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Nights on a Train

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Everything is tense after we've been drug back on the train by the Peacekeepers who were angry that we got away from them and hid to have our secret conversation. Katniss is still shaky and upset. Effie is seething—not only at our mistreatment but at the fact that our itinerary has been thrown to the wind. Haymitch, of course, goes straight to the liquor. He starts to pour a glass but then just drinks from the bottle. Katniss tuts at him. Cinna and Portia usher the rest of the team down train and away from possible drama.

“Don't start with me, sweetheart,” he retorts.

“I'm sorry,” she says, turning to me, “I really am.”

“This is exactly what I was talking about, or trying to talk about,” I point out, “If we could ever have talked.”

“I've told you talking isn't something I'm good at,” she retorts.

“Clearly!”

“Come on, come on,” Effie waves her hands between us, “Let's just all calm down.”

She is the unfortunate recipient of three different types of angry look.

She smooths herself down, “Obviously we're not going to get to eat the meal that was scheduled, maybe we should go to the dining car and sort out what we're going to do in ten tomorrow to prevent this happening again. Might I suggest just reading the cards?” She offers, “I mean it's not to say that wasn't a lovely thing that you said, Peeta, I just--”

“No, Effie, I know. Certain things have been made much clearer to me. I apologize for going off script.”

“It's alright,” she walks over, I've no idea how she manages to do this so well in the heels she wears, and takes my hands, “It was very eloquent, and you meant well.”

“Let's just drop it,” Haymitch says, “What's done is done.”

“I didn't mean for it to happen,” Katniss repeats. Her voice is damp.

“We've been over this already, sweetheart,” Haymitch says, but he has softer edges now, “Let's not hash it out again. Everyone knows what's at stake now. Effie's right, and you know how often I agree with her so make the most of it. We should get to the food.”

“I'm not hungry,” she mutters, and disappears towards her room.

Effie starts to say something but Haymitch waves his hand at her and she makes a “hum” noise and then messes with the back of her wig instead.

“It's okay, Effie,” I say, “Let's just give her a half hour or so then I'll take her something.”

 

I knock on her door with my head, given I'm holding a tray and trying to balance on one foot or the other proved tricky. It had taken long enough to argue against one of the attendants coming with me I don't need to show they were right and spill everything everywhere.

“What?” Katniss asks, it's confusion more than anything else—the noise must sound really odd.

“It's me,” I tell her, “I bring food.”

“I'm not hungry. I said that earlier.”

“It'll keep. Please?”

She opens the door and then steps to the side to let me in. She hasn't changed out of the outfit that she was wearing in eleven. Her hair is still loose about her shoulders but she looks more rumpled. She's thrown a few things about the room but it's more half-hearted than I would have expected from her. I set the tray down on the desk that's right by the door.

“It's mostly fruit,” I tell her, “Though there is a sandwich and some soup,” I point to the two items that are in covered bowls, “in case you are actually hungry and just being stubborn.”

She sits down on the edge of her bed, “I...just don't know if I can actually eat,” she says, looking at the wall on the opposite side of the room. Then she looks at the floor, “I keep seeing that man and there were those other shots, what if Rue's family..?”

“It's not our fault,” I tell her, trying to convince myself as I say the words, leaning against the desk, “The Peacekeepers are the ones who shot him and it doesn't do any good to wonder...”

“I'm so sorry I didn't tell you about Snow,” she says, leaning forward.

“And I'm sorry I've been so angry with you,” I tell her.

“You have every right,” she shakes her head, leaning back, “I'm despicable.”

I cross the room and sit down next to her, “No, you're not.”

“I am,” she looks away, “I can't...” she shakes her head again, “You were right about it all. That's what made it worse. You're right to be mad. You were right. I should talk. We do need to talk about things. I just...I don't know how. You're so nice and I've been so awful to you. I hate myself, but I just...I don't know how to do it. This is more than 'what's your favorite color?', Peeta. I know that. I just...” she sighs, “I'm repeating myself.”

“It's okay,” I tell her, “and I'm sorry if I've been pushing you in any way.”

“I need pushing,” she says, “I'm stubborn like you say. I know it. I...” she puts her hands to her head and runs them backwards and forwards across her scalp, “want to be...I don't know how this works.”

“It's okay,” I say again, “You can do this. You survived the Hunger Games you can survive making friends.”

She laughs, “So you say, but you have no proof. I mean it's started with questions about colors, what next foods?”

“That would be a start.”

She shakes her head, “I did like that lamb stew we got.”

“I knew that already.”

“I know...” she sighs. She gets up and goes to the desk pulls out the chair, sits down and starts examining the food that I brought. She dips the sandwich into the soup and takes a bite, “I told you I'm no good at this.”

“Well, then, ask me things,” I tell her, “I'll show you how painless it is.”

“Oh, really?” Her eyes glint then, “You shouldn't say things like that.”

“I said it earlier, Katniss. We need to know each other. We need to be able to be friends. At least if we're friends we'll have some sort of positive rapport on camera. It'll help, especially with what's at stake. I don't want to put your family at risk.”

“What about your family?” she asks.

“Of course, I don't want to put them at risk, either.” That's complicated though, some times...

“I thought you said this was painless,” she teases.

I pull myself back a little way onto the bed, “Then ask your questions, milady.”

She pops a grape into her mouth and muses for a moment, “When you talked about what your mother said--”

“You really are going for it, aren't you?”

“You brought this on yourself, Baker's Boy.”

“Fair point,” I bow to her slightly, “Do continue.”

She eats another grape, “What did you like most in school?”

“I thought you were aski--”

“I can change my mind. I'm the questioner,” she goes back to the sandwich and soup, “So, what did you like most in school?”

“Being outside,” I answer, “We could run around.”

She laughs, “Somehow I thought you would have liked school more.”

“I didn't say that I didn't like school as far as the work part. I just liked being outside more. There was so much more color than in the drab classrooms, and we were in the fresh air. We could run around.”

“But not the woods?”

“I don't know the woods the way you do. They've always been full of danger for me, and I think we've established it's not the place for me as far as being able to hunt, which is the main reason to go out there.”

“I was so terrible to you...”

“You're fleet of foot. I am not and it wasn't helping.”

“You were hurt!” she shakes her head, “You couldn't help it.”

“I don't think it would have mattered. I've never had reason to learn. You don't have to learn to be quiet hauling hundred pound sacks around a bakery, and now...now I don't know that I'll ever have the ability.”

“Well, you don't have to worry there,” she says, softly, “We don't have to sneak through any woods on the Victory Tour. Everything's out in the open,” then she comes back over and sits next to me on the bed. She puts her hand cautiously onto my left knee, “and...” she says, as though something might bite her, “this is the other reason I...I had such a hard time. I...I feel so guilty. I cost you, your leg. It's my fault.”

“Katniss...”

She looks away again.

“No, come on.” I can't help but laugh a little and that does make her turn back though she has an angry look on her face again.

“I'm being serious!”

“I know you are,” I point out, “I just...that's part of why I got so frustrated about the whole bread thing and things blew up on that day, because here you were constantly going on about the bread and me dropping food off and things like you owed me for the food and here I was bringing those things because they were some tiny, tiny way that I could possibly hope to repay you for the fact that I'm alive. I'm alive, Katniss. Like I said in that interview the leg is a small price to be alive. It has it's moments of frustration, but there is no way I could ever be angry about that, so please don't feel guilty, okay?”

She gets up abruptly, turning away and looking towards the window covered in shades, “Please go.”

“I...”

“Just go, okay? I'm tired. I want to sleep.”

I find it hard not to sigh at that. I thought things were going well and now she's effectively pushing me out of the room, I want to protest, to angrily point out that this is exactly the opposite of what we're supposed to be doing but as I close the door she turns towards the bed and I see that she's crying and I realize that's why she wants me to leave. So, I just say, “I'll see you at breakfast,” and close the door.

“Thanks,” she answers, “Good night.”

 

Chapter Text

 

“Ugh, I am SO glad to be out of there!” Effie says, as the train pulls away from District 10's station, and the air system clears away the unfamiliar stench of manure. Still she wafts herself with her hat, “I think I need to shower for three hours, don't you?” then she looks over at Haymitch and her nose wrinkles, “Never mind. I don't suppose you noticed.”

“I'll have you know I know awful smells when I'm around them. If you're implying something about my,” he waves a hand up and down his body, “I'll have you know I bathe,” he says, “Without assistance.”

Katniss makes a scoffing noise.

“No one's had to throw water on me since I've been on the train,” he treats her to a long glower.

“I told you you brought that on yourself,” she points out.

“Well,” Effie says. It seems to be her go to when she's not really sure what we're talking about, “I'm going to go for that shower,” and off she teeters down the train carriage towards her room. Haymitch watches after her, “She might have the right idea though,” he makes an over-exaggerated bow and walks off.

Katniss and I are left by ourselves exchanging awkward glances. The stage was tense today. The words Effie had written meant well, but they were stilted. They weren't anything we would have said. They sound so forced and horrible, and everything is uncomfortable and terrifying; but no one got shot, no one saluted, so there was that. The dinner was less terrible; but that was mostly Effie and I chatting with what passes for dignitaries in District 10. Haymitch would speak here and there, and Katniss answered questions when she was asked and laughed at appropriate times, and chimed in here and there, but she clearly wanted to be swallowed up by the ground, and we have nine more of these to go. It's going to be great.

Katniss is hurrying down the carriage the way Effie and Haymitch went.

“Katniss, wait!” I call after her.

I'm actually surprised when she does.

“What's wrong?” I ask her.

She shakes her head.

“This is one of those friend things,” I point out, “Talking about things that are bothering you. Maybe I can help.”

“Ugh,” she remarks, “These friend things...” but she's partly laughing.

“If it was just standing next to me then I apologize and you carry on and I'll leave you alone.”

“No, it wasn't that.”

“Well, that's a relief.”

