Thanks to everyone that stayed with this story, and gave me confidence to spin this tale. I hope to write an epilogue at some point in the future, but I need to focus on my S2SL donation for the time being. If you haven't donated, it's for a brilliant cause, and you get to read some fantastic smutty stories by some brilliant writers.
I really want to thank you all for your lovely reviews, and I hope the ending is worth the wait. Find me on tumblr under the same name.
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Happy New Year everyone!
Seven sunsets. Six sunrises. All in the same room, all witnessed from the same window. Katniss had let the first two settings of the sun pass her without acknowledgement, with no ceremony or consideration. But as the hours continued to tumble on, and as the stifling silence of her chamber remained her only companion, she began to consider what it meant. Why Peeta, nor anyone for that matter, had not come to her. Until the doubt had crept in and begun to build, so that she began to fear how much time she had left. It was then that she began to make herself face the window each evening until the last orange embers of sunlight had died on her skin. She had looked upon the last three sunsets as if they were to be her last.
The door swung open then, protesting loudly for the new movement of its hinges, and revealed her mentor on the other side.
The vulnerability in her voice as she spoke almost made her wince. "Where's Peeta?"
"And hello to you too sweetheart. Glad to see you're your usual social self."
"Where is he? I need to speak with him."
She could only assume he wasn't intending on staying long when he made no move toward the drinks cabinet. "He's...indisposed." Her eyes fell to the carpet at her feet. "I'm here to get you cleaned up sweetheart. Brought you your prep team. You've been summoned."
"Summoned? To whom? Where's Peeta?"
"I don't know, all I know is there's people that want to see you. Best get ready."
Her voice stopped him at the door. "Why don't you just say it Haymitch? Why I'm being summoned?" When he failed to turn to face her, she got up from where she had been sitting to approach him. "I've been found guilty haven't I? The vultures are calling for my blood."
She had known that they had held a trial for her after she shot Alma Coin. In the confusion and panic, when Coin's body had slumped over the Prince, many had feared the worst; that Peeta had been shot by his own wife's arrow. The blood smeared across his torso certainly seemed to testify to the fact. And for several moments, while he stood stock still in shock, many had taken his reaction to be one of pain. But then they noticed her body hit the ground with a sickening thud, saw Snow collapse to the ground shortly after. That's pandemonium filled the palace grounds. Katniss knew it was unlikely that many had seen what she had seen moments before; Coin's dagger poised to plunge into the Prince's side. But upon being dragged away, it was the look in Haymitch's eyes that told her.
He knew. He understood her in that moment, and even if he had not seen as she had seen, he understood enough of her motives to piece it together. He would be on her side at least.
Only clearly it hadn't been enough. Although she had not been allowed visitors, Haymitch had still been able to get word to her in the first two days of her solitary confinement. A trial had been held over the events of that afternoon. Some had seen it as a failed assassination attempt to take Peeta's life. Haymitch had argued the truth of the matter, albeit unsuccessfully it seemed. In all their communication, she had not heard one word about what Peeta himself had thought on the matter.
It was fairly safe to say, she could work it out now. Peeta once again did not trust her. He had gone back to perceiving her as violent. Manipulative. Deadly. And she hated him for it.
After a week of solitude, the sudden company of her ladies in waiting was rather overwhelming for Katniss. But she was happy to see her young friend Rue again. The girl was one of the few faces to have given her a source of strength during her time at the palace.
Possibly the only one left, in her final hours it seemed.
Bodies surrounded her in hasty blurs as they moved, like ribbons twirling around her. Hands moved gracefully and with feather-light touches across her body, dressing her in her undergarments. A corset made of the purest white silk she had ever seen was placed reverently around her chest by Cinna's own hands. She braced herself against one of the wooden bedposts, and tried to concentrate on the cathartic pressure from the tightening corset around her ribs as hands pulled on strings. It was then that she noticed the faint embroidered primroses within the silk; a small comfort for her. If she could not have her sister near, she could at least have these.
All the while, despite the number of people now within the room, the silence was still deafening. The faces of the servants were serious, and she watched many pairs of eyes flit away from her gaze. Only Rue smiled weakly, and held her hand periodically for support. But the lack of talking or life in the room still suffocated her, and served as a constant reminder of her approaching fate.
