Disclaimer: I do not own The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Castle, Once Upon A Time, El Internado or anything else. I might own something in the future, when I write my own books, but for the moment nothing.
I do not know why I have done this.
I do not know why I have taken Peeta's hand in mine.
But I know it feels... perfect.
The shake of his hand after the Reaping left me with the want of more. It was like in my dreams. The more innocent ones, at least. I know that, from the moment Effie Trinket spoke, he was my rival, but I cannot help but think about the possibility of him being a friend, or even something more.
When we were saying goodbye from the train, and he hooked his finger around my little one, I held my breath for a second. Unused as I was to this kind of touching, a stray thought had invaded my mind.
It was not enough. I needed more. I do not know why, I just... knew.
The feeling of his fingers between mine tells me it is perfect. As if his hand had been made just so that mine fits in.
I am assaulted by an image. Of Peeta's hands framing my face. Of his half-closed blue eyes, sparkling like the stars. Of his blond hair shining like the sun. Of his face as it approaches mine. Two seconds away from kissing me.
I breathe deeply to avoid blushing. The only thing about that image that bothers me is that it does not bother me, if that makes any sense.
I cannot resist the temptation of running my thumb over the back of his hand, to test whether it feels as great as those dreams of mine show. I hear Peeta suddenly breathing in, as if shocked by what I have done. And I am shocked to discover that my dreams have nothing on this. I am sure that, between Peeta and I, we could produce enough energy to power all of our District for a night.
"Children, there's no need to stay there anymore, we have already left District Twelve. Come with me, I'll show you to your rooms."
Part of me wants to shout at Effie for breaking this moment, but I recognize that we do need to move. This travel is going to last a day, approximately, so we should get settled, at least for tonight.
Effie hurriedly guides us along the train. Despite how much the detached part of my brain tells me to, the one I listen about most of the time, I do not want to let Peeta go. No matter what may happen in the nearby future, I cannot let go of him, so I tug him slowly, and he is soon walking at the same rhythm as I do. I cannot say how I know, but I know that he is smiling. In spite of the situation, my own lips are also curving upwards into a smile, against my will.
She stops in front of a door. It is marked with a big F.
"Katniss, you will be sleeping in this room. You have two hours to yourself. You may use the facilities within to your content, and you can take any of the clothes in there as well. Just make sure to be ready by then, we are having supper then, and then you will be watching the rest of the Reaping."
I briefly look at Peeta. I am reluctant to let him go, but I know I have to do it.
We can talk later, Katniss, he seems to tell me with his smile, and I nod at him, giving him a tiny squeeze. It is... strange. Just a few minutes ago, I was terrified, because I was going towards my own death. And now, it is the idea of letting go of Peeta that I hate. But then, he runs his thumb over my knuckles, and I know I will be right.
"Thank you," I say, more to Peeta than to Effie, and enter the room, closing the door behind me.
I must say, this is an absolute... waste of space. This room is huge. Bigger than the main room in my house and the kitchen, put together. It has a couch in front of a television, a bed, an enormous wardrobe, a shelf with a few books, and a door to what I suspect may be a bathroom, given what Effie has said about 'using the facilities'.
If the room in the Justice Building was bad, this is worse. And I am sure that the rooms they will give us in the Capitol will be even more decadent. This is a bit of a torture, I guess. They are giving us a taste of what our lives would have been in the Capitol before sending us out into the arena and see with sadistic glee how we kill each other.
I try to push that part away from my mind. Somehow, the mere idea of having to either kill or even see how Peeta dies makes me ill. In twenty-four hours, he has passed from a sort-of-friend that I had a strange connection with to someone that has become just as important to me as Prim or Gale. As if the walls I had built around my heart were nothing but paper to him.
I blank my mind, before I start tearing up. I leave the bag Peeta's father gave me on a table, and enter the bathroom, where I am met with something I have only heard of before. A shower.
In the Seam, the only way to clean yourself is with a bath. Even a warm bath is really costly. Much coal is needed to heat enough water for one person, and that is even if the bathtub is small, like it happens at my house. Best I can get is a swim in the lake, and only when it is summer, the only time when it is actually bearable. I know that Merchants have small showers in their houses thanks to Madge.
But this shower is huge. Mom, Prim and I could fit in here, and there would still be space for Buttercup and Lady. There are many buttons in here, probably more than I would even care to make use of. Careful inspection shows that the first row of buttons is only for controlling the intensity of the water falling. The second allows control of temperature. The third, four and fifth are used to control the soaps used to clean your hair, your face and the rest of your body. I decide to ignore the rest of the buttons, as they will probably be equally stupid. Honestly, who needs so many things to clean yourself? Everyone I know would be happy with just one kind of soap.
Sighing, I undress myself, undo my braid and enter the shower. After some work trying to figure out the tiny letters in the buttons, I manage to pick my choices. Medium strength, medium hot water, lemon for my hair, pine for the face and body. Simple, and it helps me remember home. At least, it should.
As soon as I press the button I guess is used to turn these things on, I brace myself for the possibility of lots of water falling down on me, as if it were a waterfall, but I am surprised. Instead of a waterfall, it feels more like warm rain in the middle of summer. It is actually relaxing, in fact. I stay where I am, eyes closed, letting the warm water fall over me. When I feel something else falling on my hair beside water, I touch it. It is a bit honey-like in texture, but not as sticky. I then bring my hand to my nose and smell. It smells of lemon. I guess this must be the hair soap.
