Gloria: A Hunger Games Fan Fiction

By Avellina Balestri

Word Count: 5703

Rating: PG (Smoking and references to the events of The Hunger Games)

Summary: Katniss and Peeta celebrate Christmas for the first time and learn the value of forgiveness.

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Image Credit: The Internet Antique Shop

 

    Christmas. It’s an old word from an old world. Oh sure, some people still celebrate smatterings of it in Panem, but it’s not as if they remember much of the story that started it all, not really. It’s just old-fashioned nostalgia, some antique card or decorative glass ball, maybe a stocking hung up by the fireplace, God knows why. For over seventy years, the Capital suppressed any outward festivities of this kind in the Districts. Now the old regime has fallen, and even those who could not have cared less about the old holiday are wanting to do something about the day, simply because they’d been told they couldn’t, and now they can. And I, who was once the Mockingjay, have been asked if I have anything special planned.

    I snorted at first when I heard that. Do they think I am the type to be throwing grand parties for the cameras? I am sick to my stomach at the thought of it. I just want everyone to leave me and Peeta and the kids alone. It’s been years since the war’s end, and yet the reporters still show up every so often to ask such stupid questions and try to snap pictures of us when we least expect it. They’d love for me to throw a jamboree for high society, wouldn’t they? Well, this isn’t the old Capital in its heyday, is it? No, no, it’s just broken down little District 12, still bearing the scars of annihilation and trying to rebuild itself from the bottom up.

      But Peeta doesn’t let me off that easily. He wants to do it for the kids. They are young enough to still appreciate such things. Celyn is six and Hazel is four, and I suppose they would like to look at the shiny lights and fancy ornaments and get to tear open presents under a decorated tree. There was some old tradition about socks too, wasn’t there? Hanging them by an open fire? And a fat man stealing cookies after clambering down the chimney…

    Peeta has set about baking. It is a skill that has kept him sane these past years. Whenever he seems nervous, edgy, he goes down to the kitchen and plies his old trade. It is an art to him, making delicious, warm things emerge from the oven. It’s his way of reminding himself it’s good to be alive. Lucky for me, because this girl on fire would no doubt have burned the house down had she tried her hand at it.

    And so we get fruit cake and pumpkin bread and gingerbread cookies. Celyn licks the batter out of the bowl and Hazel gets icing in her hair as they help Peeta decorate the gingerbread men. We know that the traditional colors for frosting this time of year should be green and red…but Peeta avoids the red. Even seeing red food coloring brings back too many unwanted memories for him. When Celyn asks why daddy won’t use red, he says it’s because he wants to use more green…because it’s mommy’s favorite color. Then he changes the subject and sets about making a chocolate cream Yule log.

    Who is going to eat all this stuff, I wonder? The kids certainly won’t be downing it all; they’d be bouncing off the walls. Time to invite some guests, I suppose. Of course, the first person I have over is Mom, for our personal preparations. Even though she doesn’t want to stay for the planned party, still too flighty around other guests, I have grown to be less hard on her, more understanding, and the moments we continue to share are priceless to me. Although still in a haze sometimes over the loss of Dad, of Prim, I think her work as a nurse is helping her to move on, if not forget. She will never forget them. And neither will I. We wouldn’t be worthy of them if we ever could.

    When she and I are up in the attic, looking for odds and ends to help spruce the place up, we run into an old memory. It’s a snow globe with an angel figurine inside. It used to belong to my long dead grandmother, and was then passed down to Prim. She was the only one who kept even the faintest glimmer of Christmas in our home those days. Every midwinter, when she was a child, she would get it down and then turn it over and watch the little white flakes and sparkly bits dance through the liquid. And she would wind up the little music box at the bottom and sing along to the very old song:

     “Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o’er the plains, and the mountains in reply echoing their joyous strains…Glo-ooooo-ooooo-ooooo-ria…in excelsis Deo…”

