Winning Peeta's Battle
Winning Peeta's Battle
People. So many people.
My District has begun to build. My ruined city has been replaced with freshly cut wooden beams constructed to form buildings. Women are sweeping the newly clay tiled ground with giant bristled brooms. Men are high up on building rafters and shouting instructions to the workers below.
In the very center of the town square, where what used to be the Hunger Games drawing podium, is a giant black hole. I realize that it's a fire pit. A very large firepit that could probably hold a car inside of it. It's filled with charred wood and left over coal.
The buildings are built around the firepit in a wide circle.
Though impressive in every way, this is not what amazes me.
What amazes me are the carts filled with food. There are rows upon rows of street vendors filled with fruits and vegetables, pigs and cows, brown and white grained breads, piles upon piles of meat and cheese. And desserts. So many different desserts! Peppermints, pies, cinnamon breads, cookies, and hot chocolate.
All this is here? In my District? Really?
My mouth is pooling with saliva when I hear shouts coming from my left. When I turn I realize I'm looking at a field beyond the city circle.
There are multiple huge metal machines rolling around in the freshly sown dirt. I'm not exactly sure what they do, but I know they must be preparing the field for planting food.
I walk around in a daze. I think I run into people, but I can't be sure.
You would think only the few elite rich people of the merchant class would be able to afford all this food. But no, I see children of the deepest parts of the Seam purchasing the richest foods.
I walk up to a vendor and peer at a choice of berry pie. The seller looks up at me. I'm surprised to see he's dark haired with gray eyes. That's interesting, if people from the Seam can now work in the town, whose working in the mines?
"Hello, Katniss. Are you looking for something in particular?"
I do not know this man. But he knows me. Of course, everybody in District 12 knows who I am.
I look down at his cart again. It's about the width of four men and placed on wheels. Probably so he can sell his goods anywhere he wants. Maybe people are forced to sell from these carts until their shops are finished.
His cart is covered with a deer pelt and napkins, the goodies and pastries on top. A year ago, unless if you were Haymitch or Peeta, no one could not afford this. I guess me too. I guess I could afford it. But I really didn't bother in buying such luxurious things.
I reach into my pocket, but I find I have left all my coins at home.
"I forgot my money." I tell him.
He seems to find this funny. "You have also forgotten your shoes," he says with a laugh.
I look down at my feet. They are bare and covered with dirt and clay dust from the new cobble stones.
"Oh." I say. "Sorry, I'll come back another day."
"Here take this." He says with a wide grin. He reaches over and hands me a peppermint stick. "Free of charge."
I stare at it. What?
"Your just going to give it to me?" I ask incrediously.
He shrugs. "Sure, I've got plenty of others at home. They're cheap enough to make."
Apparently, my District is now so rich, people can afford to give things away.
"Thank you." I say softly. "Thank you very much."
He laughs. "It's good to see you here, Katniss. You've finally crawled out of your little den."
I try to smile at him, because I really want to. But I haven't smiled in so long, it's like learning to first walk.
I think I succeed.
"You come back now. Don't be a stranger," the vending man says.
"Goodbye." I say. And then I take my peppermint stick and walk the whole city circle in half an hour, slowly licking my candy.
It's after I finish my sweet that I remember that I'm looking for Peeta.
I don't find him.
I'm really beginning to get frustrated.
I begin looking in some of the unfinished buildings. Maybe he's helping with construction. He's strong enough to carry some of those beams.
Walking around these new shop buildings remind me of Peeta's old family bakery. It was simple enough with an open window to display pretty things like cakes. That I now know he decorated.
I stop where his bakery used to stand. The rubble that used to be here has been swept away, a new foundation has been set into place and one or two men are hammering nails into planks of wood.
I peer through the buildings skeleton.
When I whirl around and see him a rush of emotion swings through me.
"Peeta!" I say, prepared to scold, but when I get a good look at him my eyebrows knit together.
"Peeta, you look...you look terrible! What happened to you?" He has bags under his eyes, he's lost just about as much weight as possible in the time span of two weeks, and his arms and hands have marks on them. Like he had to hurt himself in order to stay in reality and not go mutt.
He grins sadly. "It's okay, Katniss. I'm better now."