She flops down into the nearby seat. We'd climbed back on board into the lounge car. There are a few tables on the other side of the carriage where they sometimes set out snacks and there's a television on the wall in front of us. I sit down on the couch opposite her, after taking off the stuffy jacket I've had to wear all day, and dropping it onto the other side of the couch.

“No, it's all this stupid tour stuff. I don't think I can do this. All these speeches. All these dinners. All these people staring at me. At least with the interviews I could just focus on Caesar—on you, the audience just kinda blurred into a mass after a while, but these people...”

“It'll be okay. Just take it one at a time. Don't think about the whole journey. Just the next one. It's just nine. That's all it is, and remember I'll be there with you.”

“I knew there was a reason I saved your butt,” she says.

“And here I thought it was--” I swallow the comment, it got too close. That was my own fault. She turns to look out of the window but now it's night out and the lights are on so when I follow her line of sight it's just our reflections which are visible staring back at us.

“What were you going to say?” she asks.

“Don't worry about it. We're not there.”

“Oh,” she says, “That's my fault.”

“That's no one's fault,” I shake my head, “No, that's the Capitol's fault.”

“Why do you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Keep moving the blame off me?” she's shifted so that she's laying back on the couch legs over the arm, head close to the other, hair spilling over the cushions. I fix the image in my mind, dark hair and brown skin against the mauve of the over stuff chair, the gray and blue of her outfit.

“Because it was survival and I put too much on you myself.”

She flips up in the seat, eyes angry, “Stop it!” she yells, “Stop! Be mad at me like you were before! I deserve it! I lead you on! I knew how you felt and I played along--”

“To get what we needed, so we would both come home--”

“But after—I could have said something to you—I should have...”

“When?” I point out, “They didn't exactly let us see each other after we got out of the arena. I was in surgery and recovery, there was the whole mess with the leg and the fittings and the learning how to balance to look okay on camera. I'm sure they were doing any amount of things to you the five minutes I saw Haymitch he said he had to practically punch out doctors so they didn't perform plastic surgery on you.”

She nods, “I just feel terrible.”

“So you've said,” I say, “Explain things to me, get it out...”

She flops back on the couch, “That'll take years and I don't...”

“I'm sorry,” I tell her, “I want to understand. I'm trying to find a way to avoid awkwardness in the future.”

She gives a sarcastic laugh, “How is that supposed to?”

“Honesty.”

She stares at me for a long while and then she shakes her head, slowly, “Honestly, how do you put up with me?”

“Some of the answers I might give you probably wouldn't like too much so don't hit me okay because I like you and you know that. I've seen the other side of that gruffness you put up. I know there's a caring person under that hard front you put on.”

“Ugh. Stop.”

“You asked,” I point out, “Plus, I dealt with a lot worse...people at the bakery.”

She gives me a disbelieving look for a moment and then something seems to dawn on her, “Going back to yesterday,” she says.

“Yes?”

“What you said...” she pauses for a moment.

“What I said when?”

“I'm trying to think how to phrase the question!” she retorts, “I'm not Caesar! And besides I let you go on this one yesterday so—well, kinda, because now I have several questions.”

“I said that was fine. We're going to be--”

“--working this route until we die?” she finishes, sharply.

I sigh. She's on the defensive again.

“See, I didn't—I was trying to be funny and now you're mad.”

“No, no. I thought you were angry and pushing at me.”

“Well, I am angry. Just not at you,” I'm sure some of her is. Some of me is mad with her, of course. There's just no point voicing it. What's it going to serve?, “I was trying to make it funny. It's not funny though.”

“It is a little bit funny...” I admit, “but we're getting off point. You had questions you wanted to ask me, which I'm guessing had to do with my family in some way?”

“Ah, yes,” she says, “You know all about mine, after all. I haven't seen much in the way of interviews with yours. They must have interviewed them when they did mine and when they did—they made Gale my cousin,” she looks down, “I'm sorry. I shouldn't bring up Gale.”

“I don't have a problem with Gale so long as he doesn't have a problem with me. So, don't feel like you can't bring him up, okay?”

She looks like she doesn't believe me, “If you say so. Anyway, what exactly was the deal with your Mom and—and me winning?”

Honesty. You were the one who brought up honesty, “Ah, well, that was...my wonderful goodbye from 12...'12 might actually have a winner. She's got a lot of skill. We won't see you again. Just don't die in some embarrassing way.' That's about the gist of it.”

She reaches for my hands, “That's awful.”

“My Mom has some issues but in some ways she wasn't wrong. I wouldn't have made it all the way through the arena myself. I would have either been one of those who died of exposure and illness, or the remaining careers would have tracked me down and finished me off, as messed up as my leg was I wouldn't have been able to fight them off properly.”

“What about the rest of your family?” she asks.

“They were upset that I was leaving, but I mean...it's saying goodbye, forever. You do it. Be honest. Did you really think you had much chance of coming back when you got on the train?”

She looks down at the floor, “I told Prim I would try to win, but...but you were determined to get info from Haymitch. You went and hammered on his door for how long?”

I feel my cheeks starting to redden, “To help you. I knew she was right you actually stood some kind of a shot and I was going to help and if I could find out ways to survive long enough to help you win.”

Her mouth curls up a bit, “How noble of you,” it has a bitter edge.

I can feel the done-ness of the evening approaching, and I stand up, “Believe what you want. I'm going to go to bed.”  

Chapter Text

The mood is more upbeat climbing back on the train after dinner in nine. I think it helps, somewhat, that we had nothing at all to do with the deaths of their tributes. They were killed in the Cornucopia on the first day, something we avoided thanks to Haymitch's advice. Things to remember for the future trainees. Just grab a bag and go, don't be lured in to the shiny because it is full of sharp, pointy death. Maybe you'll last more than twenty minutes, like Cambria. That was her name. The girl from District 8. Her partner, Tanner, he died in the bloodbath though; but she survived, until she got too cold and started a fire and then they found her.
Effie had summoned pie from the dining car when we got on board and met back up with the rest of our team. Cinna even stayed on the train this time along with Portia and the rest of the stylists. We were sitting around chatting and playing cards, eating pie, drinking milk, and Effie started going on about outfits for tomorrow, “It's textiles, after all, we have to make sure to look good,” and that's when I remember Cambria, gagging and choking on her own blood, red flecks on her auburn hair and her jacket in the firelight behind her, eyes wild with fear as they laughed and hooted.
“Cinna and Portia always come up with wonderful things,” Katniss comments.
“I'm sure whatever is decided will be great,” I tell everyone, “but I'm tired all of a sudden. I think I'm just going to go to my room,” and I'm excused after Effie grabs my hand tightly. Haymitch gives me a half-nod I'm not sure he's fully paying attention. The look from Katniss is slightly annoyed but she has Cinna there to keep her company against any onslaught of ostentatiousness that might occur.
Thankfully there are bathrooms up and down the train because I'm only part way to my room when the recent pie, and the meal we ate with District 9's mayor and his family finally escapes despite my constant wishes against it. I sit there for a while breathing slowly and trying to keep the memory of it out, but that's the worst thing you can do really, because it just cycles around.
She'd lit a fire.
I remember Haymitch telling us early on how that was basically a big call for attention. How you had to find other ways to keep warm, layer yourself under things to keep the heat between the layers, find a hollow to hunker down in and bury yourself under leaves, something, anything other than light a fire, unless you knew you could do it in a way you were absolutely not going to be seen, like a cave because you light a fire and it's just a big HEY KILL ME NOW, and that's what it was and they swooped down on her, but it was a kindness. They were torturing her and then they just wanted to walk away and leave her there choking on blood.
When I leave the bathroom I find Portia waiting on the other side of the corridor. She's leaning against the wall, a splash of crushed magenta satin against the dark wood, holding a folder to her chest. She doesn't wear as ostentatious of wigs as Effie does, but neither is she as unobtrusive as Cinna. Her hair is in a tight blonde bob today, it has streaks of magenta through it matching the dress, “Need me to call someone?” she asks.
I shake my head, “I think that was a one time thing.”
“Ah,” she says, with a rueful smile, “Clothing decision has been made.”
“I'm sure it's fine.”
“Are you?” She asks, and I know she doesn't mean if I'm sure about the clothes.
“Yes.” I nod, “Things are a lot better now.”
She puts a hand on my shoulder, and then on my cheek. I wonder how much older than me she is. It's hard to tell how old any of the Capitol people on the train are. They don't age the way our families in the districts do given they have their skin peels, surgeries, and restructurings; but given she and Cinna are new on the fashion design scene I imagine they can't be that old. Cinna seems so different to them all though: muted, deliberate and somewhat calculating. All of our outfits so far have been muted compared to other years' tribute tours, where they've been fairly bright and gaudy. These are elegant but still as though we're in mourning, and nothing to attract too much attention. We're sorrowful along with you not we're celebrating the death of your children. If only there was some sort of outfit that could help us act more emotionally and romantically in sync with each other. I don't think anyone's believing anything. Of course it's hard to convey things in three minute speeches compared to days in a cave together.
“You don't look like things are fine,” she says.
“I'm not feeling sick any more.”
We start walking towards the area where everyone's sleeping quarter's are, “That's something,” she says, “I wish I could give you more advice—but I have no idea. I've never been through anything like this. I had no idea what I was getting into.”
“Well, 12 hadn't won in 24 years,” I point out, “No one knew what they were getting into.”
She hugs me at the door to her room, “I was supposed to be making you feel better.”
“You did.”
“Liar. I'll see you in the morning,” she waves the portfolio at me, “You want to see what you'll be wearing?”
“I'll take the surprise. I'm sure it'll be great as always.”