She was being dressed in her funeral attire. She was going to die.
Soft hands ran a hair brush through her long dark locks, while another girl powdered her skin with the softest of cotton buds. Whatever she had placed on it left the scents of spring across her skin where it touched. Just before the girl moved away, she paused beside her, before desperately clasping her right hand and pressing her lips to the back of Katniss' hand.
Her concentration was solely focused on trying to conceal her trembling, otherwise she might have voiced her bewilderment at the pointlessness of dressing and perfuming her so. But she was touched by their sweetness, so she said nothing.
And then Cinna revealed the dress she would wear. The sight brought tears to her eyes. Only one word was able to pass her lips. A whisper really. "Why?"
"Prince Peeta requested it. I had no choice in the matter." She thought she could see pity in his eyes; until that moment, he had only looked at her with strength and understanding. Nonetheless, he seemed surprised to find her crying, and his fingers brushed her tears away before she felt the salty trace of them on her lips. She hoped she had not disappointed him in her moment of weakness at the gown's reveal to her.
In Cinna's hands, lay her wedding dress. The same silk gown of golden iridescent flames she had first put on the day she married Peeta. The day that their story had truly begun.
She knew she had lost his trust that first night after she shot Coin when he did not come to visit her in her chamber. There had still been some hope that she could explain herself to him, if he would only give her the chance. But now...she could see all.
He despised her. Why else would he do this? Request her to die, to be buried in, her wedding gown? No, he must truly hate her to do that.
As the cold material slipped over her head and flowed down her body, she let her fear flow with it. For if she was to do this, if this was to happen, then she would face it with resolve and conviction. She would survive perfectly well without anyone.
There were no jewels this time, no cold heavy metal against her skin. Katniss almost wished for it for once, wished for the ostentatious and choking weight about her so that it might distract her from the burning feeling of the gold band that encircles her left ring finger mockingly. At the same time, he had been the one to place it there, and so she brought the warm metal to her lips. Perhaps in her final moments, it would feel like the caress of his kiss.
One by one, her ladies departed, bowing down to her and placing a kiss to her hand as they did so, until it was only Cinna and her left in the room. As they stood beside the chamber door, he turned to her, placed his hand on her left cheek, and held her gaze with his golden eyes. "I'm still betting on you, girl on fire." Katniss covered his hand with her own, holding him to her cheek.
Finally, she was guided from the familiar room that she had spent most of her time in. With one last parting glance behind her at the walls that were her salvation for so long, she pushed her chin up and followed behind Cinna, all traces of emotion removed from her face.
There was an odd sense of familiarity about the corridors she was taken down, on that day of all days and in that dress of all dresses. She was not led to the rabbit hole staircase and to the dungeons. No, she was being led further and further into the heart of the palace. The familiarity did not come from the images within the tapestries, although many of the figures and events depicted in the delicate threads she did indeed feel she had seen before. But it was the overall feeling of it all that overwhelmed her with a sense of déjà vu. Desperation, apprehension, anger. Anger at the situation, at Peeta, at herself. At everything she had lost.
In what felt like forever and no time at all, they arrived at a huge set of heavily carved wooden doors. Through the wood, she could just about hear the muffled voices of an indefinite amount of people. With a gentle hand placed on the small of her back, and a nod to the guards, the doors creaked open on their hinges, and Katniss felt herself being guided into the room by Cinna. As she stepped inside, all heads turned towards her.
It was a ballroom, although for whatever purpose it was being used today it surely could not be pleasure. The golden wallpaper reflected the warm lights from the candelabras and chandeliers casting the room in a soft glow, with the deep red carpet spreading like liquid velvet around her. She recognised that carpet now. It had been the same carpet she had walked down, in that same dress, surrounded by chairs either side of her, chairs that were most likely filled with many of the same people that were her company in the room at that moment. The doors had been open the first time she had been there, music had played softly, and a golden head of curls had awaited her at the other end. She had been married in that room.
Katniss almost faltered in her steps as she walked further in, surrounded herself more fully with the crowd around her, but she could not afford to let them see any weakness. Most faces were unfamiliar, and regarded her with a look of reverence. It did not sit well with Katniss. If she was here to face a death sentence, why were there so many soft looks aimed at her?
