DISCLAIMER: Characters established from The Hunger Games trilogy are property of Suzanne Collins, the author and creator. No copyright infringement is intended.
TIMELINE: Events take place about a year after Katniss & Peeta’s return to District 12, somewhere during or maybe even after the ambiguous final paragraph of Mockingjay, and before the Epilogue.
GENRE: Romance / Hurt / Comfort
CHARACTERS FEATURED IN THIS CHAPTER – Katniss Everdeen, Peeta Mellark, Haymitch Abernathy, Greasy Sae
ADDITIONAL NOTES: Rating is T. This story can also be found in fanfiction.net
I open my eyes to find a soft, orange sky and green leaves. Sunset. I have fallen asleep in the woods, and it’s cold. I don’t know exactly how long I’ve been asleep, but I do know I left the house early morning, skipped right through breakfast and lunch and headed straight to the woods looking for something to hunt, for something to snare, to keep my mind occupied. Instead, after a few hours of just meandering around not even caring where my feet went, probably causing all kinds of game to escape my arrows and ignoring the low, steady grumble of my stomach, I find myself here, an insignificant spot in the woods. Well, maybe insignificant to anyone else but me and Gale. This was where we saw them. The boy and girl.
Lavinia, the girl whose name I did not know until Peeta had said it back in the streets of District 2, when we were staging a propo, before Boggs lost his life. Before Mitchell. Before Castor. Before Finnick. So many people lost. It seems so long ago, but really, it was probably only close to a year ago that this happened. And here I am, remembering something as little as an area out of many similar looking areas in the woods, where Lavinia was taken by the Capitol and forced to become a servant with no words, no voice, an Avox – my Avox. She lost, too.
I had been sitting there in that spot for a long time. I don’t know why. I wasn’t even thinking about her when I came across it. But I stopped and laid there, trying to figure things out, I guess, and fell asleep. The nightmare that followed wasn’t my regular dose of nightmares of the Games or the mutts or blood and violence. No, this was more internal. A feeling of loss. I had lost something and I couldn’t find it. All around me were nondescript faces; they were looking at me and I was looking at them, but I didn’t find what I was searching for. I didn’t even know what or who I was looking for but I was scared I would never be able to find it ever again and I would be lost in this world, alone. When I woke up, I didn’t thrash around or kick and scream like I normally do. I was paralyzed with fear, my scream caught somewhere deep in my throat. When I finally got up, I realized that my hands were tightly clenched. When I unclenched them, I noticed the impressions my nails had made on the inside of my hands. I must’ve been clenching them for a while. I thought, this must be how Peeta feels when he wakes up from his nightmares – his nightmares of losing me. Of loss. I wonder if my nightmares are actually more bearable than his – yes, mine are.
When I finally make it home, it’s late and it’s dark and I only see the light on in my home in the Victor’s Village. I didn’t tell anyone I left, so I’m sure there is more than one person in there waiting for me. I don’t even get a chance to turn the knob when the door flings open and there’s Peeta looking at me with relief, and something else in his eyes. I’m not quite sure what it is at first, but I think it is anger.
I see the lump in his throat move up and down as he gulps, and says in a controlled voice, “Welcome back.” I take notice of his whole self. His hair is unkempt, his hands red, and eyes weary. I must’ve worried him sick. I want to say sorry but it seems like such a feeble thing to say. I just sigh and look down as I head into the house, quietly passing by him at the doorway. He mumbles about forgetting something at his house and starts to go but I grab his arm, just so slightly. I feel the muscles tense at my grip and then relax. “Please stay,” I say. His back is turned to me, but I feel him relenting to my request. I know he won’t resist my plea. He steps back into the house and closes the door. Haymitch is there, watching all this, but doesn’t say a thing during this whole exchange.
“Where ya been, sweetheart?” he asks.
“Hunting,” I say.