Once I'm back in my room things start to circle back to me and I try to find ways to distract myself given sleep proves to not be an option. We have access to books now, more books than ever before, but a lot of them are vapid and dull. Effie has a lot of history of fashion designers and things of that nature that she keeps dotted about, but there are others I've found that are much more interesting. I'm not sure if they're hers. Honestly they more likely belong to Haymitch, Portia but probably Cinna, but there's the one I've been reading, or trying to called “Losing the Power: Democracy's History and Failure,” there's no signed author to it because it's more a compilation of bits from various other books but it's hard to follow as tired as I am. It looks like it's saying at one time there might have been more than even thirteen districts, each of them had their own separate rights and ruler ship apart from the Capitol and there was a college people went to so they could vote in elections or something. I've read the same paragraph about four times and it's still not making any sense, but drawing was mostly just me drawing swirls on paper which is just a waste so I erased that, gave up and started reading.
Then there's screaming. I bolt up and wind up in a tumble on the floor thanks to trying to set off one-footed. So a cracking thud sees myself in a pile of covers, pillows and shoes. I disentangle myself, sit up, lock it on from it's position next to the bed, kick up, and out the door. We're still on the train and I don't think anyone would have attacked. I shouldn't say couldn't, because hover craft and they might be pissed at us, but surely “the Capitol's sweethearts” or whatever they're calling us now dying during the Victory Tour would do nothing for this precious peace he was on at Katniss about, would it? Hopefully. The screaming is from her room.
“Katniss?” I open the door to her room.
She's got her head on her knees and is sitting up on the bed hugging herself, blankets all around.
“Stupid. Just a stupid nightmare. I'm sorry I woke you. Go back to bed,” it's muffled, because her head is in her knees. She waves a hand in my general direction.
“I wasn't asleep.”
She looks up then and I can see the sheen of tears in the half light, “Then...would you sit with me? I'm an asshole for asking, I know...” She shifts on the bed slightly, trying to maneuver blankets from beneath her.
“No, that's fine. I will,” I clarify, realizing 'no, that's fine' might not come across as a yes. I come towards her as she pulls her way out of the blankets and nearly hits me in the face with the edge. I shield my face.
She falls back on the bed laughing, “I'm sorry.”
“No, that's fine. Just blind me, that's alright.”
“I am sorry,” she reaches for my hand and guides me to the bed as though I was actually blind.
“Imagine how much sympathy we'd get though. The poor blind amputee...”
“Oh, don't,” she says, “It's not funny,” but she is giggling.
She slides back on the bed and to the side so that I can get on to the bed myself.
“Do you want to tell me what the nightmare was about?” I ask offering her my shoulder. She accepts it and curls up against me. I feel my heart skipping slightly with the pressure of her head against my chest and the feeling of her breathing.
“It's stupid.”
“It's not stupid if it had you screaming.”
She sighs, “It was the muttations—the dog things at the end of the...” she trails off, waving her hand.
“I remember.”
“But they'd pulled us both down and...well, you can imagine,” she shudders against me.
“Yeah,” I partly regret that I asked but it's out of her head now, hopefully it's not trapped in mine but right now, at least, she's here, resting against my chest and I feel as though everything will be fine because of that, “we're safe. We're safe.”
“It was Rue. It was the one that was Rue.”
I rub my hand down her arm. There's a temptation to kiss the top of her forehead, but I pull it back. That is the cave talking, and we're not there. We lay there in silence for a while. She drums her fingers against my chest and I try to keep my thoughts more pure to avoid certain things but then she asks something that definitely kills any risk of that, “Were you okay earlier? You kinda left the game abruptly and you normally have Effie eating out of your hand about all the mundane things about the speeches and everything.”
I sigh.
“Honesty,” she says, patting my chest.
“I...was sick—sickened.”
“Ah,” she says, “Not the food?”
“No. I—I was remembering the poor girl from eight, Cambria, and what the careers did to her.”
She tightens her grip on me. She saw the recap at the closing ceremony, of course, “You did her a mercy.”
“I know.”
“She was suffering.”
“I know. They were monsters.”
“I know,” she whispers, “I...can I ask something?” she looks up at me.
“Of course.”
“Will you stay?” Is it my imagination that she's blushing at that?
“Of course.”

Chapter Text

 

“So, are you going to have another fun night?” Portia teases, sitting down opposite me in the lounge car where I'm sketching. She's been joking with me on and off since this morning when she'd shown up with the clothes, and the prep team, and I wasn't in my room. She knows full well nothing has happened between us but she can't help it. There's buzz among both prep teams though given Flavia from Katniss' team was the one who had come in to wake Katniss but found us both, given we both slept later than we intended.

It was the best sleep I've had in months.

“The joke only works the first couple of times, you know?”

“Now, now,” she says, “There are many other ways to have fun on the train. Much less frustrating and very educational.”

I ignore her by shifting position and returning to the sketch pad.

“You're so easy to rile up today, Baker,” she says, sitting down next to me and poking me in the side, “You need to relax. You should be more relaxed considering...”

“Now, you're just being cruel.”

She throws her head back and laughs. Light glitters off the blue and green gems she has stuck in a spiral pattern across her left cheek, “Alright, alright,” she stands up, “I'll let you alone...will you draw me some time?” she inquires, glancing at the picture taking shape on the pages in front of me. It's one I started a while ago but couldn't finish because I couldn't place entirely what I was trying to draw, but now with District 8 disappearing to our rear, Cambria appears on the paper, with the haze of the textile factories behind her. I want to be able to remember her more as she was in the interviews than covered in bloody spittle and with light fading from her eyes.

“What makes you so sure that I haven't?” I ask her, flipping back through the book to find a picture.

She covers her face, “Never mind,” she says, “Don't show me.”

“You don't like my art work? You just said you wanted me to draw you?”

“Now I'm nervous...” she says, “I have no idea what you were thinking of when you drew me. When you did this? What was I wearing? Which hair did I have?”

“It's just your face. If that helps?” I show her the page. I was trying out some new colors and remembered a palate of make up she'd had where her entire face was painted. She looked as though she was made of feathers. She was blue, green and purple primarily, but she had flecks of gold and brown here and there, and appeared to have extra eyes within the feather patterns on her cheeks and forehead. The paint went right up into her hair. She had a hat that day that was a bird head, but none of that is the picture. It was a very done up day. The last day before we left to come back from the Capitol. Some ridiculous party. I was so very glad they didn't expect us to dress up like that; but the face paint...that was amazing. She shimmered.

She runs her hand over the drawing but doesn't actually touch it, “I can't take credit for the look that was all Macchius,” she says, “but damn, boy, you got me pretty good.”

“Thank you.”

“I apologize,” she says.

I laugh, “It's alright. I just...I'm used to Katniss not liking to see herself. She doesn't think she's pretty, but I didn't expect that from you.”

She shakes her head, “I'm the stylist...”

“Would you like the picture?”

“I couldn't...”

“I drew it with you in mind. You can copy it for me. I know they do that. They sell reprints of my things; but you, get this, the original.”

“I couldn't,” she says, but I can see in her eyes she really wants the picture.

“In return let me draw you without all the glitz some time.”

“District 12 style?” she laughs.

“That's one way to put it.”

She shakes my hand, but hands me the book back, “You take it out. I'm afraid I'll tear me.” I hold it and bend so I can pull the sheet out pure with no breaks, smudging or rips, “You best have signed it though,” she points, accusingly, “I don't want a Mellark without the mark.”

“Portia, do you take me for a scam artist?”

“I don't know what to take you for,” she laughs, carefully taking the picture I offer after I show her the signature. She carefully places the sketch inside the portfolio she keeps with her, “but I'll—I want to say yes; but it almost feels like you'd be painting me naked.”

“Who's painting who naked?” Katniss' voice is accusatory as she comes into the carriage from the direction of the sleeping cars. She has a long robe on over the top of loose fitting clothing and is barefoot.

“Now I'm getting you in trouble,” Portia eeps, but then laughs, “No one is going to be naked, don't you worry, you get to keep that to yourself,” she winks at Katniss as she smacks me on the shoulder with her portfolio.

“Oh, please. You prep teams have seen more than enough of everyone. There is nothing left to the imagination,” I retort.

“There are some things,” she laughs, “but please. Let me out of here before she fashions some sort of weapon out of chair and kills me. I do not like that look,” Portia all but runs out of the carriage but she continues to laugh the whole way, and lets out a whoop once she gets to the door, “No! No! Save me!”

“What was this about naked?” Katniss asks. Her tone is still accusatory but her posture has relaxed a little. Her arms are folded but her back isn't stiff and straight.

“Portia was asking if I would draw her some time—she saw me drawing Cambria—I said I would if I could do so without her being all made up,” I wave my hand around, “You know how they all do. The jewels, the wigs, the ninety layers of face paint. I kinda want to know what Portia actually looks like,” I shrug, “She said it would be like being naked.”

Katniss sits down on the edge of the chair across from me, facing towards the other windows. It's just darkness and flickering lights going by, reflections from inside. She doesn't say anything to my explanation. There's what might be a nod before she rests her head on one fist. I go back to the picture of Cambria and let Katniss stew in silence. I don't understand her reaction considering what she's said about us before and I'm not going to get into it. I'm not in a place to deal with any fall out if I try to start what I think might be innocent conversation the mood she seems to be in.

I'm almost at the point when I could begin the color on the sketch if those tools weren't back in my room when Katniss stands up again, “I'm going to bed,” she says.

“Alright. Good night.”

She hesitates though, from the angle her body is at she's probably looking down the carriage towards the sleeping cabins but she doesn't actually leave. When I look up she's looking down at me.

“Something wrong?”

“I—would you be willing to come with me?” she gets a ghost of a smile, “or join me when you're ready to rest at least?” There's another pause. She fidgets a little and then crouches down. She goes to put her hand on my left knee but then moves and puts it on my right instead, “I—it was comforting to have you with me.”

I have to smile, “I have to say I slept the best I have in months last night.”

She laughs, “and well...it helps our cause, right?”

“Oh, yes, because convincing the prep teams is what we have to worry about.”

She punches me in the shoulder.

“Is that anyway to treat your boyfriend?”

“Don't make me punch you again,” she says.

 

After I've put my sketchbook away and showered I open the door to Katniss' room. She's fallen asleep. She's not tossing and turning madly, but she is moving around a bit and mumbling and I can see that her cheeks are wet.

