Chapter 1: The Winter Here's Cold
Set Between The Hungers Games & Catching Fire; Spoiler's Inevitable
He wakes up from nightmares.
Every time. Without fail.
Morning. Afternoon. Evening. Night. Every time.
He never screams. Never thrashes. Never in tears.
He wakes up paralyzed. Frozen from the tip of the toes on the only foot he has left, to the top of his head. Hands barely able to even clench. His entire body is no longer his own. His lungs burn as he forces himself to do the only thing he can until it will end - breathe.
The nightmare doesn't stop when he opens his eyes.
Because it's not his imagination. It's his memories.
Sometimes he remembers it exactly as it was. Sometimes it turns inside out, inflates even worse. The blood bath, trackerjack venom, screams, canon bursts, the lack of food and water, the lightening terror behind every plan. Knowing you would die, only not when or how.
Almost dying. Wanting to die. Telling her to kill him.
Except she saved him. In the cave. At the horn.
He shouldn't begrudge her. Katniss Everdeen.
That she found a way to manipulate the Hunger Games that wasn't ruthless murder. Lying should be a lesser crime. Especially against murdering or taking part in the plot of murdering two dozen other children. Peeta is guilty of both of those.
He shouldn't. But he does.
Begrudge her. Hate her.
He never lied about that. About any of that. How he'd felt, for how long. He planned with Haymitch to hand it over in the interviews to give her a better chance at survival. He hadn't minded that, when he was going to make sure she lived before he died.
But they're both alive. They've both killed. Both survived.
He refused to lie, to be used by Capital, pervert himself.
Instead Katniss did them to him, for him.
Used him. Lied to him. Let him believe.
Saved his life.
He gets up, forgetting and remembering that he's still learning to walk, to bake loaves of bread, in the middle of the night. In this house that is not his home, away from the family that never expected him to live. Empty and still and quiet. A single candle flickering in the darkness. No electric lights.
Making himself remember their faces.
One by one. In the high sun. Splattered with blood. Clutching weapons. Swallowing food. Watching the smallest movement of every teammate. Against fire light. Rage and desperation. The elusive calm of their features in sleep. The pallor of death. He's saves her for last. And first. And every other thought.
The thick, rich yeasty smell that clogs up his nose, that feels like the only comfort he knows because it is the only constant he's ever had. Sitting on the kitchen floor, staring at the first bright white painting canvas that had been brought to his house, as he tried to remember.
That he is alive. To be bitter. To hate. To love.
To remember. To bake bread, and wish he'd died.
Twenty-two other people weren't this lucky.
Chapter 2: The Winter Here's Cold
Everything always starts the same way. There -
Everything always starts the same way. There -
(He's confused, disoriented. The world is disjointed, and his arm is sore, as though someone punched it. The cave roof is above him comes into clarity. Alarmingly, perfect clarity for the first time in . . . he can't remember. Too long. A hand goes to his head. Sweat-drenched, but cool. His fever is broken.
How. Where is - and then he sees it. The body slumped on the floor to his side. The pool of blood like a corona flaring out around her head. And his heart, sleepy and calm from the deep rest, jams itself into his throat and his mouth, stealing his ability to think. He shoves himself up shaking her, trying to turn her, unable to move his own leg to do so.
His voice is high pitched and he can't even hear his own pleading over the desperation. She isn't waking. She's isn't . . . His hands shaking as they moved to her throat. But before he can lay his finger down, the snarl starts. And suddenly she's looking at him. Katniss's face. Katniss's hair. But her eyes are different.
They are the eyes of the girl from the Career pack. Mutt's eyes. The flash of a collar around Katniss's tanned, dirty neck. He barely has time to remember (the whisper of his apology, the slash of the spear into her skin, the spill of her blood across his hands, always across his hands) before she lunges for him, teeth suddenly sharp and gleaming.)
- and then not, when his eyes fly open and he's paralyzed. Again.
Thirty minutes later finds him half-dressed, downstairs waiting with two teapots on his table. One is for tea. The other is holding Tempest, the little green he was given today. He isn't looking at either. (Or the canvas on the far side of the table, still blight-white.)
If he closes his eyes he only sees the mixture of the two girls from his dream, dying on him or attacking him. If he opens his eyes the house that is too empty is all around him. He's too jittery to make anything new, without the potential of dropping something. And the house is too damn quiet.
Especially after the small party of people in his house only early that afternoon.