I step closer to him. I'm worried he might back away from me but he doesn't.
He just stands there, looking at me with kindness...and almost love.
"Did you...lose control?" I ask him quietly.
"Many times," he says with a sigh.
Some of the other men who have been working on the shop have stopped what they were doing and have begun to stare at us.
Peeta grabs my hand and pulls me around a pillar of concrete, masking us from any pair of wandering eyes. My heart begins to pound in my chest partly because of his closeness, and partly out of worry for him.
"What do you think set you off? It wasn't me was it?"
He stares at me for a while, a knowing look on his face.
"Oh, Peeta. I can stay away for a while, if that will help-"
"No!" He says it rather loudly. "No, stay. Don't go anywhere."
I realize he still hasn't let go of my hand, and his face is only a few feet from mine.
" But if I make you worse..."
"You help me Katniss. You really do. It helps to have you around, eating breakfast with you...that helps. Dr. Aurelius agrees."
Some of my anger returns. "Peeta you haven't been to breakfast for weeks!"
I try to pull my hand out of his, but he holds onto it tight. A tiny part of me tells me to be afraid, but for some reason his eyes tell me to trust him.
His face falls. "I know. I'm sorry. That was for your own good. I might have hurt you. Those two weeks... that whole time, I was not myself." He says with a shake of his head.
"The whole time?" I ask softly.
"I had a...an epiphany, I guess you could say." He says with a sad chuckle, holding my hand up to his face.
He looks around us, most of the workers have gone back to what they were doing.
Someone calls Peeta's name.
"Listen, Katniss. I have to explain something to you. But not here, not now. Tonight. Here in the square...well, now it's a circle...but, can you meet me? The city is especially beautiful at sunset."
"Okay, where?" Is say, hardly able to contain my excitement.
"The bonfire...it will be lit. You can see it from miles around. I have to stay here for the rest of the day and help out. Promise you'll come?"
Two people shout for him this time.
There are butterflies in my stomach.
He takes a deep breath, and grins. Then, out of the blue, he leans over and presses a kiss onto my forehead.
"See you at sunset." Then he's gone.
I had walked around the circle for another hour in a greater daze than I had before I saw Peeta.
My mind had been whirring and trying to sort all of the things that had happened.
Peeta disappears for two weeks. He's in the town every day. I find him. He says he had an epiphany. He wants me to meet him at sunset. He kisses me on the forehead.
What is going on?
This could be his plan, something sinister whispers in my head. This is how he could steal your life away.
No. No, Peeta is real. Peeta is my friend. Peeta wouldn't do that.
I had run back to my house where I had flung myself onto my couch where I'm sitting now.
A mixture of fear and happiness whirls inside me like a great funnel. What a strange mixture of feelings this is.
I sit there for many hours, watching the sun move and trying to figure out what I'm going to do.
Maybe I should slip a knife into my boot in case he attacks me.
He won't attack me.
But he might.
There will be people around, won't there?
It'll be at night.
I'll take my chances.
I grab my head with my hands and try to make it stop spinning. Why, oh why did he kiss me on the forehead?
I try to calm myself by bringing Birds cage into my living room with me. He chirps and hops around alot and looks at me curiously.
I feed him seeds from a jar that Greasy Sae's granddaughter had given me.
I try to sing the song he's singing but it doesn't really work out, my voice is so raspy.
I take a bath and try to scrub dead flakes of skin off of my burn scars. I brush my hair because it's getting so long and tangly. I braid it back nicely. I almost look like myself again.
I sit down on my bathroom floor and tell myself to calm down. And that's where I remain, simmering with suspicion until sunset is just a few minutes away.
I've made my decision.
I leap up from the bathroom floor and run into my basement, I grab a carving knife and slip it into one of my boots beneath the flat of my foot, concealing it.
When I open my front door I'm startled at how dark it is. Night has already taken over.
The sun sets so fast these days, summer must be coming. So I stand there in the night until my eyes adjust and then I'm running again.
I suppose if any of my neighbors-Haymitch-saw me, he would think I was up to no good, sneaking off like this in the middle of the night, running at top speed.
Maybe I am getting myself into trouble.
I stop, breathing hard I look towards the city circle.
