Written for Prompts in Panem and inspired by the film, Before Sunrise. Thank you to my beta Chelzie. Also to iLoVeRynMar, TomiStaccato, Court81981, and the lovely PiP hostess, misshoneywell, for their guidance on this!
Disclaimer: I do not own THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy. It belongs to Suzanne Collins. I merely want to spend more time with her characters.
Music: "Lights" by Josh Ritter.
The Roller Coaster: Death
The girl looked to be his age, around seventeen. But she choked that orange ticket in her fist the way a child would clutch the last of their candy bar, the top peeking out from between her bunched fingers. She stood ahead of him in line, waiting for a seat on the roller coaster. But when the couple wedged between him and her began throwing verbal punches about who sacrifices more for whom, she turned around to scowl at them.
That's when her gaze met his. The jolt of contact was officially marked by the crack and slam of two bumper cars somewhere nearby. It was as close to lightning as they would get on this ripe summer evening.
She was beautiful. Her irises were the sterling silver of good luck coins. Her cheeks colored, which was either a textbook blush or a reflection of the cotton-candy-pink bulbs pulsing around them from the metropolis of carnival attractions. Her lips curved upward like an amusement ride of their own. One that he would empty his wallet for, would purchase an endless roll of tickets in order to enjoy.
She caught herself smiling at him. That smile dangled at the end of a fish hook, right in front of him, but she struggled to reel it in. Forgetting the grouchy couple, she averted her eyes and turned away. She flipped her dark braid over her shoulder and played with its tail.
When her turn came to get on the coaster, it took one question from the sunburn-faced kid operating it to change everything. "Any single riders?"
The boy and girl were paired together and squashed into a compact car. While the girl made a point of staring at the boy's shoes, he basked in her profile. How intriguing for anyone to come to a carnival alone. He had his own reason but wondered about hers.
Located in the center of the Capitol, the park was a spectacle of popsicle-colored lights and kinetic energy. Pumping, revolving machines going round and round, up and down like giant mechanical toys. Giddy shrieks and terrible pop music. Microphoned voices scratching through the air, telling people to watch their step.
The girl's arm brushed against his. A clusterfuck of activity set the boy's heart bungee-jumping from one end of his body to the other. It's true what they say about love at first sight, he thought. It actually happens sometimes.
During the safety check, the operator thrust the handlebar down onto the girl and boy's laps. The girl's face paled. She clutched the bar, her eyes widening when the train-themed coaster grumbled to life.
And finally, the boy found his voice. "Are you scared?"
And she found hers. "Shitless."
"I'm Peeta," he said without pacing himself.
"Katniss," she croaked.
"Scared of heights, Katniss?"
"Scared of death, actually."
Maybe it was her terror causing her to be so candid, Peeta guessed. Or maybe she had nothing to lose by being honest to a stranger. He liked it, either way.
In a rehearsed but toneless I've-got-a-crappy-job-so-don't-bother-me chant, the sunburn-faced operator droned on as though his very soul was absent. He warned patrons to keep their arms and feet inside the vehicle.
"Don't worry. I'm here. I'm not scared of death," Peeta said.
This earned him a frown, the first authentic face-to-face moment they'd shared so far. "You probably have no reason to think about it much."
He squinted. "Who would spend all their time doing that?"
She didn't respond. The coaster jerked forward and sailed down the tracks, a gust of wind slapping their cheeks as they rounded a corner. A crisscross grid of rails caged them in.
Peeta tried to think of something to make her feel safe. Something that would keep her attention on him. "So what are you doing sitting next to me, Katniss? Are you stocking up to get over your fear?"
"Not really—" she gasped as the tracks latched onto the train's wheels like teeth and hauled them up a steep incline.
Ten feet...twenty feet...she raised her chin, but her quivering lips gave her away. He didn't have much time to calm her down.
"Listen, let's play a game," he called out, his voice carrying over the din of the coaster's ascent.
"A game?" she echoed, blinking ahead.
"Let's just keep talking until we get to the top. You want to conquer your fear, right?"
"I don't think fears can be conquered. Only tolerated."
She twisted in her seat and glared at him. "What?"
"I said that's stupid," he repeated, glad that she was taking the bait. "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. It's totally dumb."
"No, it's not."
She opened her mouth to speak. The car looped and took a nosedive, slicing the air to shreds. The force shoved their backs into the seat, silencing them both.
When the car veered around another corner at the top, Peeta took the opportunity to check her wind-blown profile. She was surprised but in a good way. Tendrils of loose hair whipped freely from her braid, and her hands no longer gripped the bars. Seeing her that way was the ultimate rush.
He grinned. They plunged again.