   She never could manage to sing the “Gloria” part all in one breath, no matter how hard she tried. Her efforts were adorable, nevertheless. And I can’t help but hum the tune as it plays. I doubt I shall ever want to sing it, for fear of all the grief being brought back to the surface. But I decide to put the globe up on the mantle anyway. It certainly beats hanging socks there…

    When mom leaves, and the party itself begins, Effie Trinket is the first one through the door, dressed in her usual gaudy style and reeking of rich perfume. She’s busy helping the kids drench the tree in tinsel, so eager to please these days, knowing too well the part she played in the Games and wanting to put it out of her mind, and everyone else’s minds, the best she can. I know she doesn’t have a vicious bone in her body, not really, but she still helped prepare the sacrificial offerings, preened the feathers, and relished in the fanfare until the tributes were sent in to massacre each other.

   Her job was mostly preliminary pickings, the promotional footage and introductions to Capital society, but looking back, could anyone be blamed for viewing her with a leery eye around their children? She was all caught up in the ceremony of it back then, all shallow show and blind stupidity, but now it seems both sides of the old divide have no use for her. In the remnants of the Capital, she is an outcast traitor. In the districts, she is a forever marked accomplice to Snow’s atrocities. She has no home, not really.

     It’s sad to watch her sometimes, how desperately she wants the kids to like her, their self-proclaimed “Auntie Effie.” She succeeds in making Celyn and Hazel thrilled to see her, at any rate. She brings them expensive presents in lots of fancy paper and makes a grand fuss over every little thing they do. She even gets down on the ground and helps them unwrap it all, grinning from ear to ear. I tell her she shouldn’t have gone to such expense. I know she doesn’t have the money to live as she once did. But she earnestly assures me that she most certainly should, that she must. What fun would Christmas be if she didn’t?

    I know what she really means. She thinks if she doesn’t come through that door with just that many gifts, the kids will treat her like most people do, like a social pariah, like a plague-carrier. She seems to forget that almost everyone in this house, in one form or another, is just such a person. We’re simply shifting as best we are able, hobbling with our mental crutches and hoping we don’t crumple to the ground in front of the next generation who deserve their time of innocence and fun.

    Johanna Mason is also here. At first I wondered if I should invite her, as her bitterness seems to have only hardened over the years, and I worried she might ruin the party for everyone. But I’ve heard it whispered this might be her last winter. And I can believe it. Her cough is ever deepening, her eyes sunken into the sockets, and there is bruising beneath them. She’s constantly smoking these days, or drinking, or sticking herself with the needle, anything to numb the memories and shut down the body. And it will shut down, soon enough, if she keeps pounding on it this way.

    But it seems she, too, has some strange soft spot for the children, even if she mocks their innocence at times. “Sweet fool kids,” she calls them, a cigarette half falling out of her mouth, a hand roughly tousling their hair. She showed up early for their sakes and helped hack down a pine tree in the woods with her ax. She thinks they need to be toughened, even as she seems amused by their naiveté. Part of her seems to want to swear around them, to see what she can get away with, and the other part of her catches herself, restrains herself from going too far. For she, too, has no home. And for all her crass pluck, she doesn’t want to die alone.

    As soon as Haymitch Abernathy came in the door, he made a beeline to the punch bowl. Even after all our years of friendship, he seems to always be hiding some part of himself. He cannot be fully transparent, even around me who can read through him, and him through me. And I can say without a doubt that we are, in some inexplicable way, soul-bound to each other. We share a certain natural cynicism mixed with a begrudging recognition of our part as revolutionaries for a “greater cause”.

   We did what we had to do, and yet it can never undo what was done to us, or what we did to others. Haymitch never speaks of it, but I know too well of the dark underworld that gave men like him favors from desperate teenagers as a drug, like the drink. And when he was young, a tribute in the games, they made him do things, horrific things, that covered his hands with blood for their amusement. Everything became a meaningless game to him then. Well, almost. And yet he was not all gone. He…cared about us. No matter how he taunted us in the beginning, he came to care, to be our mentor. He wanted us to win, to live. And now I want him to live, to have a life, so very badly.