“Katniss,” I say, approaching the bed carefully, “Katniss,” I tap the bed, and her leg.

She wakes up with a jerk, her arms flailing out but she doesn't hit me. She sits up slightly, resting on one elbow, hair across her face.

“How long has it been?” She moves her hair out of her mouth.

“An hour or so.”

“I didn't think I'd fall asleep in that long.”

“Things happen.”

She slides across the bed so that I can get in but it's my turn to hesitate. I shouldn't have slept with the prosthetic on last night but I realize that I'm nervous to take it off in front of her. She sits up further and moves behind me, “What's going on?” She rests her head on my shoulder.

“I have to do something but I...don't want you to freak out given you...feel guilty about my leg.”

She tenses a little but then she rubs a hand down my arm and rests her head on my shoulder.

“I need to lean forward.”

“Oh,” she moves her head and I pop the leg off and pull my pants leg up push the prosthetic closer to the cabinet by the bed and swing up onto the bed and she hesitantly curls up against me, resting her hand and head on my chest and I pull the covers up over us.

“Are you alright?” I ask her, after we've laid there for a while.

She nods, “Are you alright?”

“Of course,” I tell her, “And you're safe, you know? You can go back to sleep.”

She nods again, drumming her fingers against my chest, and I feel my own breathing beginning to relax as she does so and I could swear as I drift off that I feel a kiss on my cheek.  

Chapter Text

She's kissing me. That's what wakes me up. It's still dark. I'm confused at first. It doesn't seem that long since we went to sleep but seven was exhausting, one of the longest gatherings yet. Being woken like this is unexpected, of course, but not unwanted. Oh, how I've wanted.

Still I have to, “Katniss?”

“Sshh,” she says, with another kiss, prying my mouth open with her tongue and toying at mine with hers. I give in to the kiss so long wanted, so deep and take her head with my hands, tangling my fingers in her hair, she pushes me back with her hands pressing into my chest and I feel a tingling spreading through me and down towards my groin, things tightening. I move my hands down her neck. Her shirt falling away from her shoulders. She begins to kiss my neck, and I feel breath escaping slowly, and I move my own kisses to her now bare shoulder and she moves her hand lower and I can feel my breath hitching with anticipation and need.

I lunge for her kiss again, hearing her whisper my name into my mouth as her hand finds my manhood and begins to massage the already stiffening shaft, “Katniss...” the moan escapes me. I reach for her to move her as I change positions to that perhaps we can...but she's gone...

 

I wake up.

She's still beside me, which is something, I suppose but...I should have known that nothing was actually going on, and now things are...awkward...I try to shift around without waking her, maybe if I get so that I'm facing away I can calm things before she notices or I can get out of bed and to the bathroom, but she wakes so I do the only thing I can think of which is throw myself out of bed.

“Peeta!” she sits bolt upright at the noise, but I'm on the floor and in a ball and in mild pain but everything is definitely safe, “What happened?”

“I'm okay, just...forgot where I was...” I manage, “I need to...” I've already got the leg slipped on and then I'm hobbling with bruised knee and bruised pride to her bathroom and once inside I do use it but then I just stand there for a while smacking my head against the wall. This is not going to work. This is not going to work. This is not going to work.

When I emerge she's sitting up still and has bundled the blankets around herself. The clock tells me it's just after 3 a.m, “Are you okay?”

I shake my head.

“You're not?” she sounds, confused, understandable given I just said I was.

“I can't stay in here,” I know it's abrupt but I don't know what else to say. I have no idea if I can even explain it to her. I doubt she wants to hear anything of what I was just dreaming about.

“But...” she's upset and I knew she would be.

“I just—I can't. It's too,” I'm gesturing all over the place, which can't be helping, “my brain. I thought I could, but I can't. I'm sorry.”

“You said--”

“I know. I'm sorry.” I leave. I hear her call my name as the door closes but I don't go back. She doesn't follow me either.

 

I sit up for quite some time because I wind up stewing in my own thoughts the way Katniss does often. Once again I can't focus to read. I can't focus to draw anything. I must pass out at some point because I wake up hot and sweaty with the idea that she's snuck into the room and is licking her way up my body towards my mouth.

6:34 a.m.

I throw the sheets on the floor and leave my leg outside the bathroom door to make it apparent to Portia I'm in the room if she comes actually comes checking for me this early and turn on the shower. I remind myself of the fact that Katniss knows how to skin and gut wild animals and how I told Gale I was much more afraid of her than him. The water runs, the soap, more water. I turn the water cold as I can stand it. It's not until I'm bracing myself out of the bathroom and see the time on the clock is well past seven a.m and how much water I must have used that I feel guilty. That much water...how many houses could that serve in District 12? and here I am wasting it because I'm being all mopey.

 

“Knock! Knock? Though I know the ans--” Portia opens the door. I see her reflection in the mirror as I look up from the bathroom cabinet where I was trying to find the cream I'm supposed to apply to the stump after showering, “Oh! Peeta! You are actually in here! Trouble in paradise?” She smacks me on the back. She's less done up today. She has sparkling red eyelashes, but muted colors on her eyes and cheeks. Her lips are deep red, and so is her hair; but she's much less ostentatious. Her clothing is plainer, no huge shoulder pads, simpler lines. No giant feathers that threaten to tickle my nose, or giant flowers. It's a geometric pattern, but she's a simple palate, only three colors, the red that is in her lips and eyelashes, black and white, with sparkling accents around the cuffs, hem and collar only.

“You're looking very lovely today,” I tell her.

“As are you,” she remarks.

I'm very glad she didn't arrive ten minutes earlier she might have seen pretty much everything before but I really don't want her to actually do so. I'm much more comfortable being shorts around her, “Katniss isn't here for you to wind up.”

“So it is trouble in paradise.”

“There's not been a paradise...”

“You wouldn't believe that if you heard Octavia and Flavius talking,” Portia says. I hear her go to one of the drawers in the main room and pull something out which is likely the fresh stump stocking that we'll need, “Did you check the third drawer?”

“Yes. I swear I've checked all of them.”

And she's there by my side, “Out of the way. Out of the way,” she shoos me towards the bed. I have practice making that trek one-legged. It's not far and I'm there, dropping myself down onto the soft mattress once more as Portia goes through the five drawers in the bathroom, “If you listen to them...” she starts, “maybe I shouldn't get into it. Do I want to ask what happened? Seemed like things were getting back to cute and cozy with you two.”

I sigh, “I don't think you do.”

“Alright then,” she comes back into the room with the tub of cream and tosses it to me. I pull myself further back on to the bed so that I can do application, so she picks up the leg and brings it closer, “Are you sure we don't want to spiff this up? We could get some others...could even put some of your designs on them...”

“Aren't we supposed to not advertise that I got messed up?” I ask her, taking the stocking and putting it on, “There was the thing about the gracious Capitol having fixed me but now it seems to be all about everything being normal now and not drawing attention to things.”

“It seems such a shame though,” she turns the leg around in her hands, “Look at this surface. I've said so to Macchius before. You have to appreciate the canvas. Don't tell me you haven't wondered!”

The door opens then, “Can you tell this--?” Katniss trails off, glancing from me who is sitting shirtless in just boxer shorts on my bed to Portia who is standing by the bathroom door twirling my leg about as though she was performing some sort of strange juggling act. It has to be Octavia who was following into the room behind her, no-one else in Katniss' prep-team is forest green but gets stopped short and makes a loud gasp and puts her hands to her mouth and her eyes get teary. I'm surprised she doesn't injure herself with those three inch talons of nails but somehow she manages to complete all her duties effectively while wearing them. I suppose you get used to them if you're wearing them every day and working.

Octavia then pushes past Katniss into the room and throws her arms around me, “You're so brave!”

“Thanks, Octavia,” I say, patting her on the back. I'm sure I sound confused. I mouth “what's going on?” at Katniss.

She shrugs and then says, “I was just coming in to ask you to tell Octavia that things were fine with us despite you not being in there this morning,” she jabs a finger gruffly towards her bedroom in a way that suggests the exact opposite of everything she's trying to say but thankfully Octavia is being too tearful about seeing Portia with my leg for her to take any notice of Katniss' statement.

“Octavia, honey,” Portia says, coming over and setting my leg down, to help extract me from the grip of the other woman.

“It's all fine,” I tell her.

“Really?” she says, “It's just, you guys are sooo...”

“No, no, it's fine. I just...I woke up early with this idea, and I had to sketch it out right then and I didn't want to wake Katniss so I came in here and it's all fine. Don't worry...okay?” When she turns back to look at Katniss I start to scowl at myself but then stop because this is petty and not helping, “Why don't you guys go and get ready?”

Katniss all but pushes Octavia out of the door back towards the other room with a “see I told you everything was fine.”

I start to put my leg back on.

“Katniss—a moment--” I hear Portia say, “Come in all the way and close the door.”

“What's going on?” she asks, when I look up, confuses, she's look at me for answers I don't have.

“That's just a small thing,” Portia says, “'Tavi's just a silly nonsense girl—you guys gotta get your strife dealt with I'm sorry but you do honeys you really do”

“But--” Katniss starts, “He--”

“I was the one who left the room last night.”

“With not even a remotely decent explanation,” Katniss counters.

I'm very conscious then that I'm still only in shorts. She's mostly dressed—she's not in what she'll be wearing to tour six but she's got on loose pajama pants and a strappy top, and an over jacket, her hair is scooped up off her face, and there's a band around her head keeping any stray bits away. I guess they were about to start make-up when Octavia was overcome with emotion.

“Did he tell you about that?” Katniss asks.

“You are not going to get me in the middle,” Portia says, “I'm just trying to instill some--”

“Everyone keeps telling us how we have to be,” Katniss complains.

“Did you let me finish?” Portia continues, “Let's just-but not giving a good explanation is not like you, Baker.”

Having the two of them staring at me is more than a little uncomfortable especially as unclothed as I am. I can feel a completely different kind of heat spreading through my body, “Well, things were...” I can't finish the sentence though, “Can we just..? I need to get dressed.”

