I find myself unable to deal with the enormous hotel suite without Peeta and instead stay in the bathroom. Eventually, I turn the water off and let the quiet of the marble bathroom engulf me. I curl into a ball and remain on the mat most of the night.
I don't shower.
I don't sleep.
I barely even move from my spot on the mat.
Instead, I mourn what was never mine to mourn. I grieve the absence of something that is impossible and a man who saw his time with me as a business transaction. I wallow, hurt, and let myself be consumed by emptiness. I'm not sure what pisses me off more, that fact that Peeta was never even an option or that I let myself enjoy the fantasy of him so thoroughly that my mind forgot what was real.
The way that Peeta was while we had sex was truly my undoing. He was attentive and gentle, staring into my eyes and kissing me so soundly and fully that I completely lost myself in him. If I didn't know better, I'd believe that he had been making love to me. I remind myself it was just sex, just fucking; of course, Peeta is good at it, he's paid to be a professional.
The incessant ringing of the room phone finally brings me out of my stupor enough to leave the mat. I'm sure it's Gale; there is no one else who would call me this early in the morning. When I finally exit the room though, I notice two things: first, there is sunlight slipping through the curtains, and second, the money I left for Peeta is still where I threw it on the bed. The phone continues ringing, but I run around the room finding all of the things that I purchased for Peeta, too. The only things missing are his beloved sketchpad and ratty backpack. My stomach lurches, wanting to revolt and empty its contents, even though I haven't had a meal since yesterday.
Peeta didn't take the money.
This doesn't make any sense. He needs that money and possibly more than that, I need him to take the money. Everything has backfired miserably. All I wanted to do was take care of him, but now he is gone and neither him nor I have benefited from our time together.
With a renewed sense of vigor, I make phone two calls. The first one is to the car service. I get the address of where Peeta was dropped off at and then make arrangements with my assistant to hand deliver the money. The next call is the easiest decision I have made in a long time. After I email all the details I have been busting my ass over to Gale, I let him know that I'm done. If he wants this merger with Snow, then he can make it happen. I'm taking time off, I tell him, and let him know that while I'll check in occasionally, he is in charge for the time being.
Gale is understandably pissed; he yells and threatens before I hang up on him. My attention for this and the ability to function are fading quickly. My mind is filled with images of Peeta.
Peeta screaming and cheering at the game, his furrowed brow with pencil moving furiously over paper, Peeta sleeping and the sheets barely covering his nude form, Peeta admiring pieces of fine art and my crappy hand painted pottery with the same enthusiasm, it is all Peeta.
I just want to lie in bed, stare at the ceiling and exist in a state of self-pity for a while. I've earned this luxury, haven't I? I've taken care of Prim, done what was expected of me, made enormous amounts of money, and it has cost me who I am.
I take to bed.
I lie in the sheets surrounded by Peeta's smell and I cry, mope, and lament what's become of my life and the fact that within a matter of days I have become completely enamored by a man that should not even have been in my immediate periphery, and it has broken me. I don't even recognize myself. The old Katniss would never break down like this, and while I am not sure this Katniss is better, I know that I can never be the same Katniss I was before.
Seconds turn into minutes, minutes into hours, and finally, hours into days.
Two full days since Peeta left.
I wonder if he got the money. I'd know if I got out of bed and did something aside from sleep and ruminate. The phone has long since been removed from the hook, my cell phone has a dead battery and housekeeping has been warned that I am not to be disturbed.
I am floating in that comfortable space between lucidity and sleep when a pounding at the door alerts me that Gale has decided that my pity party is over.
I ignore it.
Gale knows better – I told him not to bother.
The loud thumping persists, and there is now shouting accompanying it. This will not do. I rise from bed, my body taking a while to adjust to being upright and moving as I slowly make my way to the door. I don't bother looking in the mirror, I know what I'd find and greasy hair and sallow skin aren't exactly something I want to look at.
"Go away, Hawthorne! I told you to leave me alone." I yell out as I approach the door...It is preferable if I don't have to walk the entire way.
There is muffled shouting from behind the door that doesn't sound like Gale. Just my luck, he fucked with the reservation or something and now I'm getting kicked out of the room.
I open the door and suddenly Peeta is there, hands on his hips, eyes blazing. "You don't get to do that to me, Katniss." His eyes find me, a mess with tangled hair, red eyes, and I have no doubt that he can probably smell me, too. "Oh, Katniss; Christ, you're a mess." Peeta is beside me in an instant, pulling me into his arms, cradling my head to his chest.