“Well, usually, there’s something behind you after a day’s hunting,” he looks behind me in an exaggerated gesture and puts his hands up in front of him as if I need a visual display of his meaning. “Nothing.”
I look at both of them and finally utter the words, “I’m sorry.” It still sounds feeble but nothing more is said between us about it. Dinner has already been cooked anyway. It seems that Greasy Sae was also here but left after a couple of hours, knowing that Peeta and Haymitch would still be here when I got home. The dinner has to be reheated and we eat in silence.
As I look around, trying to think of something to say, I only now notice the small, worn out rope tied into a knot next to Peeta’s plate. This must’ve been why his hands were so red. How long was he waiting for me, I wonder. Another pang of guilt hits me. I still don’t get it, the effect I have.
It’s been almost a year since we’ve come back to District 12, and even though Peeta and I have made strides to establishing some kind of relationship in which both of us are able to see each other without all the pain involved, it’s even harder for us to not see each other without causing more hurt. And there I was in the woods, thinking only of me, again, while Peeta was here waiting for me. Always waiting for me, I suppose, like he said he would. I haven’t learned a thing. I want to tell him why I went to the woods today, but it all sounds so selfish and I’m just ashamed of myself to admit it to him, or even to Haymitch. Although Haymitch was waiting, too, I have a feeling he was only there for Peeta’s sake, not mine. As much as Haymitch is like family to me, I know he cares more for Peeta in a way that he could never care for me. Maybe it’s because we are too similar, and because Peeta’s the best of all three of us. And maybe because Haymitch sees something in Peeta that I saw in him, too, but could never figure out the word for it until now. Hope.
I make it a point to tell Peeta about today as soon as Haymitch leaves.
Haymitch doesn’t mince words. After dinner, he takes a bottle of white liquor from my stash in the cabinet and says, “Don’t be a stranger”, as he leaves out the door and back to his house. It didn’t take long for him to find both mine and Peeta’s liquor stashes in our houses. He knew we’d have some for him whenever he had run out, but he does try to stay sober when he’s eating with us. I think that’s the only time he can stay sober. When he’s alone is when he’s comfortable being in a drunken stupor. We all have our ways of dealing with our personal demons.
Peeta starts clearing the table and brings the plates to the sink. I slowly follow and lean my backside against the counter. It’s at this moment that I look down and see Peeta’s knuckles turn white as he’s gripping the edge of the sink. I look up at his face and his eyes are closed. At first I think that maybe he’s going through one of his shiny flashbacks and I try to think if there’s something I need to do, maybe to protect myself from any possible attack. He hasn’t attacked me since that time on the streets of District 2, when he was still unable to control the rage that was hijacked into him by the Capitol, but still, when he has these moments, I try to prepare for the worst. I’m never prepared, though. I just keep still and wait for him to release.
This time, though, it isn’t a flashback that’s causing this tension. He’s still angry with me.
“I didn’t know what to do,” he says. I look down.
“What were you thinking, Katniss? Aren’t we getting better? Aren’t we being more open with each other? Why did you leave like that, without telling me? Without telling anyone?” he pleads.
It’s true. Ever since our return to District 12, I’ve always let someone know if I went hunting. Sometimes it was Greasy Sae, sometimes Haymitch if he was around and sober enough to hear me, but lately it’s mostly been Peeta. He turns to me, his eyes show anger, sadness, disappointment and something else, all at the same time. I want to look away, but I’m so captivated by his intense stare that I’m unable to even blink. What I do is put my hand to his cheek, feel the warmth of his face in my palm.
I want more than this, though, so I bring my face closer to his and I pull his head down so he can lean his forehead on mine and I breathe him in, eyes closed. We stay like that for a few seconds before I wrap my arms completely around his neck, squeezing him, taking in all of his warmth. He finally wraps his arms around me too, breathing in my hair, his lips on my neck. I didn’t realize how cold I was until now.