Portia puts her hand on my shoulder apparently realizing just then that I'm approaching tomato color, “Alright,” she says, “Katniss, let's pick this up later.”

“Fine,” Katniss stalks out.

Portia hands me some pants and a shirt, “What's going on with you exactly?”

“Things just...I woke up and I...” I didn't think I could get any redder.

“Oh! Oh!” Portia puts her hands to her mouth, “Oh—honey, I'm sorry. Hm...we need to come up with some way to...things are making sense now—brothers—lovers...” She bends down and gives me a hug, and then pulls me to my feet and gives me another hug, “Let me see if I can help you come up with some plan of cover then,” she pats me on the head, “She is not going to—you're right.”

 

Chapter Text

 “What are they doing to them?” Katniss asks. We've been ushered back on to the train. The dinner with the mayor and people canceled again because people in the crowd were saluting us the lip kiss and the three fingers, and there was the threat of trouble again. Peacekeepers forging their way into the crowd. We got to finish the speech but dinner was considered a potential safety hazard for the Victors.

“Don't think about,” Cinna urges Katniss, “All it's going to do is hurt you more,” he rubs his hand along her back.

“Come. Come,” Effie urges us all on to the dining car, “Let's get food in us and forget this whole mess. Though if they're going to keep skipping dinners and events like this it's going to be easy for us to keep on schedule!” she laughs, but it's that nervous laugh where she messes with one hand. No one else says anything but I can't help being grateful that all the mess of this morning and my leaving Katniss' room has gone by the wayside in the wake of this and then feel guilty about that. Portia puts her arm around my shoulders as we bring up the rear of the procession going towards the dining car following in Effie's wake. Haymitch is rambling about something up ahead but I can't hear his actual words just his tone given Cinna and Katniss are between us and the gaggle of stylists.

“I had some thoughts about your...problem,” she says in a low voice, dragging us back in case the gossiping prep teams happen to overhear something in a lull in conversation.

“Oh.”

“You hoped that had been forgotten?” she teases.

“I hoped I could forget.”

“Come now,” she says, striking a pose, with one hand on her hip and the other arm up fingers splayed in the air, “Lady Portia remembers all,” then she points at my chest, “but come on now, you two need each other, more than ever if this crap is going to keep going on, and it just seems to be getting worse,” she sighs.

“What do you mean?” I ask her.

We start walking again so we don't get too far behind. There was something there underneath what she said.

“No, come on, Portia, what else do you know? Has something happened somewhere else? Is it Eleven?”

She puts her hands on my shoulders, turning to face me, “You guys are a team, like Cinna and I are...we talk things through with each other before we come to you guys, right? I know you were trying that before...so this can't be any different. You just...don't have to go into all the details with her. That's what you were stuck on this morning, but, you didn't get much sleep I'm guessing, and things were still heated. Now things are calmer,” she giggles a little, “all round...”

“Stop it,” though I find myself laughing a little too, no matter how much I try to stop myself.

“...you can revisit the issue,” she busts out laughing even more, which happens to coincide with our arrival at the dining car which is still in a fairly somber mood. The door automatically opens as we approach and so they're treated to Portia mid-guffaw, bracing herself against the wall.

Haymitch looks over from the liquor bar where he was pouring himself some of what looks like whiskey, “Damn, lady, I need whatever you've been having!” he says.

Portia straightens up and walks into the car and takes a seat next to Cinna. I sit down next to Katniss who is at the end of the able and on Cinna's left side. She looks at me curiously and slightly angry, but with less venom than I had anticipated. I wonder what she and Cinna have been talking about. Macchius, Riordan and Calla are on the side of the table next to where I'm sitting. Effie is at the other head opposite Katniss, Haymitch comes round to sit at her right next to Calla and then Katniss prep team are on the opposite side across from mine. They're all still nattering away, but now it's about some sort of show they must have been watching in the evening yesterday rather than the tour broadcast lots of names and action that I don't recognize at all.

“Don't worry about it,” I mouth to Katniss.

Then I get a more angry look.

“Later,” I say.

She nods, but the rest of her expression promises doom if I don't actually follow through. Once again my brain reminds me that she can gut animals with ease. Thanks, brain, you're so helpful, and now she probably has remembered this morning too.

“So, it's on to Five tomorrow,” Effie says, brightly.

“Right,” Haymitch says, “Here's to Five!” he sits down with his glass.

Attendants have come with food and beverages. We Victors get mixes of fruit juice with something that makes it fizzy. The others are offered a choice between that and different colors of wines. The food they've brought us to start out with is some sort of steaming soup broth and bowls of thin sliced meat, eggs, noodles and vegetables that we're supposed to scoop into the broth and let the broth cook it before we eat it. There are spices, sauces and herb leaves to add as well. It's an interesting idea, though Flavius seems to think it's lazy of the kitchen to expect us to put together our own food which threatens to start some sort of dissent.

“Come on now,” Cinna says, “They didn't expect to be cooking for us. I think this is a very unusual concept.”

“It really is,” Portia says.

“Plus we each get to design our own meal,” I point out, “No two plates will be alike. Each will be unique. We should taste each others after we blend it. See what each other created.”

Thus distracted dinner continues. Haymitch's meal looks the weirdest, given the egg that he added to it, but is surprisingly tasty until the horrendous chili spice kicks in at the end, sending most everyone except Cinna and Effie, which is another surprise, running for something to cool their mouths. Venia's is the one that is voted tastiest overall. I'm not sure which of the spices she's added, but her soup reminds me of one of the chicken meals that we had during training for the games. She's added lentils and peas, and some of the white vegetables that look like noodles but aren't, and the actual noodles.

After the broth, the prep teams take dessert with them when they excuse themselves to the lounge car to watch some more of whatever show or event it was they were talking about before. Haymitch stretches out and puts his feet up on the table despite or perhaps because of Effie's objections like when Katniss would eat with her hands instead of “being proper”.

Cinna is sketching in his portfolio, turned away from us, and Portia looks over at it here and there making enthusiastic statements, and I realize after a moment of watching how often he does and doesn't move his pencil it's not so much sketches as modifications to something existing.

I realize Effie and Haymitch have stopped bickering. It's that holding pattern tension. Katniss is toying with the last of the noodles in her bowl but isn't actually eating any more. I look over at Haymitch, and he makes a motion with his finger towards her and me and the door, and then mutters as he slops liquid out of his glass.

“Fine,” I mutter, given it probably involves something to do with us but never mind us needing to be in on that. I realize as I put my hand on Katniss' shoulder how much like her that just sounded, “We should probably head out.”

“Oh, should we?” She asks.

“If you don't mind,” Haymitch waves towards the door.

“What if I do mind?”

“Katniss--” I try to take her arm, but she pulls it away from me.

“I don't much care, sweetheart,” Haymitch replies, “You can mind all you want, but just be smart and go with Peeta.”

She scoots her chair back with a loud screech and stalks by me. Portia blows me a kiss and waves as I follow Katniss out of the room.

“Oh, I wish I could slam the door!” She says, fists clenched standing a few feet into the lounge car. Flavius and Riordan turn around and look at us, “They're just so—so--!”

“Katniss...” I warn.

“No!” she rounds on me, “It's ridiculous! Don't try to take their side!”

“No, it's not that! I'm with you on this believe me!” I manage to spin her back and show her the prep teams who've paused their show to watch our little drama.

“Oh, for the love of--! Come on!” she grabs my arm, and we run through the lounge car to the excited looks of the prep team and towards the bedrooms. Somewhere during the course of dinner she re-braided her hair and the braid bounces as she runs.

She opens the door to her room and closes the door then lets out a frustrated scream and then another before she says, “I hate it when they don't tell us things!”

“Yeah, it's annoying, isn't it?” I can't help my tone given how often she leaves me out of the loop on, oh, everything.

“You have no right to say that given last night!”

“Really? That is one time compared to how many? And there were...circumstances...”

She folds her arms, “If this in some way involves why Portia was laughing earlier you did say you would explain later. This is later.”

“It was the dream I had.”

“You let me tell you about my nightmares. You can tell me about yours...”

I sit down on the bed, “It was just, mostly confusing. It brought up a lot of feelings that you're—from the games, and I got...overwhelmed a bit,” that's probably a safe way to put that. I hope, “and then I just...couldn't be in here because I was afraid something...bad might happen. I'm sorry.”

“Bad?”

“Inappropriate? Maybe that's the better word? We've had enough horrible arguments.”

“One nearly happened anyway!”

“Well, I didn't get much sleep afterwards anyway...” I shake my head, “It was 4 a.m. I wasn't exactly thinking straight.”

“Portia didn't help, acting like it was my fault.”

“In fairness it usually is your fault.”

She looks like she's going to say something but then she changes her mind, “I'm just sick of them telling us everything we have to do but keeping us out of the loop of so many things.”

“It is frustrating. Portia mentioned something earlier about things getting worse but she wouldn't go into any more when I asked her.”

Katniss sits down next to me, “Nothing?”

I shake my head, “She changed the subject on me,” I chew with whether or not I should say that it was to make sure I patched things up with Katniss, but that would probably make things worse again.

Katniss makes a low growling noise and throws herself back on the bed, “This is so annoying.”

“What do you want to do about it?” I ask her.

She sighs, holding one hand up over her face, “What I want to do is take over the train and drive it straight into Snow's mansion and run him over in his sleep, or...or...I don't even know,” she clenches her fist and drops it onto the bed by her side.

“I can see several flaws in that plan.”

“You and your logic,” she mutters, “I guess this is why Haymitch and everyone are always saying you're the smart one.”

“I suppose,” I say.

“You suppose?” She turns and looks over at me, stray wisps of hair are pulling from the hastily put together braid and criss-crossing her forehead, “Don't suppose. You knew how to play the crowd better from the start...”

“Let's not go into that,” I shake my head, “Playing the crowd doesn't win the games.”