I spread the soap over my hair, trying to cover all of it as fast as possible before rinsing it. A bit of soap falls on my face, and I wash my face with it, before letting the rest of the soap fall all over the rest of my body to clean myself.
In my movements, I accidentally press one of the buttons with my elbow. I am suddenly assaulted from all sides by particularly strong water spouts. I hold back a scream while I blindly try to find the button to stop the attack. However, given that my eyes are still closed from doing my best to avoid the soap spuds from entering them, it is quite difficult. I realize this when the next button I press makes several solid objects come out and start to scrub my skin.
I kneel down, avoiding the objects and most of the spouts, and try to clear my eyes while I look for the way to turn this off. It takes some effort, but in the end I find a button that says 'OFF'. I reach it, the torture finally ends. Stupid thing. I hold onto my wish to kick it. I would rather not hurt my own foot. Still, I am clean, and I smell of pine and lemon, so I guess that it was not a complete failure.
I shake myself, getting rid of as much water as possible, and get out of the shower, looking for a towel to dry myself off. My search is unsuccessful, but it does not matter, because the next thing I know the walls start to blow warm air, strong, but not a lot, surrounding me. It only lasts a few seconds, and when it stops, I am completely dry.
Deciding not to think about the laziness of the people that made this, I pick a gown and return to the bedroom. I pick the first things I find – a black short-sleeved shirt and pants and shoes – and put them on, combined with my own undergarments. And right on time, because I can feel Peeta is about to knock on the door.
After the most decadent shower I have ever taken – seriously, who decides to shower with rose petals? And here I thought that being able to have a hot shower was more than enough – and getting dressed with surprisingly fitting clothes – I pick a green shirt and black pants to go with my shoes – I leave my room, marked with a big M, and move towards the room assigned to Katniss.
I try not to think too much of what will happen when we arrive to the Capitol. It will not do me any good to get more nervous, especially knowing what is my destiny. I do, however, think of Katniss. Of how I tried to look at her, to tell her that I wanted to speak with her, and how she answered with a nod.
I soon find the door to the room assigned to Katniss, and knock on it.
"Katniss?" I ask softly. I can feel she is just a few meters away from the door, which means that either she must have showered already, or she has yet to do it. However, I am left wondering whether she intends to come out soon or just plans to close herself to the rest of the world. I know enough about her to know that she is quite likely to do that.
However, my fears are unfounded, because I hear her approach the door and it opens slowly, showing her lovely face.
"Hi," I say. We are both smiling. Her smile is a bit wavering, but it is still a smile, which I am glad for. I can see that she has shed her lovely blue dress, and that she is now wearing a black shirt. "Can I come in?"
"Yeah," she replies, with a voice just above a whisper, and she opens the door fully, letting me in. I enter her room, looking at her. Her hair is undone, framing her beautiful face. I have to hold on my wish to be able to run my fingers along her long, black locks, and place them behind her ear, because it is really intense.
The faint scent of pine and lemon, her undone hair, her clothes, tell me that she has just showered. I try, somewhat unsuccessfully, not to think of her naked body as water falls over her.
"I see you had a shower," I tell her.
"How can you tell?" she asks.
"Your smell," I reply, touching my nose. "Lemon and pine, right?"
"Yeah. And I can see you had a struggle with your shower," she says, her smile becoming just a little bigger.
"How do you know?"
Her hand moves towards my hair. I hold my breath as her fingers brush my hair. Her gray eyes are silver under this light, and I swallow as her face approaches mine.
"I guess that you don't usually shower in rose petals," she says, her lips curving in a bit of a smirk as she produces the offending item and shakes it in front of me. I groan a bit, but it is worth it, because it makes Katniss smile.
My concentration lost, my imagination decides to provide me with an image. Katniss, naked, covered in rose petals, winking at me, her cheeks just with a slight rosy tinge that makes her look sexier, if that is possible.
"Peeta, are you OK? You are blushing," Katniss says, bringing me back to reality. Damn. She has noticed. I am thankful that she cannot read my mind, because I am sure she would not like me thinking of her that way.
"Yeah, well, sorry. You know, the roses..." I am particularly obtuse over what about the roses affects me so much, hoping she will think it is the fact I was showered by them. "Can we... sit down?"
"Sure." Her hand slowly travels towards mine, as if she is afraid that I will step back away from her or something. Instead, I reach out for her, I take her hand in mine, and the feeling of wholeness returns. She takes me towards the couch, and I sit down on it, bringing her down with me. She sits right next to me, her left leg touching my right, near enough for me to put my arm around my shoulders. Surprisingly, she does not reject my touch. I would have never taken her for a person that readily seeks someone's comfort, but I admit I do not know her well enough to say otherwise. She loves her family, particularly her sister, and perhaps she also gets it from Gale as well. Still, I am glad she feels well enough about me to do this, even with the Games a few days away.
"How are you?" I ask her, trying to make conversation.
"Could be better," she replies, her previous smile slowly disappearing from her face. "I feel like I am at the edge of a cliff."
"So am I." Silence falls for a few seconds, before I decide to continue. "What you did... it was very brave."
"I couldn't let this happen to my sister."
"I know. That's why it is so important. I doubt anyone else would have done what you did."
