The teeth snap at my ankles. I yelp and scrabble higher but my hands seem coated with oil. Or sweat. When I look, in the pale light of the moon, I see its blood. Blood keeping me from climbing higher than the mutts can jump.
“Peeta!” I scream. “Peeta!”
I know he’s up there, on top of the Cornucopia, but he doesn’t reply. I scream his name once more and reach my hand up. A mutt barely misses the heel of my shoe. My fingers brush something.
I grab his hand but something is wrong. It is cold, limp. The mutt below makes another powerful leap…
I jolt awake. The side of my bed is empty. I frown - Peeta never ignores my cries. Never. He’d be in here by now unless I was having one of my childish snits and locked him out. Always locking him out. I slip out of bed. The train’s rocking motion makes me sway on my feet although some of my unsteadiness comes from the most recent nightmare.
My bedroom door is unlocked.
I step out into the hall. There I no way I can go back to sleep tonight. Not without Peeta by my side. With certainty, I know I’ll find him awake. Peeta spends much of the night roaming the train; like Haymitch, most of his sleeping happens during the day in short cat naps. I make it to the common car, but he’s not there in front of the television. Sometimes, he goes outside, balancing precariously, especially with his leg, between two rocking cars. I pause, quiet my breathing and think only of him. I can sense he’s somewhere inside. He wasn’t restless enough tonight to go outside. In his absence, I decide to get some warm milk. As I enter the dining car, I see a thin beam of light under the door leading to the kitchen.
I push the door open. His back is to me, clad in a white t-shirt. He is sitting on a stool, his prosthetic leg angled out from under the counter where he sits. He keeps that left leg stretched out as much as he can. Despite the miracles the Capitol doctors can work, Peeta claims the leg never feels right- aches mysteriously or feels like pins and needles are pricking him. It is one of the few things he complains about.
He hasn’t heard me come in so I continue to watch him. He’s filled out again since the Games - the muscles in his back ripple under the shirt - and I feel my temperature rise a bit, my cheeks flush. I’ve kissed Peeta a million times. He has held me in his arms all night and stroked my hair to soothe me and yet, watching him like this, makes me feel like I am invading a secret moment of his.
His hand reaches to the box beside him and I catch a glimpse of a small brightly colored object being lifted out. I take another step forward and reach my hand out, trail my fingers lightly down the back of his hair.
“Katniss,” he whispers.
“How did you know?” I tease. He still hasn’t turned around, fixated on the object in his hands.
“Well, Effie makes announcements. Haymitch sends forth a fog of white liquor vapors and you,” he pauses. “I’d recognize you even if I was deaf, dumb and blind.”
I pull my hand back. His words unnerve me as always. Peeta never hides, unlike me, but I blame that on my years of hunting.
“What are you doing?” I peer over his shoulder. He turns quickly. Our noses brush and I feel the ghost of his lips before I move away again. I also ignore the small sigh that escapes him before he opens his cupped hands.
Nestled there is the most perfect tiger lily with a few drops of dew on its petals
That’s when I notice the array of paintbrushes and small pots on the counter before him and a bowl of clear liquid over a small flame.
“Is that…is that real?” My eyes widen in wonder.
Peeta laughs softly and holds the flower to my lips. I press them closed but sniff at it.
Sugar. The flower is pure sugar. I put out one finger and touch a petal. It is hard and unyielding.
“It’s royal icing,” Peeta explains. “You can make anything with it and it will never spoil though it’s incredibly delicate.”
“It’s beautiful,” I tell him. His eyes meet mine and I know what he wants to say but this time he keeps quiet.
“So what brings you here?” Peeta puts the flower down and begins tidying up his supplies.
“I had another nightmare,” I don’t mean to do it but even I can hear the accusatory tone in my voice as if it is his fault I am tormented in my sleep.
“I’m sorry,” Peeta replies.
“I knew you wouldn’t be sleeping.” Again that tone! What is wrong with me? “So I came looking for you.”
“Seems to be a pattern of yours,” Peeta grins, refusing to take the bait. “Well, you’ve found me so now what?”
My mouth opens but no words come out. Peeta swivels on the stool and clasps his hands between his legs. His expression is expectant.
“I…” I begin. “I wanted…I need…” My hands flail about and Peeta grabs hold of my wrists. I slide my hands down his forearms, twining our arms together. He raises his eyebrows in anticipation but I can’t seem to find the words. When no explanation comes from me, Peeta gives a slight tug on our arms and pulls me between his spread knees.
“What do you need, Katniss?” He leans in. His cheek brushes mine and my knees tremble. I open my mouth again. I want to tell him I need his warmth, the strength of his arms around me.
