she explained. "It's for collecting tree sap and making syrup.I thought it was gone forever."
"Um, you're welcome?" he told her softly and she could feel his breath on her lips; it was warm and she suddenly wondered what it would be like to kiss him simply because she wanted to. He looked at her with hooded eyes and a sweet expression. They had traded a few kisses over the past few months, but it was always for the benefit of others and to confirm the rumors of their relationship. Yet they'd never kissed just for them and the urge to press her lips to his was all consuming at that moment. Peeta must have felt it too, because he parted his lips slightly and started to lean in.
Just as she closed her eyes and rose to her tiptoes, Peeta stiffened and asked, "What is that?"
She opened her eyes turned around to look into the sky, something glinted in the sky. A hovercraft! She quickly surmised that it was coming their way.
"Hide," she hissed, realizing that running from hovercraft would be fruitless. "We have to hide."
She looked around and saw a fallen tree and urged Peeta to it. They ducked behind it; Katniss looked at Peeta and realized that his red sweatshirt stuck out like a sore thumb. Wordlessly, she covered him with leaves and other debris from the forest floor and put a finger to her lips to tell him to stay silent. He nodded.
The hovercraft paused over the lake for a moment before it landed in the clearing next to the cottage. They each held their breath as they watched two figures descend from the vehicle through the branches of the tree. They were several yards away; at first Katniss was convinced that they were Peacekeepers, but something wasn't right about the men with guns. The uniforms weren't bright white; they were drab grey and the helmets were different.
The two were deep in conversation and they were just far enough away that Katniss couldn't hear exactly what was being said clearly, but a few sentences here and there they could understand.
The first man said to the other, "We shouldn't be here….too close. Coin said no closer than twenty miles… we're much closer than that."
The second, taller man insisted, "…I'm telling you, I saw smoke coming from this way."
"Well, who made a fire out here?" the first retorted.
"Where are they? Usually they come running to us."
"…think we're from the Capitol, most likely."
One man walked into the cottage and Katniss cringed, thinking about the hot coals in the hearth and the other evidence that it had been recently used. When the man stepped out, the two conversed for a few moments before the taller one pressed a button on his wrist and his voice was projected throughout the woods. "We are not here to harm you. We are friends of the Mockingjay and can take you where you want to go, it is a month long hike from here. Please show yourselves."
She and Peeta exchanged confused expressions.
The men waited for several minutes before one walked back into cottage for a moment or two. They had another exchange between them; this time it was hushed. The taller man looked all around again and stared in their direction, and for a brief moment Katniss thought that they were caught, but the men instead walked back to the hovercraft and soon it lifted off the ground and went in the direction from which it came.
Katniss and Peeta still laid there motionless, even after the flying machine disappeared from sight.
Finally Peeta whispered, "Katniss, please, let go of my hand, your nails are cutting into me."
She looked down and saw drops of blood where her nails cut into his knuckles, but she had been holding her hand so hard for so long that it was difficult to let go. "Sorry."
"Why didn't they look harder for us?" he asked.
"I-I don't know, the last hovercraft I saw out here didn't give up so easily," she commented. "Let's get out of here."
They gathered their things and all but ran towards the direction of District 12. After nearly an hour of jogging through the woods, Peeta made her stop to get a drink of water and to rest for a few minutes. As soon as they drank their fill and caught their breath, Peeta asked, "Was there something off about that hovercraft to you?"
She sarcastically said, "Like seeing a hovercraft in the woods is an everyday thing?"
He elaborated, "No, I mean that the seal was wrong. It wasn't the seal of Panem and I didn't recognize it as a seal from the other districts either."
"I didn't look at the seal," she confessed then added, "but the uniforms were wrong and the helmets weren't right. They looked like the ones from the Dark Days footage that they showed us at school."
"You noticed that too?" he posed. She nodded.
"Who or what is 'the Mockingjay'?" she wondered aloud.
Peeta thought for a moment. "Isn't that what they're calling the last Victor, that little girl from 11 who volunteered for her little sister? Rose? No, Rue."
"Yeah," Katniss confirmed, then stood and gathered her bags. "Let's go. I want to get back to the fence."
They now walked side by side, and Peeta's free hand reached for hers and she took it instantly, thankful for the comfort of his presence.
He asked in a gentle voice, "That wasn't the first time you've seen a hovercraft out here, was it?"