"Thank you." She stands up a little, and I turn to look at her. Her soulful gray eyes stare into mine. "Could we... speak about something else? I... I don't want to think about the Games right now."
The Games. She does not know what are my plans. I am not sure of what I might do, but she can never know that I intend to make sure she survives at all costs. That I am doing it because I love her that much, as much, or perhaps even more, than she loves Prim.
"Anything," I reply to her, wanting to do the same thing as her.
"Thank you. For... you know... everything," she says. I know what she is speaking about.
"I couldn't bear the idea that you were so hungry, you know? It was actually painful for me. I threw the bread into the fire because I knew it would be the only way I could give it to you."
"Your mother hit you."
"And it was completely worth it. I would have done it every day if you needed it."
"Well... thank you." She looks down, obviously a bit bashful.
We continue speaking, as we eat the cookies my father gave Katniss earlier. I discover that Katniss loves green colors and spring, because they remind her of the forest, and I tell her I like sunset orange and autumn, because of the colors. She discovers I like drawing and painting (but not that she is my favorite subject) and confesses (in a very low voice) that she loves hunting outside in the woods, because it makes her feel free. We speak about our best friends, Delly for me, Madge and Gale for her. The fact that, for her, Gale is something like a brother makes me feel a bit better, although that also makes me feel like a jerk, because I doubt she actually cares about that when we – or at least me – are approaching to our deaths.
This is really strange. We have just been sitting here for half an hour, and we have probably said more things to each other than in the past five years. We have shared things we would only have told each other if there was great friendship, or something deeper, between us. A connection, if you will.
I really like it. I love it, in fact. I want to know as much as possible about the girl I love, because it will provide me with a comfort in my last moments. Just her presence next to me is one of the best feelings I could have ever imagined. It is soothing, yet exciting. And, as we keep speaking, she moves closer, my embrace can get a bit tighter. I can smell her now better. Lemon and pine, and something else that must be her natural smell. And that smell is incredible, much better than anything I have ever smelled in my life.
Her forearm is exposed, and my hand is so near to it that I take a chance, and caress her skin. It is so soft, like the silk of my mother's favorite handkerchiefs. Katniss' breathing becomes a bit shallower, erratic, and goosebumps begin to appear on her skin.
"Peeta..." she whispers. I look at her, into her eyes. The gray, which was silver before, is now more mercurial, swirling and mixing with the black of her pupil.
Why are you doing this? she seems to be asking, the same way I learn how she is doing every day.
Maybe this was not a good idea. Perhaps I should have tried to hold on and not touch her like this, but the temptation was to great. I pull my hand away.
"Sorry... I shouldn't have..."
Her words surprise me... and her. I can tell because she gasps and her cheeks darken more. Perhaps she did not intend me to hear that.
Nevertheless, her hand burrows under mine, seeking my touch, and her whole body also moves. I slowly lean back until I am lying down on the couch, and she climbs on top of me.
I wonder if she can hear my heart. It is beating at twice the normal rate, and so loud that I bet the train's conductor could hear it. She probably feels it, at least, because her chest is touching mine. Even through our clothes, I can feel her breasts touching mine as she breathes, and it is so much better than anything I could have ever dreamed about. Her cheeks darken, but she does not pull her eyes away from mine.
The hand I have free comes up, and I touch her hair that for so long I have wanted to. It is long, black like a raven's wing, and my fingers slide effortlessly through her still slightly damp locks, which I then put behind her ear, while my thumb lightly touches her dark, rosy cheek.
"You are so beautiful," I tell her, completely unable to keep a leash on what I feel for her. With my eyes, I try to tell her everything I have held within my heart for most of my life.
Her blush deepens, and her eyes talk to me. I don't understand. I don't know why. But I need you. I need you to touch me. I need to touch you. I want you.
I let her make the next move. If she prefers so, she can stand up and treat this as nothing but a fleeting moment of weakness. But, if she wishes otherwise... then I will certainly make sure she does not have a reason to regret this.
Her hand comes up and touches my cheek, a reflection of how I am touching her face. Her eyes hold the entire attention of mine as they briefly look downward and then look back into my eyes. I feel her shallow breathing blowing into my face.
"Can I kiss you?" she asks. I breathe suddenly. I would have never expected that question. Hoped for? Yes. But Katniss asking me if she can kiss me? Only in my dreams. And none of my dreams have shown something as incredible as this. Even what awaits for us cannot darken the fact that the girl I love wants to kiss me.
"Yes." What else can I tell her?
She bites her lower lip softly before releasing it, and the corners of her mouth come up in a smile. Her face approaches mine, and the last thing I see before closing my eyes is her own, a black hole surrounded by a thin gray line.
Our lips touch. And it is heaven.
I am in a forest. But not any forest. It is my forest. The one outside our District. And I am right next to the lake Dad showed me years ago, where I catch fish and swim in summer, and at the other side of the lake there is the small house where Dad would take me some times, especially if we had to do work with what we caught. The sun is high in the sky, but it is not too hot, fortunately.
The only noise here is that of the birds singing. I would love to start singing with them, but I do not want to interrupt their melody. It is so soothing, that I might fall asleep in here. I take off my boots and socks and put my feet in the water. I have nothing to do right now, and I want to enjoy the feeling.
I hear him come behind me. He has never been the most silent person in the world, but it is better than when we first met, because then, no matter how much he tried, he would scare away anything within a mile. He has improved a lot. Especially with my particular brand of training.