“I need to sleep,” I say. It is the completely wrong thing to say and I know it the instant the words leave my mouth. Peeta tenses around me then leans back.
“Is that all?” I’ve never seen him look at me with such an expression. There is no warmth in it, no twinkle of mischief, not even a hint of anger. His eyes are completely neutral. My heart thuds in my chest and I realize how frightened I am to lose this boy with the bread.
“Peeta…” I begin but he eases off the stool and heads across the kitchen. His limp is more pronounced at night since he is tired from the strain of an unnatural limb. I watch his movements without registering exactly what he is doing. In a few short moments, my hands are warmed once more. Not by Peeta, but by the mug of warm spiced milk he places there before going out the swinging door.
The next morning, I am in such a foul mood I actually consider not leaving my compartment. I barely got two hours of sleep last night between the fear of what waits in my dreams and Peeta’s obvious frustration with me. Eventually, I shower and dress and head for breakfast. Hopefully, there is some way we can work this out.
No one is in the dining car but Effie. I can’t hide the expression on my face and I am so tired that the color of her hair stabs at my eyes. How does Haymitch stand feeling like this every morning?
“Good morning Katniss.” Effie chirps though her eyes widen at my appearance. I grumble a reply at her and she turns back to her clipboard though I catch her muttering the words “rudeness,” “ill-mannered” and “insufferable.” I shovel in a few spoonfuls of hot grain laced with maple syrup, almonds and crunchy bits I can’t identify before Effie speaks again.
“Katniss, I am glad to see that you took my little talk with you seriously.”
I look at Effie at a complete loss.
“About you and Peeta,” She continues then drops her voice. “Sleeping together.”
For some reason, my eyes fill but she keeps talking. Oblivious as always. “I really didn’t know what I was going to do about all the gossip on the train about you two, but seeing you here on your own this morning and Peeta earlier…”
“Wait,” I interrupt. “You saw Peeta? Where?”
Before she can answer, Haymitch stumbles into the dining car, sloshing Bloody Mary over the back of his hand.
“Dammit,” he swears and Effie blanches.
“Haymitch, please. Your language.”
Haymitch is about to sail into her when he notices me sitting there. The sneer on his face appears instantly.
“There isn’t enough damage control in the world for you.” Haymitch informs me.
“What is that supposed to mean?” I snap.
Effie tries to intervene, “Haymitch, have you seen Peeta this morning?”
Haymitch takes a slow sip of the bright red drink and continues to glare at me.
“As a matter of fact, I have,” he tells Effie.
“Where is he?” She and I say simultaneously.
“I’ll tell you as soon as she leaves the room,” Haymitch gestures at me. I drop the spoon I am holding. Blood pounds in my ears. Haymitch has no right to get involved in this…whatever this is that is going on between me and Peeta at the moment. I stand so quickly, my chair falls over backward. Effie jumps at the sound.
“You know what, Haymitch?” I snarl. “You can go f…”
“Katniss!” Effie yelps. “Manners at all times. I will not have you using that language no matter who is antagonizing you at the moment.”
I whirl to face her, trying so hard to keep the tears in my eyes but Haymitch isn’t done with me yet.
“We had an agreement, sweetheart and so far you are not living up to your end of the bargain.”
“I don’t even know what that means?” My voice cracks.
Haymitch advances toward me until only the table separates us. Effie has begun gathering up her papers but whether it is to flee or throw herself between me and Haymitch, I can’t really tell.
“I just need to talk to him,” I am getting myself back under control.
“From what I gather you said more than enough last night,” Haymitch’s sarcasm makes me want stab him in the eye with my cereal spoon right now. “You leave that boy alone today.”
“Fine,” I back up from the table. “I’ll talk to him at our next stop.”
“Oh there are no more stops until we get to the Capitol,” Effie informs me. “I’m afraid we are up for a few days of uninterrupted travel.”
I groan, “You’re kidding, right?”
“Katniss,” Effie smiles sweetly. “When have you ever known me to joke about scheduling?”
I really don’t know how he did bit but somehow, Peeta has managed to avoid me for a whole day on a train!
By the time Cinna finds me, I am so agitated my hands are actually shaking and I’ve managed to twist out a substantial amount of the hair in my braid. It lay in a sad pile on the coffee table before me. I am back in the common room, but no one is around until Cinna comes in. I don’t even acknowledge him.
“Do you want to talk about it?” He asks.
I ignore him and pull more hair out.
“Katniss,” Cinna covers the hand mutilating my hair with his own. “You’ve been stomping around this train all day. Octavia is beside herself with fright.”