Without looking at him or interrupting her stride, she answered, "No. A few years back Gale and I were hunting, hiding under a rock shelf waiting for game to wander in our path. All of a sudden all the birds went silent except for one, which seemed to calling out a warning. Seconds later we saw a boy and a girl, about the age we are now, running. I've seen enough animals at bay to know that they were in trouble. All of a sudden a hovercraft came out of nowhere; we never even heard it. I mean the sky was empty one moment and then it was there the next. The next thing I know, a net dropped and caught up the girl and a spear attached to a cord shot out and went through the boy's chest and then hauled up his body, I think he was dead. The hovercraft flew away and then the birds began to sing again, as if nothing had ever happened."
"Where do you think they were from?"
"I don't know for sure," she disclosed. "But I think that they may have been from the Capitol; they had that look about them."
"Katniss, you're shivering." He stopped them and then unzipped and took off his sweatshirt, "Here take this, it's getting chilly out here."
She could feel his warmth still radiating from it when he placed it on her shoulders, but the shivers still continued. The girl with the vivid red hair haunted Katniss. Her voice cracked, "Peeta, I can't forget her face." He wiped away the single tear that fell from her eye and cradled her cheeks with his, large steady hands. She shared, "For a one brief moment, after the birds went quiet and before the hovercraft appeared she looked right at me, and called out for help."
He pulled her braid from the inside of his shirt and placed it on her shoulder. "There was nothing that you could have done," he assured her. "Where do you think they were going?"
"Where could they go? There is nothing past here," Katniss said, repeating what she'd been told her whole life.
"Well, nothing that we know of," he said and looked off to the distance before picking up his bags and hers and leading her back to the fence.
Peeta escorted her to Hob and then his house where they both got ready for dinner and they'd hardly spoke, each of them lost in their own thoughts.
A few hours later, they sat around Aunt Vesta's dining room table. The old woman's house was smaller although nearly as nice as the mayor's, only it was cluttered with more knickknacks and reeked of moth balls and muscle cream.
The food was good, a beef roast with carrots and potatoes, served with fluffy white rolls. It was perhaps the very first wholly store bought meal that Katniss had ever eaten in her life. She observed those around her who had no idea what she and Peeta had seen. She couldn't help but to notice how small the portions were that Hank took for himself, reminding her of Peeta's concerns. Mrs. Mellark no longer glared at her like she once did and now treated Katniss with near indifference. Vesta was carrying on about price of meat at the butcher's and the long delay on her special order fabric that she wanted so she could have a new dress made. Katniss didn't really care, but was thankful for the old woman's monologue because it allowed her to concentrate on her own thoughts.
She was thinking about the hovercraft and was so engrossed in her own thoughts that she didn't realize that Vesta was talking to her until Peeta reached into her lap and gave her hand a shake.
"Sorry," she said startled.
"It's alright dear," Vesta smiled. "I was just asking if you would like to walk me into the sitting room?"
While Peeta and his parents cleaned up, Vesta took Katniss into the sitting room. There was a large bookcase that held more books on it than the school library did.
"I don't read much, but my husband and son were great readers," Vesta commented and sat in her chair. "You can look at some if you like."The old woman then started talking about how the power outages had kept her from watching her soap operas all week, and after a few minutes, Vesta suddenly dozed off.
Katniss got up and examined the volumes on the shelf; she had always liked books, and reading was her favorite winter pastime when she couldn't hunt. Her favorite books were ones that she could learn something useful from, like how to tan leather or how properly combine rendered fat and lye to make soap. Although this collection did not look like it contained too many 'how-to' books; most were Capitol history and law books. One caught her attention; it looked far older than the rest, and it was titled The Democratic Republic of Panem, she remembered vaguely from school that was the official title of Panem back when all people were considered citizens and had the right to vote, before the Dark Days and the Games. She picked up the book and started to leaf through it. The contents covered the location and geology of each district and what they were notable for; it appeared that every district wasn't always as specialized as they were now.
She carefully read over District 12; it was known for coal mining in addition to large having a medicine factory, some agriculture, and exported game meat like venison and quail. Katniss reasoned that those industries must have been destroyed during the war.
When she turned the page, she was surprised to see an entry for District 13; it was easy to forget about. It was hardly ever mentioned except for when the Hunger Games came around, on the TV they would show the desolate landscape that was in ruins more than 75 years after Capitol forces had blown them off the map, and it still smoldered from the toxic bombs that were dropped on it. As she looked at the seal of the district, she wondered if it was what Peeta had seen.
He walked into the room and he inquired, "Katniss is there something wrong? You look pale." He walked over to where she stood, holding the book.
She showed Peeta the picture in the book, and he grabbed the book out of her hands to look at it carefully. Her eyes asked the question and he understood and confirmed in a whisper, "That's what I saw… District 13?!"