"Hi, Peeta," I say. He chuckles.
"And here I wanted to surprise you," Peeta replies, sitting right next to me. I look at him. He is as handsome as always, with his blue eyes, the short, blond hair that curls in the right, exact way and which I love to curl my fingers into, and the rest of his body that makes me writhe with desire whenever we are in our bed.
"You should know that the apprentice hardly ever surpasses the master."
"Indeed. That's why your cookies are never better than mine."
I laugh. "Come on, the reason is that you haven't told me how you do your trick."
"Well, you should know a magician never reveals his tricks." His arm is now around my waist, and his fingers are playing under my shirt, touching me the way he knows I love. "Just like you never told me how you become invisible."
"Well, just like this." I snap my fingers, and I become almost invisible. Peeta told me once that there is some shimmering in the air where I am, but he has to pay a lot of attention to see it. Of course, right now he does not need it, since he is already touching me.
"You know what's the worst about this? That I can't see you."
"I know," I reply, still invisible. He found this – the part where I speak to him while he cannot see me – a bit unnerving at the beginning, but now he finds it funny, especially after he decided to make it a game and see how much it takes him to find me. The reward is always the same, no matter who wins, but it adds a lot of spice to our nights.
Peeta takes me nearer to him and sits me on his lap, before kissing me on the base of my neck. The feeling is so great that my concentration drops, and I become visible again.
"There you are again. The most beautiful woman in the world," he says. I blush. I have never been able to take compliments well, and I have always been at a loss to understand why Peeta considers me beautiful when there are many other girls that are far more attractive, but I have learned not to argue with him on that, at least not seriously. Every time I try to do that, he does not answer, but then at night he slowly undresses me and does what he calls 'worshiping my heavenly body', which leaves me overwhelmed and exhausted and so much in love with him that, at least for a few days, I believe him when he calls me beautiful.
"I love you," I tell him, and I mean it. I had always feared the idea before, knowing what deeply loving someone did to Mom, but when I am with Peeta I can understand why love is so wonderful. And every passing day, I find that I cannot live without the drug that are Peeta Mellark, his kisses, his touches and his words.
"I love you. I love you so much," he replies, and I melt against him, putting my face against his neck. So sincere he is, that it practically comes out of his pores, that I can breathe it in the air, or maybe that it is him that I can smell. Cinnamon and vanilla. Such a powerful smell that it overwhelms all of my senses and makes me want for more of him. I kiss him on his neck, and the slow moan that comes from him lights a fire in me.
I fully turn around and slowly push him down, to make him lie on the grass, so that I can climb over him and kiss him to my content. His arms hug me and he returns the kiss with vigor, inflaming both of our fires, making me wish I could take out all of his clothes and he take all of mine, so that I may once more lay claim to his entire being...
"Katniss?" someone says. It is not a man, but a woman, who calls out my name, and then the sound of someone knocking on wood.
I open my eyes, and when I see Peeta under me, I am brought back to the present. Everything was a dream. We are not in the forest, but in a train taking us to the Capitol, towards our deaths. But Peeta is not a dream. And I was really kissing Peeta, and I am still feeling the fire in me that called for ripping all of Peeta's clothes off.
I feel my face flush completely, both from the embarrassment of what I was doing, my very much non-innocent dream or vision or whatever that was and the fact that I actually want to feel Peeta inside of me. And I can imagine that Peeta is thinking something similar, because his cheeks have turned the color of particularly ripe strawberries. I look away and slowly get out of his embrace, knowing that continuing like this will break any resolve I may have.
"Y-" my voice cracks, and I clear my throat. "Yes?"
"Supper is ready," Effie says. "Have you seen Peeta? He is not in his room."
"He is here, too," I reply, unwilling to look at him while I stand up from the couch. "We were talking, and we fell asleep."
"Oh, good, good. I'll see you two soon, then." I am so glad that the door is closed, because I seriously doubt I will be able to face Effie the rest of this night without remembering what almost happened here.
I doubt I will be able to look at Peeta without thinking about that. Not that it is an unpleasant idea, but...
"I meant it, you know."
I look at him, and he is still blushing, but he is smiling, and his eyes are exactly the same as in her vision.
"When I said you were beautiful. I really meant it."
"Well... thanks," I whisper. Peeta stands up and reaches out to me, slowly taking my hand into his, and once again the feeling of sparks happens. I look straight into his eyes and I read into him.
I want you. I want to kiss you again. I want to touch you.
And it is somewhat distressing that I actually want the same.
Supper is a very awkward moment.
Haymitch has yet to make an appearance, which I guess it is because he has drunk so much today that he has fainted in his room, so it is just Effie, Katniss and me. Katniss stays silent and hardly lifts her eyes from her dish. I guess it is because she is still embarrassed over what happened in her room, but I could see in her eyes that she actually liked it. At least, it is what I think, but I dare not presume anything. Effie tries to fill the air with her chattering, and I answer politely to her, but things are mostly silent.
In the meantime, Katniss takes advantage of the access to food and eats non-stop. It is probably a combination of wanting to eat her fill and storing up energy for the Games. A good strategy, I think, and I imitate her. I yearn to be able to touch her under the table, and least to take her hand, but I hold back. I am not sure of whether she will welcome it.
