A/N: I am so incredibly sorry that the wait has been this long. Between coursework, my personal life, and communication/computer issues it has dragged on far longer than I had anticipated. Fortunately, the next chapter is (mostly) written, and once beta-read, will be up asap. Thank you for your continued support in my first published story. Virtual hugs for everyone.
I don't own The Hunger Games or associated characters, nor am I making any money from this fictional wonderland.
The morning air was cool on his face as Peeta slipped out the door, careful to stop it from slamming shut behind him. He inhaled deeply, eager to begin his run. With the volume high on his music, he leapt from the porch and fell into his normal pace. Today wasn't normal though, because for the first time, he left with a small drawstring backpack.
The night before, Peeta had reached the end of his drawings. While going through the sketchbook, he hadn't thought about whether or not he would get back into art. All he had done was re-experience memories from his several years overseas. Faced with blank pages, he considered his options. He could chuck it into the drawer of his desk, where it would likely stay untouched for weeks. Or he could keep it on his nightstand, with the intention of drawing again sometime soon. He had set it on his nightstand and turned out the light, hoping that sleep would help to clarify his feelings. When he woke, the first rays of light were filtering through the curtains and the day seemed promising. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and climbed out of bed. The last six months hadn't been enough for him to shake old habits and routines. Even without SOP to follow, each morning he would make his bed and square away his clothing. A check out the window was all it took for him to resolve his internal debate. The sky was a dim blue overhead, night not yet completely cleared. Blue fading into orange where light from the rising sun streaked the sky. Most trees still clung to their leaves, and spread beyond his window as an amber carpet. It was against this array of colors that the town was silhouetted. The quiet peace that accompanied dawn had been enough motivation for Peeta to dig a nylon drawstring backpack from the bottom of his dresser. Even with his sketchbook and pencils, its weight was barely noticeable. It was nothing compared to the mass of gear he used to carry with him. He had shoved away the memories that had tried to creep in from the corners of his mind, and quietly descended the stairs.
Peeta arrived at the secluded rock outcropping and settled himself on the ledge he'd favored as a teenager, removing his ear buds so he could hear the early bird songs. He dug out his sketchbook and pencils, flipping through the pages until the first blank sheet appeared. He let out a breath he didn't know he held before touching pencil to paper. Time seemed to slow as he began to draw the view before him.
They say that when you resume something you haven't done in a fair amount of time, but once knew how to do well, you're able to pick it back up quickly. They say that your body remembers how, even if you're not consciously aware of it. Like riding a bicycle. Peeta wondered how much truth that saying actually held. It had been at least six months since he had last drawn, if not more. He was apprehensive, hesitating when the lines didn't feel exactly right. He erased and erased and erased. Smudging and redrawing until the image came alive. He was pleasantly surprised when the shading on a particular detail was accurate, even though he couldn't pinpoint the technique he had used. The vantage point on the hill allowed him to capture buildings and other features of the landscape. This felt right-being here, doing this-it was as though he had never left. He was pondering whether or not to re-work this piece into a painting if he had the time, when a voice called out softly from behind him.
"Whatcha drawing?" Startled at the sudden noise, Peeta dropped his book, pencils scattering. He scrambled to his feet, turning to see who had spoken. "Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you. Just curious." To his surprise, it was Katniss. The olive-skinned, grey-eyed girl stood a few feet away, hands raised defensively in the air.
"How long have you been standing there?" He knew his voice sounded accusatory, but Peeta didn't care. His focus was on slowing his rapid pulse and repressing the instinct to fight that accompanied surprise. She stood very still, watching him closely while she lowered her hands.
"Just for a minute." She said, voice steady. Peeta's mind was reeling. This was not how he had expected to see her again. This was not what he had expected to happen when he left the house this morning. Brows furrowed, he considered the situation and the multitude of questions running through his head.
"Have you been watching me?" The words tumbled from his lips, tone no longer harsh, merely confused.
"Uh, I-uhm-no. No. Definitely not." Katniss seemed taken aback by his question. A blush crept up her neck, and as it spread to her cheeks he absent-mindedly considered how innocent she looked with her face tinged pink. It was the emphasis on her final words that drew his mind back to the present and the baffling encounter.
"Then why are you sneaking up on me in the middle of nowhere?"
"I wasn't sneaking. I just wanted to know what you're drawing." She went stiff, a defensive edge creeping into her voice. Peeta ran a hand through his hair, not breaking eye contact with her.
"I was alone in the woods and then suddenly you're behind me, looking over my shoulder. I'd call that sneaking." It was apparent that Katniss didn't take kindly to his accusation. Her hands settled on her hips and her eyes narrowed.
"Look, it's not like I come out here to stalk you," she said, "You're the one that inconveniently runs through my practice range every morning. I wasn't about to stop just because some random ass guy keeps showing up."
"That answered none of my questions." He took a moment in an attempt to sort out what was happening. He had been drawing, then she had appeared. He hadn't heard her coming, though. She must have been practicing, but that didn't make sense because he had sat here for quite a while now. As he replayed her words in his mind something caught his attention. "Wait, how did you know I've been through here every morning?"
"You're starting to make me sound psycho." She pressed her lips together as a blush once again rose to her cheeks; like she'd been caught doing something she shouldn't have. Several moments passed before she explained, her eyes avoiding his and her words rushed. "I was practicing the morning after we met, and I honestly didn't think you'd be back. Then you did come back, so I left. Which was stupid, because I'm not breaking any rules and I wasted the rest of my practice time by leaving when I did. And then the next morning you were back again-and no offense or anything, but you're loud as fuck. I can hear you coming from like, five minutes away-so I... I just kind of... climbed that tree and waited until you left. After that I climbed back down and finished shooting until I had to leave." She bit her bottom lip, looked him in the eye, and shrugged. "It just kind of... kept happening."
The seconds seemed to draw out into hours between them as Peeta processed everything she'd just said. She had been here, up in some tree. She had come back. She'd been hiding, but still, she had come back. Why had she been hiding? The whole situation was strange. Katniss shifted her weight from foot to foot, looking rather embarrassed. When he had finished thinking, Peeta shook his head and let out a somewhat bewildered laugh.
"I don't make you sound psycho. You make you sound psycho."
"Hey!" Her indignation was back in full force. "It worked, didn't it? We both got to keep this place to ourselves and we didn't have to interact with each other."
"Would that have been so bad?" The question hung in the air between them, catching Katniss off guard. Peeta stood in the same spot he had when she'd first startled him, wondering how she'd walked away from their first meeting with the impression that he didn't want to see her again. Hadn't she been the one who said they wouldn't?
"What do you mean?" Her voice was soft again, and Peeta marveled at how quickly it could shift between tones. She had removed her hands from her hips, opting to cross them in front of herself. Except it wasn't in an argumentative way. It looked more like she was hugging herself, waiting for his answer. He took a deep breath, and they locked eyes. Peeta exhaled and let the words fall from his lips.
"I kind of hoped to see you again."