And something else about it all nagged at her, something she couldn't place.
She noticed Johanna and Finnick then, standing off to one side, champagne flutes in hand. Observing her with silent consideration, it seemed. She simply scowled back. She was in no mood for any cutting remarks from either of them; the glowing lights and the humming music of the quartet were beginning to create a throbbing in her head.
She found Haymitch then, or rather, he had found her. The strong scent of alcohol had alerted her to his presence.
"What is going on Haymitch? What is all this?"
But he gave no response. Simply nodded at something behind her. So she turned to find where her mentor's gaze had landed.
She didn't see at first; too many people stood in the way. But then he stepped out from behind a group of Capitol officials, and it was like drowning in sunshine.
Peeta. He stopped a short distance away from her, which gave her time to take him in, to take it all in fully. She noticed that he stood before her with what most would consider an air of confidence; his hands hung loosely by his sides, and his head tilted up as he held her gaze. The expression on his face was unreadable.
She noticed how his hair had been swept back in his signature style, and his attire complimented the smart look. He was dressed in a white military coat with gold trim and matching trousers. Ornately designed gold buttons were placed at the sleeves and stiff collar, which fastened securely around his neck and almost touched his chin.
But mostly, she noticed his blue eyes, which weren't looking at her with hatred or disdain, as so many of her last few dreams had evoked. They looked at her with warmth, and a slight hesitancy. It reminded her of a time when she was a little girl, and her father had taken her into the forest in midwinter; not to hunt yet, but simply to enjoy each other's company. On one of their outings, she remembered a bird of the purest blues and blacks that had landed on a branch not ten feet away. She had barely let out a gasp before her father had stilled her with a finger to his lips, then stood and stared at the bird, taking in its beauty.
"It's a bluejay Katniss," he had whispered. "Quite a rare bird nowadays. But they imitate sound. Want to hear?" And she had nodded as clearly but carefully as possible so as not to scare the bird. He had sung then, the way she had always remembered he would sing, before her mother passed. The dulcet tones of his voice filled the forest with warmth, and momentarily created a hush in the trees around them. And then, like magic, the bluejay picked up the tune, and sang it back.
Peeta had the same look in his eyes that her father had had that day in the forest. Like he was looking at a glorious bird, but not wanting to scare it into flight.
"I told you to go. But you stayed. Why?"
There were so many things implied by his question. She had hoped she was wrong about this, had thought that maybe there was still hope. But his words sought answers that she wasn't sure she had, and would not help her even if she did.
He stepped closer. Whispered the question. "Why did you stay Katniss?"
"To protect you, even if you don't believe it."
"You stayed to protect me?"
"Yes. Because that's what you and I do. Protect each other." His blue eyes seemed to consider something.
"You shot Coin to protect me...real or not real?"
Her body released a breath she had not realised wanted to burst from her lungs. "Real. She was going to kill you."
"I know." He slowly stepped closer to her then, so close that she thought the toes of his feet were touching hers. His cinnamon-like scent was intoxicating. The ghost of a touch of his hand caressed hers as he looked down at her, and as he whispered his next words, she felt two of his fingers entwine with one of hers. "You shot an arrow..."
"Like the girl in the story..." She swallowed, and watched as his blue eyes flitted briefly to her lips before he returned her wide eyed gaze. His Adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed. He twisted her gold wedding band lightly around her finger. And at the slight parting of her mouth, he slowly leant in…
The room had stopped. Time had stopped for all she knew. She felt his breath caress the cupid's bow of her lips, and awaited the feel of his mouth on hers. Just as her eyes had begun to close, and her head had moved to meet him halfway, he froze, his eyes undecided between wanting to fall on her lips or her silver eyes.
And then he shut his eyes, inhaled deeply, let go of her fingers, and leant away from her. "Katniss, it's important that you remember you can say no to the next question." He looked so uncertain staring at the ground, like a lost boy. She would have found it endearing if she wasn't so confused by it all.