    And now he and Effie are arguing as usual, this time over decorating the tree. She is insisting it needs more tinsel; he’s insisting it needs more popcorn. Somehow he turns to commenting on her over-the-top choice of clothing, and she’s yelling about his slobbish dress and dribbly sweater, and then the whole thing devolves into a food fight with popcorn and tinsel flying everywhere and getting stuck in each other’s hair.

     The two of have grown in their fractious bond over the years. They are both outcasts in their own ways, almost polar opposites, but they’ve been through hell and back together, and gotten comfortable with each other, with their complaining and squabbling and moments of unexpected affection. After their short-term theatrical pouting and stewing, they are already managing to calm down and make up. Now they’re occupied, her getting the tinsel off his sweater and him picking the popcorn out of her hair.

   In the midst of all this, I hear a knock at the door and go to answer it, hoping against hope that it’s not some newscaster looking for a last minute story for the holidays. When I open it, my eyes flash in a panic before my face goes blank.

   “Gale.”

   He’s still in his soldier’s uniform with his cap in his hands and his hair tussled by the snow-speckled wind kicking up. His eyes dart down and then up again uncomfortably. “I-I was just…Peeta knew I would be on leave, and left a message…” He swallows. “Something of an open house, he said…”

    Before I can figure out how to respond, Peeta comes up from behind me and shakes Gale’s hand. “Hey, glad you came,” he greets him. “Best get in out of the cold.”

    I eye Peeta angrily, and he is quick to pull me off into the kitchen before I make a scene.

    “Katniss, listen…”

    “What’s he doing here?” I demand in a harsh whisper. “How could you do this, without even asking me?”

     “You’re just hurting yourself by hurting him,” he exhales.

     “I don’t need you to tell me what’s hurting me!”

     “He’s got nowhere to go to even try and celebrate Christmas. His family is all dead. He doesn’t have anyone else. But this place is still his home. He’s come home, full of the worst kind of memories…”

     “And we don’t have memories enough?” I retort. “He wasn’t even in the games…”

    I try to turn away, but Peeta grabs me by the shoulders. “Katniss, you know full well that if he could have taken your place, he would have in a heartbeat.” He turns his eyes down guiltily. “Look, by all rights, when I was…I was out of my head, you should have been his.”

    “Peeta…”

    “It’s true, you know it is.” He exhales. “But he didn’t push to the end for it. He just wanted you to be happy, Katniss. He wanted what you wanted, and was willing to let you make that decision, however the cards fell. And…sometimes I think…well, when push came to shove, he was decent to me, and…”

    My heart is pricked, and I reach up and touch Peeta’s face. “It couldn’t have been any other way. You have to believe that.”

     He closes his eyes. “Is that because…of what happened with…with Prim?”

     I draw my hand away awkwardly and run it over my arm, as if cold. “It doesn’t have anything to do with that.”

     “Then make peace with him, Katniss,” he implores me. “He needs that to go on. Can’t you see it in his eyes? And you need it, too. We all need it.”

    I clear my throat. “Better get another tray of crackers out to them, if you keep invited unwanted guests.” I hurriedly kiss him on the cheek to shush him, and then am on my way.     

    I go back into the living room, set the cheese and crackers on the coffee table, and try to distract myself, threading popcorn absentmindedly. The kids take to Gale quickly. They are mesmerized by his uniform, and the fact that he brought a few small trinkets to give them. They are obsessed with the sparkly, flashing balls and Gale is bouncing them on the wooden floor to their squeals of delight. He also brought them army candy bars, as if they didn’t have enough sugar in their systems already. But I can’t seem to find it in my heart to snatch them away. Sooner than later, they are calling him their “uncle.”

    “Uncle Gale, you wanna gift now?” Hazel asks him, bright-eyed.

    “Uh, sure,” he chuckles somewhat awkwardly.

    To our shock, she heads right over to the mantle-piece, stands up on tiptoes, pulls down Prim’s snow globe, and proudly presents it to him. All mouths in the room are agape.

