Warning: Major character death, suicide.
It was never intended to have the impact that it did. It was just a way to save him, to save them both. It was an act born not of rebellion, but of hope and desperation. She was just trying to keep her promise, to pay him back for the bread from their childhood.
It was intended to be just another death sentence, but it was one on their terms. Instead of letting the Capitol play with their lives and choose the manner of their imminent death, she had simply decided to take matters into her own hands. The death sentence became a life sentence simply because those in charge were too proud to let their system be bested. They had to maintain their control. He had to maintain his control. He should have just let the order stand, that only one Victor would be allowed.
Surely he could have figured out some way to stop one from following the other. The likelihood of both of them acting at the exact same moment was slim. They probably could have gotten a hovercraft there in time to pick up the second before the first's heart had even stopped. It could have saved them a lot of trouble, if only one of them had survived. Their little "rebellious act" would have been overlooked, swept under the rug. The old man certainly could have spun it to the Capitol as the last, desperate act of a love-struck girl and the boy who had slowly but surely won her over.
The truth need never have come out, that none of it was real, that she wasn't capable of feeling for anyone the way she had pretended to feel for him, the way he really felt for her. If she were the one to survive, she could have easily explained away her aversion to marriage. Her one true love was dead; how could she possibly move on from that when she was the one who killed him? She could have done it, lived out the sad remainder of her life just like Haymitch managed it. The old man's white liquor was already growing on her. While she had once winced at the mere smell and gagged at the taste, she could now get it down with no problem. Sometimes she even craved it.
But she knew, deep down, that she wouldn't have really survived the arena without him. She tried to hide it, but she thought he could tell that sometimes she really did mean those looks she gave him, the gentle, affectionate touches and sweet kisses that were reserved only for the cameras. It was strange, the way she couldn't even go an hour without thinking of him anymore.
Sometimes it was his curly, golden hair that she longed to touch at the strangest moments. Or his eyes, a deep, warm blue that she just knew picked up on everything she did, every lie she told, as well as every unintentional truth. Or his hands and the burn marks that littered them and made them so much rougher than she had expected them to be, with his Merchant upbringing. Other times it was his eyelashes, so long and pale that she could stare at them for hours and yet could never figure out how they could extend so far. Sometimes it wasn't any of that. Sometimes it was just him and his unfailing goodness that drew her attention. He was so steady and strong and forgiving. It was infuriating sometimes that he never seemed to resent her inability to return his feelings the way he deserved.
At first, he had avoided her upon their return to District Twelve, but after a week during which Katniss felt guiltier than she ever had in her life, he had called out to her as she left her house and limped his way over to her, still not used to the prosthetic leg with which the Capitol had fitted him. He handed her a basket of baked goods and, red-faced, apologized for his behavior. He had thought about it a lot, he explained, and realized that she hadn't done anything to hurt him, but had done everything she could think of to save him. And then he thanked her. She hadn't known how to respond to that, but had just stared at him blankly until he forced the basket into her arms and muttered an awkward goodbye, turning at the last moment before disappearing into his empty house to tell her that he missed her and he didn't expect her to miss him, but if she ever did, his door was always open.
That night was not the first night she woke in her bed, alone and screaming, paralyzed with fear at the memories of the horrors she had endured in the Games. It was not even the first night she finally got out of bed and ambled haltingly to the window, staring out through the darkness to the backlit window in the house down the street. Peeta's house was always lit up at night. She often wondered if he slept better with the lights on or if he kept the lights on to ward off sleep. No, that was not the first night she wondered.
It was, however, the first night she decided to find out.
Slipping down the stairs and through the back door silently, she didn't even think to bother with shoes or a coat until she was at Peeta's back door, knocking quietly so that she might not wake him if he was asleep, but loud enough for him to hear if he was awake. There was a moment of silence after she knocked and Katniss half hoped he wouldn't answer so she could sneak back into her own house and climb back into her bed to stare at the ceiling until it was time to get up. She startled when the door opened suddenly and she came face to face with a wary-looking, shirtless Peeta. Katniss was careful to look no lower than his sturdy jawline lest he think she had come over with improper intentions.