(Even if he had thought them all to be too loud when they were there.)
Peeta Mellark's angle in the Hunger Games interviews was Likeable.
You only had to spend about five minutes with him to understand why.
He wasn't exceedingly beautiful, but he had an openness that pulled you in. Bright blue eyes and lively banter. Quick with a joke and quicker with a smile. Humble and loyal, but direct in his opinions. Intelligent yet not at the fault of the kindness or understanding he had of the world around him.
Katniss had called him popular and alluded to him being one of the Town Kids. It wasn't a stretch to see why she'd chosen the terms, and not far from the truth either. Even if he'd hazard to say he hadn't been any more or less popular than anyone else. At least not until after the Hunger Games.
The same people who been there before now extended invitations, or solicited with a smile or an apologetic curiosity to wanting to know what a house in Victor's Village was like. They wanted their chance to see it themselves. Not just through the endless ceremonies and reporters of their first few weeks back home.
He became the sensation of himself instead of himself. Like everywhere else. They complimented the house, and his choices in the Game. Sometimes he said what he thought was true, sometimes he said whatever came to mind first, even if it was the last story the person before this one had said.
They asked about his family. The last the news had shown of them was their wide-armed and boisterous welcome home. All of them believed it. Everyone except Peeta and his mother and his father. No matter what his mother might be, his father was everyone's soft-spoken lovable baker.
He believed they were glad he was alive, but beyond that . . . His father had only come to say goodbye to Katniss, and his mother had told him he would die. If they stayed in Merchant and he in Victor's Village, no one had to cross those bridges.
It was easiest when they asked about the Capitol. He could ramble on and on about the most inane things then. How many buttons there were in the shower alone. The things available at every meal. The ways the cars moved and how the people changed their bodies like fashion-plates.
They wanted the sensation, the bright, garishness.
In one enviable and despicable.
They didn't know how to ask about Katniss. She might have gone to school with them and it might be terribly romantic, but she was still The Girl From The Seam to them. Katniss Everdeen, who hunted in the forest. Who braved The Hob. Who sold to their parent's at the backdoor.
Who had no time or words for any of them, except Gale, who did all those things, too.
Even if was terribly romantic, they were home and there were divisions made both by choices and by their standings. People didn't cross the lines between them often. And even when they might try now, for brand new reasons -
Katniss didn't try. She didn't talk to them still.
(And Peeta keeps himself from saying he isn't either.
He shrugs, offering them honey twists baked instead of sleeping.)
The kettle on the stove whistled.
Peeta got up slowly and brought it back to the table.
He'd only filled the empty pot still waiting and set the kettle to balance on a cooling rack for cookies when he noticed the canvas again. He stared, even as he dropped the lid on the top of the steaming pot. He didn't want a hobby, a Talent. He especially didn't want to be granted a childhood dream because it was a requirement.
Sitting back in his chair, he reached out to take the teapot, as he frowned at the canvas, striving to keep himself from reaching out to touch it. White like snow. White like skin. White like clouds. White like icing. White like frost. White like teeth. White like sheets. White like lightning. White like the edges of eyes. White like nothingness.
Who could paint sunsets and flowers after dreaming about the person who saved them (who they loved) being dead or being mixed with being murdered by one of the people's lives he'd taken? Who could paint harmless, beautiful dreams after seeing what he'd seen when he was awake?
He'd only chanced to look down to make sure he was pouring into the cup and not onto the table when he realized the teapot was open. One small green fish swimming around confused for the highly tilted angle.
Deprecatingly, as he stared at the wrong tea pot and Tempest, Peeta said, "You don't talk much."
Chapter 3: Of Boxes, and Beginnings
Between Hunger Games & Catching Fire; Interlude Month II
Between Hunger Games & Catching Fire; Interlude Month II
The second month started with a large brown box.
So large it was being carried by two of the train workers, and they were being directed by a third, and followed by a fourth with several smaller brown parcels, at the point Peeta opened his front door and scrambled (nearly falling) to get out of their way.
He'd had to stop telling them it couldn't be his once he'd gotten the largest one open. But that had less to do with being incorrect and more to do with frustration.
He had ordered a fish tank.
But not one that nearly touched each hallway wall.
Nor any of the castles or plants or multi-colored gemstones.
He'd had to contain the groan and want to crush the paper in his hand when he finally found the receipt reading:
It is our honor to serve the Victors of District 12!