When their car taxied back into the starting point, color had returned to her skin. But as they waited for the operator to let them out, she wheeled on him with a pinched expression. "I'm not stupid."
"I know," Peeta said blithely. "So that wasn't bad, was it? You stayed alive."
Her brows lifted as she grasped what he'd done. A chuckle escaped her. The handlebar popped up, freeing them.
He stood. "Fun, huh?"
"Wanna go again?"
Katniss glanced up at the coaster. A second later, her eyes dropped. "I spent what I had on that one ticket."
For the first time, Peeta took a better look at her clothes, which were faded, tattered, and a little too big on her. Definitely not the wardrobe of a Capitol girl. Maybe she was from the east end of the city.
Money wasn't an issue for him. His family's bakery was renowned across Panem. But so what? Moot subject aside, it didn't take a psychic to guess that this girl's pride wouldn't accept a chivalrous offer without tactful words.
"My treat. To congratulate you," he said. "I want to take a victory lap, but I'd hate to go alone. You'd be doing me a favor."
It worked. When she reluctantly agreed, he felt like he'd won a prize. As they waited in line, Peeta shoved his hands in his pockets. "What makes you think I have no reason to think about death?"
She hedged. "I can tell by your double-knotted shoelaces."
Nothing more. Was he supposed to guess? Or was he supposed to go on a scavenger hunt for the rest?
"What about them?" he asked.
"It's just...you think because you tie them that way, they won't unravel and trip you. I bet you think the glass is always half full."
"Who gives a shit?" she blurted out. "Even if it's half full, it'll eventually be empty because someone's got to drink from it."
Peeta chuckled. "You're disillusioned."
Katniss smirked. "You're sheltered."
"Unfair," he said. "I may not think about death all the time, but when I do, it gets my whole attention."
"They say if you keep a flashlight under your pillow, those furry monsters will go away."
"Sarcasm only means I'm progressing with you. Do you want to hear me out or not?"
The coaster car pulled up. They got in. This time, Katniss barely registered the atmosphere as she listened to Peeta's answer.
"When I was little, I once saw my mother's ghost," he said. "Like, a year after she died, I saw her standing in my family's bakery. I was in the middle of rinsing dough off my hands, and there she was, making sure that I washed up good. All I could do was stare because it was the first time, in a really long time, that she smiled at me. She acted way nicer in death than she ever did alive."
He flushed. He couldn't believe he'd just spilled that story. Until now, he'd kept that memory a secret.
He finished, "Don't laugh, okay? I just think, even in death, there's something hopeful."
Katniss stared at him. Her features softened. "I'm not laughing."
The second time they rode the coaster, Peeta took a shot. Despite his stomach rolling with nerves, he gave her hand a squeeze, and she squeezed back before gravity and velocity hijacked them. But they protected each other.
Afterward, they lingered on the grass, catching a rare tide of fluid conversation. Katniss confessed that as long as she wasn't aware of the moment she was about to die, she'd be fine. Peeta confessed that he'd rather know in advance, so that he could say goodbye to the people that mattered.
Peeta spelled his name out for Katniss. She explained the botanical origin of hers.
He was an artist and a baker and a wrestler. She was into archery and could carry a tune.
Before they realized it, the stars burned in the sky. When she noticed how long they'd been standing there, she mumbled, "I should go."
Peeta started to protest, but then she explained, "It's just that I came here to get on the coaster. That's all."
Cocking his head, he asked, "You came here just to get on the one ride you're afraid of?"
"I did it for my little sister." Katniss waited a beat before adding, "She died last year."
He stepped toward her. "I'm sorry."
"Prim always wanted to ride a coaster."
"So you decided to do it for her?"
She shrugged, which he took as a yes. He rubbed his calloused palms together, hoping he wasn't about to make a fantastic jackass out of himself. "Listen, I have an idea, although you probably have strict parents anyway."
"No, I—" Katniss stopped. "My parents are…not home this weekend. I'm on my own."
Peeta brightened. "Really? Because, um, I'm not actually from here. I'm from District 12, but I've been checking out the Capitol over the summer. Anyhow, tonight's my last night. I'm on my way back home, and train leaves in the morning, and…would you want to, maybe, hang out with me until then? If you don't have any plans, I mean."
Katniss narrowed her gaze. "Hang out?"
"Here. In the carnival. It's open all night. I'll pay for you to get on rides." When she grimaced at the offer, he dug his toe into the ground. "Katniss, I really like talking to you. I don't want to stop. I just want to spend every moment of the rest of this night with you. Think you'll allow it?"
At her hesitation, Peeta began jerking his head, a gesture meant to look cool and charming and funny, but more than likely made him look like he was malfunctioning. "C'mon. C'mon. C'mon."