He was surprised to see her, and Katniss was unsurprised to see the dark circles under his eyes that suggested he hadn't been to bed yet, but he invited her inside anyway. When Katniss explained haltingly in the middle of his living room that she had woken from a nightmare and noticed his lights were on, Peeta explained that he usually didn't sleep at night, but painted. Katniss' gaze had swept him then and she noticed the paint smears on his hands, splatters on his pants and streaks through his hair and on his chest. She wanted to ask what he had been working on tonight, but the bright red color of the paint and the haunted look in his tired eyes made her think better. The Games. Of course he would have been painting his memories of the Arena.
Peeta caught her staring at a suspiciously-placed smear of red on the left side of his sleep pants in the precise spot where his pants transitioned from fitting snugly around his firm, muscular thigh to hanging loosely around the prosthetic he had been fitted with after his amputation. She had never seen the contraption, but she was suddenly very curious. She was wondering how she could breach the subject with him when he cleared his throat and she glanced up to see the discomfort on his face.
They had been suffering through an awkward silence for a good minute when Katniss couldn't stand it anymore. This wasn't how it was supposed to be between them. Peeta wasn't supposed to be awkward and uncomfortable. They weren't supposed to be awkward and uncomfortable. Peeta was supposed to make things feel alright, natural. He was supposed to joke around and tell her he loved her while she acted like she didn't want to hear it but secretly thrilled at his words. She supposed that telling him she didn't have feelings for him but was simply acting to save both of their lives in the Arena, essentially breaking his heart, coupled with the first few awkward weeks back in Twelve justified this awkward moment. Even if he had taken measures to try to mend their estranged relationship, she supposed it wasn't to be fully repaired in one night. She started to make an excuse to flee from him, stating that they should probably both get to sleep, but Peeta stopped her before she made it two steps away from him.
"I don't know about you, but I haven't been able to sleep since we got back," he said, pausing to watch her shake her head before he took a deep breath and continued. "I know things have been weird. I know they still are weird, but I keep thinking about - the cave. I was dying and we were both in danger of being killed any second, but those nights in the cave were the best nights of sleep I think I've ever had. I just keep wondering if it would be easier to sleep if we were to together again."
Katniss had stared at him for a few moments, heart pounding in her chest, before she turned and started for his stairs, only the sound of Peeta's heavy tread behind her alerting her to the fact that he was following her. She found his bedroom in the same spot her room was in her own house, closest to the stairs for an easy escape. Much like her own, his room was bare, with only a made-up bed and chest-of-drawers taking up space. She stopped next to the bed and stood still, the awkwardness returning full force. Hearing Peeta come to a stop just inside the room, she turned to find him watching her, his face carefully blank as if he half-expected her to turn and bolt and had no plans to stop her.
"The only person I've ever shared a bed with is Prim," she said, her voice almost a whisper.
Peeta's answering smile was almost pained. "We shared a sleeping bag, Katniss."
It was different, she thought, but she knew she didn't need to point that out. Judging by his nervous energy, Peeta was well aware of the fact that the two of them sharing a bed tonight in the relative safety of Peeta's home was completely different than sharing a sleeping bag in the Arena with the threat of imminent death looming over both of their heads. It was different, but it was Peeta, so wouldn't it also be the same? Safe, warm and comforting. Like home.
They shared a bed for the first time that night, and it was awkward at first, but after a while, they moved closer to one another and the awkwardness slowly dissipated. She went back the next night, and the next and every night they found comfort in each other's arms. Since she still kept a hunter's hours even though her family didn't need the meat, and he a baker's though his mother had forbidden him from working in the bakery anymore, they rose together early. He would bake something for them to eat for breakfast and she would watch him, fascinated by his strange, masculine beauty. After they ate, Peeta would pack up the leftovers for her family and Katniss would sneak back into her home, deposit the bread on the counter, change into her hunting gear and be gone before her sister and mother woke up.