I can see the bonfire alright. It's lit, just as Peeta said it would be.
Why haven't I noticed it before? It's glowing so brightly you could see it from the forest! I guess I really haven't looked outside my window in a while.
I see a few figures besides the fire, they look like ants compared to the great roaring of the flames, which are so tall they look like they could rob the stars right out of the sky. They are much higher than any building. Wide too. I wouldn't want to fall into that fire.
What if Peeta pushes me into the pit?
I have to shake my head. He wouldn't do that.
I force myself to walk calmly to it. No matter how frightened I am, I cannot deny how excited I am to see Peeta's face.
I catch a glimpse of the moon as I enter the city. It's round and a burnt orange, the fullest I've ever seen it.
I normally would stop to admire it's beauty, but I have more important matters on my mind.
I'm in front of the bonfire now. It's flames reflecting onto my skin, warming me. The late spring air holds a soft beeze, and it blows against my face, cooling me down.
A few street vendors are packing up their carts and heading home. The flaming shadows licking them and making them look like they're on fire, coloring the people orange. But of course, they're not.
It's so beautiful, I almost forget why I'm here.
Until someone speaks behind me.
"You should wear flames more often. They suit you."
I look behind me. And there, standing in the firelight, is a man on fire. His blonde hair practically glowing, his blue eyes shimmery. I am left breathless at how handsome he looks.
"You came." He says, awe and wonder in his voice.
"I said I would." I say.
He walks up to me slowly, never taking his eyes off me.
We're both quiet for a while. So I break the silence, "I never knew this was here. Do they light it every night?"
Peeta nods. "Yes. They use some of the ruined buildings as fuel. There's alot of rubble to get rid of."
"It's beautiful." I say quietly.
"Yes," he agrees. "But I need to apologize, Katniss."
"For disappearing? That's alright, you already explained why."
"That, but also for something...bigger. Something that I live with every day."
I'm not really sure what he's trying to say, so I wait for him to elaborate.
"I mean, I feel awful. Just terrible."
"Peeta you've done nothing wrong..."
"Yes, I have." He steps forward and places his hands on my shoulder gently. My heart pounds in my chest. Boom. Boom. Boom.
He starts slowly and picks up pace as he talks.
"I used to think...that nothing, not anything could ruin my love from you. I thought I would die being so in love with you. In a way it was a curse. I ruined you. I almost forced you to marry me-"
"No listen! Please listen...I..I wanted to love you. I liked loving you. I was always planning on being there for you, if nothing else, just as your friend. But I didn't. And I am sorry. I left you, I abandoned you. I almost killed you."
He lets of go of me on the word killed, and shakes his head in disgust at himself.
He's talking about the Hijacking. He's apologizing for being highjacked. It's hard to breathe.
"I don't know what I would have done if I had killed you in those two weeks that I had gone. Ever since I had come back from District Thirteen. I wanted to be near you. To hear your voice. I was falling in love with you all over again. I mean, I am. I am falling in love with you."
I think my hands are shaking.
I'm surprised at how calmly I answer him. "But?"
"But nothing. It's true. I am." He grabs my hands that have fallen to my sides and picks them up with his, holding them level with his.
What did he just say? Okay, I think it's time I wake up now.
"The last two weeks. I was fighting it. My head was telling my heart not to love you. It was a war, going inside of me. That's what those two weeks were. My battle."
Peeta has rushes this all out in such a short time that he has to pause and take a breathe.
I take a while to take it all in. Minutes pass and Peeta waits patiently as I find the right thing to say.
I say something, but I don't think he heard me, I said it so quietly, so frightfully. "Did you win?" I ask it timid as a little girl.
But he does hear me.
His smile is so flashingly wide, that I'm confused when his eyes start to water, and his voice chokes up when he says it.
"Yes. I have won."
And right when he says it, he pulls me into his arms and hugs me. His warm arms encircling me and he rests his cheek on the top of my head. His hands stroking my hair.
I close my eyes and breathe him in. My heart is going so fast it feels like it could leap out of my chest and start flying around.
He holds me for a long time. And I don't mind it one bit. I listen to his heart and take him all in. The sound of his breath, the strength in his arms, the very soundness of him.