She pulls me down so that I'm lying on the bed and she has one arm on my chest and is looking down on me. Her braid slips down from her shoulder so it's dangling towards my throat, “Alright,” she says, “Let's go through this. You say we should talk to each other, be friends, ask each other the deep stuff. Let me ask you this. If it had been you and Prim in the games do you think you'd have both been able to come home? Be honest. Honesty is best, right?”

Dear sweet Prim.

“No. I would have tried. To protect the sister of the girl I love back home, but...”

“That's not got the same spin, and I don't see you being able to turn that into star-crossed lovers...” she gives me a serious and hard glare, “Right?” her hand moves closer to my wind-pipe.

I put my hands up in defense, “there is no way that would ever cross my mind, believe me; but I—I honestly don't know if she would have made it out of the Cornucopia. You know what Clove did there. You got through that. You dodged and ducked your way through. She doesn't have that sort of practice...and we were at opposite sides. I would have probably tried to protect her and we would have both gone down, or if I didn't--”

“No, no,” Katniss says, “You would have don't try to or me just like I...” I can feel her hands shaking in their grip on me. I take hold of her and sit us up.

“It's okay.”

She shakes her whole body, removing her hands from my grip, “Ugh,” she says, closing her eyes, “I was the one who started this whole line of questioning. I should...idiot. Anyway, now. If it had gone the other way.”

“What other way?”

“If your brother had done what I did, you know, inspired by my shining example of sibling bravery and everything. Obviously not, um...” she pauses and then she smacks me.

“What?”

“Tell me your brothers' names so I stop looking like an idiot. I should know these things. I think one is Sheemi?”

“Close. Shohmi and Jeemi. Shohmi aged out a few years ago.”

“Okay, so Jeemi then. If he had decided to follow my noble example and volunteered for you, how do you think we'd have done?”

“He wouldn't have though and I wouldn't have wanted him to...” I start, well except for maybe half a minute here and there, but...I couldn't have lived with myself.

“But if he had. We're not talking about how he didn't because he's a coward.”

“Katniss—that's my brother.”

“So, that doesn't make him any less of a coward.”

“Not everyone is as headstrong as you and as I said I wouldn't have--.”

She smacks my shoulder, “Answer the question!”

“Okay! Okay! Jeemi...well, he and I are pretty evenly matched strength wise. He did beat me in the wrestling competition, but he's over-confident, like Cato...was. He cannot decorate anything so he couldn't do that in the talent showcase, no camo for him, and I think I'm safe saying he does not have my winning personality.”

“No. He does not,” Katniss remarks.

“He couldn't have said he loved you,” I tease.

“Oh, I'm sure he could have tried.”

“Of course you tried to kill me after the first time I said it, if I recall.”

She harumphs, “So, anyway, assuming he makes it out of the Cornucopia, could he talk his way in with the Careers?”

I almost choke thinking about that. There were so many things about Cato that reminded me of Jeemi, it was a big help in dealing with him once we were in the arena and not the training center. Thankfully Jeemi didn't have the crazy blood lust otherwise I wouldn't have made it to the first reaping. So, Jeemi trying to form an alliance with Cato—Jeemi thinking that he needed to form an alliance with Cato? He would have probably gone in a completely different direction, which would have potentially left Katniss stranded without the means to get the bow.

“I don't think that would have happened at all.”

“See,” she says.

“See what?”

“It's something I realized,” she says.

“What?”

“That, oh, smart one,” she taps my chest, “If it wasn't the two of us together neither of us would have gotten out, none or both. That was how it had to be,” she leans down and touches her forehead to mine, “You were right about one thing though. I'm liking it when we talk with each other.”

“I like that too,” I reply as our smiles echo each other.

 

Chapter Text

 

Her name was Farra.

Looking out at us over the crowd of people from District 5. Katniss holding tightly to my hand and I will be forever grateful for that because facing that huge portrait of her was daunting. I think it might have been worse than standing in front of Cambria and her family, no, I know it was.

Katniss nudges my arm and I look over at her and then follow her eyes. Effie is looking at me expecting an answer to something.

“I'm sorry, Effie. I missed what you said,” I give her a smile that will hopefully smooth things over.

“Honestly,” she tuts, toying with the edge of her purple wig, “Here I am trying to sort everything out and you can't even do me the courtesy of paying attention.”

“I said I was sorry, Effie.”

“Leave him alone!” Katniss snaps.

Haymitch looks over from where he's playing cards with Portia. Cinna is sketching in the corner and while he has not looked up his pencil has stopped moving.

“Well, I...” Effie starts.

“Five was rough for Peeta,” Katniss goes on, “So, if he's a bit distracted he has every right and you don't need to get attitude with him!”

“And there's no need for you to be like that with me, young lady,” Effie retorts, “Things can be explained while using manners. As I was trying to say,” she goes on with a slight huff, “given I don't know that either of you remember,” she adds the last part at a slightly lower volume, “or have even read the itinerary,” then she continues, “District 4's speech will be on a floating platform those ridiculous things are known to be unstable I wanted to be sure that we had your cane, Peeta.”

“I-I'm sure we do. Somewhere?” I look towards Portia. I really don't want to use the damn thing but it'll be better than falling on my face.

“We can just walk arm in arm,” Katniss says, “Surely that will be better? Cute and cuddly, snuggled up close?”

“Excellent idea,” Haymitch claps.

Effie nods, approvingly, “That'll play very well, actually. Good idea, Katniss.”

“Thank you,” I tell her, clasping her hand, “I'm going to go lie down.”

She looks at me an unasked question on her face, but I shake my head.

 

I shower and change and try to wash it all away, and then I sit in bed to sketch. Farra has to take her place with the others. There are no flowers or factories to draw around her, instead, given the nickname she picked up she will get a wily fox, eyes bright, like her own. It takes the top right corner of the page while she is the rest.

 

Hot, damp breath, too hot almost burning hot. I can feel the saliva dripping on me, purple with berry juice, the needle sharp teeth so close, and those bright eyes, piercing at me, so sad and so accusing as she lunges for me with the mutt mouth coming for my throat. I have to...there's nothing to grab, to hit, to stab with to get away. My leg is caught under her back foot and I can feel things tearing, blood flowing wet down my leg. I try to block her teeth with my arm.

Katniss is screaming. I can hear fighting too the sound of frustration and pain and things clanging.

Pain, burning across my arm. I feel things give and I wake up, sketchbook clattering to the floor. Katniss is still screaming.

I don't remember where I left my leg, but I at least remember I don't have it this time and don't go sprawling across the room like an idiot. I slide down the bed and then stand up and hop to the dresser, the door and then across to her door which opens. She's partly restricted by blankets that are all tangled around her. Her breath coming in shaky gasps, words here and there I can't make out.

“Katniss?!” I call from the door and then pull myself inside and over to her. I wind up kneeling by the side of the bed and call her name again, with how tangled she is though I figure I'm safe from being attacked if I touch her, “Katniss!” I reach for her shoulder, “Katniss.”

Her eyes dart open and for a moment I can tell she's still not quite here. She's frantic, searching, terrified, looking for exits and escape, but then she focuses and her expression and body relax, “Peeta,” just for a moment though, “Peeta? What?”

I move back a little, so I'm resting my arms on the edge of the bed and take some weight off my stump and put more on my actual knee, “I don't know what you did. I found you like this.”

She shifts around a little body still tangled up, and tries to sit, but winds up sort of rolling a little, and is partly on her side.

“Do you need me to help?”

“No!” she says, rolling some more.

“I think you--” I pull myself up to try and reach for something but nearly get possibly an elbow in the face, it's hard to tell from the cover-person-mess of a knot that's rolling about so I fall back all the way onto the ground and scoot a little closer to the door, “Okay, never mind.”

“I said I didn't need help!” She says, as she thuds onto the floor, followed by a shower of bed linens.

“Are you sure?” I can't help, laughing, which winds up me scooting back a bit further. The door opens and Haymitch peers into the room, some sort of meat on a stick in one hand. I hear the clunk of a bottle against the door frame. There's me on the floor, and a mess of blankets and sheets and Katniss rolling around half tied up still in sheets going, “NO! I did not beat the Hunger Games and survive half this stupid tour to be defeated by sheets now!”

“Never mind,” Haymitch whispers, “I saw nothing,” and disappears again.

“Was that Haymitch?” Katniss asks from inside the sheets.

“Which answer would you prefer?” I ask her.

“Is Haymitch there now?” she asks.

“No.”

“Good,” she says, quietly, from how her voice sounds she must be on her side and facing away from me. She's still muffled by sheets.

“Are you sure you don't want any help?” I crawl closer to her, trying to see where the tangles might be and if there's anything I can pull at or move. She doesn't seem to be tugging at anything any more and she's not the sort to just

“AH-HA!” she shouts as I'm about four inches away from her, she sits bolt up right arms planting themselves either side of my head, “Victory!”

I had this thing planned in my head where I was going to say something funny, something along the lines of “Congratulations! Katniss Everdeen, victor of the tour trains' first ever sheet games, or winner of the Victory Tour Train's first ever, something,” but then I realize she's got her mouth on mine and she's kissing me and that is actually a thing that just happened. That's not some thing going on in my head. She is actually kissing me with her mouth and my mouth and our mouths. Together.

Kissing.

We pull apart.

Think about something else. Think about something else. Haymitch. Haymitch in his three day old clothes in the stinky messy house and the crusty plates. Haymitch who might come back at any moment. There we go. I can breathe.

“Peeta?” Katniss sitting across from me, face flushed, hair loose and feathering out all around her. Her breathing is a little shaky but then so is mine.

“...yes?”

“I'm sorry—I just--”

“Don't apologize. That was...wonderfu—unless you didn't...”

“No. I did. I just...” she toys with her hair, smoothing it down, and shifts position on the floor, “Sometimes I do things right when I want to and then I think I did the wrong thing...”

“You...” Gale. Should I say that? “You're worried about things back home?” that's safer.