One of the night's highlights comes when Effie comments that we have better table manners than the kids from last year. I remember them. They were two Seam kids that really looked like they had never gone to bed without being hungry. I could bet that they all but took advantage of the almost unlimited food they had access to: I doubt manners were the first thing in their minds when they were told they could eat to their heart's content. Katniss clearly takes offense to Effie's comment, because she begins to eat as sloppily as she can, using her fingers to pick all sorts of meat and fish and then cleaning her hands on the tablecloth. Effie's lips are pressured together, while I struggle not to laugh out loud.
In the meantime, I try to think about the vision I had while kissing Katniss. The place I saw was somewhere I have never been to, but vision me had. It is definitely somewhere Katniss has been before, so I guess it is in the woods outside the fence. I think vision me and Katniss were married or engaged to. Hearing her say that she loved me was nothing short of fantastic. But the most impressive thing was to see her do magic: the fact that she could become invisible was really, really impressive, but vision me treated it as something normal. This vision might be a signal that there is a lot more to Katniss Everdeen than just the beautiful huntress that fights to ensure her family's survival.
"Do you know why Mr Abernathy has chosen to remain in his room?" Effie asks, breaking my train of thought.
"He is... ill," I say diplomatically.
"More likely drunk," Effie replies with a huff. "Certainly, that man knows nothing of how to behave in public. Just like in the Reaping. Honestly, shouting out loud like that!"
"Well, you can't fault him. He's gone through too many things. That's why he is drunk every year," I tell Effie.
"More like every day," Katniss interrupts. I can tell that she, too, knows why Haymitch Abernathy drinks.
"I don't know why you treat this with such a blasé attitude," Effie hisses, "but you would do well to remember that he is the only person that can make deals with any possible sponsors while you are in the arena."
And, of course, to continue with our lucky strike, Haymitch enters the room, clearly drunk.
"Wha's this? I missed supper?" he asks, stumbling around and with a bottle in hand. I stand up and rush for him so that he does not fall to the floor. He is really heavy, a lot more than the flour bags I carry at home, but my training in wrestling and lifting weights pays off, and I prevent him from taking a dive again.
"Damn, Haymitch, couldn't you hold off drinking for a couple of days?" I ask him, even if I know that he is unlikely to remember this. Right now, my best hope is that he does not vomit all over the carpet.
"Whateva, kid," Haymitch says. His breath smells heavily of alcohol.
"Katniss, would you mind giving me a hand? I'm taking him back to his room," I ask Katniss, struggling.
"Sure," she says, and she stands up as well, moving to Haymitch's other side. Between the two of us – mostly me, since I am taller – we manage to carry our mentor to his room. At least, I guess it is his room, since it is the only one of those marked with Mentor that is open.
It is difficult to enter the room, as the doors were obviously not made to allow two people to come through at the same time, let alone three, so we need to get in sideways, which is not easy when the person in the center does not feel like collaborating. Between Katniss and me, though, we manage to get Haymitch in and put him on his bed. I manage to find a dustbin in the room and place it next to his bed, in case he needs to vomit and cannot reach the bathroom on time .
"You'd better be sober tomorrow, Haymitch, because we are going to need your help," I tell the man.
"Sure, kid. Talk to you later," he says, before falling asleep and starting to snore.
"Great," Katniss mutters.
"He'll probably be up and moving tomorrow." I approach Katniss, and she seems nervous. She is probably still thinking about what happened in her room. "What do you say to going back to the table and finish dinner? You can further impress Effie with your great table manners in the process."
Katniss smiles and looks about to laugh, and, god, she is amazing.
We return to the table. Effie has apparently decided to finish while we were away, which means things are a bit more comfortable, albeit a bit more silent, than before. Instead of sitting next to Katniss, I decide to sit in front of her, so that I can actually look at her. I speak with her, telling her a few things, anything to keep our minds off our destination. She speaks little at first, but I slowly manage to get her out of her shell, and by the time we finally finish our desert, I am laughing at her description of her 'war' with her sister's cat Buttercup.
"Ugh, I'm full," I say, reclining back in my chair. I actually feel a bit ill with all the food I have just eaten: I probably am going green around the gills.
"So... am... I..." she replies. She does sound a bit tired. Probably it took her a bit of an effort to eat as much as she has. "Too early to sleep. What should we do?"
"Don't know. Maybe... maybe we could see the other tributes? I think they are showing the Reaping some time soon."
"Sure. Your room or mine?"
I lift an eyebrow and smile at her, and she slightly blushes when she realizes the other meaning what she said could have.
"We've been at yours before, so... mine?"
"OK." I stand up and move next to her, taking her hand when she stands. She smiles slightly at me. "Isn't a bit presumptuous of you to take my hand like this?"
"Well, you didn't exactly have any problem in taking mine before. Not that I am complaining."
"I... I like it. Your hands. They feel nice."
I feel like my insides are doing a dance of their own. I actually feel like dancing.
"Then you may take a hold of them whenever you want." I tug her hand towards the door. "Shall we?"
I have never imagined myself to be one to cuddle. The most I do is to sleep with my sister, both because it helps a bit with the nightmares and because it helps us keep warm at night. While awake, though, I have never been one to seek the comfort of someone else, save my sister and, once or twice, Gale.
And yet, here I am, sitting on a couch, happily cuddling with Peeta Mellark as we watch how the other tributes are Reaped, and actually liking the feeling of his body next to mine, of his arm around my shoulders.
