A/N: My first foray into the brilliant Hunger Games universe. Enjoy the read; review if you'd like!

Always,
Mina


Katniss is cradling her arm when she stumbles through the door. She passes Peeta, unseeing, and at first he thinks that she's found some kind of animal, but when he notices the drops of blood on the floor and hears her crashing around in the bathroom, dread shoots through his throat, suffocating and hot.

"Peeta?" she calls, her voice loud with panic.

The bread he had been cutting is left forgotten. He all but runs to the bathroom, horrible images from the Games storming his mind. Katniss is fine, he has to tell himself. She's fine. What is left to hurt her?

It's the smell that gets him first, thick and coppery, and then he comprehends the deep red blood ringing the porcelain sink. Her left forearm is slit from wrist to elbow, the skin ragged at the edges. When she looks up at him, he's caught off guard by the wide-eyed fear he'd only before seen in her prey. It looks like she'd tried to make a tourniquet out of a ripped sleeve, but the soaked scraps are falling off of her arm. She is drenched.

Peeta pulls his shirt over his head, balls it up, and places it on the cut. He takes her right hand and pushes it against the temporary bandage. This is the closest he's been to her in a week. She smells like the woods and primrose and he tries not to let her pained whimper get to him; she has chosen to show him this weakness, to come to him for help, and he can't allow himself to get caught up in the way his heart misses her closeness.

"Keep pressure on it. Try to hold it up. I'll be right back," he assures her, dashing out to retrieve the med kit he keeps underneath the kitchen sink. He burns and cuts himself more than he'd like to admit, so it's stocked with expensive materials from the old Capitol. Depending on it irritates him - he'd much rather use the ointments that Katniss creates - but these work so much quicker when he needs the relief.

She's slumping against the wall when he returns, her arm held up by the tall sink spigot.

"Come on, Katniss. Stay with me," Peeta says, trying to keep her conscious. Dumping the contents of the med kit on the floor, he grabs the antibacterial and a second-skin bandage and places them on the cupboard next to the toilet. Katniss watches him as he peels his damp shirt away from her arm.

He has enough time to hide his horror with a well-placed chuckle. "Well, we've certainly seen worse," he says, and it's true, they have, but most of those people are dead. The delicate white of her bone peeks through the pooling blood, torn muscles, and veins. About the intricacies of the human body he knows little; he knows how life is conceived, how to stay alive, and how to kill, but fixing is beyond his knowledge. He has never felt so helpless. Katniss kept him alive throughout the duration of the Games, patched his leg up with steady hands, saved him from the wretched hands of Snow, and now he flounders when she needs him?

Katniss sees this in his eyes, takes pity on him. "Do you have a needle and some thread?"

Peeta nods and leaves the room. It takes a focused effort to breathe. Finding the thread takes too long, but Katniss is still standing when he gets back, even gives him a small smile.

He does not deserve her.

"Thread it," she tells him. "Make small crosses. Try not to attach thin skin, it'll rip through and open."

With short breaths, she holds her arm so that the two jagged edges come together. It's easier to look at if he thinks of it not as her body, but as a piece of meat or dough or clothing, as if he is painting this image on canvas, as if it is static and not a part of Katniss. He leans over her arm, needle in hand. The copper in the air presses on the back of his tongue.

"What happened?" he asks her just as he pushes the needle through her skin.

She inhales through her teeth. After a tense moment, she says, "I was making a trap." A pause as he makes another incision, then quickly pulls the thread through. "It was for bigger animals. Deer. It was one Gale showed me."

Peeta nods. His eyes are on his work, but he is surprised to hear no emotion in her words. No sadness, no wistfulness for Gale. Though Peeta suspects that she is stubbornly in control of herself at the moment, he expected to hear at least a little fondness for her old friend, not a simple retelling of facts.

"I used my knife," Katniss says as Peeta makes the second cross. "For the trap. It was supposed to spring forward when a certain string was stepped on."