“There's a lot of things,” she nods, “and people expect things of me, and half the time I don't even know...what to feel...I'm so scared all the time.”

“Katniss...” I draw her to me in a hug.

“I feel like I'm constantly screwing things up.”

“That's what Snow wants. He threw the weight of the world on you.”

“On us,” she says into my shoulder.

“You were the one he went to talk—to threaten.”

She sits back on her heels for a moment I think she's going to cry, but then she shakes her head and pulls herself up on the bed and rubs her eyes with the heels of her hands.

“We've only got four more districts to go...”

“And then mentoring every game until we die,” she points out.

“Yeah...Haymitch and I argued about that a few weeks ago.”

You never get off this train,” she quotes.

I pull myself up onto the bed beside her and take her hands, “Let's just agree on something for now. We'll just take it one day at a time.”

“Til the end of the tour.”

“Okay. Til the end of the tour.”  

Chapter Text

Katniss has thoroughly wrecked her room by the time I catch up with her. She had been agitated all through dinner and everything but between various distractions of topics we managed to keep everything together. Now, she has pushed by everyone climbing back onto the train to run down the corridors and busted into her room and run out of things to hurl around.

“Katniss?” I ask, from the doorway, hesitant to go inside in case she would rather be alone, “What's wrong?”

She doesn't turn around. Her fists are clenched and her arms are shaking.

“What happened? Do you want to talk about it?” I take a few steps into the room.

“She wants to volunteer.”

“What? Who?” I close the distance between us.

“I don't know,” she says miserably, turning around to face me, arms wrapped around her body, “I don't know her name. It was when they were presenting us things...she came up to me with flowers. She told me that she wanted to volunteer like I did. I just...I just...” She puts her clenched fists against my chest.

“A lot of people from four volunteer anyway,” I try, “Just like one and two.”

I feel her fists clenching tighter and she puts her forehead against my chest as well, “That's not the point.”

“I was afraid not,” I kiss the top of her head.

“That's not something to look up to me for,” she shakes her head, “I don't want that. I don't.”

“I know.”

“I can't say that though,” She's crying. I can't see her face, but her voice is thick and hoarse and the way her shoulders are shaking is different than before when she was full of rage, “I want to get up at the microphone and shout that's a stupid idea. Don't volunteer. Don't take extra tessarae. Don't give in to them,” she hits my chest with her fists, “but that's a good way to get us all killed,” she laughs, sarcastically, and the laugh continues to a point that she's becoming panicked as much as I am. I cup her face with my hands and kiss her gently.

“There are always going to be volunteers,” I point out, “No matter what. There are a few who are noble about it and then there are the districts who breed and train freaks. Hopefully she's intending to find a noble reason,” I turn her face up to look at me, “and you won't put anyone at risk no matter how much you want to scream certain things from the roof tops.”

She sighs, “Doesn't make me feel any better.”

“What would?”

She sighs again, “I don't know,” she gets a slightly lop-sided and vaguely demented grin, “We could hijack the train and drive straight into the Capitol?”

I sit down on the bed, “We've been through before how impractical that is.”

“There you go again—ruining my fun.”

“That's me. Ruining fun with plans for staying alive.”

“How dare you?”

“Someone has to it seems.” I lean against the desk by the door.

“So, you're happy with how all this is going?” she accuses.

“Did I say that?”

“It sure sounds like that's what you're saying right now,” she mutters.

“If, and it's a huge if, you were somehow able to hijack the entire train work out how to drive it into the Capitol and assassinate Snow without being gunned down by an army of Peacekeepers what would happen then?”

She doesn't say anything.

“And if you come up with some different less showy way to get rid of him. Say, I don't know, at the big party they throw for us at the end of the tour or something else, the question is still the same. What happens to Panem? Is it going to fix things for us? For the rest of the districts?”

She stares at the wall.

“Exactly.”

“Fine!” she snaps, “Fine. I'm an idiot. I don't know anything. You're the genius. You think of something if you're so smart!”

“I wish I could,” I tell her, “but what do I know of how any of it works? They don't exactly teach us how to find people who can fix Capitol Politics and the rest of the nation in with bread and cake recipes.”

“Fine!” she says again, “So, let's just keep on doing what they say then.”

“Fine!” I retort, “We'll do that!”

“Fine!” she stands up, “Get out of my room then!”

“Fine!” I do so. She's right. It's annoying that the doors don't slam.

 

Chapter Text

 

Once again we're back on the train too early and the mood is foul. I don't know if it ties for after we got back on the train in 11 or if it's worse; but then Katniss and I could barely look at each other this morning and we'd at least patched things up a bit before we got to 11. It didn't help that we had another argument during breakfast, and I can't even remember what started that one. Oh, no, wait, Flavius brought up Katniss' cute cousin and I apparently “got a look”. Cinna took Katniss out of the room to talk to her. Portia had hissed words with Flavius in the corner before trying to get information out of me which I denied her.

Now it's Haymitch, Portia, Cinna, Katniss and I in the observation car at the end of the train. The crowd from three were shouting all sorts of helpful suggestions about us telling them what we really thought and putting down the cards which I'm sure was grating at Katniss given our fun chat last night and we wound up being rushed off stage by Peacekeepers again. We left Effie and the rest of the prep teams in the lounge car she was babbling something about clarifying plans for the end of tour party. It's only a few days away after all.

“Well, kids,” Haymitch says, “I'm sure you know this all needs work. Snow wants the districts pacified and that sure as shit isn't happening. Half the time you sound like you're--”

“--reciting lines?” I ask, “We are. You try reading the stuff Effie writes.”

“It's seeming like I'd do a better job, right now.”

“Well, then go ahead.” Katniss retorts, “Saves us doing it.”

“Come on now,” Cinna says, patting Katniss on the shoulder, “You know that's not helping.”

She leans forward and puts her head between her knees. I lean back on the sofa.

“You were doing well with the in-sync for a bit,” Portia points out, “What happened?”

“We're not a couple,” Katniss answers, exasperated, “We're trying to be friends but...”

“Oh-hoh--” Haymitch says, “That's rich from the people who've been overnighting in the same room half this trip,” he turns to Katniss, “Effie tells me you've stopped asking for sleeping pills since then,”

This is not the time to question her about sleeping pills.

“I'm so gratified our sleep excites you so much, Haymitch,” I tell him.

“Right.”

“Believe what you want,” Katniss mutters.

“None of this is helping,” Cinna says.

Katniss snorts again.

I run my hands across my face, “This can't all be on us.”

“We're not out on stage with you,” Haymitch says, “We can't hold your hands--”

“That's not what I meant!”

“There's been trouble with everything long before now, hasn't there?” I ask.

Haymitch makes a strange noise.

Cinna and Portia exchange glances. It's Cinna who speaks up, “Things between the Capitol and the districts have always been tense, but I really don't think I have to repeat to you two the heat that was stoked when you two threatened suicide with the berries.”

“Stupid berries,” Katniss mutters.

I reach for her hand and she finally looks up properly, “You saved our lives.”

“I know, but if we wind up destroying everything...” she has a point and it cuts me deeply with it's truth. Neither of us want a war but it's back to that what else can we do?

“What more do they want from us?” I ask, “We have interviews coming up with Caesar anyway don't we? Talking about how wonderful and in love and happy we are...”

“Thanks to the glory of the Capitol,” Portia chimes in.

I give her a sideways look. She puts her fingers in the corner of her mouth and pulls them up into a fake smile. I stick my tongue out but I don't think it comes off quite so amiable.

“We could get married,” Katniss says.

I feel as though I was just punched.

“Hm,” Haymitch says.

“You're the one who says we never get off this train, right?” she continues, “They're going to expect it sooner or later so why not now?” I feel as though the train might open up and I'll fall through onto the tracks and never be seen again, “Do you think that would distract the districts and appease President Snow?”

“It might,” Haymitch nods.

“People do love a wedding,” Cinna agrees.

“All the designs and such, especially the dresses,” Portia looks to Cinna there's a twinkle in her eye as she elbows him.

Katniss rolls her eyes.

I think of my parents so many years resenting and hating each other. I need to get out of here, “Fine, lets do that,” I get up and leave before I suffocate in front of them.

 

When she knocks on the door I'm the one who has been crying. I didn't want anything like this. I had thought we would have time if this was going to happen. Time to become friends, time to come to a decision together to make arrangements, something. Right now we're too much at odds. It's too painful. I keep seeing and hearing arguments between my parents. The insults and battles. Spoons and rolling pins hurled and wielded, flat pans too, fists and words at him, at us. This whole situation is so screwed up.

I don't want to let her in but we have so little time left on this particular train and so much that we have to launch ourselves into, for the rest of our life.

“Peeta, I'm so sorry,” she says, as soon as the door slides open and I move to the side to let her in, “I know you didn't want it like this.”

I shake my head, “You don't even want it at all. Marriage shouldn't be like this,” I have to walk away from her across the room.

“Maybe, it won't be so bad,” she tries.

“Really?” I ask her.

“You were hoping we might.”

“I can't say I didn't,” I tell her, “but it wasn't there on my list of constants. We've barely had a chance to be friends. You have whatever history you have with Gale. I had hoped that—if—if this was going to happen it would be years down the road when we'd had more chance...” I shake my head. I don't know what I'm doing with my hands, “to see...to come up with arrangements if we weren't going to be...”

“Don't talk to me about Gale right now.”

“That was what you took from that?”

“I feel guilty enough about this whole thing.”

Thanks,” I mutter.

“Oh, that makes it better!” She snaps.

“What do you want me to say?” I ask her, “You already know how I feel about this whole thing. I don't want us to end up, ugh.”

“End up ugh?”

“Pretty accurate in a way,” I say, “If you grew up in the house I did you'd understand that one.”

“That's not very fair,” she says, “You know what happened to my father!”

“I do, and I'm sorry, but you don't know my parents. I don't want to be in a marriage like theirs. One that is full of hate and anger. I mean I don't want to be forced into a marriage, period.”

“Neither do I but what choice do we have?”