The first day of this routine, Katniss had told them that she had run into Peeta on her way out to hunt and brought it back in for them to find when they woke up. They seemed to believe the story, though it sounded weak even to her own ears. If her mother and Prim suspected how the morning bread really got there, they never mentioned it.
It wasn't long before Katniss stopped just running to Peeta for comfort in the night and began to long for his presence during the day. She genuinely enjoyed his company and found that the stories he told her about his childhood growing up in town didn't make him seem as privileged as she had always assumed. He would tell a funny story only to end it with a seemingly innocuous remark about his mother being unhappy with his and his brothers' antics that she knew meant, though he didn't outright say it, that he had received a beating for what he had done, which was usually just to try to be a happy child. She wanted to comfort him, but it was difficult when he acted so nonchalant and she didn't know how to overcome that nonchalance to get him talking. She wasn't the talker; that was Peeta. Katniss relied on action.
Less than two months after they began to share a bed, Katniss realized that Peeta didn't need the words she couldn't find anyway. He needed actions. His mother, who had only ever shown emotion through negative, violent actions, had never touched Peeta in a way that wasn't intended to hurt him. He longed for the gentle caresses he had never known. The problem was, Katniss had never had much experience with physical affection either. It was one thing to allow Peeta to clutch her in the dark of night (and clutch him in return), but it was another thing altogether to allow those touches to transpire in the light of day.
Until the nightmare. While Katniss normally started to thrash and scream and cry when in the throes of a nightmare, always waking Peeta up, who would in turn wake her up, Peeta never gave Katniss any indication that he was having a nightmare. He never thrashed or cried or woke Katniss, explaining that once he was awake, the terror was gone and he was fine as long as he knew she was there. But one night, Katniss woke in the middle of the night to use the restroom and came back moments later to find Peeta lying stiff as a board on his back, fists clenched at his sides, eyes shut tight and jaw clenched painfully. She stopped at the foot of the bed and stared at him for a moment before she realized what was happening. This was what Peeta's nightmares looked like!
She wasn't sure what to do. Should she wake him up? Would he be embarrassed that she had seen one of his nightmares or relieved that she had intervened and cut it short? She rested one knee on the mattress just to the right of him and leaned over him to better see his face. He looked terrified. She couldn't just let him suffer through that the one time she had the ability to wake him. Katniss placed a hand on Peeta's shoulder and shook him gently. He woke with a start, shooting upward into a seated position that had Katniss flying backwards as his gaze immediately turned to the left side of the bed where she usually slept. Finding the bed empty, his head swiveled on his neck, obviously searching franticly for her.
He found her at last, nearly pressed up against the wall. She wasn't sure why she was so shaken, but her heart was racing in her chest as they stared at each other. It probably had something to do with the fact that Peeta wasn't supposed to be affected like this. This, this whole hyperventilating, needing comfort thing, was what Katniss did. Peeta provided the comfort and she took it. She didn't think it went the other way, but apparently it did.
She stepped toward him slowly, noticing the way he moved his arms slightly so they were just barely extended towards her, like he were a little boy reaching out for his mother. She surprised herself by crawling onto the mattress next to him and slipping into his arms, allowing him to crush his head to her chest as she ran her fingers through his soft, loose curls soothingly. They remained in this position for quite some time before Katniss grew tired and shifted so they were lying down. Peeta curled into her, his head still on her chest, much the way Katniss usually woke up with her head on his.
"What are they about? Your nightmares?" she asked him after almost an hour of silence in this position. She would have been worried he had fallen asleep if not for the fact that he kept reaching out to touch her hand that she still had buried in his hair, or would gently brush a finger down her cheek to her throat as if checking to be sure she was still there. She felt him shrug against her after a moment with no response. "The Arena?" she whispered. "That's what mine are about. Cato and those mutts. Thresh. The trackerjackers… Rue."
Peeta inhaled sharply, but didn't speak. For a moment, Katniss was fully certain that she would get no answer, but after a long moment he spoke in a groggy, hoarse voice. "Sometimes. Mostly they're about you… about losing you."
"I'm right here," Katniss said after a few seconds, allowing her fingers to tug through his hair as proof. "I'm not going anywhere."