   Gale swallows hard. “I…I can’t take it,” he croaks. “I…well, it’s something special…special to your mom, and I…” He eyes me, apologizing over the awkwardness of the situation.

    I stare at that angel in the globe, and as much as I want to snatch it away from him, all of a sudden it seems to have Prim’s face. And I know she wants to go with him. Yes, Prim always knew where she was needed, even up to the very day of her death. She was always trying to heal someone who I didn’t think deserved it.

    “It’s alright,” I hear myself saying, and to my shock I keep going, “…she’d want it like that.”

    He looks shocked beyond belief. “You…sure?”

    I nod abruptly, then feel my resolve faltering. “I…need a smoke,” I mutter, and head out to the porch to escape all the feelings tossing about inside me.

   I stand outside, thankful that the wind has died down, listening to the silence of the winter twilight and the way the stars prick through the sky, brightening the snow as the orange glow of the dying sun melts into a dark purple. It is so beautifully golden, I wish I could touch it, could bathe in it. I am almost sorry to see it swallowed up into the night, and my cigarette lighter the only gleam left. And I notice my hand is shaking.

    And then a hand is on mine, steadying it.

    “Catnip.”

    I look into Gale’s eyes, then turn my own back out to the star-speckled snows. “Sometimes I think I can see her, outside in the yard, gardening in the spring or putting out birdseed in the winter. I want her to be there so much, and sometimes I try to convince myself she is there, just in a way I can only see with my mind. But memory isn’t real, is it? Just compression on the brain…” I shudder.

     “Do you believe she’s still out there somewhere?” he asks me.

     I shrug. “If she were here, she would tell me…tell me to have some faith, whatever that means. I don’t even think she always knew, it was just…part of her, I guess, without too much thought behind it.”

     “I dream about her, all the time,” he whispers. “And…you. And that time we talked about running away, before the Games. And how I would have done it, risked anything, even losing our tongues just to get you and your family away from…”

     “Gale,” I blurt. “You said…I was strong. That I could handle it, and not…run away.”

    He nods shortly. “Yes, you’ve always been strong. Stronger than me.”

    “No, we were evenly matched.” I smirk a little, in spite of myself. “Don’t you remember how we used to hunt together?  You never stopped teasing, still thinking I was in two tails, and just learning how to shoot. But I think I hit the mark pretty well, don’t you?”

    He snorted. “Except for that time you nearly shot my ear off when you were ten!”

    “It was an accident, and you know it!” I punch him in the arm automatically. “And a few other ‘accidents’, like someone trying to be a big man and scare off my game.”

    Now he genuinely laughed. And then we fell quiet for a long time.

    “I miss it,” he says. “The way it was back then.”

    “Everything was different back then, Gale,” I allow him. “For better or for worse.”

    “That’s why you’re stronger than me,” he says. “For all that’s happened, there’s still something about you…something I don’t think will ever go away.”

     I inhale on my cigarette, and blow out the smoke as I talk. “Don’t know what you’re talking about.”

     “Yes, you do.”  He shuffles his boot in the snow. “We’ve both been soldiers, Katniss, but you never let the soldier part of you outweigh the human part of you. I did.”

      I sink my teeth a little too hard into the cigarette, and have to quickly spit out a piece. “You’re still a soldier,” I tell him flatly. “No changing that, at this late date.” I turn to head back in the house.

     “Katniss.”

      His voice sounds so broken, so lonely, I turn back to him. He’s rubbing his partially fisted hand across his face awkwardly. “You know…you have to know…I never wanted…I would have cut off my arm before…”

     “I know.” It is a simple statement of fact, one that I have known for a long time. “She was like a sister to you, too. She…loved you.”

     “Those Capital scum didn’t deserve her out there, sopping up their blood,” he ground out.

     “The world didn’t deserve her. Maybe that’s why she left it so soon. She had too good expectations, too good inclinations. She needed…to go somewhere where she fit in better.”

     The edge of his mouth turned up a little. “Like the angel in the globe?”

