They stand together in front of District 12. Victors. Or something.
(It’s so obvious, it doesn’t bear iteration.
She leaves his hand first.)
“For god's sake, girl,” Haymitch tells her, when they’re about to be crowned “smile out there. You’re in love.”
“And don’t forget your lines,” Effie adds, tousling her hair just a little bit more, to give it the right audience-appeal, “you’ve already caused me severe indigestion with your exhibitionist cave-antics, better make that worth my while now.”
(Neither of them tell him to remember his lines, to not mess up being in love with her in front of the cameras. They all know, he’s just as much in love with her in front of them, as he is in this green-room, as he was in the cave, as he has been from the time her hair was in two braids instead of one.
Which, if he thinks of it, is kind of sad.)
It’s not that he hadn’t objectively realized that everything was staged. That everything he’d done, everything he’d said had been for the benefit of the public glued to their screens, even if he hadn’t meant for it to be. That everyone must have seen the worship in his eyes, the hunger in his hands, the trembling of his mouth against her skin.
The thought makes him sick.
But she’d kissed him, and it felt—
—real. It felt real. He could work with that.
“What did you hallucinate about?” he asks her. His leg still stings a little every time he puts pressure on it, but it’s bearable.
They’re walking through the woods and it’s too quiet and he can hear the hammering in his chest much too loud and maybe if he talks, at least she won’t.
She hesitates for a second, and for no particular reason he thinks; he’s never seen Katniss cry, “Father.” she pauses, looks past him, “mother. Prim,” she turns to look back and, unexpectedly, smiles, “you.”
“I wasn’t,” he forces the words out, “a hallucination. I was there.”
She’s still smiling, and for no particular reason he thinks; he’s never seen Katniss smile like that, “I know.”
(When the wasp bit him, he’d hallucinated about her. Not his mother, not his father, not the glory of the fight, not the District he was fighting for, nothing. Her.
Because he's always known this; he’s not valiant, he’s not honorable, he’s definitely not a hero; he’s just in love.
She’d been crouching further away. Further than in his memories. Further than she had been all those times he’d replayed the scene, night after night, in his head. In his house. In this battle-field.
It’s different because, as he tries to protect the loaf of bread with his arms, he can feel the rain seep through his clothes and make rivulets down his skin.
But the real difference is, even though she’s further away, and he’s stumbling, dizzy with the poison that his mind can’t comprehend and it’s raining harder than it actually was that day; this time, he walks to her.)
When she kisses him, desperate, frantic, lost, and he can taste the fear that he’s going to die on her tongue, he’s hard.
It’s so laughable; he would actually have laughed if he had the strength left to. He’s about to die and he still can’t so much as control his body from wanting her. That has to be a whole new level of pathetic. Even for him.
“Sorry,” he says.
“It’s okay,” she whispers, resting her head against the crook of his arm. She’s half on top of him, her leg warm against his cock, and it strikes him; she’s trying to hide his arousal from the people watching.
He forgets, sometimes.
It makes her desirable, he can hear Haymitch say in his head. What it makes him, is probably a fool.
She shifts her leg a little, inadvertently, and he bites his lip hard enough to drawn blood, his breathing erratic enough that he's almost certain she can feel the uneven vibrations of his chest; and when she shivers slightly and moves in closer, he thinks he might come from just that.
(He wonders if that other boy back home can tell. Maybe it is because he spent so much of his time looking at her, that he could tell when she spent much of her time looking at someone else. The other boy had always been in the periphery of his fixed gaze on Katniss, he remembers, because he’d always been with her, the only one in the line of her vision. Something like thrice removed from his reality.
He wonders if Gale is watching.)
When they’re about to move out, and she’s washing up by the stream, he finds a note near the container.
You call that a kiss?
He tears it up and lets the pieces float to the ground.
He forgets, sometimes.
(The thing, he’s starting to learn is this; there are no victors in this war. There are the losers and there are the dead.)
On the ride back— home, he pushes himself to say the word, home— she comes to his cabin at night.
“Can’t sleep?” he shifts aside to make room for her, and wonders if she can tell how practiced the gesture is. How much he wants to pretend that this is something he can do. Make space for her on his bed and maybe she’ll come in and this time there’d be no cameras trained on him and he can touch her as he’s always wanted to. Make her cry out loud because, except him, nobody’s listening.
Maybe this time he can fall to his knees and worship her like he’s silently, visibly, been doing all this while with hooded eyes and clumsy hands in front of millions of viewers. This time, maybe, he can put on the show for her.
“No,” she says. She sits on the opposite end of the bed and draws the blanket towards herself; her feet against his bare skin are cold. She feels frozen to the touch.
(He doesn’t feel real. Something like being constructed out of a child’s mismatched blocks. He doesn’t fit anymore.
He’s the one who’s hurt people. Killed people. Home has not changed; he has.
He wonders if his eyes are colder.)
He gets up from his side and walks over to her. He can feel her shivering when he wraps his arms around her. This time it’s not the cold, he knows.
She doesn’t stop shaking. He holds her through the night, wishes he could warm her up. If nothing else, he wants to be able to do this for her. Just this. Goddammit.
It’s so obvious, it doesn’t bear repetition.
She leaves his hand first.
(In his head he can see her smile at him; don’t be stupid, Peeta. It doesn’t mean anything. We couldn’t have held hands forever, obviously.
Even in his head he can’t bring himself to say it; I could.)