It is curious. Both of us are going to be sent to our deaths soon. We will have to fight against people our age to see who is the last to survive. One of us, probably both of us, will never make it back home. But I am calm. Peeta's touch, his mere presence, exercises a calming effect on me. And, at the same time, his presence is a daunting exercise in self-control, because the memory of that vision thing is still haunting me. The most risk-loving part of me, the one that pushes me to hunt, is now demanding that I kiss Peeta again, that I taste him and his lips.
In the meantime, we watch how the other Tributes were reaped.
From District One come two volunteers. Marvel Espel, who looks quite strong, although not brilliant, and Glimmer Carat, a girl that seems to be someone that uses her sexuality to get her point through.
District Two provides Cato Junius, who lunges forward to become a volunteer and seems to be someone who uses brute force, and Clove Allium, who also volunteers and has an expression that screams 'sadist'.
The District Three tributes are younger than us, but I know better than to think that an advantage. Steven Efem and Ada Sipew come from the technology district, and they might be able to find uses for their knowledge.
District Four, the fishing district, has two volunteers. The boy, Zeno Entail, seems to be young and agile, while the girl, Andrea Scale, who looks my age and probably is quite fast.
District Five comes next, and I notice that Julie Renard, the girl, looks like a fox and seems to be a cunning girl, while the boy, Barrett Eisee, is probably quite likely someone that will use force to survive.
District Six's Tributes look our age, and look fast, which is quite normal, given that they come from the transportation, but I do not see in either Jack Porter or Jennifer Drivers the same instinct that drives others.
District Seven has Gummarus Oaken and Olivia Madison. Both of them are plain, but I know that they are likely to be good with using axes, probably since they were little kids, because of the huge forests surrounding them.
Marcus Nyle and Esther Silk from District Eight are somewhat young, but tall for their age. He seems to be strong, but she does not. As District Eight is mostly urban, they probably will not know much about survival.
The District Nine Tributes, Bernard Sienna and Notburga Eben, are young as well, and very thin. They might be good if they manage to get their hands on a sickle, but they probably will not last much.
District Ten has Hadrian Morris and Fannie Oakley. She looks a lot younger than what the television says and he seems very strong, but I cannot tell much else about them.
The last surprise arrives with District Eleven. Thresh Peach looks huge, probably the tallest of all Tributes. And Rue Ala... she's young. And tiny. And, even though her skin is very dark and her hair is black, she reminds me of Prim so much that I almost sob when no one volunteers for her.
And then... I know what is happening. It feels so... weird, and far away, even though it happened a few hours ago. I hear Prim's name being called. I see myself stepping forward, pushing people aside and shouting my willingness to volunteer for her. I see my desperation in trying to save my sister from a sure death. I see Haymitch shouting and tripping, calling attention away from me. I hear Peeta's name being called. I see him walk forward. Determined. But... resigned. The presenters comment on the fact that I am the first volunteer for District Twelve ever, and wonder how that will relate in the arena.
I look at him, and he is looking back at me.
I will never hurt you.
"Do you really mean it?" I whisper before I can control myself. He is sincere, I can tell, but I want to hear him say it.
"What?" he whispers back.
"That you won't hurt me."
He is surprised. Maybe he did not expect me to say that, or perhaps he actually thought that, and I somehow .
"Yeah. I mean it. I'd sooner stab myself than hurt you. But... I never said it aloud."
"I know. It was like..."
"... you read it in my eyes." The way he says it tells me that he is not surprised.
"Yeah." My next question comes soon out. "You can do it, too?"
"Only with you," he replies. "And I guess you can only do it with me, as well."
I nod, hardly keeping my eyes away from his. Just a couple of hours ago, I saw them real up and close before kissing him. And now that I know this, I study his eyes, with intent. I see humility. I see sincerity.
I see the truth. I see that there might be something else we have in common.
"When we kissed..." I say, carefully, "did you see something?"
"What did you see?"
"A lake in a forest. The most beautiful woman in the world sitting on the shore," he whispers, caressing my face, and again I blush. What is wrong with me? It takes a lot to make me blush. But since I stepped on this train, my face has flushed more times than in the rest of my life. "I spoke with her about a few of our tricks, and she became invisible, at least until I kissed her. And then, she told me what she felt for me."
I lean further, so that I can whisper into his ear. "You are a sorcerer." Not a question, a statement.
"You are a sorceress."
I can feel his smile. I do not even need to see it to know it is there. I smile as well. I wish Dad was here. He would have been so glad to know that we were not the only sorcerers in District Twelve, and would wonder if there were more of them, hiding away. But I am also happy that he can know. It feels like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. And it feels like I can trust Peeta with anything. We have a connection, deeper than what I have with anyone else, save perhaps Prim.
"You can do magic."
"Just like you can. And, just so you know... everything I said in the vision?" he says.
I know what he means. I close my eyes and try to breathe deeply. When I do it, I catch his scent. A bit of roses, but also cinnamon and vanilla. Like in the vision. My heartbeat is now just as fast as it was a few hours ago. My attempts to calm down fail, and my breathing becomes more erratic. Heat pools in me, in ways I only have felt when I dreamed of Peeta.
"I want to kiss you again," I say. I want to do it. Really. I want to feel the same things I felt in the vision. I want to feel alive before I face my death.
"So do I," he replies.