“Buttercup is dead,” I say. And before I know it, my body starts convulsing into sobs. I feel Peeta take in a small gasp of air, and I think he’s going to release me, but he just holds me even tighter and lets me cry.
I saw her lying there, in her old room, where she always goes, but when I called the scrawny, old cat, she didn’t stir at all. I nudged her, waiting to see the yellow fur start move up and down with life, but there was no response and I knew that cat was dead. I don’t wonder how or why because it didn’t matter. She was gone. At that moment, I quickly went down the steps and to the kitchen where I grabbed a bag, then sprinted back up the steps, took the lifeless body and tossed it in the bag before throwing it out the side of the house. Peeta wasn’t there when this happened as he was back at his house getting ready for the day, and without a thought I changed and took off into the woods to hunt something and get as far away from that cat as I could before I did something silly like cry about it. I just wanted to numb myself, to not think about it, to not think about anything. But it happened anyway and here I am a sobbing mess. That stupid cat did it to me again.
More time goes by, and I don’t really care how long we’re standing there clutching each other, but my body does because I feel my knees start to buckle underneath me. Peeta leads us to the sofa in the living room, half carrying me.
“I’m sorry,” I mutter again. Peeta cups my face in his hands and looks at me with as much sympathy as a person can have about a death.
“I’m sorry, Katniss. I was being selfish. I didn’t think to consider you needed time to yourself,” he says and lightly kisses my forehead before gently pulling me to his chest. Him being selfish? I really don’t deserve Peeta, even a hijacked version of Peeta would’ve been too generous for my sorry self.
“You weren’t being selfish,” I tell him. No, you were worried about me, I think.
It is several minutes before I relax a little, still sniffling a bit when he says, “I thought you hated that cat.”
I start to laugh, something I haven’t done in so long with Peeta. Did we really ever laugh? Maybe before, eons ago, but I don’t remember anymore because of so many memories, horrible memories that came afterwards. Peeta chuckles with me, still holding me. I think he knows there’s more to it than that and he’s waiting for me to say something more. I did hate that cat, but Buttercup was no longer just a cat to me. Buttercup was her cat. And Buttercup was my way of keeping a part of her with me.
“Peeta, it’s been almost a year.” He doesn’t need me to explain to him what I’m talking about. He knows.
“Prim,” he whispers. I just nod, and the convulsions repeat. I cry myself to sleep in his arms.
When I wake up, I’m in my bed. He’s there. He’s awake, too, I think, because he’s gently caressing my arm up and down with his fingers. Or maybe he’s asleep and doesn’t even realize what he’s doing, something that he does to remind his subconscious self that I’m there. That I’m not lost to him. I don’t move my head, but I look up and see his neck. There, just below his jawline is a scar about an inch long. My fingers trace this over and over again, keeping in rhythm with his caress. I think he got it after the bomb…
I lift my head up to see if he’s really awake. He is. “No nightmares,” I tell him. His eyes, which were focused on the ceiling lower to focus on me, and he smiles just slightly, his eyes look weary. “But you did,” I add.
“But at least you’re here,” he touches my cheek. His touch feels so natural.
We don’t do it often these days, because I guess we’re both more cautious about what our actions can do to each other, but he is here, and he is with me, so I kiss him softly. And I kiss him again. And again. The hunger I felt before is coming back, the hunger for more of him. We kiss even longer this time until I hear an actual grumble. I stop. How long have we been asleep? I look out the window and realize that it must be late morning.
“You’re hungry,” I say. His smile is more of a smirk now.
“I was hoping you wouldn’t notice.” But the fact is that I’m hungry, too, for food.
I suppose crying a lot not only tires you out, but it makes every part of your body sore. Of course, I had been out in the woods all day yesterday and the state that my body was in after I woke from the nightmare probably didn’t help me. I’m guessing Peeta hadn’t eaten all day until I came home, either.