She fussed with her braid. He watched her exquisite fingers bend. After making him suffer for twelve seconds, she nodded.
Oh, hell yeah. He was a goner.
The Carousel: Parents
If Peeta was a goner, Katniss was right behind him. The minute she first saw him, she thought he was cute, in a cereal commercial kind of way. Not to mention how his boyish idealism had confidently challenged her cynicism to a fencing match.
But it was those silly double knots in his shoelaces that had won her over. Even now, she found herself tempted to undo them, just to tease to him, wishing things could be that simple, that all she had to worry about was teasing someone she liked, someone who turned her body into a firework without saying a word.
She liked his blond hair and blue eyes. She liked his lopsided walk. She liked the way his short teeth flashed from between his lips when he smiled.
Peeta, she thought. P. E. E. T. A.
A sweet name that ended on a sigh and left the mouth wide open. Oh, Peet-ahhhh.
Katniss wasn't obvious about her feelings. She considered herself an expert at hiding things. Like the holes in the armpits of her sweater and the fact that she hadn't washed her hair in five days. And how the whiff of popcorn and toasted almonds from the snack booths tormented her.
As they strolled through the carnival, they talked about friendship and whether it was important to have one best friend for life or lots of good friends. They debated whether praying really made a difference and why the "God bless you" expression existed for sneezing, yet there was no expression for coughing. They questioned why boys did what they did, and why girls did what they did.
Katniss hadn't had someone to talk to in forever. She enjoyed telling him anything.
Well…almost anything. Already, her hungry heart started to rupture as she realized how lonely she'd been. How much it mattered to be known. Really known by another person.
Peeta confessed that he'd come to the Capitol for the summer to be with his girlfriend, who was here for a semester but who'd blown him off shortly after he arrived. Apparently, Delly had gotten too used to life in this highly shallow, highly implanted city. Eventually, he got the message and took off, using the rest of his vacation to explore the area.
Katniss wanted to kick Delly's worthless ass for hurting him. Admittedly, she also wanted to thank the wench for being so blind and, although Peeta didn't say it, slutty.
They hopped onto a carousel. She liked seeing everything exposed, from the cranks holding up the pastel-lacquered horses, to the brass organ at the hub of the rotunda. Peeta choose a horse with an orange saddle. Katniss took the green-saddled one to his left. When the big band melody piped from the organ and the ride started its revolution, they played "Q&A."
Katniss preferred asking instead of answering. "All right," she said, wiggling on her seat. "What stuff makes you mad?"
Peeta bit his tongue as he thought about it. He said that he hated when people pretended to be somebody they weren't (which made her flinch), and he hated the glorification of violence (which made her reach out to nearly touch his hair when he wasn't looking), and he hated hyperbole (which she could relate to). And being from a family of bakers, he hated prepackaged bread.
When the ride ended, they handed the operator more tickets and took another spin, and then another, and another, remaining there until past midnight, determined not to get off until they finished their game.
"What's your favorite color?"
"What's your happy place?"
"What couldn't you survive without?"
They mounted new horses each time, laughing as they dashed around the platform in order to find pairs that they hadn't ridden yet. At one point, they got quiet, watching pint-sized twins fight over a horse while the parents tried to calm the children down. Katniss watched them. She missed fighting with her sister. She missed her father.
She caught Peeta staring at her and angled her body toward him, resting her temple against the metallic bar. He did the same, the breeze flitting through the ends of his hair. They studied each other openly.
Still jostled by his answers about violence and people being not what they seemed, she asked, "Do you miss your mother?"
The way Peeta's jaw tensed made her fear that she'd overstepped her boundaries, until he answered, "Yes and no. I miss her as a ghost, not her as an actual person. She wasn't nice."
That disturbed Katniss. She understood loyalty. What she didn't understand was the obligation to miss someone if they never deserved it. She'd loved her father and sister. Her mother, on the other hand, had never shown an ounce of affection for Katniss.
Even worse, the hint that Peeta's mom hadn't been nice to him raised Katniss's hackles. "Family, uncles, sisters, mothers—those are all just measly titles, Peeta. Blood shouldn't dictate a thing. Love's gotta to be earned. I can't just feel it because someone's related to me."
"Even if a parent sucked, it's not easy saying they sucked."
"You don't have to say yes if you don't mean it. Not to me."
"But I do mean it. The ghost was a good thing. The moment was as real as this one." He smiled sadly. "You have a rough mom, too?"
Katniss glanced at her lap. "Something like that. She wasn't—isn't," she corrected, unwilling to reveal that her family was actually dead. Her father been killed in a mine explosion, with her suicidal mother following soon after, and her little sister from a rare tracker jacker sting.