I hope you don't mind that we've thrown in some extras.
Five days later the last box arrived (a small pink half-cat, half-woman covered in shiny blinking sequins whose arm waved and made a whirring noise) his living room was covered in everything he could never want or conceive of anyone else who could use it. Each with notes about what kind of fish liked what, that 'they' should enjoy their new hobby and contact them with any questions.
Everything was to 'Them,' of course. The universally worshiped Star Crossed Lovers, who would never have separated so much they didn't even talk. No, the universe carried on its love affair with their obvious destiny of being reunited in love and life and health, forever, even in the god forsaken poorest, furthest district.
Overcoming all adversity together still.
He read each new one out loud to himself.
Or Tempest, who was in the tea pot still.
Scoffing and avoiding all the gifts.
Peeta was a week into the second month when he knew he might never sleep through a full night again. Found his annoyance with discovering Haymitch unconscious in new places on every visit fading fast. Almost wanted to drown himself the same way if it might catch him another hour of sleep a day.
Even if he grew very tired, and easily angry, at the number of times he fell down, trying to jump out of the reach of Haymitch swinging a knife at him when the man surged back into awareness, just as drunk and biting as ever.
It's always the falling he's angrier about.
He wonders about the knife, but never asks.
There's no one to hurt with it, no one he has in decades or they'd have heard of it. Wouldn't they? There are only three people who come into this house aside from him. Peeta, and the Everdeen girls. He's aware Katniss comes, because Haymitch delights in pointing out she's been there.
Peeta thankfully has missed her each of these times.
But he bumped into Prim almost as often as he came over.
Mrs. Everdeen was bound and determined to keep sending things to Haymitch's house - good food and clean linens and hang-over cures - even if she'd never attempted the house or the man after having to deal with him during the Homecoming week.
Reporters and tv cameras and Haymitch being himself.
No one held it against her. She was Mrs. Everdeen.
Everyone knew she'd gotten lost after her husband died.
What she didn't have, her daughters made up in spades.
Katniss was . . . . well, Katniss Everdeen. Victor of the 74th Games.
And while Prim had no problem becoming terrified of Haymitch's drunken scenes.
It was that she still came back, trembling, with towels or medicines, which Peeta remembered.
He thinks he should have more troubles adjusting to a mystical bar at the end of time and space.
Especially after the brutal surrealism of his universe since being Reaped, since becoming a Victor.
But the only thing that really clings when he comes home, is the weather. The balmy, blistering summer heat of District 12And every week punctuates Katniss's "Don't know" with another Sunday.
Peeta wakes up from the horror of dying.
It apparently never got old or tired inside his mind.
And the images are just as vivid while he lays paralyzed.
Katniss screaming and the growl of the mongrel dogs beneath the golden Cornucopia, blacking out from the pressure of Cato's headlock squeezing his wind pipe – but only after watching Katniss shoved down toward the ravenous, hungry human-eyed mutts below them.
When he finally can (breathe, move) he makes his way down stairs, in the midnight pitch dark, to the kitchen. Angry and confused and wired enough that it's not until he's been staring at the pieces on the floor for almost a minute that he realizes he dropped a mixing bowl because he was out of eggs. Because it all felt so fucking pointless.
Without eggs. Without sleep. Without Katniss.
He left the pieces there, turning away.
Only to stop. Shoulders dropping. Staring.
The canvas and the easel and all the tubes of paint still there on the floor. On the furthest corner of the kitchen floor from the oven. So they couldn't get in his way. So he wasn't lying entirely when he told Portia that he wasn't ignoring 'his hobby.'
White. So white it's an affront. Stretched so tight. He pressed his fingers into it. He knows the feeling of being pressed so hard, the edges groan, crying out, warning. He's on his knees (unbalanced because of the mechanical one) without realizing really how he got there. Without choice or idea. Needing to break.
And it's there, his fingers white like the canvas with the pressure of driving the center of the canvas so hard it's straining to break, too, that one of his friends words ripple back through the mire of everything else screaming inside his skin and head.
somehow coming back to a place you'd never been before
It's the better part of minute before he looks down again. To the right, at the silver and white tube so close to the edge of the canvas block. The single line gray across the top, telling him it's color. Gray the color of the sky before it rains. Gray the color of snow mixed with coal. Gray the coor of ash and icing. Gray the color of...
With a small, trembling suck in of air, he moved his hand finally.
