I hate you.
They were three words Katniss Everdeen never imagined uttering to Peeta Mellark, but they reverberated around in her head, echoed in her voice. They were three words she had never imagined saying, but she just had, with all the venom and anger and hatred she could muster.
She stalked into the bedroom, slamming the door behind her, the picture on the wall rattling from the force. She threw herself on the bed, staring at the ceiling.
The worst thing was not that she'd uttered the words, but that she didn't mean them. And she was scared to death that he would think she did.
"Katniss!" she heard him roar, his heavy tread storming up the stairs, each thud getting louder and closer to her. The door slammed open, hitting the wall beside it. The picture frame didn't have a chance this time, tumbling to the floor, the glass shattering on the hardwood. He glared at her, his hands fisted at his sides, his jaw clenched, the muscles visibly tensing from the sheer force of it.
"What?" she muttered, refusing to look at him.
"What?! What the hell was that?" he demanded. She sat up, flinging her braid over her shoulder.
"What was that? That was me, sick of all this shit, that's what it was." He stared at her, dumbfounded, his eyes narrowed.
"All this shit?! You've gotta be kidding me. You're the one who started it, blowing up deluxe at me!" She rolled her eyes, not bothering to respond, and stormed to the dresser, palming her car keys in her hand. She made her way to the bedroom door, sidestepping him, but he moved with her, blocking her way. "Where are you going?"
"Away from here," she spat, shoving past him, almost tripping down the stairs in her haste. She flung open the front door, left it gaping open, and headed for her car. She threw it into reverse, turned out of the driveway, and glanced back in the rear-view mirror to see Peeta, hands braced on the doorframe, watching her go.
Watching her go.
She hadn't been like this in a long time. Hadn't let the bitterness and sadness and anger spill over so obviously, so blatantly. Normally when she felt it, she managed to keep it locked down, or at least managed to talk it out with him.
She headed down the interstate, instincts taking her where she needed to go. She'd gone there so many times she could drive there in her sleep. Or in a fit of rage, it didn't really matter. She knew she'd get there.
She concentrated on slowing her breathing, calming the ache that was welling in her chest. She wondered if she'd really blown it this time, ruined everything, with ill-spoken words and a temper that she couldn't reign in. Whether she'd broken him. Broken them.
She wouldn't be surprised if she had.
The exit came up ahead, and she took it a little too quickly, overcompensating with a turn of the wheel to avoid slamming into the road sign. The car behind her blasted its horn, and the sound pierced her brain, fighting through the fog that was threatening to settle over her. She couldn't help the sob that escaped and she stepped on the gas, needing to get there now.
She turned the jeep into the dirt lane, following it along as far as she could before the terrain became too dense for the car. She turned off the ignition, ripped out the keys and tumbled out of the door, jamming the keys in her pocket as she made her way through the woods.
Even in her current state, she knew the route like the back of her hand.
She climbed over fallen tree limbs, pushed aside mottled brown branches, stumbled over tree roots that sprung through the earth like a hand from the grave. She scraped her hands on the bark of trees, cut her shin on a large rock protruding from the earth.
It didn't matter. She didn't feel any of it. She didn't feel anything.
Or maybe she just felt so damn much that it made her numb, made everything irrelevant.
The break in the thick woods opened, and she stopped as she reached the edge of the lake. People rarely came here – despite its beauty, it was such a pain in the ass to get to that most people avoided it, and stuck to the campgrounds nearby. That's why she liked it – she preferred her own company to that of anyone else. Well, except for Peeta. He was, and always had been, her exception. And her heart sunk as she realised she may have just pushed him too far this time.
The words came to her again.
I hate you.
She slumped on the ground, hugging her knees to her chest, sinking her head to the tops of her knees. He'd always been so calm, so patient with her; let her rant and rave whenever she wanted, and rarely reciprocated.
She threw the clean towels in the cupboard, slamming the door shut. Dammit, the day had started out so good, one of the rare days she took off from work just for the sake of it. It had become a habit, this day, for the past 4 years. She afforded herself the luxury of sleeping in, wallowing in self-pity and memories for a while, before meandering down to the bakery to do nothing but watch Peeta. Watch as he kneaded dough, the muscles in his arms stretching and shifting under his skin with every move he made. Watch as his lips quirked at the kids who came in with their mothers. Watch as he absently brushed at the sweat of his brow with the sleeve of his shirt. After lunch she'd go home, sit on the back porch and do nothing but stare into the woods behind their property and think, her ipod keeping out the rest of the world. When Peeta returned home from work, they'd deliberately cook an easy meal, then spend the rest of the night in their bedroom, forgetting everything and everyone, except for each other.