"My mom isn't like my dad," Katniss said. "She's distant."
"I get it."
"I hoped you would."
"I still can't say I don't miss my mom—not when I remember that ghost. But you're right. Family is a more beautiful thing when the love is earned."
She patted the horse's mane. "Beautiful. What's beautiful?"
Peeta's transparent expression told her what his answer would be. She felt dizzy, but not from the carousel.
The Fortune Teller: Real or not Real?
The passage of time vanished, no more significant than a fleeting giggle coming from the hovercraft ride, or the oooh's from Caesar Flickermann's Sideshow of Oddities, or the random pings from Abernathy's Arcade. At the Whack-a-Squirrel, Katniss tried to ignore Peeta's play-by-play commentator jokes while she smacked the plastic critters back into their holes.
"Ohhh, almost but not quite."
"Punt to the right! Punt to the left!"
"This girl doesn't know her own strength, ladies and gentleman."
"Uh-oh, her reflexes are experiencing system failure. This could get ugly."
Katniss sacrificed the game and began pummeling his shoulder with the sponge club. "Fucking. Be. Quiet. You. Mother. Fucking. Bread. Boy."
Peeta almost had an asthma attack from cackling so hard.
She created a memory book in her head, archiving random details about him. The creases in his shirt. The expensive-looking leather belt that rode the hips of his expensive-looking jeans. How his lashes fluttered rapidly when he over-thought something. The way he constantly stepped to the side first in order to let other people pass by.
The tremendous feeling of his hand on her lower back, steering her from walking into a maypole in the kiddie area—because she'd been too hypnotized by the sight of the funnel cake stand to check where she was going. The whiff of powdered sugar filled the hollow bowl of her stomach. In the Capitol, it was hard enough hunting through trashcans for something dense to eat. Pastries and sweets hadn't been on the menu in her life for as long as she could remember.
"Are you hungry?" Peeta asked.
"No," she lied.
"I saw you looking."
"Who wouldn't look at dessert? That doesn't mean I'm hungry." Katniss didn't want him to witness that needy part of her. She feared he would see through her if she ate in front of him, because she couldn't trust herself to do it slowly, as if finding her next meal wasn't a constant problem. He would see exactly how depleted she was. And she would be ashamed.
The very thought caused tears to poke at the backs of her eyes. She was starving.
Without a word, Peeta took her hand and dragged her to the funnel cake stand, where he placed an order for two. Her mouth watered, her teeth ground together, and her fingers shook as she balanced the treat on its paper plate. She warned herself not to attack the food, but when Peeta dug into his like he hadn't eaten all day, Katniss gobbled hers. They looked up every so often, smiling at each other, gulping down pink lemonade in between hefty bites.
"You have a powder mustache," Katniss complimented.
"Muffmm?" Peeta said around a mouthful of food.
Carefully, she wiped his upper lip. He swallowed, admiring her face as she did it. Discovering his skin beneath the pad of her thumb stole her breath away.
"All better." Katniss cleared her throat. "I mean, all clean." She tried to pull back, but he caught her wrist and brushed his mouth across the inside of her palm, dissolving her into a million pieces.
"Thank you," he said.
Sometime around 2am, they reclined on the lawn beneath a swing ride made of parachutes. For a while, they did nothing but watch it spin. Katniss still didn't know how to react to his earlier affectionate gesture. She hadn't made any hints that the contact was unwelcome.
In fact, she wanted more. A lot more. Foolishly, she craved another kiss, but not on her hand. She wished for a more significant kiss, applied to a different part of her, or maybe every part of her.
Was this happening too fast?
Peeta twisted onto his side, and she matched his position. "Okay," he said. "I'm going to call to my brother, Rye, in District 12."
Katniss frowned in confusion when Peeta formed his hand into the shape of a phone and pressed it to the side of his face. He mimicked a ring tone. "Brrrring, brrring..."
She caught on to to the game and rolled her eyes, but she picked up her own pretend phone, lowering her voice to sound masculine. "Hey, baker bro. How's the Capitol?"
"Hey, Rye," Peeta improvised. "The Capitol blows, but you won't believe this. On my last night here, I met a girl."
"Really? What about Delly?"
Katniss did a smug little breakdance in her head. "So tell me about this girl. Is she...um...is-is she hot?"
Peeta quirked a brow. "That's an understatement. And she's mysterious, but I feel like I can tell her anything. We've been walking around this carnival all night, but man, I'm worried that she thinks I'm weird. I told her this story—something I haven't even told you—about seeing Mom's ghost. I don't know. I think I might have creeped her out."