“I know. I already said I'd go along with it. I just. You need to understand.”

“And so do you,” she says, putting her arms around my waist and resting her head against the back of my shoulder, “I am sorry. I don't want to hurt you. I know I did. I don't like doing it but I believe that we can get through this together. We need to sort out how best we're going to do this for impact and all that stupid stuff, and that means we're going to have to talk with the rest of the team.”

I put my hands on her hands, “Okay. Okay.” I turn around and hug her properly, “We can go back out there after I wash my face.”

“No, it's fine,” she says, “We're going to talk about things over breakfast tomorrow. So, why don't you just take a shower, and I'll take a shower, wash all the horror off us and I'll meet you back here and we can have our illicit and naughty sleeping arrangement in your room tonight?” 

Chapter Text

We barely have time to breathe between 1 and 2 it feels as if everything blurs together into one mass of pain and discontent. Cato sneering out at us from over the crowd of District 2. I'm not sure if seeing him shakes Katniss or I up the most. I remember throwing him into the others to get away after he slashed my leg open, and him trying to choke the life out of me on top of the Cornucopia, and his screams from the mutts echoing in and out of the fever until Katniss shot him.

Katniss had some nightmares despite me being there the night before 1. She clung to me crying not fully awake and when I talked and kissed her to consciousness confessed she was wrecked from the fact she had killed both of them Glimmer and the boy.

“I don't even know his name. I'm sure they said.”

“Marvel,” I tell her, though that seems to make things worse for a moment, and I hold her until she's calmed down again.

“I don't want to do it. I don't want to do it,” she tells me, shaking her head against my chest.

“I'll do the speech.”

“We have to both participate.”

“Who cares? It's the last one.”

“I'll be fine by tomorrow afternoon,” she decides, “I survived the arena I can...” her voice trembles a little and she loses the rest of the sentence.

I take her hands, “You can do anything, and I'll be right there with you.”

 

We make it through and then it's just the plotting for the Big Proposal. We have the interview with Caesar before the we start going to all the parties and that's going to be when it happens. We know Caesar will eat it up, and we know it'll be broadcast all over.

Then we have party after party and appearance after appearance before the big party at President Snow's mansion; another thing that we seem to both be dreading, but they have to be done.

Cinna and Portia have sorted out exactly which outfits we should wear to talk to Caesar and we have ideas of when in the interview might be good times to fit the proposal in to the happenings. I still feel sick at the idea but this is what we must do. Cinna takes Katniss into the next room to verify her measurements for the clothes she'll be wearing tomorrow for the interview and the dress for the first of the parties that evening.

“Chin up,” Portia rubs my leg, “It's not that bad.”

“I know. I could have to marry Haymitch.”

“There you are,” she laughs, “Though I mean if you sober him up he might not be so bad.”

I shake my head, “That's not...” I'm not getting into Haymitch and the sickness. She doesn't need to hear about that.

“You seem like you've come to terms...” she says.

“We've made peace,” I tell her, “to a point. I mean...we'll stay alive. Our families will stay alive,” I sigh, “We'll just have to...see what happens when we get back to 12. I'm trying not to think about that part.”

“Your parents won't understand?” she asks.

“I don't think that will really matter. I was more thinking about people on Katniss' side.”

“Oh, right. The 'cousin'.” Portia nods.

“Gale, yes. We've had our differences and he and Katniss have known each other a long time so, I don't know what's going to happen. I'm sure he won't be happy at all. He said some things to me before we left and he was upset enough about the cave. Her Mom will probably understand the reasons though.”

She pats me on the head, “You know what you're going to say?”

“I have some ideas. I'm a bit better on the day too.”

“Well, there we are then,” she says and toys with her portfolio, “You guys will be fine.”

“We don't have to move in with each other right when we get back, at least.”

The theory is that they'll expect us to get married as part of the Quarter Quell events, so that gives us six months to come to some sort of accord. Maybe if she wants to be with Gale...we can work things out. People do that, don't they? And we can make sure the Capitol doesn't find out. Hopefully. And not all be made an example of.

“You're chewing through things in your head, aren't you?” Portia asks.

I nod.

“Well, stop it,” she pokes me in the arm, “Haven't you said you're doing this trip one day at a time? Chewing through things isn't doing that.”

“I know.”

“Good then.”

Cinna brings Katniss back into the room. She has an expression on her face that suggests she's been brooding about things as well. He has his arm around her shoulders and escorts her to a seat and kisses the top of her head, “We'll get you guys through this, don't worry,” he says, “as painless as we can.”

“Thank you, Cinna,” Katniss says, “It's good to have someone on our side.”

“Always,” he says.

“Damn right,” Portia echoes, kissing her middle three fingers.  

Chapter Text

 

“That was wonderful!” Caesar enthuses, hugging Katniss again, which is a good distraction. She was watching where President Snow had disappeared off to. Neither of us had expected him to appear but he had apparently been waiting in the wings to remind everyone about the celebration at his mansion, so now he was able to congratulate us about our upcoming nuptials and generally unnerve the whole situation, “Come here! Come here!” Caesar puts his arm out to me and grabs me into the hug as well, “Both of you are so delicious. Thank you for letting me share that moment.”

“You're welcome,” I manage to get out from underneath the hug.

Someone on the side of the set starts talking about getting everyone clear for some other kind of broadcast and he has to release us then, and is ushered away by his own prep team. Effie and Haymitch are waving at us from the other side of the set so we make our way over there.

“I vote we make a break for it that way,” Katniss mutters, indicating a door out of the way, “but I don't think I can run in these damn shoes.”

“Just kick them off in the direction of anyone who tries to stop us. Good distraction.”

“Good point. Weapons.”

“That was good. That went well,” Effie says, patting at Katniss' skirts, “Everyone was so excited. You brought tears to my eyes, Peeta.”

“Yeah, it was good,” is all Haymitch says, but he does slap me on the shoulder fairly hard as we're walking out of the studio and back towards the dressing area. We pick up Cinna and Portia along the way. Cinna has shoes for Katniss to change into. He made the dress in such a way that she could take the top layer off fairly quickly and be in trousers, and that happens as we're walking and she's in comfortable shoes and a slightly better mood.

“President Snow seemed very happy,” Effie continues, as we're ushered into the car to go towards the train station, “I should think things will be well for now, but we must get on, only two and a half hours to get ready for the lunch gather by the time we get back. Will that be enough time?”

“We'll be fine,” Portia assures her, “The prep teams went ahead to set things out to be ready so everything's prepared to do turn around in time for the Presidential Ball.”

Katniss and I find ourselves shuddering into each others' shoulders, “Just let this night be over,” she murmurs.

“Soon. Soon enough.”

 

Oh, the ball. A ball to end all balls. The food that could probably feed the lower four districts for the whole year, twice. It's amazing to see such a banquet laid out table after table all throughout the room. If the party after the 74th Games was lavish this is extravagant, gaudy and exorbitant but then the “Lethal Lovers” are getting married so a statement must be made.

Katniss and I enter together arm and in arm and she seems genuinely excited compared to practically depressed from earlier but there's no opportunity to discuss that when all eyes and dozens of cameras are upon us.

“I think I want to taste everything!” she says, eyes lighting up.

It's so unusual to see her so enlightened I wonder for a moment if someone else is in her body but I just warn her that she better pace herself and she agrees to just try a bite of each dish and we head out towards the first of the buffet tables where the soups are and people begin introducing themselves. Then it becomes a whirlwind of faces and words people babbling about their excitement for us, and speaking of their favorite parts of the games and how they felt when they heard my proposal, when they saw Katniss accept, wanting to show Mockingjay mementos they've bought for themselves, belt buckles, tattoos that they've got to commemorate the pin, so many ugly sights that evening I begin to feel sick even before Octavia suggests we make ourselves throw up in order to eat more food.

Thankfully we find ourselves back on the train and away from everything after what seems like an eternity and also soon enough given this is the end of the ride. We'll be back in 12 with who knows what waiting for us on the other side.

After I'm stripped of all the make-up and Capitol glitz and glamour I make my way to Katniss' room to knock on the door to be sure she's ready for me. She's in the corridor in the gray tank top and long gray pants and she's wearing her hair in two braids the way Prim does. I haven't seen her with that hair style in years.

“How are you feeling?” I ask.

“Conflicted,” she says, “I just...I don't know that we've done enough—but I don't want to think about it.”

“What do you mean?”

“I said I don't want to—Snow,” she admits, “there was something he did at the interview seemed like he wasn't as happy as we hoped about the engagement, like it wasn't enough.”

“Great.”

“You asked,” she says.

“Well, we have time,” I say, “and there's all the preparation and things that they want to subject us to,” which sounds possibly dreadful and disgusting, “We shouldn't be at risk right now though, focus at that. We're safe, therefore our families are safe.”

“Yeah,” she says, “There's that,” she hugs me then, “I do want us to be safe. I want us all to be safe; but I sometimes think we'd be better running off.”

“To where?”

“I don't know exactly...” she sighs, “I haven't fully...forget it,” she turns to go back to her room, “Just leave me alone for a bit, okay?”

“Okay.”

 

A couple of hours later I join her. She's already asleep, but I slip off the leg and slip in beside her. A lot of the time if I come in and she's fallen asleep by herself she's tossing and turning, but tonight she's peaceful. I nestle her head under my arm, and must slip off myself eventually because when I wake up it's light outside. I wonder how close to home we are, but I don't want to move to find out because I risk waking her and she's still asleep.

I realize I want to stay on the train. If I could freeze this moment it would be amazing. Twelve looms again and it's potential for doom. In twelve there's no sleeping in the same bed, which has been wonderful and comforting. It's back to the empty house and the couch and the interrupted sleep. The awkwardness and the misunderstandings, and who knows how everyone there will take the marriage proposal? The reasons we did it?

It's too much to think about.

There's not much time left. I'll take it every minute that it comes. I brush the hair away from her face and kiss her forehead. Just for now we're at peace and I'll take it.