Peeta's mother walked in to the room, "Leave those books alone; they're worth a fortune. Anyways, books never have done any good. They fill up heads with crazy ideas and give people a false sense of hope." He nodded dumbly and put the book back in the empty slot. Mrs. Mellark looked at Katniss for a moment before continuing, "The sooner you accept your place in this world, the easier it will be to live in it."
The comment caught Katniss's attention; it sounded like something that she herself would say, although it never sounded so dire in her own mind.
Hank walked into the room, observed the old woman sleeping in her chair and said, "It looks like Vesta is done for the evening."
Mrs. Mellark sighed, "Well, you two are allowed to leave now; it's a long walk to the Seam from here."
They said their goodnights and walked out to the street. Heading towards the Seam, they both wanted to talk but knew that they couldn't as it wasn't safe to speak openly.
Upon arriving at the Everdeen home, they were greeted by a hissing Buttercup and a note that Prim had left, saying that she and their mother were delivering a baby. Katniss did not want to be alone just yet so she offered Peeta a cup of tea, which he gladly accepted. When the tea was ready they sat on the thread bare couch and fiddled with their cups.
"Do you really think that they were from District 13?" she asked and looked at Peeta, who was scratching Buttercup at his feet.
He straightened up and his eyes met hers. "That's the only thing that makes sense."
"But that doesn't make sense. Thirteen is gone, the people are dead. They show footage of it every year, it's still toxic. One can't go within a hundred miles of it."
"They also say that if you leave the confines of District 12 that you'll be eaten by wild animals in a few minutes time," he reminded her. She didn't have a reply. Peeta reasoned, "There has to be something beyond here…Why else would that boy and girl come all the way out here? Those soldiers today acted as if finding runaways was a common place thing. The escapees have to be going somewhere and that hovercraft had to come from some place. I think that we can both agree that they weren't from the Capitol. The uniforms were all wrong and they didn't have that grating accent; in fact I'd never heard that accent before."
Katniss thought about it; now that Peeta mentioned it they didn't sound like anyone she'd ever heard before. She recalled accents that she'd heard from the Victors over the years—she thought of the Johanna Mason and Finnick Odair among others, and it sounded nothing like any of them.
"So what does this all mean?" she posed.
"It means that the Capitol has lied, and it means it's possible to run away from Panem," Peeta said almost happily.
It was an old idea, one that Gale had planted in her head years ago although she'd not thought about in a long while. It was too preposterous—the thought of her and Gale leading their siblings and mothers through the woods evading Peacekeepers and living in the wilderness indefinitely. But one or two people escaping to someplace seemed like an achievable goal, a dream that she might allow herself to dwell on, if she had more information.
"What are you thinking about?" Peeta asked sweetly.
"Nothing," she shook her head. "Shouldn't you be leaving? Curfew will be soon."
"I don't want to leave you," he said dreamily, then hastily added, "alone, I mean."
"I'm alone a lot," she shrugged.
"You shouldn't be," he said softly and reached for her hand. "I'll just stay until your mom and sister get home. Then I'll leave."
"Peeta, they might be gone for hours."
"Fine, then I'll sleep on the couch," he offered.
"You'll worry your dad," she pointed out.
"No, I won't," he explained. "My dad has already told me that if I think it's necessary, I am to spend the night here."
"I'm not going to convince you otherwise, am I?" she said and attempted to sound annoyed.
"Nope," he answered with a grin.
"Well if that is the case, I'm going to go on to bed." She sighed. "I'm exhausted."
"Alright, I'll make myself comfortable down here," he said and pulled Buttercup into his lap. "It looks like I'll have a buddy."
She smiled at him and excused herself to go change and brush her teeth. As soon as she changed, she regretted that all she had to sleep in was an old thin nightgown that just barely reached her knees. But she reasoned that Peeta had seen her in much less while swimming and that there wasn't much for him to see anyhow.
She went to the closet and pulled out a quilt. When she came back, he was pulling off his dress shirt. She tried not to look at him in his snug fitting undershirt or not to think about how she'd missed seeing him shirtless since they didn't swim that afternoon. She cleared her throat to get his attention. He looked her up and down for a brief second and then quickly met her eye and gave her an apologetic look. She tried not to blush and softly said, "Here is a blanket. I'll be in the loft. Goodnight, Peeta."
"Goodnight, Katniss," he replied and waited until she was in her bed to turn out the light lamp.
Katniss didn't know why, but she had the strangest sensation running through her thinking about the man who now lay on her couch. She tried not to think about him and hoped that sleep would find her soon.