After getting up and out of bed, Peeta has to go home to shower and change his clothes, but he hesitates at my bedroom door, then just nods and leaves. I’m not sure what that’s about, so I shrug it off and lie in bed a little longer before going into the shower myself. I’m in the shower longer than usual, just soaking up the warm water. I feel my body, go over my scars with my fingers, the areas of my burned skin, trying to remember, trying to forget. The pain is still there, forcing its way up to my head, causing a pounding in my left temple. Only the smell of baking bread brings me back to now.
By the time I’m down in the kitchen Peeta has the cheese buns already done, and Greasy Sae and her granddaughter have arrived with a delicious smelling breakfast. She doesn’t have to, but she comes around 2 or 3 times a week, I guess because she knows I won’t eat much if she doesn’t.
“Well, hello there sleeping beauty!” It bugs me when she calls me that. I never really thought of myself as a beauty like those other prettied-up girls back when I was in school, not until Cinna had dressed me up in his dazzling creations. But I definitely don’t consider myself much of a beauty now, especially with all the scars that I’ve just run through with my fingers in the shower. I let it go, though, because I could never argue with Greasy Sae. She’s done so much for me ever since my return that I would never want to be any sort of problem for her. I feel like such a burden as it is.
We eat. I don’t know why, but I never tire of eating Peeta’s cheese buns. He makes them everyday. I think he can probably make them in his sleep by now. I don’t complain about it, of course. As good as the food in the Capitol was at our victory tour banquet, even that couldn’t compare to the comfort this simple item gives me as I take in the warm and sweet and salty flavor of the soft baked dough and cheese in my mouth. Maybe it was because it wasn’t something that I’ve had anywhere but here, in District 12, my home. Maybe it was because I knew Peeta made them especially for me. I guess both reasons apply. That’s fine with me. After the big plate of Greasy Sae’s savory breakfast and three cheese buns, I’m stuffed. Greasy Sae notices how sluggish I’ve become from all the food, so she insists on washing the dishes. Peeta plays with the little girl for a while and I just look on.
After she’s done, Greasy Sae interrupts my thoughts.
“He seems pretty good with kids.” I nod in agreement as I realize that’s just what I was thinking. I remember when Peeta told me that I would be a great mother. I still scoff at the idea. But when it comes to Peeta, I know I’m right, and Greasy Sae confirmed it for me. Nothing more is said, though, and my thoughts go to other things. It’s not until Greasy Sae and her granddaughter leave that I realize I still have something to do.
“I need to bury Buttercup,” I say.
Peeta looks at me, somewhat curious. “Where is she?”
It seems so cruel to say it, but I guess I wasn’t really ready to accept what happened at the time. I tell him of how I just threw Buttercup in a bag to be disposed of later. He looks on, trying to figure me out.
“You’re disgusted at me, aren’t you?” I ask.
“No, it’s not that. I’m actually glad you want to bury the cat.”
It didn’t take long, of course. It’s only a cat. We bury her in the side of the house near the primroses. It just seems appropriate. I’m not sure what to do at this point. The last funeral I went to was my dad’s and I never had to do anything but just stand there while other people said things. What can I say about this cat? Here lies Buttercup, stupid, ugly cat. Rest in peace. But that won’t do. Peeta sees that I want something more from this, so he holds my hand before he speaks.
“Buttercup, it took a long time to accept you for what you were. You were a fierce, loyal, and loving companion to your owner. I didn’t know you all that well, but I know you held in you a piece of her that helped Katniss get through her grief. I guess she helped you with yours as well, for the time you were without our Prim, and maybe, you just felt it was time? Where things were well enough that you could be at peace and that’s why your body gave out. Katniss might’ve hated you before, but I think you both grew to accept each other, and in turn, found comfort in knowing that each of you held her dear to your heart. Thank you, Buttercup. Thank you for being there for my Katniss.”