Releasing the white canvas and picking up the tube.
He starts; with the only subject he ever could have.
Chapter 4: Prim Doesn't See Someone
Between Hunger Games & Catching Fire, Interlude Month II
Between Hunger Games & Catching Fire, Interlude Month II
"She doesn't see her anymore." He released the window drape.
It was an accidental statement, the first since he came in this afternoon.
Haymitch, from his pile of self on the floor, in the pool of vomit, grumbled something. It could be incoherence. It could be a snort because he's fallen back asleep. Peeta bets he's faking though. Haymitch doesn't fall back easily. None of them do.
Haymitch probably doesn't know, or care, that it isn't morning anymore.
The number of bottles on the floor, he probably doesn't care about much.
He's slicing the bread, at the end of the table, when Haymitch finally moves to slumping upright. He doesn't do it because Haymitch can't. The man isn't unable. To almost any level. But he's learned in the last few weeks. Simple things are the most important.
The full loaves, golden-brown and fully formed, would be left on the table, to harden like rock before being torn apart and eaten, leaving jagged sections. While the slices would be taken as soon as he'd awoken enough to see clearly, taken where he stumbled to and fro through the horrid, up heaved, excuse for a house.
Groggy, muffled inside hands, "What were you talking about?"
Gratitude was expressed in that they weren't thrown at his head.
And he wasn't attacked for having the audacity to return most days.
"Prim isn't seeing someone."
Peeta kicked himself less for the way his hand tightened on the knife and more for everything else. Because it was Haymitch's way of making a point. That he'd been awake. That he'd caught Peeta spying. Caring. Having an opinion. Not being willing to repeat it the same way he'd said it first. To mention her.
He doesn't rise to the bait. Not immediately. Not the way he had the first weeks. His hand relaxed and he went on slicing to the heel. Never as warm as when it came out. The same way he's never been as warm since he came out of the Arena.
Everything is a game. Still. Always. Weapons and stakes. Knowing who has the upper hand, where and how. He has Haymitch's knife in his hand, but Haymitch has the greater weapon, even with the vomit dripping from his collar. Knowledge. The greatest weapon on any terrain.
Peeta had gotten the butter from across the table and positioned it beside the basket, before he turned to offer Haymitch back his knife. Ignoring the sloshing bottle Haymitch had located somewhere in the squalor of endless empty ones and piles of trash.
"Not going to tell me?" His fingers had only closed around the handle. The arrogant, assumption is in Haymitch's words. Meant to rile. Meant to draw pain and repugnance and anger, from someone other than himself. Always an offensive stance. Like the house.
Peeta stared at him level this afternoon – he'd left Tempest in the huge tank this morning, with the tacky neon mountains-caves, and he'd painted the first half of The Cornucopia during the night - and said, without any apology in it, "No."
"It'd be better if you weren't so transparent about her."
The bite is in it and the laugh that chortles, through the drink, out with it, but Peeta shrugged, turning for the door. Katniss. Always Katniss. She'd always be thrown in somehow. His reason for anger, gratitude, hate, love. The whole of Panem is sure that Peeta is transparent, but they're also aware he can lie, fluently, when the need is great enough. And that's a weapon, too.
Knowledge, and the truth about knowledge.
And choice. The choice of what do with it all when you could.
Peeta still stopped once he closed the front door. No basket now.
Nothing but the green garden circle at the center of Victor Village.
He looked away from its lie of opulence to the front of the Everdeen's house. Empty front yard and empty walk. Where they'd been standing when he'd looked out the window, when considering pulling the drapes back to let light in that sad excuse for a living room. Prim Everdeen, and her sister. And Katniss. Almost as though they were still there.
Katniss reaching out to tuck back her sisters hair behind her ear, as she went out with her goat, Lady, to sell milk. Even though they didn't have to. Because the need was gone, and now things had to carry on as much as they once had lest they all go further mad from not only breaking themselves but from utter uselessness. But it was the way she'd reached out. The way she tucked the hair.
It hurt. Not him. Not that Katniss Everdeen didn't manage to hurt him several times a day, but he hurt for her. And that was worse. When he couldn't figure out what was worse. Knowing or not knowing, seeing or not seeing. When all it took was watching her fingers tips barely glance her sister's face.