"Nah. I wouldn't worry about that."
"I'm pretty sure it touched her more than you know."
"Well, I hope she doesn't think I'm desperate by leading her around this place all night. It's not because I don't want to be alone. I really want every second I can have with her. I hope she knows that."
"Oh, baker bro. You've got no clue the effect you can have on people."
"Neither does she," Peeta said quietly.
They glanced at each other. Abruptly, Peeta slammed down the makeshift phone, picked it up again, and said, "Your turn."
Katniss called her dead sister, doing a pathetic impression of a ring tone that sounded more like a deflated tuba. When Peeta answered, the first thing she rattled out was, "I miss you, Prim."
"I miss you, too," Peeta said in a high-pitched girly voice. "Where are you?"
"I'm safe. I'm with a boy."
Peeta mock-squealed. "Oooh, what's he like?"
Katniss shook her head at him. "He's nice, funny, selfless, a little clumsy. He got me talking."
"Yeah, I bet that was tough to do."
"Zip it, brat. I'm older. Anyway, his name is Peeta."
"Like the bread? I don't know, sis. That sounds lame."
Katniss detected a notch of insecurity there. "Not like the bread...I like his name. I...like him. He's got the bluest eyes I've ever seen. I..." She cast her gaze down at their shadows on the grass. "I like to feel them on me when I look away."
Peeta was silent, but she felt the weight of him absorbing that information. She smirked and added, "He's so adorable, I bet he kisses like a middle-schooler."
"What?" Peeta demanded, forgetting to change his voice. Her head tilted to peek at his precious reaction, at his brows shooting into his forehead as he leaned forward.
She burst out laughing, dropping the phone act and rolling across the grass while clutching her side. After a moment, Peeta joined in.
"A couple in love?" a feline voice interrupted. "Or simply a lovely couple?"
Standing above them was the strangest-looking person Katniss had ever seen—and she'd seen tons of strange people. It was a woman, but her skin stretched back into her hairline as though someone had pinned it there. Black and gold stripes tattooed her face. She wore a catsuit with fur lining the wrists and the ankles of her leggings. Seriously, all she lacked was a pair of whiskers.
"They call me Tigris," the woman purred as she knelt beside Katniss and Peeta. "Beautiful boy and beautiful girl." She inspected them closely. "Yes, I see it. You're in love."
Katniss bolted upright. She would have been insulted by Tigris's nosiness if she wasn't busy dying of mortification. Cheeks exploding with heat, she avoided looking at Peeta.
"Ahhh, you're a shy pair," Tigris declared. "But the boy believes in impossible things. You, serious girl, do not. Give me your hand, then, and I will prove that you should. Come, come, don't scowl at me. I will tell you about your future. And if you like what you hear, you can pay me what you think I deserve. Yes?"
Katniss opened her mouth to growl at the woman. But upon seeing Peeta's face so stoked about the idea, she relented. Grunting, she offered the cat woman her hand.
Tigris flipped Katniss's palm over, and Katniss shuffled, suspecting this could be a fucked up idea if the woman latched onto private things. Not that she expected to hear the truth.
The cat woman traced her fingers over the lines mapping Katniss's skin, examining them patiently under the microscope of her slanted eyes. Those feline eyes lifted to meet a pair of fearful, pleading, gray ones.
Shit. She knows where I live.
Or more to the point, where I don't live.
Please. If you're actually not a fake, don't say anything. He can't know about me. I don't want him to know.
Tigris's mouth twitched at the corner. "You're a survivor. More alone in this world than anyone should be, even though you pretend you need no one. Yet you've found a new reason to keep living. Someone special. Someone who helps you breathe. Your heart has opened again. You know about hunger—"
Katniss tried to yank her fingers away, but the woman held on and continued, "But this is an entirely new kind. You're learning, girl. The fire is catching. You're becoming a woman who's not afraid to be fragile, and that takes trust, and that will make you stronger than before. This will guide you to better times, where life can be good again, if you let it."
Katniss shuddered. She might be stupid enough to start crying.
The cat woman released her and then wiped those feline hands. "Money, please."
Peeta gave her a wad of bills. As the women slunk away, she sang that they were both "stardust," and then disappeared into the crowd. Silence bloomed between them.
"I loved what she said about you," Peeta admitted, scooting closer to Katniss. His voice became too molten and his expression held too much depth for her to handle.
"She should have read your palm instead," Katniss mumbled, focusing on his shoulder. "She doesn't know what's real."
"And she doesn't know what's not real."
"I said, come here."