Peeta lifted his head from her chest and stared deeply into her eyes, as if trying to determine if she was lying or not. After a moment, he nodded and then lay on his side facing her. Katniss turned to mirror his position, sliding her arm under her head to prop her up.
"You should wake me when it happens," she told him. He looked doubtful. "I just want to help you like you help me. This helped, didn't it?"
"I don't like to bother you. I like watching you sleep," he admitted weakly. "It makes me feel better, just knowing you're here."
"I want you bother me when your nightmares bother you."
The next morning, they returned to their old routine, but with a few slight modifications. Katniss would often allow Peeta to touch her throughout the day, small touches. Just fingers threading through hers for a brief moment, or brushing against the side of her throat or through her hair. She even found herself playing with his hair throughout the day. It was comforting for both of them, she realized, to touch and be touched by the other. It meant they weren't alone. It showed that they understood. She sometimes found herself wondering what it would be like to touch her lips to his and have it not be for the enjoyment of those vultures in the Capitol.
She never acted on those curious longings, though. And so their routine continued with soft, innocent touches through the day. Until the morning of the 74th Victory Tour arrived and was kicked off by a visit from none other than President Snow.
When President Snow came to Katniss' house, she felt threatened. She had run to Peeta for comfort immediately and he had done what he could to calm her down, to reassure her that she was not alone in this. If Snow needed convincing, they would figure out how to make it look like what they had was just a normal relationship, and they would do it together.
On the Victory Tour, Katniss and Peeta didn't leave each other's sides. They didn't even pretend to go to their own beds like they did at home, but Katniss's bed was their bed. It was a comfort to be able to share that with him. On the last night of the Victory Tour, it happened. Their relationship changed forever.
She was nervous and excited to return to District Twelve and a little reluctant as well because Twelve meant waiting until her mother and Prim were asleep before she could seek out Peeta's bed, his comforting arms and that impossible warmth he brought to her even on the coldest nights. She told him as much and Peeta, being Peeta, told her that he really didn't mind having to wait a few hours to get her to himself because less than a year ago, he would never have dared to imagine that he would ever have the chance to speak to her, much less hold her at night and call her a friend.
Katniss frowned at his words because they felt wrong. They weren't friends, were they? 'Friends' didn't seem to do their relationship justice.
"We're much more than that," she told him and Peeta looked at her hopefully, his blue eyes reflecting the moonlight filtering through the train window. "We're... Partners."
Peeta seemed to deflate for a moment before he schooled his face into the light, carefree mask he wore during the day. "Right. District partners," he said matter-of-factly, but it seemed like a question to Katniss.
"We're everything partners, Peeta," she whispered. And they were. They were district partners and eating partners and talking partners. They were daytime partners and nighttime partners and acting partners. They were waking partners and sleeping partners, happy partners and sad partners, brave partners and terrified partners. There was nothing they didn't do together anymore, except for when Katniss went hunting and then she went alone because her old hunting partner was in the mines and when he wasn't, he didn't seem to want to spend any time with Katniss because she just wasn't the same anymore. Peeta was the only partner she had anymore and she knew he was the only partner she would ever have again. The strange thing was that she didn't feel shackled by this realization. She felt content. It wasn't clear to her just when Peeta had become the single, most important person in her life, but it was suddenly clear to her that it had happened. She loved him, in every way imaginable. Peeta had grown on her until she knew that she wouldn't be able to live without him from now on.
He was watching her, a hesitant happiness in his eyes when she beamed at him and tackled him back onto the bed, her mouth devouring his hungrily. This was right, this was natural. Those kisses for the Capitol's cameras were nice, but always more than a little forced. Kissing Peeta shouldn't be forced, but just like this: natural, passionate, hungry. And fun. And right. But most importantly, kissing Peeta should be a private affair.
Peeta pulled away shortly and stared up at her, wide-eyed and breathing heavily. "What are you doing? Don't… don't do this just… just to… You have to convince Snow. Not me. I know. I know how you feel. You don't have to… I know it's just for show."