I don’t realize it right away but I am squeezing Peeta’s hand so tight the whites of my knuckles are showing. The tears in my eyes are coming down like rain. Peeta turns to me and he again holds my face in his hands as he did last night. There are tears in his eyes, too.
“I love you,” he whispers to me, and before I can say anything back, his lips touch mine. For a faint brief moment, I am reminded of another time when someone else told me that he loved me. I didn’t know what to say or do then and it didn’t feel true for me to think I had felt the same for him. I did care about Gale and in a way loved him also, but not in the way that he wanted me to love him. Now here Peeta stands, saying those exact words, and nothing about this moment seems false or unsure. I accept his kiss, so long and sweet. It doesn’t come with a hunger, though, it comes with something more, something better. It’s full of kindness, full of devotion, full of what it was meant to be, love. And for the first time, I fully give in to him, accepting his love, accepting that he is mine and I am his and that I deserve him.
We don’t do much for the next few hours, but Peeta is distracted. I’m not sure by what, so I don’t say anything. He’s hesitant to leave me alone again but he tells me he wants to go back to his house to get some things. Since he’s only 3 houses down, I don’t think this will be a problem for me. But then he says something that makes me realize he’s not worried I’ll be worried about being alone.
“Katniss, please don’t go anywhere until I come back, okay?”
Oh. He’s worried I’m going to leave again. “I won’t.”
He’s actually gone longer than I anticipated, maybe an hour. I didn’t think it would take that long to bring whatever he needs from his house. When he finally comes back, he’s bringing in his art supplies a large canvas and a stand to prop up the canvas on. I’m not sure what the canvas is of because he has it covered, but I resist the urge to reach out at the cover and take a peek at it. He looks at me with a smile and a huff from having to carry it all awkwardly from his house to mine. Then he sits me down in the living room sofa.
“I have something to confess to you and to show you,” he hesitates, “but I’m not sure how you’ll feel about it, especially after this morning.” Now I’m starting to get nervous. He props up the covered canvas that he brought in with his supplies and puts it on the stand. I’m curious about the canvas, but more curious about what he just said. What does he have to confess? I can’t imagine that Peeta has ever lied to me so this is somewhat of a surprise, and I’m starting to feel a little bothered about the whole dramatic presentation of all of this. And what does he want to show me? What does that have to do with this morning? Does it have something to do with Buttercup? Why?
“I took something from you,” he mutters. Before I can question what it is that he took he holds out the locket. The mockingjay locket that he wore during the Quarter Quell, the one that was in my box of things that were delivered to my house when I was exiled back to District 12, after I had killed Coin, is in his hands. He took it from my box, but really, it was always his. And it’s not like he hasn’t been in my house more than enough times to go over every inch of this place to find it. He could’ve had it for days, weeks, months and I wouldn’t have realized it. I don’t know if I’m upset about the fact that it is in possession again, but I think I’m just more confused. Then I remember. This locket held pictures. On one side was a picture of Gale and on the other side was a picture of my mom and Prim. Prim. I didn’t realize it until this moment that, although Buttercup was definitely a piece of Prim for me until she was gone, I still have something of her that I can cling to. It is in my hand now. But then I remember the other picture, the one of Gale. I wonder if maybe Peeta kept it with him because of that picture, because he didn’t want me to cling onto something that reminded me of what I had with Gale. This makes me even more nervous than before. Was Peeta capable of being jealous enough to take that picture and throw it by the wayside? What will I find when I open the locket? An empty spot there? A replacement picture? Or himself, somehow taken from somewhere, maybe by the people of District 13 for their propos or something? I’m wondering how that would make me feel about Peeta. Maybe that’s why he was distracted, bothered, had to confess. I open the locket and I find nothing has changed. Both the pictures of my mom and Prim and the picture of Gale are there. I’m still confused.