But today the call had come before she could make it to the bakery, and her heart and head had ached. It hadn't helped that Peeta had come home unexpectedly before lunch. She'd hoped to have calmed down and gone to the bakery, be able to speak to him reasonably, but she didn't get the opportunity to.
He'd found her in the lounge, curled up in a ball. No tears, no sobs, just a slight rocking back and forth, a frantic rubbing of her forearms, warming them although they weren't cold. He'd wrapped his arms around her, whispered gentle words of sorrow, of understanding.
But he didn't understand.
So she turned on him, spewed forth vile words that she didn't even mean, but couldn't stop. They weren't meant for him, but the person they were meant for wasn't there. She yelled at him until he finally yelled back, until he vented everything he'd never said. In the end, she did what she did best.
She said what she could so he'd leave her alone.
I hate you.
The tears streamed quietly down her face, but she barely even realised they were there. Time passed, but she wasn't aware of it. She stared out over the deep blue of the lake, though she wouldn't have noticed a ripple if it had shuddered across it. But she knew the minute he was there, could hear the soft crunch of the leaves beneath his feet, and the creak of his knee as he settled beside her.
"I knew you'd be here," he said, unnecessarily. She didn't say anything, just continued to stare and stare, at nothing. He reached out and lightly brushed a hand down her braid, then tucked a loose tendril of hair behind her ear. "Do you want to tell me what that was all about?"
She shrugged, not even sure what she wanted to say.
"Is this about the call from Abernathy?" he asked gently, and she whirled on him, her eyes wide in shock.
"You know? If you know, why the hell are you asking?!"
He sighed, and wrapped his arm around her shoulders, pulling her close. "I'm never going to assume anything, Katniss, that's why I asked. But yes, I know. Why do you think I came home early? You didn't even give me a chance to tell you I knew before you went apeshit on me." His hand rested on her cheek, brushing away the tears that had yet to dry.
"You went apeshit on me back," she muttered. His eyes dropped shamefully.
"I know. I'm sorry." He gently pulled her into his lap, and she rested her head on his shoulder, her fingers reaching up and playing with the collar of his shirt.
"I don't hate you," she whispered, and she could feel the breath that escaped his lips flow across the top of her head.
"I know, Katniss. It doesn't make it any easier to hear, though." She nodded, and took a deep breath.
"I'm sorry. I just - I didn't think you knew. I just thought…..I thought that you figured I was crying over her again. That you didn't understand."
"Of course I understand. And you were crying over her again. I don't doubt that you will, even just a little bit, on this day every year. I don't blame you for doing so. But I knew, as soon as I got that call that today was different. It was going to be harder, and that's why I came home. Because you weren't expecting that news." She raised her head, fire lighting her eyes.
"Of course I wasn't expecting it," she hissed. "The man responsible for the death of my sister gets released from jail – early – and on her birthday for god's sake!" He simply looked at her, cocked his eyebrow, and she dropped her shoulders. "And I know, you already know this. But, shit, Peeta. Of all days."
"I know. We knew it would happen one day. I'm just sorry I wasn't able to prepare you better for it."
"It's not your responsibility to prepare me for anything. Nothing would have prepared me for today. I know there's nothing I can do about it. Prim's been gone for 5 years, and mostly I can deal. It was….. it's just how I felt at the time. I thought I'd be able to pull myself together by the time I saw you. But then you were there, and… and then I said that to you, and I thought I'd ruined everything."
"Well, I probably deserved it. I said some pretty awful stuff back to you, and I shouldn't have."
"Nothing I didn't deserve," she muttered. "You never call me on my shit, Peeta." He smiled softly.
"Of course I don't. I don't normally need to. But you have to remember that I miss Prim too. I was there when the accident happened, and I see it over and over again in my head, even when I don't want to. And when Abernathy called me after he heard, I felt like my heart had been ripped out again. So yeah, I guess I was hurting too. And sometimes when we hurt, we can't help but lash out to those we love the most." She sniffled, trying to force back the tears that threatened to spill over again. He tipped her chin up, forcing her to look at him, and his blue eyes weren't as shadowed as they were before. "I love you, Katniss, no matter that you're a lousy cook and you always put the empty milk carton back in the fridge. I even love you when you pick fights with me, just because you can. I don't stick around for the hell of it, you know."
Even after all these years, when he utters the words I love you to her, it still made her feel awkward, unworthy. But she knew he meant it. And whenever she said it back to him, he knew she meant it as well.
"I love you too," she whispered, and he rested his forehead on hers, his eyes closing.
"See, I prefer hearing that from you," he said quietly, with a soft smile. He softly touched his mouth to hers, his hands creeping into her hair, freeing the strands from the constraint of her braid. She slid her arms around his neck and held him close, knowing that it didn't matter what either of them ever said, these three words would be more important than any other.
I love you.