She couldn't see Prim anymore. Peeta couldn't blame her for that. She wanted to see her little sister. The beautiful, brave, clumsy little girl who'd always lead her goat into town to sell milk and cheese, who lingered at the bakery and candy windows, who couldn't keep her clothes tucked. Who loved and depended on her.
She didn't want to see that volunteering to take Prim's place wasn't the same as saving her. Maybe Katniss had saved her life, saved her from The Arena, from a gory death or a gorier victory. But she hadn't saved her from being changed.
From the anxious way she stared at the road when Katniss would walk off. Or the hungry uncertainty that had them both cling for a second too long before the smallest errand. That the weight in her matching gray eyes carried not only pride for survival and gratitude for saving –
But, also, the knowledge her life had stole her sister to what she was now. The girl whose mantle was the birth of Victor Katniss. Who must have watched every required tv broadcasting of the Hunger Games knowing her sister's death or life was the fault of her own called name. That every weight was attached to a first domino that existed in her.
In the love and bond that shone between them. That replayed in that clip of Katniss volunteering as much as the one of them hugging the moment she was off the train. The overwhelming relief and celebration that Katniss made it back to her.
The guilt and ownership of every emptiness still clinging to her sister now.
He understands why Katniss doesn't see, even when he doesn't understand entirely why they've made it nearly six weeks without a word. He knows why she doesn't see, doesn't want to see it. No one would. No one should be made to. And if it's knowledge he gets to keep, because he knows her, because he's watched her nearly every day of his life.
It's also his to choose bury beneath the ground and not let anyone else use against her either.
Chapter 5: Parcel Day
Between Hunger Games & Catching Fire, Interlude Month III
Hunger Games & Catching Fire, Interlude Month III
Peeta was in bed, but he wasn't asleep. He hadn't been for hours. He didn't want to paint. To bake. To move really. Sometimes if he closed his eyes he could pretend, dream, fantasize -
(Remember the exact strokes it took to paint his skin, his cheeks, eyelids, in an arena where he had no paints, when he was no painter. How he had to mix the browns and greens from plants and mud, his own blood, thickening the dirt to a paste like substance, browning it. The greens from plants rubbed between his fingers till it dyed him.
Remember how it felt. There was no nobility in feeling your blood leave your body, pulse slowly outward, a heartbeat in his leg more noticeable than the one in his chest. Coming to at odd seconds. Covering himself in grass and mud, until he was painted into the ground. A new life stuck inside it.
Remember the temptation to scream so that someone else could put him out of his misery. End this game, end the lies, end the waiting. The terror in that, too. The pain. Then end. And something he couldn't name. He couldn't forget her eyes, before he killed her. He didn't want someone else to have his. This was his life. This was hisdeath. At least he might do that honestly, untarnished by manipulation.
Remember the way at first every breath shifted every pile, but how it moved less with time. After the sun matted and dried the mud. After the breeze blew all the stray pieces away. After the night took warmth, and the day took cold. After he'd become one with the ground. With everything passing. With inaction. With his mother's last words. With his father not coming. With fleeting coherency.
Remember a world where he never opened his eyes, never roused all his fading strength for the grey eyes and that wiping braid of brown hair almost literally right above him, and mumbled, You here to finish me off, sweetheart?)
She didn't say yes. She might as well have. She did a better job than Cato shoving his sword straight through Peeta's throat would have. She'd whispered his name, her voice all breathy, it and her eyes all confused and scared, and he'd found reasons to live. Or at least he'd found the travesty that had disguised itself as the reason to live.
The one that was a reason not only to make it home but to lie in his bed, hours since waking, staring at the ceiling. All because he'd have to see her today. It was Parcel Day. The third one to be exact. The first one had coincided with their return to District 12. The bigger the show the better it was for the Capitol. The more victorious for the Victor, the more congratulatory and proud The Capitol.
Smiling faces who, wouldn't smile when the cameras were turned off, beamed from the tv.
The cameras and interviewers might return again today. It was only the third month. Even if there had been fewer the second time, they were still the biggest sensation The Games had seen potentially ever. They'd broken rules no one had ever dreamed of. One went in hoping to survive, or to die quickly trying to. No one ever went in hoping to survive and bring someone home with them.
It would not stop being news even if everyone wanted it to be. Their insane, crazy, passionate love that had deprived them of their sense and their ability to follow the rules, like good little starved children, gained them terse leniency. Not one he trusted. But it was there. And so would be those who wanted to chronicle their miracle. Potentially there already today.