“I don’t really care, Cinna.”
He leans back next to me on the sofa. “You know, Flavius is pretty talented but even he can’t do much with a bald head.”
I laugh. I can’t help it- my prep team has a hard enough time with me.
I sigh, “It’s just, this morning, Haymitch…”
Cinna wags a finger at me, “Oh no, Katniss, you aren’t going to pin this one on Haymitch.” I blink at him. “I have noticed you’ve been by yourself today.” I bite my lip; Cinna has always made me honest. “That and Peeta has spent a considerable amount of time throwing and breaking things today.”
“You’ve seen him?” I perk up. “Where is he?”
“Portia told me,” Cinna explains. “A train like this, with all these people on it and all these comforts generates a lot of trash so Peeta has been in the service cars breaking down boxes and pallets once the supplies are emptied. It’s quite a sight, she said.”
I gaze down at my hands, deeply ashamed that I’ve managed to finally drive Peeta into a rage.
“Where is this service car?” I ask. “I have to go talk to him.” I stand up but Cinna pulls me back down.
“And just what are you going to say to him?”
I shrug, “I don’t know. Peeta’s the one with the silver tongue not me. I just…I just don’t want him to ever look at me like that again, like he did last night.”
“And how was that?’ Cinna prompted.
“Like I wasn’t even there,” This time a tear does manage to slip down my cheek. “I can’t take that.”
Cinna sits quietly beside me. I sniffle a bit and brush the tear away. I give him a watery smile.
“Haymitch told me I could live a thousand lifetimes and still never deserve Peeta. He’s right, you know.”
Cinna actually gives a little snort, “Katniss, the citizens of the Capitol are ridiculous. They color their skin, wear absurd clothing, tattoo patterns and flowers all over themselves in a never ending quest for pleasure. They are always searching for that one thing that is going to satisfy them.”
I draw my brows together and shake my head. Cinna’s lost me. For the first time since meeting him, I feel like he doesn’t understand me either.
“You’re the other extreme,” Cinna breaks into my despair. “You can’t punish yourself enough.”
“Yes,” Cinna nods. “You punish yourself for your poverty; because your father died; because Rue died; because your feelings for Gale are conflicted; because your feelings for Peeta aren’t.”
My eyes widen and I don’t like what Cinna is saying. Hunters hide and camouflage. It’s just what we do. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I get off the couch and head for the door.
It seems as if the train is riding through an endless tunnel. I won’t sleep again tonight. I can’t face what waits behind my eyelids, particularly knowing that Peeta won’t save me. I sigh and climb off the window ledge. This train is so silent - no clack of wheels or whistle. There is only the slight vibration to remind me that I am not stationary. I can’t stay in my compartment. The walls close in around me so I head out to the hall. I wonder if I will encounter any of the other night wanders: Haymitch. The attendants. Peeta.
I walk, encased in the silence of the train. It’s like a tomb.
I enter another car when I hear the noise. It’s soft, low but definitely a sound of distress. I head toward it and find myself in front of Peeta’s door. I tap lightly on it.
It has grown quiet on the other side of the door. Perhaps he’s fallen asleep. I stare at the door, tired of the separation that has occurred today. Tired of feeling like there is always something between us and, selfishly, on some level, I am just simply tired.
I grab hold of the doorknob and it turns easily in my hand. I ease the door open. Peeta’s room is dimly lit- he doesn’t sleep in total darkness. I startle when I realize he isn’t sleeping, but sitting up in bed.
“You’re awake,” I whisper.
“So are you.” He replies and then in typical Peeta fashion, he waits. His calm angers me again. He’s always so controlled, always knows his next move. Well, I can play that game too.
“I heard a noise,” I explain. “But as long as you’re alright,” I break off my words and start to pull the door closed.
“Yes?” I peer around the door.
Peeta is the magician with words. As sure-footed as I am in the forest so he is with emotions. “You’re never going to say it,” Peeta smooths the covers that are pooled across his lap. “So I will.”
I step into his room, closer to the bed. Peeta takes a deep breath.
“I need you, Katniss. I need you here to keep the nightmares away.”
“Is that all?” I scoff though why I am still standing where I am instead of wrapping Peeta’s arms around me, I’ll never know.
He shakes his head, laughing before pulling the covers back for me. I go for slow measured steps but end up scrambling in next to him. Peeta curls himself around me, brushes his lips along the rim of my ear before his breathing becomes light and easy.
I lay there in the dim light so like the cave in the Games and relish the strength I get from Peeta.
“I’ll always want you, Katniss. Always.”
I smile though he can’t see me.
One less nightmare to worry about tonight.