"She lied. She made that all up—"
Peeta wrapped his hand around the back of her neck, hauled her forward, and kissed her. Her heart rocketed into her throat. It wasn't a deep kiss, but rather a tender molding of closed lips. Yet she tasted powdered sugar and eagerness on him.
When he arched his face away, barely enough to separate their mouths, he murmured, "No, she didn't lie at all."
The Ferris Wheel: Love
As cliché as it seemed, Katniss wasn't any other girl. Hers weren't any other lips. This wasn't any other night. And he liked to think, to her, he wasn't any other guy.
Which was why, without another word, they decided together. They launched themselves off the grass and sprinted to the Ferris wheel. Metal baskets dangled from the outer rim of the mammoth ride, its vibrant lights intersecting and forming a dandelion in the center.
Seizing her hand, Peeta dragged Katniss up the platform, thrust their tickets at the operator, and leaped into the next basket. Their hips knocked together. Her proximity to him did painful, female-infused things to his groin.
They stared ahead, waiting, breathing, waiting, breathing, waiting, breathing, until the ride whirled into motion. Their seat lifted off the ground, hoisting them above the blue-and-white stripped tents. This reality surpassed everything Peeta had concocted in his fantasies, because the moment the gears turned and the bench rose into the air, they moved at the same time. Twisting around, they flung themselves at each other, heads already angled and mouths colliding. Katniss practically landed on his lap as he locked his arms around her waist and crushed her to him. Her fingers ripped through his hair and fastened his head in place.
The kiss made his heart thump wildly. Groaning, his lips spread hers, his tongue whipping into her mouth. Her hot little whine vibrated into his throat and cracked his mind wide open.
He pulled away only to grab her face and tilt it in a new direction before claiming her again. Her tongue held the flavors of summer, of fresh grass and the lemonade they'd shared. He deepened the kiss, making every effort to stir more sounds from her. The only sense he had of the Ferris wheel turning was the decline in elevation, his belly dropping to his knees as they plummeted to the ground, and then soared upward again.
And damn, she felt so soft, and they weren't really alone...but God, if they were alone...if they were alone, his mouth would cover the many miles of her skin. He would exhaust them both. He would love her completely.
Was it possible to feel this way so fast? He guessed it was just as possible as it taking years.
When he swiped his tongue over her upper lip, Katniss's gasp made him smile. So much for kissing like a middle-schooler. He'd show her. Hell, he'd make her lips swollen and raw before he finished showing her.
As he kissed her, and she kissed him back, Peeta realized this wasn't the first kiss. Technically, their first kiss happened on the ground.
But this was the first time they were completely and utterly silent.
The Magic Castle: Sex
It was closed for repairs, but they sneaked in anyway. Pressing his fingers to his thoroughly-smooched lips, Peeta crept past the "No trespassing" sign and led Katniss into the castle. They kept their voices low, though it was clear that security had better things to do than check up on the place.
The attraction was a mini palace in the literal sense, as large as most Capitol mansions. Separated by narrow corridors they discovered a banquet hall, a small ballroom, a royal throne, a princess tower, and a hall of mirrors vast enough to get lost in. Peeta studied his reflection as Katniss wrapped her arms around him from behind. The positioning of the mirrors recreated this pose hundreds of times, linking them together like a chain.
In the aftermath of their kiss, he felt particularly naughty and competitive. He spoke to her through the glass. "Tell me about the first time you had sexy-sexual-sexified thoughts about anyone."
Katniss gave him an I'm-not-going-to-answer-that look.
"Hey. Answer or—" he jerked his thumb "—off my property, sweetheart."
"I can't talk about it in a magic castle."
"Oh, no. No no no. You're not going to get out of this when I've answered everything you've asked me. This is the perfect place to talk smut n' stuff. A castle is so pure, you won't be inspired to make something up."
"No, but I will make you pay for this."
Peeta stuck his tongue out at her. Hundreds of tongues. Ha!
"Fine. Gale Hawthorne," Katniss sighed. "He was my best buddy. I mean, until he had to bolt from the city. His temper earned him too many enemies on the street."
"On the street?"
"Well, we—um, he wasn't in school. But he was a tall, hunky drink of water."
Peeta wrinkled his nose. "Uh-huh."
"He was strrrrong and rrrrough."
"I guess, if you like that kind of thing."
"Mmm-hmmm, yeah. And he was climbable like a tree. And—"
Katniss yelped when Peeta chased after her. She hopped around mirrors, dodging him with impressive agility. He lost his sense of direction from the countless reflections of her, so he followed the sounds of her footsteps. Prowling along the length of a wall, he scanned the panes of glass.
A bang. And a hiss. And a "Fuck."