     I nod. “I hope they have snow. She…she always liked…snow…”

     The thought somehow overwhelms me. I don’t know why. And I can’t follow the cross-section of moments when the tears start to fall, and Gale buries my face in the shoulder of his uniform and runs a gloved hand over my hair.

    “Catnip, shh…it’ll be okay…shh…” He snuggles me close. “Maybe someday we’ll look back at all this, and it’ll make sense…I don’t know when or where…but I think…she’d want us to get through, you know?”

     I nod. Of course Prim would. She’d want us to live our lives to the fullest, for all who were called away far too soon. And I know she’d want something else, too.

     “She would want us…to be friends again,” I mumble. “She’d want me to forgive you.”

    I feel him tighten. “I don’t suppose either of us is too good at forgiving, huh, Katniss?”

    I shrug. “You don’t get good at something unless you try.”

    At last, I pull away from him and we’re both quiet for a small passage of time.

    Finally he asks, “How…how’s Mellark been? Has he…well, any lapses, or…?”

    “No, nothing too severe. I mean…sure, he has bad days, his panic attacks and edginess sometimes, but it’s not like…he’s not dangerous. That’s been put in the past long ago.”

     “I’m glad to hear it. Truly.” He breathes out a cloud of vapor in the cold. “I think he needed you more than anything to find himself again. And the kids…well, they’re great. You should both be proud of them.”

    “We’re just glad they can grow up…different than we did.”

     “Well, you made that possible.”

      I turn to him sincerely. “And so did you.” I see the blush rising in his cheeks and clear my throat. “Better get inside before it’s completely dark. We’re supposed to have a toast to the longest night.”      

     When we come back inside, Peeta is already pouring out the eggnog. “Perfect timing,” he says cheerfully, handing us our mugs.

    “The baker boy has drowned this in cinnamon,” Johanna notes dismally.

    “I had a lot left over from the buns,” he explains.

    “Best served with Effie’s marmalade,” Haymitch chimed in slyly.

    “That was alabaster,” she chides him, and we all laugh at her expense.

    Gale lifts his mug. “Cheers to the company.”

    “To the longest night,” I say, mug held high.

    “And the new year,” Peeta adds.

     We all clink our mugs together, only two at a time, making the ceremony longer, and more personal. The children join in this as well.

   “Sing something, Mommy,” Celyn implores.

   I blush. “Eh, not tonight, honey.”

   “But you always sing to us before we go to bed,” Hazel chimes in.

    “Go on, make the crowd happy, Katniss,” Peeta encourages me.

    “They don’t want to hear me,” I mumble, glancing furtively at the others.

    “Always the modest one,” Johanna twits in her semi-mocking way.

    “Of course we do, dear,” Effie insists, clasping her hands.

    “Yeah, give it a go, sweetheart,” Haymitch jumps in.

    Gale smiles a little. “Show them what you’re worth, like at the river.”  

    I know what he means, from the time back in the war, when I sang the song none of us will ever forget. But now it is time to sing another song. I clear my throat. It’s been a long time since I’ve sung in front of anyone but Peeta and the kids, and usually that half-absentmindedly. But I hear Hazel winding up Gale’s new snow globe, and I fight back the lump in my throat as the words emerge:

   “Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o’er the plains, and the mountains in reply echoing their joyous strains…”

   I fight back the tears as I start the chorus, and I hear the other voices join in slowly, hesitantly, for somehow in their dreams of memories and memories of dreams, they know the words from ancient days…and I see a sorrowfully joyful tear in Gale’s eye as well:

    “Glo-ooooo-ooooo-ooooo-ria…in excelsis Deo…”

    As late night shadows creep up on us, Peeta busies himself cleaning up in the kitchen. Haymitch has fallen asleep on the sofa as usual, a half empty punch glass still on the end table. Effie has the kids on her lap, and she’s reading them The Nutcracker. Evidently Hazel decided to burrow into her dress-up trunk and put on her costume to be the sugar plum fairy or some such figure from the story, complete with wire wings and a glow-in-the-dark wand.