She'd be there and they'd have to lie. Touch each other for the first time in nearly a month and half. Have to have not coherent, but joyously, bubbly, adoring conversation with each other.
He could barely stand to look at her.
The idea of convincing a world he madly loved her still…
And it wasn't like anyone in District 12 could be fooled of that now.
The ceiling was almost entirely lit up by daylight.
It had crept in, with the breeze, through the open window.
Peeta always left the window open when he slept, though he closed the door. He always left windows or doors open, depending on which room he was in. Always a door or a window. Always. Somewhere. Somehow. The breeze. The space. The lack of confinement. The escape from where he was, where he'd put himself.
Which this day did not have, and for that Peeta was frowning when he made himself get up.
Stumbled into a shower, which made him clean, if he left his shaggy, blonde hair dripping on his shoulders, his towel, the shirt he chose. He passed on food, even though the kitchen did have it. He fed Tempest. Tempest never complained about the bright yellow flakes falling through the water.
Peeta walked through the quiet, stale and utter emptiness, of Victor's Village into the explosion of pandemonium in The Village Square. People weaving back and forth. Children screaming and laughing. Mothers and Father's already in lines, people from the Seam, who were not too proud to come, as well as those from the Village, House Wives and Shop Owners, with their mostly fake, well if it was free, looks.
Everyone felt the same today. Except Peeta.
Who carded his fingers through his still half-damp hair as he served the wreck of the day and the stage across the center from him. Where confusingly enough while there was no sign of Katniss, Haymitch was already lingering near the base of, ignoring the people and staring at him. With an expression Peeta couldn't determine if was more surprised, caustic sardonicism or desperately, disgusted relief.
"You're late." Maybe both. Relief that he hadn't been standing here alone, pretending all of the things he wouldn't.
"You're sober." Peeta arched a brow, digging his hands into his jeans. He hadn't dressed up this time at all. Nice. But normal life nice. Which look immaculate beside Haymitch's stained and bedraggled countenance.
"Won't last long." Haymitch said, with something Peeta would almost classify as dry, annoyed amusement. He'd turned away from Peeta to glare at someone who'd had the audacity to step toward them.
"Wasn't counting on it." Peeta said looking back over all the people (Okay, so maybe it wasn't just him), failing at ignoring the sinking disappointment in himself.
She hadn't come. And she wouldn't in the end, either. But by the time he'd realized that it was several hours later, and he'd been distracted by several - if not more, than at least as - important things. He didn't pay attention to the Peace Keepers who kept everyone in line. Or the rules of the hand outs. Or the camera's following him, or tv's showcasing their Game clips.
All of those things were worth hating. But on some other day.
Today was a day where things you didn't see often happen. Where The Butcher's wife and the seller in the Hob had a reason to be laughing at each other's jokes while they stood next to each other. For all the teenagers of all three areas to loiter, hollering loudly as they played games and tossed what balls they had, patched and tattered though they might be, getting under everyone's feet.
Children, barely big enough to run, did so exuberantly across the area, laughing and waving their candy or corn syrup or tin of meat or can of applesauce. Here the treats were dealt out, and everyone was smiling, even if begrudgingly. Some people cried. And back in their homes, the drop offs of the bags of grain and cans of oil too large to carry would be waiting.
This was the reward to The Victor of the Game. The Great Gift of Survival from the Capitol. An extra supply of food every month for every family, without the necessity of the tessare. Their grace. But it didn't matter for today. For this hour. This minute. Laughter filled the square, and some tears. So much joy in the face of so many who usually only knew starving, depravity, darkness.
It was this, far more than Katniss Everdeen, that made him grateful for surviving. For winning.
There were so few lies he had to tell with her missing, when it was about The Districts' joy, their winnings.
Not in his laughter. Or in how he'd nudge the mothers, or helped the Elderly carry, or picked up and spun around children.
Because all of those people made that Game (all he'd lost and might never recover) worth it, in a complicated way, he could feel if not even explain even to himself. Their ease in the coming weeks. The less deaths from eating well and taking less risks. And, hours after Haymitch had gone from twitching at people to vanished off drown himself again, Peeta was still there.
There, until he'd said goodnight to last person in the last line, hauling away toward their house. One that would be, like so many others that night, twinkling candlelight, reflecting shadows of light hearts and full stomach's. The dream of which Peeta was both grateful for and could only imagined as he walked home, with a limp from over-exertion, alone.