Even though I am completely stunned to find him here, tears have started falling and there is no stopping them. I try my best to speak over them, "I don't get to do what, Peeta?" I don't look at him. I let him hold me against his chest; it feels so impossibly good that I wonder if I'm hallucinating.
"It's not important. What's wrong? Talk to me," he insists, squeezing me tightly.
Peeta has already calmed down from how he was when the door opened. "How do you do that? You burst in here angry and then instantly calm down. I want to know why you were upset, Peeta. Tell me what I don't get to do."
"I was going to say, that you don't get to treat me like a whore. Not you," Peeta says this softly, almost like he is embarrassed to admit he feels that way. "When you threw that money at me, it hurt so bad that I didn't think I could breathe," Peeta pauses for a minute. "I had started to believe I was more than a whore to you."
"You are, Peeta, you are so much more than that. I'm so sorry I made you feel that way. I'm so sorry for everything." His grip on me tightens, and my fears spew out of me in a jumbled mess. "I just wanted you to be taken care of, but I never saw you like that, never."
"It's what I am, though. You helped me forget it for a little while and made me feel like a person; like I am worth more than just a cock for hire. But at the end of the day, this is what I am," he says as if it's just something to be accepted. I had no idea he felt this way. He always seemed so sure of himself, so happy. He may in fact be the best person that I know. "When you gave me the money and sent me on my way, you reminded me of what I was and I wasn't ready to deal with it. I didn't want to go, and not just because of how nice it was here. It was because of you. I'd want to be with you even if we were eating ramen every day."
My heart clenches in my chest. I believe him despite what Gale and everyone else would want me to believe. Peeta isn't the type to lie about things like this. After all, he has been alluding that he felt more all week, I just wouldn't let myself believe it. "Do you really want to spend time with me, Peeta?"
"More than I should," he admits. "I know I'm not exactly in your league, but I want to be with you."
"Not in my league? Peeta, I want to be with you, too. After this week, I can't imagine wanting to be with anyone else." There are still tears sliding down my face, but for a completely different reason than why they started. This is something that I've fantasized about the last few days, but never thought would happen. If given the chance, what would I offer to make him want to stay with me?
"Come with me, then. Come with me, and you can do whatever you want to do. If you want go to school, we'll look into programs; if you want to get a job, we'll find you one; if you want to paint all day long, we'll set up a studio. Just come with me and we'll figure it all out."
Peeta doesn't look like my words put him at ease, in fact, he looks stressed. "No matter what I do, I'll never be able to pay you back. I'll always owe you, Katniss, always."
"You won't owe me anything, Peeta. Being with you is all I need, because you make all this worth it. This isn't a transaction. I don't want anyone buying you ever again." I'll tell Peeta soon enough, I'll tell him how my Daddy died and my Momma disappeared inside herself. He'll know that I'm like him, but I got help much sooner.
"I need you, too, Katniss. I had no idea what this could feel like. I'm not sure I could sell myself anymore even if I tried."
"You really mean this? Not because I'm a project, but because you want to be with me? Because I like you, Katniss. I mean really like you, and I know you are too good for me."
I kiss him. "Trust me, Peeta, I am not the one who is too good here. If you really are doing this for me, then yes, please come with me. We'll leave here tonight and vacation wherever you want and just figure things out for awhile. Eventually we can go back to real life, but for now I want to get to know you, and tell you about me."
"Okay, but only one condition, and don't be mad?" Peeta asks with a smile on his face that illuminates the room.
"Anything!" I promise him and really mean it.
His hand reaches up to swipe at his nose in a now familiar gesture. "Uh, you've got to take a bath."
Perhaps we will tire of one another and things won't be as happy as I imagine they will. Or maybe being together will be everything that we hoped and together, Peeta and I will be the best versions of ourselves possible. We won't know until we try, and in this moment, I know we will do anything and everything we can to make this happen.
Thank you so much for every review, follow, and favorite! You guys are such wonderful readers and I appreciate you all so very much!
I'm going to list this story as complete, however, I am considering doing either an epilogue further into the future or some Peeta POV's that I will post here so you may want to leave it on your alert list! I just need to wrap up First Speech and some other projects first!
Thank you to Falafel_Waffle for the prompt, and Chelzie and Wildharp for the beta work! Find me on tumblr (kismetff) for information on my latest writing projects, musings about Gale Hawthorne and Everlark, and other nonsense!