   Seeing them nodding off, I say they should probably go to bed. Effie looks absolutely stricken by this notion. I know how it is. I know she doesn’t want Christmas to ever end. I wonder, was the origin of the holiday supposed to teach people how to be all the time? To give without counting the cost and view everyone else as something just so special you’d never want to cause them pain or shunt them aside, for all their past faults and failings?

    But as I start to scoop up Hazel, she sleepily opens her eyes and flings her arms around Effie’s neck. “Luvs you, Aunt Effie,” she mumbles.

     I know there is a trickle of a tear carving a path down her mascara, but she is quick to cover it. “Well, well…” She forces on a smile, and touches the wires poking out from Hazel’s back. “Take good care of your wings, little fairy.”

     “C’mon, Effie, think you and me are overstaying our welcome just a tad, hmm?” Haymitch jabs at her, stretching and yawning from his prostrate position on the couch. “Better be hitting the long road home…”

     Effie looks positively downcast. Going back to the Capital is like a sentence of excommunication for her, some strange wandering place between worlds in which she is viewed as a turncoat by both parties. I don’t imagine she’d fare much better in the districts, but I still hate to be sending her back into the belly of the beast.

    “Are you two ever going to make something of yourselves?” Peeta teases good-naturedly.

     “That’s rather personal, young man,” she chides him, still pouting.

      Haymitch shrugs, standing up. “He’s got a point, you know.”

     Effie huffs. “You think I’d be wanting to sabotage my social schedule, wasting away with you?” She opens her compact kit and starts to powder her nose.

     “Oh, enough with the feather-dusting,” he grumbles, and to all our shock pulls her into an impromptu kiss by the doorway, where a spring of mistletoe is most appropriately placed.

     “Well…” She’s obviously trying to come off of this without looking pleased. “Well…do compose yourself, and learn to better hold your liquor!”

    “Oh, here,” he exhaled, pulling something shiny out of his pocket. “This better fit…”

    “Whoa…” Peeta breathes, seeing the ring placed on Effie’s finger.

    “He’s finally gone and done it,” I process, stunned.

    “You…you got…opal…my birthstone…” Effie trails off.

    “I knew you’d hound on me if I didn’t,” he retorts, “and sorry, but that’s the last bit of fancy trappings you’re getting out of this. I’m not bending the old knees in this cold weather. So what’s it gonna be?”

    She looks absolutely blank for a moment, then a rosy color comes to her cheek. She extends her arm. “Walk me back to the hotel, darling?”       

     Haymitch rolls his eyes at us over his shoulder in triumph, Effie blows us a bunch of kisses, and the two of them file out the door, arm-in-arm,

    Johanna prepares to join them. “Well, it’s been a blast of honey and heart-shaped cereal, kiddies, but the big girls have things to do,” she snarks, slinging her bag over her shoulder. “We’ll have to do it again some time, if I’m not dead…”

    For once, I decide to catch Johanna off guard, to do the unexpected, and I overtake her on the doorstep in a hug. The suddenness of it jolts her, makes her tighten, makes her cough. She is weaker than she wants to be seen. “What you trying to do, Mockingjay?” she scolds me. “Want me to ax an arm off you, huh?”

     But I don’t let go immediately. And strangest thing, she doesn’t pull away, either.

    “You should visit more,” I tell her. “For the kids, at least.”

    She snickers. “Don’t tell me you don’t think I’m a bad influence?”

    “They’ve got tributes for parents, how much worse could things be?”

    She cracks a crooked smile. “They left that mark on us all right well, didn’t they?”

    “We hit a few ourselves.”

    “Yeah, a president or two.” She laughs roughly, then coughs. I pat her on the back and she shrugs, but not quite so bitterly now. “Go on, don’t need to take care of me.”

    “Hey, get that checked out, okay?”

    She snorts.

    “No, I’m serious, you need to do that, or I’ll call you every day and swear at you, and you’ll swear back and threaten to finish me off like you should have at the arena clock.”

   She laughs. “That sounds kinda like fun, Mockingjay. Wanna make a date of it?”

