“You love me. Real or not real?"
I tell him, "Real.”
“Well, don't expect us to be too impressed. We just saw Finnick Odair in his underwear.”
“You're still trying to protect me. Real or not real," he whispers.
"Real," I answer. "Because that's what you and I do, protect each other.”
“Finnick?" I say, "Maybe some pants?"
He looks down at his legs as if noticing his outfit for the first time. Then he whips off his hospital gown leaving him in just his underwear. "Why? Do you find this" -- he strikes a ridiculously provocative pose -- "distracting?"
I laugh. Boggs looks embarrassed and Finnick looks more like the guy I met at the Quarter Quell”
“Fire is catching! And if we burn, you burn with us!”
“Ally." Peeta says the words slowly, tasting it. "Friend. Lover. Victor. Enemy. Fiancee. Target. Mutt. Neighbor. Hunter. Tribute. Ally. I'll add it to the list of words I use to try to figure you out. The problem is, I can't tell what's real anymore, and what's made up.”
“I clench his hands to the point of pain. "Stay with me."
His pupils contract to pinpoints, dialate again rapidly, and then return to something resembling normalcy. "Always," he murmurs.”
“Sometimes when I'm alone, I take the pearl from where it lives in my pocket and try to remember the boy with the bread, the strong arms that warded off nightmares on the train, the kisses in the arena.”
“Katniss. I remember about the bread.”
“There's a chance that the old Peeta, the one who loves you, is still inside. Trying to get back to you. Don't give up on him.”
“She's not here," I tell him. Buttercup hisses again. "She's not here. You can hiss all you like. You won't find Prim." At her name, he perks up. Raises his flattened ears. Begins to meow hopefully. "Get out!" He dodges the pillow I throw at him. "Go away! There's nothing left for you here!" I start to shake, furious with him. "She's not coming back! She's never ever coming back here again!" I grab another pillow and get to my feet to improve my aim. Out of nowhere, the tears begin to pour down my cheeks. "She's dead, you stupid cat. She's dead.”
“What about Gale?"
"He's not a bad kisser either," I say shortly.
"And it was okay with both of us? You kissing the other?" He asks.
"No. It wasn't okay with either of you. But I wasn't asking your permission," I tell him.
Peeta laughs again, coldly, dismissively. "Well, you're a piece of work, aren't you?”
“I knew you'd kiss me."
"How?" I say. Because I didn't know myself.
"Because I am in pain," He say's. "That's the only way I get your attention.”
“That what I need to survive is not Gale's fire, kindled with rage and hatred. I have plenty of fire myself. What I need is the dandelion in the spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction. The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again. And only Peeta can give me that.”
“I roll my eyes. "So when did I become so special? When they carted me off to the Capitol?"
"No, about six months before that. Right after New Year's. We were in the Hob, eating some slop of Greasy Sae's. And Darius was teasing you about trading a rabbit for one of his kisses. And I realized...I minded.”
“Katniss....he's still trying to keep you alive.”
“Oh, that I do know...Katniss will pick whoever she thinks she can't survive without.”
“I know what blood poisoning is, Katniss," says Peeta. "Even if my mother isn't a healer."
I'm jolted back in time, to another wound, another set of bandages. "You said that same thing to me in the first Hunger Games. Real or not real?"
"Real," he says. "And you risked your life getting the medicine that saved me?"
"Real." I shrug. "You were the reason I was alive to do it.”
“Peeta and I had adjoining cells in the capitol. We're very familiar with each other's screams.”
“At a few minutes before four, Peeta turns to me again. "Your favorite colour . . . it's green?"
"That's right." Then I think of something to add. "And yours is orange."
"Orange?" He seems unconvinced.
"Not bright orange. But soft. Like the sunset," I say. "At least, that's what you told me once."
"Oh." He closes his eyes briefly, maybe trying to conjure up that sunset, then nods his head. "Thank you."
But more words tumble out. "You're a painter. You're a baker. You like to sleep with the windows open. You never take sugar in your tea. And you always double-knot your shoelaces."
Then I dive into my tent before I do something stupid like cry.”
“Fine. I'll train. But I'm going to the stinking capitol if I have to kill a crew and fly there myself." Says Johanna.
"Probably best not to bring that up in training," I say. "But it's nice to know I'll have a ride.”
“Ladies and gentlemen....."
His voice is quiet, but mine rings through the room.
"Let the Seventy-sixth Hunger Games begin!”
“All those months of taking it for granted that Peeta thought I was wonderful are over. Finally, he can see me for who I really am. Violent. Distrustful. Manipulative. Deadly. And I hate him for it.”
“You're punishing him over and over for things that are out of his control. Now, I'm not saying you shouldn't have a fully loaded weapon next to you round the clock. But I think it's time you flipped this little scenario in your head. If you'd been taken by the Capitol, and hijacked, and then tried to kill Peeta, is this the way he would be treating you?" demands Haymitch.
I fall silent. It isn't. It isn't how he would be treating me at all. He would be trying to get me back at any cost. Not shutting me out, abandoning me, greeting me with hostility at every turn.”
“Katniss, I don't think President Snow will kill Peeta. If he does, he won't have any way to hurt you."
"So, what do you think they'll do to him?" I ask.
"Whatever it takes to break you.”
“I think of the snarling, cruel exchange back on the hovercraft. The bitterness that followed. But all I say is "I can't believe you didn't rescue Peeta."
"I know," he replies.
There's a sense of incompleteness. And not because he hasn't apologized. But because we were a team. We had a deal to keep Peeta safe. A drunken, unrealistic deal made in the dark of night, but a deal just the same. And in my heart of hearts, I know we both failed.
"Now you say it," I tell him.
"I can't believe you let him out of you sight that night," says Haymitch.”
“No problem," Gale replies. "I wake up ten times a night anyway."
"To make sure Katniss is still here?" asks Peeta.
"Something like that,"...
"That was funny, what Tigris said. About no one knowing what to do with her."
"Well, WE never have,"...
"She loves you, you know," says Peeta. "She as good as told me after they whipped you."
"Don't believe it,"Gale answers. "The way she kissed you in the Quarter Quell...well she never kissed me like that."
"It was just part of the show," Peeta tells him, although there's an edge of doubt in his voice.
"No, you won her over. Gave up everything for her. Maybe that's the only way to convince her you love her." There's a long pause. "I should have volunteered to take your place in the first Games. Protected her then."
"You couldn't," says Peeta. "She'd never have forgiven you. You had to take care of her family. They matter more to her than her life."