"And you stepped on it."

"I… haven't gotten much sleep," she admits. "I thought I placed it nearby. The knife sprung like it was supposed to. It sliced me. I tried to wrap the cut but I was losing a lot of blood and I was about two miles from the fence."

He makes four more crosses - smaller ones, to tighten the gap - before he feels her slipping. With a hand on her waist, he crouches, helps her sit on the floor and lean against the bathtub. For a moment, she keeps her hand splayed against his bare shoulder, her fingers warm and damp against his skin. Their eyes meet. The silver of her irises are less like steel and more like the color of sunlit storm clouds; she stares at him, unguarded, for the first time in what feels like a year. It makes him feel like himself again. He is thankful for whatever luck he has been granted that he hasn't had an episode yet.

She presses his chest. "Thank you."

"Of course," he says. He wants to touch her face, brush her hair from her neck, tell her that she's going to be okay, that he's going to make it better, but she looks away. He closes his eyes and tells himself not yet.

They continue in silence. Peeta goes slowly, and though Katniss probably wants it over and done with, she doesn't comment. When the pain gets to be too much, she grips his knee or bites her lip, but not a sound escapes her, and he's for that he is thankful. If she started crying, he would break.

When he's finished, her arm looks like a hem sewn by a child. Portia would be appalled. It's the best he could do. Peeta washes his hands, spreads ointment onto a bandage, and places it carefully over her stitches, making sure it's secure. As he goes about wiping the blood from various surfaces, Katniss sits against the tub, her eyes shut, her arm once again cradled against her body. She looks so young. Burned, bruised, bloodied, and scarred far more than any one person should ever be, here she sits, alive, every day a monument of strength.

Peeta leans down and gently picks her up. She doesn't protest. Her body sags against his, and he is careful, so careful, not to jostle her as he maneuvers down the hall and up the stairs to his bedroom. He sits her on the end of the bed and pulls her boots off, her socks, then glances at her. Her eyes are closed. Heart drumming, he reaches for her belt buckle and the tie of her pants.

She is still. He's relieved. He wasn't sure what it was like with her stylist team, but his had no qualms about seeing him naked, and eventually he had gotten comfortable with it. He remembered Katniss's slight blush when she had to take his pants off at the stream and his thought that, despite everything, there were still parts of her that were innocent. Now, she is either too tired from blood loss to care, or she's grown increasingly more comfortable over their week-long distance.

Peeta slips the legs of her pants off, sighing at the blood that leaked through the cloth and settled on her skin. Quickly, gingerly, he raises her arms and tugs the remnants of her stained shirt off, bit by bit. Her underclothes, thankfully, are in good condition.

"Stay here," he tells her, though she's practically asleep sitting up. He gets a basin and a washrag from the adjacent bathroom and fills it with warm water.

After rinsing her skin off, finally he gets her into a night shirt and underneath the sheets. He sits next to her, smoothing her braid with light fingers and wishing her empty dreams. He hopes that he's done enough for her arm. Just in case, he'll call her mother in the morning and ask for advice, and if he needs to fly her out to get medical attention, he'll see what Dr. Aurelius can do. It's not right, and he's not glad for the accident, but Peeta is thankful that she trusted him. Maybe she didn't have any other option - Haymitch? Greasy Sae? - but she had come to him, didn't she? That was enough.

"Peeta?"

He starts. Katniss is looking at him with something familiar in her eyes. She pats the empty space next to her and Peeta slips in, hesitant. What if he nudges her in her sleep and her stitches open? What if he rolls onto her arm? What if he has nightmares and awakes in a world manufactured by the Capitol?

"I don't want to hurt you," he whispers.

She shakes her head, sleep fighting her hold. "You won't." Her hand pats his chest where she had pushed against him and said thanks, and as she rests her forehead against his arm and murmurs his name, he looks down and finally notices it. Right above his heart rests her red handprint.


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