It must have been an hour but it felt like just a few minutes when he lets me go.
His eyes are red, and I see that he has been crying. I am filled with so much heartache at his tears that I quickly wipe them away and kiss his cheek. He grins like he's embarrassed.
I realize that I'm smiling so wide my cheeks hurt.
He tucks a piece of my hair behind my ear. "I'm so sorry." He whispers.
He is incredible.
"Peeta?" I ask softly.
"I forgive you."
He sighs and closes his eyes.
We have been sitting on the warm ground in front of the flames for a long time, hours maybe. Peeta's arms have been around me, his cheek pressed up against mine as we both stare into flames.
Every once in a while he'll plant another one of his kisses on my head, sometimes my cheeks, my eyelids. But never my lips.
I find I want him to kiss me on the lips. But he never does.
My heart is so happy, it begins to hurt. It's a good pain though.
Peeta's arms and the warm glow of the fire almost puts me to sleep. But I force myself to ask him a question in order to stay awake.
"Why did you stop me from eating the nightlock? When I killed Coin?"
He seems surprised at my question.
"Hmm." I can feel the sound vibrate through him and into me. "I guess I didn't want to come home without you." He says thoughtfully. He gives me a soft squeeze when he says it.
"Do you wish I hadn't?" He asks sadly.
"Sometimes," I say. Then I decided to answer truthfully. "Most of the time."
I see from out the corner of my eye that he looks concerned but he doesn't say anything.
Another question pops in my head.
"Peeta, how does Greasy Sae know about your condition?"
Recognition flickers in his eyes. "Oh, I told her. I wanted her to know, so that she would know what to do if I ever went rogue."
"Oh," I say. "You've thought of everything." My eyelids struggle to stay open.
I realize my leg has already fallen asleep and I try to wiggle it a little to flow more blood into it.
Peeta gives a short laugh. "I don't fall short when it comes to your safety."
I move my leg to the side and adjust my ankle, a sharp pain strikes up from the bottom of my foot.
I wince. My face was turned so I'm not sure he noticed, so he keeps calmly stroking my hair.
I try to shove my foot back to where it was, but the movement drives the knife up into my flesh, reaching my bone.
I start and give a yelp.
"What?" Peeta asks frightfully.
"Um...nothing. Just... give me a minute." I say strained. I pull myself out of his arms as he lets go of me and stands up.
I stretch out my legs and compose myself.
"I think I might have stabbed myself." I say nonchalantly.
Peeta cocks his head in confusion and offers me his hands, I take them and stand on one foot.
I slip off the boot with the knife in it.
Peeta looks slightly hurt at the sight of it but he hides it well.
"You brought a knife?"
"I...always keep one."
"It's alright. I'm glad you brought it."
What he does next surprises me, even though I should have been used to it by now. He bends over and picks me up and cradles me.
"I'll carry you home."
I tuck my head into the crook of his neck and shoulder and rest my cheek there.
He starts humming as he walks back to my house.
I watch the giant burnt orange moon behind us he carries me, the sight slowly growing smaller as he puts more distance between the moon and I.
"The moon..." I say vaguely because Peeta's steps are rocking me back to sleep. "It's your favorite color."
My eyelids are drooping when he laughs softly but doesn't say anything.
He kicks open my front door and carries me inside, his strong arms steady.
"Can you believe this, Bird?" He whispers to my pet as we pass his cage. "She went ahead and stabbed herself!"
Bird chirps in an agreeable tone of annoyance at me.
I laugh a little, but I'm so tired that it comes out weak.
He swiftly brings me up the staircase and into my bedroom.
He sets me down gently on my bed and slips off my other boot as I lay my head down on my pillow, ready to say goodnight to the world and fall into a deep sleep and dream of Peeta.
"Don't go anywhere," he says authoratively.
"Couldn't if I tried." I slur.
Peeta rummages around in my bathroom till he finds the closest thing to bandages and alcohol and comes back.
I'm already half asleep as he cleans my foot and wraps the cloth around my wound. Then he tucks me in and just as I'm about to let go, he leans over and whispers something in my ear.
"You're right about the moon. But it's not as beautiful as you, girl on fire."
And then I fall deep into unconsciousness.