Before I lose my nerve, I turn my head and kiss him again. I do not begin to have a vision, like before, but the same feelings flare up again. The rational part of my mind is shouting at me to stop and think, to step away from Peeta, but my instincts overwhelm it like a avalanche and shut it up.
I put one of my hands on the side of his face and the other on the back of his head. One of his arms moves under my knees and he sits me on his lap. My hand hooks into his hair, and his fingers comb mine. I open my mouth and experimentally let the tip of my tongue run over his lips. His moan tells me he likes it, and fuels the fire in me.
The hand I had on his face moves lower. I touch his chest and my hand trembles when I feel the muscles under his shirt. One of his hands travels between my hair and my back, touching both and making me moan in pleasure. Damn, his hands make me feel like a ball of dough in his family's bakery.
All too soon, a physical need prevents me from continuing to kiss him. I have to break off the kiss – I immediately miss the feeling of his lips on mine – and let my head back, breathing in the air that is suddenly so fantastic and feels so great as it enters my lungs and gives me life again.
But only when I open my eyes and look into his eyes... it is only then when I realize that he has showed me that there are other ways to be alive. He has showed me that I am not alone here.
I love you. I love you so much, that I would do anything so that you can live.
I know he is sincere. But I also know now what he is planning to do. And I cannot let him do that.
It is strange, you know? I always thought I would be able to get through life without falling in love with someone, without marrying someone, without having children. But it has only taken Peeta Mellark less than half a day to turn it around, to make me want for more than just being alive. It has only taken Peeta Mellark less than half of a day to make me realize that what I have felt every time I looked at him since the day with the dandelion was not just gratitude. It was love. It is love.
I love Peeta Mellark. I am in love with him. I have been in love with the boy with the bread since I was eleven years old and he saved me with his loaves and his innate kindness, and I did not know about it until he finally showed me what it meant.
I do not know if I should scream in joy, in sadness or in hysterics. Because I remember how much in love Mom was with Dad, and how much she changed after losing him. And now, I will either die or suffer the same destiny. As much as I wish I could step back to a moment when he was just a friend, it is impossible. He has trapped me, or rather, I have willingly fallen into his embrace. The best and the worst, at the same time.
I am not going to let him do what he is planning. I will not let Peeta sacrifice himself for me. I look him in the eye, and tell him with my mind.
I love you. And I will not let you sacrifice yourself for me.
That is what I read in her eyes. And I know she is sincere.
"Do you really mean it?" I ask her. I am sure she actually means it, but listening to her speak, say so aloud, means a lot to me, that I am actually.
"You know what I said in the vision?"
"Real. I don't know how, or why, or when, but it's real. And I don't want it in any other way. It's too fast, but I don't care." She breathes in. "I love you."
My lips curve up in a smile, but it is a bittersweet smile. Those three words were ones I would have loved to hear at any other moment, but right now, they are tinged with the pain of knowing that either of us could die in any moment.
"And I am never going to let you sacrifice yourself for me. You get that?" she continues.
"What if... what if we have no other choice?"
"There's always another choice. Don't you dare kill yourself if you think I can win that way. If you do that, I'll never forgive you."
"There's no way I'm letting you die if I can help it, either," I reply.
"Well, then we will both have to survive." She smiles, and so do I. We both know that this is impossible. It would take a miracle for us both to do that. Rules could be changed. A way to escape the arena could appear. All tributes could choose not to fight. The Hunger Games could be abolished. We could fake our deaths. President Snow could actually die for real. Another Rebellion could begin. The entire Capitol could collapse onto itself. I would take even an invasion by beings from up there if it means that the Hunger Games are not celebrated any more and that Katniss and I can go on and stay together without anything in our path blocking us.
But, well, sometimes rules were made to be broken. And maybe, just maybe, the stars will align and we can escape the main rule of the Hunger Games: there can only be one winner.
It is a bit late, though, and I am fighting to keep my eyes open. I would love to stay the entire night here, in the couch, with Katniss asleep in my arms, but I do not have that right. At least, not yet. She covers her mouth and yawns a bit, which makes me yawn as well.
"It's been a long day," I say. Long and exciting and tiring and many other things. "Do you want to go to sleep?"
"Yeah," she replies, and she sounds so tired that I think I might have to carry her in my arms to her room, not that it would not be interesting. In fact, I would love to be able to take her bridal style there. Unfortunately, it seems that she still has strength to walk away on her own, so she stands up and slowly walks for the door.
I am not going to let her go that easily, though. I follow her, and just as she starts to open the door, I push it close.
"Can I kiss you good night?" I ask her when she turns around. She smiles, but instead of answering, she just put her arms around my neck and kisses me softly. I put my arms around her thin waist and kiss her back. This one tastes sweeter than the others, because she has just admitted to me that she loves me, but it is too short.
"Good night, Peeta. And have sweet dreams," she says.
"They will probably be, if you are in them." Yes, it is cheesy, but, hey, she is doing really weird things with my mind and I think I actually like that. "Sleep tight."
"Thank you." She gives me another soft kiss and comes out of the door before closing behind her. I wish I could follow her, but I doubt it would be a good idea, as much as I would love to sleep with her in my arms. A bit of comfort before we get thrown to the wolves.
I sigh and decide to get ready for bed. I go to the bathroom and flush my teeth, and then decide to just forgo wearing a shirt to sleep. It is warm, so I doubt I will freeze in this train.