Then I look up and I’m completely thrown. It’s like that time, during Peeta’s interview for our first Hunger Games, that he shocked everyone, myself included, by revealing his love for me when I had no clue at all of his affections; better yet, in the second interview for the Quarter Quell when he told all of Panem that I was pregnant even though I wasn’t. He’s done it again. Maybe this is how the gamemakers felt when he drew up that picture of Rue on the floor during his private session for the Quarter Quell. But I’m not upset or disturbed like the gamemakers had been. I’m in awe.
Peeta has uncovered the canvas, and on it is the exact picture of my mom and Prim, only larger, much larger than the image in the locket. They are alive here, in his painting. Their eyes so wonderfully blue, their smiles so full of life. Peeta made them more alive than the little image in the locket could ever show. Every detail on their face, the lines in their smiles, their eyes, even their blond hair, so brilliant and vibrant. I’m in such shock that I don’t even realize that I’m standing directly in front of the painting and Peeta is standing near me, my hand in his, fingers entwined. With his other hand, he’s wiping the tears from my face. He’s waiting for a response from me, I think. When I finally turn to him, all I can do is laugh and smile at him, and that’s all he needs, the reassurance that I like it. That I love it. Even though he knows it, he wants to hear it.
“I know that a lot of my paintings haven’t really been a favorite thing for you to see. I wasn’t sure if this would make things worse or better for you. I was waiting for the right moment, but didn’t know when that would be, but after this morning, I thought that maybe this was a sign for me to give you something that you thought you had lost – a reminder of Prim, a keepsake.” he says. I barely register what he’s saying, but the corners of my mouth curl up. Then he says, “You like it. Real or not real?”
“I love it. They’re so beautiful. ” Then I make a noise somewhere between a laugh and a sob and say, “Real, you fool!” I throw my arms around him and he catches me, and we kiss several times over before he stops me, because he tells me he has one more thing to show me. More?
He pulls out something from his pocket, but it’s so small that I don’t see it until he holds it between his forefinger and thumb. It’s a pearl. Peeta’s pearl. “For you,” he says, just like he did so long ago at the beach in the arena of the Quarter Quell. I put out my hand so he can drop it in there and I examine it. Surely, this is not the same pearl that was lost in the Capitol, is it? Is it?
“How?” is all I can muster.
“Haymitch. They gave him your mockingjay suit after they confiscated it. He said it dropped out. He had everything returned to you, but gave the pearl to me. Told me to hold it until I was ready to give it to you again.”
“Haymitch said that?” Peeta just smiles. The thought that Haymitch actually said these words is astonishing to me. But why should it be? Did I think he was so far from sentimentality that this pearl would be lost on him? I guess I did. He did have a girl long ago. He admitted it once. He had a family, people that he loved before we came along. The Games took all that from him, and gave him nothing but despair in return. I think he really does see hope in Peeta, even for him.
It was such a small moment from the Quarter Quell, but with it being televised, it was a moment that everyone saw, including Haymitch. Apparently, Haymitch had to explain to Peeta what the pearl meant. I mean, he somewhat remembered it, but parts of the Games were still fuzzy for Peeta. Only when he saw the footage did he realize it was not a false memory, but something true and real, and that I had kept it with me all that time during the rebellion, even when I felt that he was lost to me.
“Thank you, Peeta,” and I kiss him gently on the lips.
I spend the rest of the daylight hours staring at the painting of my mom and sister from every angle before I sit down in front of it again, trying to remember all the times I’ve seen them laugh, smile, be happy. I think about the times before my father died in the mine accident, how my mom would smile staring at him doing something, anything. She would just observe him and smile. I think about Prim and how she would coddle that goat I gave her, Lady. I remember the first night she had Lady. The pink ribbon still around the goat’s neck. Sleeping with the goat. It makes me smile just thinking about it. Then I am conscious of eyes on me. Peeta is staring at me now, his hands swiftly moving across the pad of paper that he brought with him. I smile at him and wave him over to sit next to me. He does and I put my head on his shoulder as we both look at the painting.