They came from around the corner. Peeta jumped out and snatched her by the waist, yanking her back against his chest. She slapped his arms repeatedly while he teased her for being a sore loser.
Spinning her around, he captured her chin. "Fill me in. Is this Gale fellow your taste?"
She sobered. Her emboldened gaze surprised him as much as her answer. "Not anymore."
This time, the kiss was patient. Their mouths grazed, testing out the moment as the carnival noise outside faded. The friction knotted in the lower region of his body. In his mind, he pulled away before things went too far. He calmed them both down with rational words.
In actuality, he did the opposite. He gripped the pockets of Katniss's jeans and walked her backward until her spine hit one of the long mirrors. Their mouths continued to explore. When his tongue thrust between her lips, it pushed them into oblivion.
Their bodies took action. Hands slipped beneath shirts and waistbands, and her thighs flanked his hardness. Zippers came down. He discovered the wetness that seeped from her and how it felt to hear his name moaned into his ear, crinkling at the edges like paper swept into the breeze.
He'd never been with Delly. They had their fun, but nothing close to this.
At his hesitation, Katniss begged, "Don't stop, Peeta. Please, don't stop."
Still, that's exactly what he tried to do. Several times. He whispered to Katniss, and she whispered back. Neither one of them had experience, so did they really know what they were doing? Would they do this if time weren't an issue? Was this right?
Yes. Yes. Yes.
When she directed his fingers to the buttons of her shirt, he asked, "Are you sure?"
When she nervously undid his belt, he warned her, "We'll have to say goodbye."
When she guided him to the clasp of her frayed bra, he said, "You deserve so much more."
When they were reduced to underwear, she answered, "There is nothing more than you. There can't be."
"I would marry you right now instead of never seeing you again."
"I don't want to get married. I just want you." She hissed when Peeta tried something under her panties. "Oh..."
"You like that?" he asked.
"So much it scares me."
"I like it, too."
"Then do it more."
For him, this was it. This was the final choice, the biggest one tonight. He handed her part of him that he knew he wouldn't get back. He believed it would be worth it. The hurt. The separation. This was the last piece he'd held back all night, and he offered it to her.
Are those holes in her sweater?
How can she be so thin?
I should have given her my funnel cake, too.
When they were naked, and the condom was on, he picked her up and pressed her into the glass. Her legs tightened around him. With every careful step their bodies took, he asked more questions.
"Is this okay?"
"Am I hurting you?"
"Can you feel me? Does it feel good?"
Breaking through her took a while, but using the mirror for leverage relieved a chunk of the weight off his arms. Eventually, Katniss's left leg slid to the ground, alleviating even more pressure while the other leg anchored over his waist.
And finally, he was there.
He was hers. She was his. She nodded frantically, allowing for more. She surrounded him, their hips connecting, as they cried out.
"Stay inside me," Katniss said. "Stay with me."
"Always," he keened.
"Not always. Just now."
To Peeta, there was no difference. Always was now. That was enough for him.
Over her shoulder, he saw it. The hall of mirrors reflected them as they attached themselves to one another. Their flexing arms and limbs, her nails biting into his lower back, his repeated descent inside her. While the sensations wracked his body and the response tore brokenly from his throat, he watched himself lovingly fuck a girl, thrusting into her, making her fall apart from hundreds of angles. Hundreds of reflections to mark each time they would have done this again, if they'd been given the chance.
Game Booth: Hope
Afterward, they ended up on the floor, examining themselves in the mirrors. Katniss loved the sight of him, the texture of him, the sound of him. He sat behind her, his chin resting on her shoulder as they appraised the many angles of her breasts and the outlines of his ass. Their feet and wiggling toes. Their interlacing fingers.
Then they half-kissed, half-chuckled while trying to see how it looked like from the side. Then Peeta rested his head in her lap while she played with his hair. Then he used his last condom. He made love to her again, this time on the ground, where she cradled his body in her arms and came with a shout.
It was dawn when they exited the castle. An orange disk cut over the horizon, and most people had gone home by then, with only handfuls of stragglers left. Only a few rides still ran as the colorful bulbs dimmed and workers closed up their sections. Peeta slung his arm around Katniss. He bought her another funnel cake without asking if she wanted one, and she devoured it while he watched her intently. They took detours, procrastinating as much as possible, though they didn't say that's what they were doing.
They found an open archery game booth. Holding the plastic bow, happiness, nostalgia, and grief intersected inside her. She'd had to sell her bow months ago in order to eat.
"My father taught me how to hunt," she told Peeta, who paid for three rounds.
Despite being rusty, the arrows struck the centers of all six yellow markers. Hope rooted in her navel and grew from there, an old but familiar feeling. Her skill hadn't weakened. In this very fabricated place, she found so many real things.