He inhaled deeply. "Katniss, I know we both didn't exactly choose each other when we entered this marriage. But you have been there for me like no one ever has. You saved me. You saved us, I know that." She watched him step closer to her. "Now we have a choice, because of you. And I still choose you." His shy eyes looked down fleetingly. "And not because of everything you've done. I owe you nothing, and you owe me nothing. I choose you, because I need you. Just you. I was a goner the day I heard you sing when we were children." Her heartbeat hummed in her ears as he tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "I love you."
The whispers and gasps of the crowd distracted Katniss before she could begin to unravel the feelings coursing through her in that moment as Peeta continued to speak. "So I need to ask you..."
The question was uttered so softly, she did not think she had heard him properly, despite the fact that they were the only two people in the room talking. The rest of the room seemed to hang on one breath.
"I'm asking..." soft blue eyes found hers "if you'll be my wife."
He had obviously noticed her confusion, seen her body begin to move back and away from him at his question. The response had been ready to leave her in her next breath, so he cut her off before she could utter it.
"No...we are married. Trust me. I'm asking because you weren't exactly given a fair choice in the matter before. And I want to give you that choice now. " He seemed impossibly close now, and at some point he had entwined her hands with his again, bringing them to his chest. "It's important you understand the choice completely."
He was giving her an opportunity to decide her future, but more than just a future with him. The people around them weren't here to witness some small exchange between the pair. They had been summoned here for something far more important than that.
This was Peeta's coronation. He had made the choice to take the throne.
And he was giving her the choice; to choose her old life, filled with freedom and hunting and her family. To choose him would be to choose a life in the palace, as the Queen. That life was filled with questions. Was she even capable of ruling? Could she bear such a life, lacking in freedom, being looked up to for answers from others on a daily basis? The thought was stifling. She had never asked for it, it was true. In her plan to rescue Peeta from himself, she had never really thought that far ahead. Never truly considered his future as a King. Yet he must be King, Panem could not survive without him, she was certain. She could not survive without him.
It was a simple choice really. There was one thing she would have if she chose the Palace. She would have Peeta. She would have her boy with the bread.
"Yes." It left her lips on a whisper, but the promise reached its target strong and true. His smile had barely finished forming before he had drawn her quickly to him and kissed her, both of his strong warm hands holding both sides of her face. She did not realise how much she had missed the feeling of his lips on hers until that moment.
She registered the cheers and applause as they broke apart, dazed. His pupils were dilated, but still the beautiful blue she found strength in. They parted in a daze, but his eyes never left her face, even as person after person congratulated them both.
Trumpets blared around the room, and the crowd parted to form a path for them . The reality of the moment hit Katniss hard, but the strength of Peeta's hand holding hers kept her grounded.
And then she saw them. Standing near the raised platform where her and Peeta would make their pledges to the nation, her father and Prim. And just from looking at their smiles, seeing the confidence and happiness they held in that moment, she knew. She had made the right choice.
She could do this. She could be Queen.
Katniss held Peeta's hand throughout the whole coronation. When he needed to stand to pledge his allegiance to Panem, she stood with him. She had let him go once before, and had spent far too long apart from him to ever let him go again.
Her own vows were quick and simple, and she was grateful she only had to repeat Haymitch's words. She did not think she could recall a single one of them if she tried.
And then a crown was placed in front of them. Made of the purest gold, it was beautiful in its simplicity, and held no need for jewelled embellishments. With a flick of his wrist, Haymitch twisted the crown, and it parted into two smaller crowns.
With a dip of her head, the smaller band of gold was placed reverently on her head. The coldness against her forehead felt foreign to her. She didn't think she would ever get used to it. Looking at Peeta, she couldn't help but feel it became him very well.
At the end of the coronation, the celebrations began in earnest. A plethora of appetising food surrounded the room. In the centre, couples had already begun to dance to the upbeat music played by the orchestra. The light of the chandeliers glistened off every reflective surface, casting a soft glow across the scene.
Despite not seeing much of Peeta, she had at least been able to catch up properly with Haymitch. He had answered every silent question she had held before she even needed to ask. Coin's involvement had run far deeper than anyone knew, perhaps even Snow himself. Katniss had been shocked to hear that not only had Coin been Snow's true betrothed, but that Glimmer had been her daughter from a previous marriage. She had wanted to take over ruling Panem, and it seemed would even resort to regicide.
