A/N: Hey ya'll. New to the Hunger Games fandom (well, not new I guess, just never written anything Hunger Games related and haven't read much fanfiction, either). This is an AU scenario based on the first book where Katniss reflects on her relationship with Peeta. I hope it's ok! Let me know what you think.
Peeta was a stand-up guy.
Everyone knew it. He shined with genuine happiness, even when he faced his most difficult trials. His words never reflected a negative attitude, not like mine. I guess it's easy to see on the bright side when you have an unsoiled future ahead of you.
I would always remember his grin. Slightly lop-sided. But there was this crazy thing about it; it was always there, no matter his facial expression. A ghost of that grin always remained etched underneath. He was happy even when he wasn't. I had never understood such a thing and probably couldn't if I tried.
Everyone knew Peeta, the stand-up guy from the Seam. Everyone knew that grin and those soft doe eyes. Everyone doted on him over their television sets; the little girls all over Panem blushed when he raised an eyebrow and smirked, their mothers' hearts would swell over his natural manners and polite sense of humor. He was the man-of-the-hour when he took over that television set, lop-sidedly winning over the nation.
Everyone knew. There wasn't one unlikable bone in his body.
But I could tell you things that no television set, no Capitol citizen, no Seam worker could tell you about Peeta Mellark.
It started early. So early that I didn't even know what the feeling was until it was too late. It started on the train to the Training Center.
I would catch on to small things that I normally wouldn't care for. I remember an instance where I was alone in the dining cart, gingerly picking at a loaf of hot bread when a short-lived scent in the air caught my attention. It was only a second, but the word Peeta involuntarily emerged from my thoughts. It was natural; not like the smell of the soap in the train's showers or some sort of cologne. It was the smell of sitting around the house, hair in the eyes, stubble dotting the cheeks; it was him and I knew right then that he was the only man in this world who could produce such a smell. I couldn't describe the scent in any other words.
It came to me again as his lips touched mine for the first time. It was so delicate, so precise and orderly and right. Kissing Peeta was like a dance. A slow dance, a ballet. Each move was carefully articulated and practiced; the way his mouth moved around mine, and the way we enveloped each other, was all so careful and precise, yet effortless. Every slip of the tongue like a pirouette, controlled… beautiful. I could kiss him for days, and not care if I ran out of breath. I could kiss him for the rest of my life.
And then there was the way that his voice convulsed a little when he spoke my name. It was so subtle (I believe I'm the only one who ever noticed it), but it never failed.
I never thought much of it. Until the night we spent in the cave, when his voice croaked and a searing pain ravaged his weak body. His skin looked like paper. I watched as he fell in and out of consciousness, always awaking with that one word on his lips, Katniss, before his mouth would slacken and his eyes slid to a gentle close. His voice still had that kick to it when he spoke my name. My name. Like he was nervous around me even as he fought off Death.
He had this funny little nervous habit of biting his lower lip. You had to catch him at the right time, though, because Peeta Mellark did not often show embarrassment. No, it was only in the confines of his own mind that he did such a thing. I noticed it once when we were waiting to talk to Caesar Flickerman on live television before the games. Again in the cave, when he thought I was dead asleep; he chewed on his lip for no shorter than an hour.
I never pegged myself to be a people-watcher. I kept to myself. The only things I observed were deep in the wild forest, hidden in the brush. Solitude was my refuge. And yet, I found myself studying, wondering, watching.
Everyone saw him for what he was but only I could see him for what he would become. There were nights in the cave when I could feel a sadness deep from inside my stomach when I realized that he could die right there, in my arms on the floor of that dripping cave. And I would feel pure grief when I thought of the things he wouldn't be able to do. Live a life free of worry, create a living for himself, find a doting wife, and become a father of two children, a girl and a boy, spitting images of him.
The only other times I felt such sadness was when Prim was reaped, and when I saw the beautiful life leave Rue's eyes.
There was no such path for me. No wonderful life to look forward to. I wasn't meant to be happy with a spouse. I didn't want children.
These are the things that run through my head as I stand here, feet planted firmly on the grassy field near the Cornucopia, having just witnessed the horrific death of the last tribute Cato. These are the things I think of when the Gamekeeper's voice booms into my ear, informing Peeta and I that there can only be one victor. They had tricked us, and I should have known.
He protests but I don't listen. His voice is muffled and as I reach my hand into my pocket to take out the berries, his pleading gets louder. But I will not tune in this time.
I look up briefly and see his soft eyes wobbling; the ghost of his lop-sided grin was long gone. It's the first time I've ever witnessed a pure, unfiltered sorrow in Peeta Mellark's face. It would be the last time, too. I know he will be a happy victor. He will live the rest of his life without worry, without pain. He will create the perfect family. I know it with just one look at him. The people at their television sets, the Capitol citizens, the Gamemakers, hanging on to every moment of this finale, could never know that. They don't know Peeta like I do. In some sick, twisted way, the Games had brought us together.
"Katniss," he says. His voice still shudders at such a simple word. I smile a sad smile. "Don't do this. Give the berries to me, you don't know what you're doing."
"You're going to be happy, Peeta," I respond, leaning in close to him. I whisper, "Keep my mother and sister safe."
His scent envelops me as I kiss his cheek softly, sweetly. But he shakes his head and his trembling hands snatch my forearms with such force that a few berries tumble to the ground. I clasp my hand shut, but he stays where he is. He bites his lip as he gazes at me, bewildered.
And then he kisses me. As if that could change my mind. His lips are shaking and suddenly his arms are squeezing me tightly against his chest and he inhales very deeply. I feel bad to cause him this pain. Hand still clasped around the berries, I pull him as close to me as physically possible. I swear we could have morphed into one at that moment.
Finally, we part.
"Don't," he pleads. "Please. Please don't. Katniss. I lov-"
"You're going to be happy, don't worry."
He's going to be much happier than I could ever be.
"No!" he shouts this time, but I'm already tuning him out again. It'll be easier if I do. He's screaming and his hands are still tremulous on my forearms as he begs, but I push it all away. It's just me now.
I twist away from him, watching the painful expression in his eyes one more time as I drop the poisonous fruits down my throat.
The last thing I see in this world is his face covered in fresh tears.