“I will never forgive you,” I say, somewhat facetiously, and I can tell he’s not sure if I’m joking or not. “For what?”
“For giving me more than I can ever pay you back for.”
Peeta takes my hand in his. “Do you remember when you told me that you and I protect each other? That that’s what we do?”
“Yes,” I say with a little trepidation at where he’s going with this. That night flashes into my memory so fast, yet I remember the details in my head as if it were in slow motion. He couldn’t sleep and I was keeping watch. He was lying there right next to my foot. He was still somewhere between being cured and being lost in a mutt version of himself. He and I and some others were on our way to the Capitol so I could assassinate President Snow. We were all trying to get some rest before our next move and I was on watch. I remember him looking at me and asking “You’re still trying to protect me. Real or not real?” I recall my answer word for word, “Real. Because that’s what you and I do. Protect each other.” Back then, I never thought Peeta could ever part of my life again after what the Capitol had put him through and what we had all lost. I couldn’t be more wrong. Here he is in my living room and not only is he in my life now, he has become the very cornerstone of my life.
“You really don’t realize how much effect you have on me, do you, Katniss? ” He turns his body to me, all manner of seriousness displays on his face and takes a deep breath. “Everything I do is because of you. When I get up in the morning, knowing that I’m going to see you next to me, part of me is healing because of it. When I’m in the kitchen, knowing that you’re going to eat with me, and I see you eat those cheese buns like there’s no tomorrow, another part of me is healing. When I paint, especially when it’s regarding you, I feel… alive, awake, alert. Even now when I was standing there looking at you, seeing you here, with that simple, adoring smile, knowing that you’re pleased because of something I’ve done, I can’t help but feel renewed! There’s no shininess to any of these things. They are all because of you. You are my healer, you saved me! You do it every single day. There is nothing you have to pay me back for.” I never noticed it before, that even though I knew he was good with words, he’s so melodic when he says them, too. The rise and fall, the inflections in his voice when he’s truly expressing himself, is musical. As his face gets close to mine, he whispers a familiar, comfortable tune. “You’re my whole world.” We pull each other in, and kiss deeply.
This time my stomach wants the attention. We both laugh at the imperceptible timing of our physical bodies. Just in time, too, because Greasy Sae has arrived.
Greasy Sae comes to a sight she hasn’t seen in both of us before. Laughter.
She’s surprised, but pleased. We show her the painting that Peeta had done, and she’s almost in tears. Greasy Sae’s granddaughter congratulates Peeta on a good painting and asks him if he can paint her. He bends down to look her straight in the eyes, “I’ll paint anything you want, lil’ one.” She grins from ear to ear, blushing.
We eat dinner together, and laughter and smiles fill the house. Haymitch comes by and he, too, notices something odd. Maybe all this positivity is a little too uncomfortable for his tastes, but he sits and eats with us anyway. After dinner but before he gets a chance to scuttle out back to his home, I pull him aside.
I look him straight in the eye with a look of aggravation and a huff, and tell him, “Haymitch, you are something else, you know that?” Then my face changes and I plant a kiss on his cheek and wrap my arms around his neck. “Don’t ever forget that,” I whisper in his ear. When he finally stops trying to push me off and accepts the adulation, I let him go. Peeta is right there beside me, a huge smirk on his face. To answer the confusion on his face, I roll the pearl between my thumb and forefinger in front of him. Haymitch just looks at us as if we’ve both totally gone off the deep end, shakes his head and leaves. Maybe he doesn’t know it, maybe he will never know it, but Haymitch saved us, too. Our surly, drunken, misunderstood fool of a mentor saved us.
Greasy Sae and her granddaughter bid us goodnight as well. The weather is getting colder each night this winter, so the earlier they return home the better.
Peeta and I sit on the sofa in the living room. I take up most of the couch and I put my legs up onto it and lean back against Peeta’s chest, my head against his shoulder. His fingers run up and down my arm as it did this morning. No words have to be said at this moment, but I’m humming a tune. After a while, Peeta stops.