Before Snow had bled the last of his blood on that cold stage, questions had begun to be answered. Both himself and Haymitch uncovered the secrets behind Coin's schemes. Upon her death, it had been fairly easy for Peeta to uncover the painful truth behind his father's murder. It had not been his mother, as many had accepted as widespread truth. Coin had used her position at the palace to sneak into his father's chamber and kill him while he slept, before having the Queen disposed of. Haymitch was sure the effect it had on both Princes further fed her conniving, and up sprang the plan that would grind Peeta's name and reputation into the mud: slowly drive him mad with betrayal and venom.
They had not counted on Katniss of course.
For her part, she was pained to think of Peeta alone upon finding out this terrifying news. She was almost angry at Haymitch for not allowing her to be there for him so he would not have to endure it alone, but she knew it was for her own protection. And she realised with a smile, she could now be there for him whenever he needed her. And right in that moment, she really needed him.
But of course, at such an event and with such people around, getting to see her husband was not easy. People had come great distances to celebrate the coronation of their King, so she could understand his obligations in speaking to the never ending number of people in the room.
When the dancing began, there had been a faint glimmer of hope that she would be obliged to dance with her husband, out of tradition or social pressure, or whatever it would take for her to finally get a moment alone with him. Alas, she had to settle for stolen glances and heated looks from his blue eyes as both were swept to different corners of the room.
She had, however, found herself dancing with her brother in law, Rye, who was full of as much of the Mellark charm as she had begun to see in his brother. His teeth were slightly straighter, but his eyes were less blue than his younger brother's. He had welcomed her into the family and thanked her for bringing back his brother to him before introducing her to his very pregnant wife. Katniss had been thoroughly embarrassed when Rye had winked at her and said she would have her turn soon enough.
She could safely say she liked her new brother a great deal.
But the night continued on, and still there was no hint at it drawing to a close. At one point, Katniss and Peeta found themselves standing next to each other while talking to different people. Katniss tried to focus her attention on the couple in front of her, but all she could feel was him beside her, and all she could focus on was the brush of his hand against her hip as he absently pinched a small amount of fabric of her dress between his fingers. Her eyes greedily stole a sideways look at him, noticing Peeta was as much distracted as she was. He smiled warmly at the government official in front of him as the man continued to talk animatedly, but the look in Peeta's eyes betrayed him. And every so often, she could feel the warm heat of his gaze on her sideways profile too.
By the time a third nobleman had intersected Peeta just as he was about to head her way, she had had enough. If there was one thing she could use to her advantage now that she was Queen, it would be demanding time with the King.
But she did not interrupt the conversation, at least not herself. There would be plenty of opportunities for that in the future, she was sure of it. Instead, she located Finnick, and whispered her message in his ear. She was rather surprised to see a slight blush creep onto the flirtatious Finnick Odair's cheeks, and he let out an awkward cough before letting her know he would pass on her message.
And as she watched him whisper her message to Peeta, his eyes widened and locked onto hers.
In that moment, her eyes communicated back everything needed to be said.
Don't keep me waiting.
The ten minutes leeway she had allowed herself was too long and too short a time all at once. The moment she entered her familiar chamber she could have kicked something in frustration at how long she gave him to meet her.
But she needn't have concerned herself. She had barely spun around at the sound of the heavy oak door slamming shut before he had crushed her to him, claiming her lips with his own. It seemed he could not wait either.
The feel of his kisses after so long was overwhelming to her senses. Just as that hunger began to build again, the same hunger she had felt the night the battle had begun, he broke the kiss to rest his forehead against hers. She could feel the speed of his heartbeat from where her hand lay on his chest.
"Katniss, we don't have to do anything."
Oh, but she wanted to. So she brought his lips back to hers, and relished in the groan that escaped his lips. His fingers took their cue to undo the buttons of her dress at the same time that she unhooked his jacket, and his lips left goosebumps across her collarbone when he pulled it away from her shoulders, revealing more of her flushed flesh to him. She could feel a slight tremble in his hands as he let go of her dress; she felt it pool at her feet, and then his strong arms embraced her to him, kissing a slow and gentle path from her neck to her lips. The considerate looks and gestures he would keep giving her did nothing to quench the desire she had for this man. If anything, she needed him more for it.