She won enough tickets to choose a prize. She wanted to pick something for Peeta, to pay him back for the last twelve hours, because she owed him plenty.
Of course, he beat her to it. "This," Peeta said, pointing to a fake pearl pendant necklace inside a glass case.
She lifted her braid so he could drape the necklace around her neck, which rested between her collarbones. He stroked the jewel and said, "It's rare."
No way in hell would Katniss call herself a crier. Not since the day her sister died. Yet by the time she and Peeta reached the carnival's main gate, she was a sniffling, runny-nosed, freaking mess. Their foreheads pressed together as his thumbs wiped at her tears.
Peeta grin sadly. "Is it bad that I'm grateful you'll miss me this much?"
"Screw you," Katniss muttered.
Their chuckles ebbed. They listened to the clank of machines turning off.
"What you did for me tonight..." Katniss covered his hands with hers. "You don't know how much it means to me."
"You're wrong. I know. I feel the same." His face creased with worry. "Will you be okay?"
She froze. Did he suspect something? It hadn't been easy disguising herself as a normal girl, someone with a family and a home. She prayed he hadn't figured it out. She wanted him to leave with a safer, happier impression of her.
She pushed the words from her mouth. "Of course. I'll always be okay."
"Tell me you want to see me again."
It wasn't possible. They lived too far apart, and in polar opposite realities. His life bypassed hers in every way, and she had nothing to offer, no guarantee. She couldn't string him along, making him wait for a girl with no means to reach him, much less keep in touch.
Katniss listed the reasons why this couldn't work, refusing to give him a (false) address where he could write her, declining to accept his actual phone number. Dammit, how she longed to take it anyway, if only to spend her nights staring at the numbers.
Not surprisingly, he put up a good fight. But after a few more attempts, he gave up fighting. Stepping back, Peeta held her at arm's length and said, "I'm going to memorize your face. I'm going to freeze this moment and live in it."
They kept still and stared at each other. She locked in every detail of him, while he did the same. Then he choked out, "Okay."
Not okay. They grabbed each other and melted into a kiss. Breaking away, he left her, his steps heavy as they lumbered toward a fleet of Capitol cabs idling on the sidewalk. Katniss held her breath, terrified that he would turn around, yet wishing for it. He halted, but he must have sensed her dilemma, because he kept going. Going. Gone.
In a daze, she drifted through the carnival one more time, stopping at each place they'd been. From there, she hiked into the bordering park, deep into the trees, returning to the secluded knoll where she'd stashed her sleeping bag. The spot offered a good view of the Ferris wheel.
Yes, she would be fine. She had lasted this long on her own. She would do even better for herself from now on, with the hope he'd given her, reminding her that she could strive for more. More than day-to-day survival.
And maybe someday, when things got better, and she didn't have holes hidden in her sweater, and she could buy her own funnel cake, she would find him again. Maybe someday she would deserve the likes of him.
Rolling out the bag, Katniss tucked herself in. Although she considered jumping up and running after him, she forced herself to stay put. To let go of one more person she loved. To be grateful that he'd been around, at least for a short time. Stroking the pearl pendant, she allowed flashes of his smile, his jokes, his voice guide her to sleep.
She flinched, her eyes opening at the sound of approaching footsteps. She couldn't have been resting for very long because the sky hadn't changed colors. She balled her hand into a fist, ready to defend herself if need be.
Then she smelled him. Cinnamon and hope. In shock, Katniss lay there as he unzipped the sleeping bag and slipped inside. His arms covered her waist and drew her against his chest. His breath tickled her ear.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Peeta whispered.
Katniss shook her head. Of all things, she felt guilty for delaying him and began to sob. "Oh, crap. I'm making you miss your train."
"Forget that," he said. "Is-is this how you live?"
Humiliated, yet too tired to be pissed at him for following her here, she took his hand and pressed it to her lips. Birds whistled in the branches overhead.
"I saw you go back into the carnival," he explained. "And then I was barely inside the cab when I jumped out. I just had a feeling..."
She felt the question settle between them: Where did they go from here?
"There'll be another train," he said.
Katniss snuggled into Peeta, sensing him contemplating something else. "The nature preserve in District 12 is hiring." His lips moved across the top of her head as he spoke. "Do you like the woods, Katniss?"
What he asked broke her resolve. Because no one ultimately survived alone.
She twisted her head over her shoulder. His face asked her to trust him, come with him, be with him. Her throat raw from talking all night, she answered with a smile.
In the distance, the carnival shut down. Miles away, the train rolled out of the station.
Meanwhile, in the park, the sleeping bag rustled as they made plans.
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