    “I might even show up at your house if you lock yourself up again without sign of life.”

    “Do that unexpectedly and you might have a dagger at your throat,” she warns me.

    I exhale, and then hand her something I’d been waiting to give her all day. It’s my gift to her, handmade from leather, a sheath for the weapon she always sleeps with. “Well, at least you have something to put it in now,” I tell her.

    She looks genuinely surprised by the gift, and a smirk comes to her lips when she sees the words carved into the leather: “Make Him Pay for It.”

    “And how do you expect I do that, little bird, hmm?” she challenges, looking at me with death-darkening, bruise-circled eyes.

    I meet her gaze. “Live.”  

    “Trying to pull me back from the edge?”

     “You did it for me once. I think you can do it for yourself well enough.”

     She cracks the slightest of smiles. “We’ll see.” And I give her a final farewell hug. And this time, ever so briefly, she hugs back, then disappears down the dark, snow-laden path.  

    Gale is the last to go. His eyes look sad and happy at the same time as I wrap up his Christmas globe in tissue paper and put it in a box for him to take back to his barracks. He has spent too much time in the service, and yet seems too full of painful memories to remain in District 12 for long.

    “Where will you go when your enlistment is up?” I ask, walking him out to his military motorbike.

    “I haven’t thought it all out yet,” he admits. “I suppose you can never come home again. Or at least, some of us can’t.”

     “But we can find other homes.” I look over towards the handle of his bike, and see a chain with a camera pendant dangling off of it for decoration. “That’s from Cressida, isn’t it?”

    He chortles. “Gave it to me for holiday good luck. She told me to give you all her best. She would have liked to visit, but her news casting work has her hands tied.”

    “She admires you a lot,” I tell him pointedly.

    He raises an eyebrow. “Trying to match-make me, huh? With a Capital girl?”

    “You could do a lot worse,” I remind him. “You and her, you share something. Call it guts or gumption or that stuff that sticks to the ribs and won’t let go. You’ve both got it.”

    He smiles with slight fondness. “Maybe so.”

    “Maybe you needed to come here to have me tell you that.”

    “Tell me what?”

    “That…you’re free.”

    He pauses, turning his helmet over in his hands. “Okay,” he says very quietly, and I know he takes it to heart. I know that it’s what he needs to know, deep inside himself.

    “And that also means you’re free to come back and visit anytime you want,” I add, and give him a final goodbye hug, and he hugs back. Then he securely ties the snow globe box on the back of the bike with some sturdy wire he carried with him, gives me a somewhat darkly teasing Mockingjay salute, which then turns very sincere, and then he is gone, his motor fading down the road…

    With the last of the guests gone, Peeta and I finally go to bed. It’s chilly, so we get out a double blanket and curl together under it. We’re quiet for a long time, just comforted by each other’s presence. But I know something is stirring inside him.

     “Glad he came?” he asks me.

     “I think he’ll be okay now,” I tell him.

      “And you? Will you be okay?”

     I smile and nod. “I’m okay as long as we’re together. You know that.” I blink. “My God…with all the action, I forgot to even make you a Christmas present. I’m terrible…”

     “Katniss,” he murmurs, rubbing my shoulder a little. “You’re the only Christmas present I’ve ever wanted, or ever need.”

     I nuzzle up against him in bed, like I have done during the hardest moments of my life, when the nightmares assail me. “Merry Christmas, Peeta,” I whisper. And faces grow near, and our lips grow close and we kiss in hopes of all the Christmases to come.

     And somehow I feel as if all will be well. Yes, somehow, amidst all the brokenness and sickness and fear, my list keeps growing. It’s the list that wards off my nightmares, of every good thing I’ve ever seen done, every moment, every sunset, every star. Maybe they are all the notes of an angel’s song. Maybe they are all little “Glorias”, which sung together are too long to get out in one breath. Maybe each of us is a precious breath taken in between, and listening back we will hear ourselves all together, and think it is as beautiful as a memory dancing on sun-tinged snow.

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