She had to brace herself against the bed pillar while Peeta pulled at the lace of her corset. With every punishing tug, she felt a spark travel down and stir deep in her stomach, causing her to inhale sharply. The slow movement of his hands as he worked to release her was exquisite agony.
Just as he reached the bottom of the corset, the brush of his hand on her back caused her to release a moan of pleasure that broke the dam of their patience. And then with a growl from him, the rest of their layers of clothing were shed in a flurry of hands and buttons, until they found themselves tangled together on the bed.
She would have felt more self conscious to be naked in front of him for the first time, but his obvious arousal gave her a sense of power. So she instead took pride in the pleasure she was clearly causing him by the sight of her. But she was still inexperienced and hoped he would lead the way in this.
He guided his hand between her legs as before, and it wasn't long before she was writhing about beneath him. His movements were spurred on and guided by her pleas and yes's and incoherent mutters of his name.
The pleasure built in her lower back, until it exploded in a wave that traversed through every vein and made her cry out his name as she convulsed in pleasure, her body wrapped tightly around Peeta as the only anchor to sanity.
She floated back down to the sensation of his kisses on her face, and his whispers of love in her ears. And this beautiful man in front of her had been through so much, had waited so long; she was impatient to give him the same pleasure he had given her. So she pushed him onto his back, and thought that she would never grow tired of the look of awe he would give her at such actions. He watched her open-mouthed as she guided herself onto him and brought his hands to hold her hips to help guide her. She gritted her teeth when he snapped his hips to seal her completely to him; any other time the look of utmost pleasure on his face and his moan of "oh God" would have rekindled her fire. As it was, she sank down to his shoulder while she waited for the discomfort to subside.
And then she moved above him. Soon the pain was numbed by the increasing pleasure she felt and the distraction of Peeta calling her name and cursing at the exquisite feel of her around him. In the future she knew she would come to find exquisite pleasure in this.
With a groan, his movements increased, and then his hands dug forcefully into her thighs as he stilled her on top of him with a shout and an arching of his back.
She kissed him sweetly, returned him to the moment as gently as he had done for her. The hush of sleep began to fall around the pair, and the last thing Katniss was aware of before she succumbed to slumber was the feel of the sheets drawn around them and his warm arms embracing her.
His kisses were as warm as sunlight on her skin, slowly reaching for her in her slumber. As the memories of the evening before whispered back to her, a smile slowly formed on her face. Even as she curled further into his embrace, she felt his lips leave a path of goosebumps from her shoulder to the shell of her ear. Promises of further touches and pleasures yet to befall her had her moaning into her pillow. The desire to kiss him again was overwhelming. She wasn't sure she would ever recover from the insatiability of her need for him.
Turning around to face him, Katniss was rewarded with the glowing smile and shining blue eyes of her husband beside her. Their faces were so close, legs still entwined and noses nearly touching. In the calm of a new dawn, both silently drank the other in, leaving thoughts unsaid, fearful of breaking the glorious silence around them.
It was Peeta that, as his finger traced the swell of her cheekbone down to her lips, broke the quiet with a breath of words that tickled her lips and stopped her heart.
"I love you."
Her mouth parted to speak, hoping to say something profound. Hell anything would do in this moment, even jibberish, to stop his words from flying away from her. But nothing came. Peeta, as if he sensed her trouble, continued to speak.
"The huntress girl in the story," he breathed, "with the braid and the bow...you said she loved the boy." It wasn't a question, but a statement. Something easier to respond to. So Katniss blinked.
"You're the huntress. And you love me." The twitch of a smile threatened to draw across his face at his slight teasing tone, which almost had her moving further back from him. But his eyes pinned her in place, and she knew what would come next. And finally, she was ready for it. Ready for him.
"You love me. Real or not real?"
There was, once upon a time, a boy from an apple tree, who had travelled for many years and who had fought dragons of many forms. It took years for him to find the girl that he had met beneath the tree that rainy day, who now lay beneath his sheets. So when his question was whispered to her (a question once formed in rain and given in a dandelion) there was no hesitation. And she needed no time to think of her reply.