Katniss leaned forward, lips seeking his, trying to bush off his protest, but he put a firm hand on her shoulder, holding her back.
"You're not doing me any favors, Katniss," he said, his voice sounding pained. "I don't want this. I want it to be real. There are no cameras around."
"I don't want the cameras to see this, Peeta. This isn't for them. It's for you and for me." She pushed against his hand and leaned in to kiss him again. "You don't know how I feel."
"Katniss," he mumbled against her lips, rolling away from her, but she chased after him with her mouth, latched onto his throat and hummed in question. Peeta groaned and wrapped his arms around her waist. "K-Katniss. Is this real? Do you love me?"
Katniss pulled away this time to regard him carefully, grey eyes boring into timid pools of blue. "Real," she whispered, her voice even quieter than a whisper. She kissed him again. "Real. Real. Real."
Moisture gathered in his eyes and, while Katniss was pretty sure most guys would try to disguise their emotions, Peeta seemed to revel in them. He beamed and threw himself forward across the mattress, his body crashing into hers and toppling them both over sideways so Katniss was pinned to the mattress by his body, Peeta's lips attacking her own voraciously.
And so a new routine was born. Katniss was freer with her affections around those closest to them: Prim, Haymitch, her mother. She allowed Peeta to kiss her whenever he felt like it and she even initiated a kiss or two in broad daylight. While it had once only been an act, their relationship was suddenly very real.
Only, not to the one person who felt he had more authority in their relationship than the two young lovers did themselves. That much became clear to Katniss and Peeta, as well as everyone else in all of Panem, when President Snow made the Quarter Quell announcement, condemning the country's precious Star-Crossed Lovers to death in another Arena.
That night, Katniss didn't even bother to pretend to go to sleep in her own home, but went home with Peeta. They clung to each other all night, neither of them sleeping until Peeta slipped under right at the break of dawn. Katniss waited for his breathing to level out and slipped out of bed quietly.
She didn't bother with her hunting jacket or boots, didn't stop to retrieve her bow from the hollowed-out tree. She didn't stop until she found what she was looking for, and then she dropped to her knees and began to gather something into her cupped hand. By the time she returned to Peeta's house, the sun was high in the sky and Peeta was beside himself with worry.
"Where have you been?!" he exclaimed, jumping up from the kitchen table and rushing to stand before her as soon as she walked through the door. "I was worried you had given up."
Katniss didn't speak, but leaned up to kiss him firmly.
"I was gathering," she said when she finally pulled away.
Peeta stared at her oddly and Katniss held out her cupped hand to show him. He paled at the sight that met him and covered her hand with his own.
"I can't, Peeta." She shook her head. "I can't do it again. I know what will happen. He'll kill them all. Everyone we love. Right before we go in. And we'll see it happen. And then he'll kill you and make me live with it right up until the end. He may even make sure that I win, just so I can suffer through it, knowing that I caused the death of every single person I have ever loved. I can't."
Peeta nodded, shell-shocked. He uncovered her hand and moved his so that it was beneath hers. Katniss just stared at him, so he took his other hand and tipped hers so that half of the ripe berries poured into his waiting hand.
"I love you," he whispered.
They raised their hands to chest level.
"I know," she said. Peeta's eyes held such a hopeless sadness that her heart would have broken if it hadn't already. "I love you, too."
As one, they lifted their hands to level with their lips.
"Our way," she whispered. Her eyes began to sting with unshed tears.
"Together," he said, his voice breaking as a tear leaked out of the corner of his left eye.
They joined their free hands and dumped the berries into their mouths. Forced to be partners in life, together they became partners in death.
It was an act born not of rebellion, but of love and hopelessness. And yet, a successful rebellion was born out of the deaths of the nation's two most beloved Victors.
Thanks for reading, guys! This was my submission to PiP round three, day 1.
I meant to upload this here a LONG time ago, but I completely forgot about it. Hope you guys enjoyed it, even though it's not the most cheerful thing ever!
You can follow me on Tumblr if you wish! My username is ilikewatchingyousleep.