I fall asleep soon, warmed over both by my memories of Katniss and the temperature, but my sleep is troubled. It is all a series of confusing images, one after the other. A fire that eats everything. Some kind of horrible mixes between wolves and humans running after us. Losing myself in a labyrinth. Attacked by horrible wasps. Explosions. Earthquakes.
And Katniss is there. In all of the nightmares, I am separated from her, or she is injured, or she dies. The pain in my heart is always the same. Even worse than what I felt when I saw her in the backyard, five years ago. Again, and again, and again. I try to wrestle against the images, try to stop them, but it is impossible, I cannot fight them. Suddenly, I feel like I am falling.
I open my eyes, and immediately feel the pain on my back and neck while I look at the roof. I must have fallen off my bed in my sleep. Looks like I was actually wrestling against something. I smile a bit before starting to move. I fight the pain while I stand up and get out of my room. I need to go check on Katniss. I need to know that she is well, and sleeping peacefully.
In the darkness of the corridor, and worried about Katniss as I am, I do not notice that there is someone else moving along the corridor until I crash into her, her face into my chest.
"Ow!" the other person says. The voice is easy to recognize.
"Peeta? What are you doing here?"
"I... I wanted to check on you." No need to mention the nightmares. "And you?"
"... the same," she replies in the same tone as me. The fact that she is now here is now helping me to reduce the tension caused by the nightmares, and I chuckle.
"Great minds think alike," I tell her, and even in the darkness of this room I know she is smiling. "Are you OK?" I ask her, remembering that she crashed face first into me.
"Yeah, don't worry. It only hurt a bit."
"I'm glad." I move my hand slowly in the darkness, and I manage to find her elbow easily. I slowly trace my way down her arm until I find her hand. "Wouldn't like to actually break my promise."
"I'm glad, too."
"Do you..." I begin to ask, but stop. It is a bit ridiculous thing to ask of her, after all, and, even if she loves me, I doubt she will be so acceptable of the idea.
"Do I?" she asks back, and I believe I can even hear a bit of a teasing tone in her voice.
"Do you... want to stay with me? We can... check on each other... easier, you know," I reply, lamely, glad about the darkness so that she cannot see my blush, and hoping that she will not get angry.
"OK," she says, almost whispering.
"Which room, then? Your room, or mine?"
Katniss softly laughs, probably remembering earlier this evening, when she made the same question. "Mine, if you want."
"Anywhere is good."
I follow her towards her room, and once there she turns the light on, letting me see her beauty. She is wearing a simple black shirt and shorts that accentuate her slim figure, and the curve where her legs and her back meet looks so delicious that, if I had less self-control, I would be reaching to touch her.
"You're staring," she says.
"Well, your body is a beautiful thing to look at," I reply, approaching her.
"You are hallucinating, or too tired."
"One day, I'll say it and you'll believe me." Both of us know it is an empty promise, but it feels good to say it.
"Maybe. Let's get to bed. We have a long day tomorrow."
Her bed is unmade, and even though it is identical to mine, somehow looks more comforting. Perhaps it is because of the company that I am going to be having, or perhaps it is just that I am so tired. I climb in first, and move to the side nearest to the wall so that Katniss may climb in behind me. With my back to the wall, I can let Katniss cuddle with me, or stay as away from me as she wants to.
When she gets in the bed and moves the covers over our bodies, I smile as she slides towards me, and I put an arm around her waist as we spoon.
"You can't believe how many times I thought about being with you like this," I whisper to her.
"I dreamed about being like this with you, a few times," she confesses.
"I hope not to disappoint you, then."
She turns around into my embrace and kisses me. "I doubt that will happen," she tells me, and she turns around again before sighing and closing her eyes.
Even though I thought I would be awake for longer, enjoying the feeling of Katniss' body against mine, I do not take too long in following her into sleep.
A/N: There goes Chapter 2, and certainly the plot thickens!
First things first, if you complain about them going so fast, then I'll point out that I have already stated that these Katniss and Peeta are different. Katniss is a bit more attentive to Peeta, and they have this connection that both of them have commented on. And the fact that Katniss has sworn not to have children or marry means little when considering what happened in the books. In here, right now she has actually realized that her feelings are far more than what she believed, and she knows (or thinks) that there is going to be little time for them to be together (we know otherwise, though *grin*).
Things continue to go through the same path, but the divergence is becoming greater as time passes. I am trying to avoid a few things that get repeated a few too many times in fanfics, such as Haymitch vomiting at dinner or other things. Giving names to every Tribute was a struggle, because I wanted to make sure each name could be actually given to them in their district and that it was part of the theme naming for each place (though, several of them I just worked out how to make them joke-y, such as Clove). Trying to describe them in just a few words was also a bit of a pain, although I hope I made it well enough.
For my The Hunger Games' Fanfic Recommendation, I have to choose "All the President's Men" by Baroness Kika (Story ID: 9612047). Young, charismatic Peeta Mellark has been thrust into the role of President of Panem after Snow's oppressive administration fell. Katniss Everdeen is a Peacekeeper that has been tasked to take care of the only person Peeta loves more than his country. As both of them struggle with their tasks, they find that there are things that they cannot fight at all.
Finally, answers for the two people that took their time to review (remember that reviews show that you love my story! You 28 that follow the story (particularly the 10 that made this story a favorite), please, write reviews!):
Zoey303: Here is it!
RoseyPosey1025: hope you are still alive. And there is not more because I cannot write 24/7.