She drifted off to sleep listening to the sounds of the night, animals in the distance, the crickets' chirping, and now Peeta's slow and steady breaths that told her that he was slumbering.
Katniss dreamed; the scene was a familiar one. She was in the woods, hunting with apartner armed with bow and arrow, but it wasn't Gale, it was Peeta. The level intimacy between them was high and was like second nature. He was scruffier than she'd ever seen him, with hair past his ears and a full beard that was few shades darker than his hair. She was coaching him on how to use the bow as a pair of squirrels chased each other on the forest floor.
"Take your time," she breathed in his ear. "Keep your hand steady… now let it go."
They watched as the arrow pierced one of the squirrels through the neck and the other scurried away.
"Good shot," she praised him.
"Does that earn me a kiss?" The tenor of his voice filled her with warmth and longing. Before she could answer his lips were on hers, and the kiss was deep and intense. Without hesitation she opened her mouth to his taste him; it was intoxicating and she couldn't get enough. He backed her into the nearest tree, his arms held her in place, and he pressed his body against hers; she was trapped and perfectly content to be. She buried her hands in his hair while one of his slid down her side to her hip then her rear where he stopped to grope it with his large hand momentarily before trailing it down her outer thigh, down to her knee which he drew up to his hip. He pressed his thigh against her wet, aching core. She threw her head back and began to roll her hips and tried to find some friction. Peeta attacked the newly exposed skin of her neck, and she let out a breathy giggle when the whiskers of his beard and mustache tickled her neck.
"I love to hear you laugh," he whispered in her ear, his hot breath gave her a chill. He let out a little laugh, let go of her leg and backed up some. He smiled wide and then placed his hands on her belly, which she hadn't realized until then that it was large, round and tight. Peeta fell to his knees and laid his cheek to her protruding stomach, "It looks like someone else if happy about Daddy getting a squirrel. She's dancing."
Katniss was enjoying the moment; she was so incredibly happy, a feeling unlike she'd ever experienced before.
She looked out into the horizon and what she saw erased all her bliss: a hovercraft with an unmistakable Capitol seal. "Peeta, run!" she screamed and pulled him up. They ran but it was futile; she felt herself being caught up in a net, she fought and struggled. Peeta was yelling her name. She demanded that he keep running, to get away.
But it was all in vain and she watched in horror as a spear shot through his chest in a spray of blood and gore. She shrieked and kicked, begging to be let free. Peeta looked at her and whispered her name as he was hauled up.
"Katniss, Katniss, please," a man's voice pled. She felt a gentle shake. "Katniss it's a dream, you're home, you're safe."
In the darkness it was difficult to see, but she felt weight of a solid man beside her in bed. The voice and the scent of cinnamon and dill told her it was Peeta. Instinctually she patted at her belly, relieved to find it flat. It had only been a dream.
"Are you alright?" he asked with his voice full of concern and pulled her covers up to her chest
"Yes, it was only a nightmare," she replied in a ragged voice.
Peeta reached over her to the bedside stand and poured her a glass of water and then handed it to her. "It must have been pretty bad. You sounded so scared."
"I don't want to talk about it," she grumbled after empting the cup. The thought of telling Peeta about dream that started off with them making out and ended up with him dead was not something that she want to share.
"Alright," he nodded, "try to get some sleep." He began to rise off the bed.
Before she knew it she caught his hand with both of hers; she had a sudden desire to have him close. It was the only way she could be sure that he was safe. "Please stay," she realized what she'd just asked for, and thought it best to come up with an excuse to cover the truth. "It's just…Just that I'm used to having Prim in bed and I don't like to sleep alone."
It was a lame reason but he seemed to accept it without question and crawled into the bed as she lifted the covers for him. He settled on the opposite side, but his weight caused her to slide towards him, but neither seemed to mind.
With him this close she became aware that her panties were still damp from the first portion of her dream, but there was nothing she could do. She couldn't tell him to leave now that she just asked him to stay. They lay shoulder to shoulder; he was so warm and his presence was comforting. Knowing that he was there, despite the fact she was going to curse herself in the morning, gave her a measure of peace. She drifted off to sleep with a sense of satisfaction. Peeta was safe.
Thanks for reading! I hope that you liked it. Please remember that for any author any chapter represents hours of work writing, proofing, and rewriting, not only on the author but also the betas. So please if you enjoyed an author's work please take a moment or to leave a review to let them know what you thought. You may not think that it means much to the authors it means a lot.
You can also find me on tumblr as izzy Samson to get previews of upcoming chapters and stories and the occasional (and usually smutty) drabble that may or may not ever be published on ff or A03.