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Tradition

Title: Tradition
Pairing: Katniss/Peeta
Prompt: I’m holding on to air / Once, your hand was there – they don’t use the berries
Type: Hunger Games AU
Word Count: 1,114

“Citizens of Panem, I give you the victors of the Seventy-Fourth Hunger Games!”

Tradition has been broken. We both get to go home. Peeta and I stand perfectly still, hand in hand, as the force field disappears, revealing a clear night sky. The hovercraft freezes us and pulls us up to the deck to take us back to the Capitol, where there’ll be a feast in our honor and interviews and autographs.

“Congratulations,” Peeta whispers to me, still holding my hand.

“You too,” I answer quietly, giving his hand a gentle squeeze.

“Couldn’t have done it without you,” he replies.

“That’s true,” I answer with a laugh, but I know it’s not necessarily true. He could’ve stayed hidden in that mud, holding on to the last threads of life, long enough for Cato to kill off everyone else, and anything could’ve happened after that. But the infection would’ve killed him eventually without the medicine from the “feast.”

He looks at me with love-sick-puppy eyes. “Thank you, for saving me,” he murmurs, wrapping my hand in both of his now.

Maybe I really do love him, I think, smiling.


*****

Squirming, twitching, writhing. This hurts a lot more than last time. I crawl toward Peeta’s shuddering form on the ground. Or are we on a hovercraft?

What the hell is going on?

“Peeta, Peeta, it’s okay; I’m here. I’ve got you,” I stammer out, gripping his hand so tightly I’m afraid I might break it. “Come on, Peeta, wake up. We can do this. We can both go home. Please.”

I’m slipping again. Whatever this is hurts like hell.

The sky lights up, and there’s an image projected there. Prim. She’s the last thing I see before I black out again.

*****

“Was it real?” Peeta asks after a long pause.

“What?” I respond.

His eyes look sad now. “All the kissing and stuff?”

I consider this for a while, thinking of everything that happened between us: how hard I fought to save him, how I risked the feast to get him medicine, how he got hurt to save me. After a long time, I respond, “…Yes, I think so.”

“It didn’t feel real at the time,” he answers slowly.

“I’m sorry,” I mutter, staring down at his hands around mine. “I was confused. Thrown into too many new things at once with no preparation. Missing my family, Gale, even my sister’s cat. I just didn’t understand yet, how much you mean to me.”


*****

My eyes open, and the pain flood back through me. It’s as if my blood’s on fire, and my head is swimming in fog. “Ahhhh,” I moan. “Peeta?”

He’s still not answering, but I can hear him breathing roughly. The air rasps in and out of his mouth too quickly, and he’s shaking violently.

The sky still shows the picture of Prim from the reaping, crying and being carried off in Gale’s arms. After I’ve been staring at this for what feels like an eternity of hell, it begins to dissolve. It’s replaced with a live video of President Snow, and he’s talking directly to me, although I know it’s transmitting all over Panem.

“Ms. Everdeen. I’d like to remind you that there are rules inside the arena. You must follow these rules. Only one tribute may survive the Games. Therefore, you must kill your companion. Lucky for you, he’s practically comatose. Won’t feel a thing. Your arrows are nearby; just plunge one into his heart and you can come home.

“However, if both of you are still breathing in one hour, Primrose Everdeen, your little sister, will automatically be selected for the Hunger Games next year. If one of you is dies within that hour, she will be guaranteed exemption from every reaping. Your choice.”

The horns blow and the sky goes dark again. My mind is spinning. It hurts too much to think properly. Kill Peeta; save Prim. My hand reaches toward the arrows at my side.

*****

Peeta’s leaning over, kissing me. And I like it. A lot.

There were times in the arena when it felt good, right, natural; but most of the time it was just awkward. This is different – this must be how it feels to kiss someone you love.

Because I really do love him. I can see it clearly now, here in the hovercraft, on my way home from the Games, a victor, with the boy I love. The boy who saved my life countless times. The boy with the bread.

We’re still kissing when we arrive at the Capitol, which apparently looks really good for the cameras. But I don’t care about looking good for the cameras anymore, because now I really do want to kiss him.

There are all kinds of questions pounding us from every direction. But one word from Peeta shuts them all up, “Wait.” The station descends into silence. Peeta drops to one knee, staring up at me. Cameras are reeling and flashing everywhere, and a few of the reporters in our immediate area can be heard gasping. “Katniss Everdeen,” Peeta begins slowly. “I’ve loved you for about ten years now. I never had the guts to tell you until we were forced together by the Games. But finally I confessed, and you grew to love me in return.” He pauses, gazing up into my eyes. He takes my hands in his as a tear escapes his eye. “Will you marry me?”

I kneel before him, tears pooling in my eyes, and throw my arms around him. “Yes,” I gasp, tears – of joy – spilling down my face.


*****

I wish I knew what’s real and what’s not. If I’m really marrying him, it’d be okay if I stuck an arrow in his heart right now. My hand curls around an arrow’s shaft. But, if this is reality and that’s a hallucination or a dream, then I’ll be killing him – or Prim, if I don’t do something soon.

The pain is unbearable, and growing worse with every passing moment. I can’t even imagine the kind of pain Peeta must be in if he isn’t waking up.

I look over at him. I can’t kill you. But I can’t kill Prim either. She’s my sister, my blood. It’s been my job to protect her all my life – I can’t give up on that now.

As soon as I make my decision, I know it’s the best way out that could exist. If the engagement is real, I’ll just wake up there. If it isn’t, then I’ll have defied the Capitol and saved Prim and Peeta. “I love you, Peeta,” I whisper, before stabbing the arrow through my own heart.

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