“I don’t know that song,” he says. “Where’s it from?”
“I’m not sure. My dad used to sing it to my mom. I think it was one he made up, especially for her, because I only heard him sing it when he thought no one else was listening,” I tell him. My dad sang it often, but only when he thought he was alone with my mom. When I wasn’t sleepy, but was forced to go to bed, I would just lay there listening to my mom and dad talk about their day. Mostly it was my mom talking because my dad didn’t really to talk about his work in the mines. He would just listen to her talk, but sometimes, maybe if she had a really hard day and couldn’t relax, that’s when he would sing this song to her. My mom would always stop whatever she was doing or saying and then all her tension would go away. I think I would fall asleep right after, too. He really did have a beautiful voice. Then I remember the words and start singing.
What else shall I see
Eyes bright and blue
You bring life to me
I’ve found myself in you
What else can I feel
My heart so anew
My world has changed
I’ve found myself in you
What else do I say
What words are so true
Than the ones that express
My heart is with you
What else am I for
If I’m not here for you
For I don’t want to know
Cause I’ve found myself in you
When I finish, I realize Peeta hasn’t moved at all. I get up and turn to look at him to see if he’s okay. His eyes are closed, but when he opens them, they are brimming with tears. At first I’m scared that I’ve upset him, but then he smiles so sweetly at me and I exhale in relief as I smile back.
“You’re an amazing person, Katniss Everdeen. Everything stops to hear you sing,” he says as he tucks a few strands of hair behind my ear. His eyes are more familiar than ever to me now.
How strange to compare how Peeta and I have been this past year to this one day. I mean, we were getting there, him re-learning what he had for me, me re-establishing what he meant to me. But it was a slow progress, as if we didn’t want to push each other too fast, either for fear of breaking some kind of fragile glass wall that kept his troubled, implanted emotions at bay, or of putting back up the brick wall that prevented me from allowing him in. Right after he came back from Dr. Aurelias’ sessions in the Capitol to District 12, it was hard. We only talked, and hardly ever touched. Then a couple of months later we started working on the book together, which helped us work through some of the pain, but brought back the nightmares more frequently. It was because of this that he resumed his practice of comforting me as I slept. It wasn’t every night at first, but it became more regular as the months went by, especially since we were up late at times finishing some part of the book. The kisses started soon after, but only once here and there, sometimes on the forehead after a particularly bad nightmare, then eventually on the lips, but still with trepidation, and never lingering.
Then a cat died and everything just sped forward like an arrow shot out of a bow. I think about what Peeta said this morning after we buried Buttercup. How he said that Buttercup was finally at peace in knowing that we were all okay, that the grief is no longer unbearable, I suppose, and that she could finally let go of this life. And maybe he’s right about that, but for me, I think it’s the opposite. I may have lost the cat – a reminder of Prim, but I’ve found Peeta again, not just fragments of who he was, but all of who he is. He might not be the same Peeta who fell in love with me when he heard me sing when we were children on our first day of school, but he loves me just the same, maybe even more. I realize I no longer want to let go, but I want to go on, to move forward in this life because I finally know that I won’t be alone. Peeta will be with me…
Moments later we go up to my room and curl up in bed as we have done so many times before. His arms are wrapped around me, gently caressing me, with my head on his chest. I hear his heart beat, feel it, too. It’s pulling me to sleep, the gentle rhythm. I can’t help but say it, just to hear him respond back before sleep overtakes me.
“Stay with me,” I whisper.
“Always,” he whispers back. One word, it’s like a lullaby in my head. No nightmares tonight.
A/N: This was my first Hunger Games fanfic, written in September 2011 I believe, and the first one I had done in many years. I felt that The Hunger Games trilogy was written in a way that I was able to create my own epilogue and backstories for the characters if needed, and in a way that was in canon with the characters.