I wake up drenched in sweat, even though the room is cold. My throat is scratchy and a little sore. I must have been screaming.
I'm already out of bed when it hits me: the room is cold. This house isn't supposed to get cold. When I first moved into the Victor's Village with my mother and Prim, I was shown how to work the temperature controls so we would always be comfortable. It was one precious reason to feel good about winning the Games. Prim would never have to shiver in the middle of the night again. And now even that isn't working. I feel the urge to fling something in a fit of anger, to yell even though it would do no good—
—but I remember, before I can do anything stupid like that, the reason my room is cold. It's because I leave the window open most nights. It helps me feel less trapped in this strangely opulent house. I'm reminded, whenever I feel a breeze blow in, that if I want to, I can climb out of the window and run away. I can't, of course. It would put everyone I care about in danger if I did something reckless like that. But I can pretend.
For now, I push aside the curtains in order to close the window, shuddering as the full force of the autumn night's wind hits me in my damp undergarments. I'm about to slam the window down when I see that the first frost has covered the ground. The first frost since I came back from the Capitol. Since everything changed, with my family, with Gale, with Peeta. It's kind of a stupid thing to be sentimental about, though, so I try to put the thought out of my mind.
I can't. Whatever I was dreaming about stirs restlessly at the back of my head. It's red and raw and if I don't find something else to think about fast, if I don't get away from the bed where the nightmares come to me, I'll remember it entirely.
I pull the curtains closed again and dress quickly, picking out dry underwear and pulling on sensible pants and a warm jacket. Then, before I can think about it, I'm climbing out the very window that let the chill in. Don't want to risk waking Prim and my mother by going out the door, right? Besides...the tiles of the roof scrape my hands a little, and I want my calluses back. My return to hunting has helped in that department, but I'll still take some bonus punishment if I can. Not because I deserve the pain, but because I'll feel more like myself when my skin has toughened up a little again.
A few minutes later—I go slowly because it would be really stupid and embarrassing to get hurt doing this—I drop down and land on the frosted grass next to the house. My house. I feel a little better after the physical activity. Until I glance over toward Peeta's house, not far down the road from me, and see a line of new footprints in the frost. I know trails, and I can tell that the person who left this one was limping. So...
I shouldn't follow them. I know this. Peeta and I have unspoken rules, now. We don't talk anymore. We're not really in love. Well, I'm not, anyway, which is worse. That's why we don't talk. But the thing I was dreaming of starts to rise in my mind, and before it can catch me, I start running after the trail of footprints.
In a few seconds, I round a hedge and catch up to Peeta. He doesn't look surprised to see me. He doesn't look anything to see me, really. And he doesn't say anything, either. I should walk away, pretend I didn't see him out here. But I find myself suddenly conscious of how the path he's been walking leads him right past my window. My open window.
"You've been spying on me," I blurt out.
He shakes his head and looks away. "I was taking a walk," he says.
"In the middle of the night," I say. "When it's cold."
"It didn't get cold until tonight," he says.
"Then why choose tonight to come out?" I ask.
"Even if I were spying on you, Katniss," he says, still looking away, "I wouldn't be able to see anything. You keep the curtains closed even though the window's open. Probably because you don't want me spying on you."
My face heats up. "Just tell me why," I say, trying to cover it by hunching my shoulders a little. "The one night I'm taking a walk, you're out here too?"
He shrugs. "I guess it was luck."
I'm about to glare and turn away when memory grabs my attention. Not the—whatever it is I was dreaming of, at least not this time. But Peeta's words just now. It didn't get cold until tonight. As if he were familiar with the temperature on other nights, too. You keep the curtains closed even though the window's open. It sounded like a statement of fact rather than a one-time observation. It hits me, then. He's been doing this for a while. Maybe since all the media finally left and we started to settle into our new lives. He's been walking outside my open window in the middle of the night.
I realize that he's looking at me now. My expression must be so obvious, because after a moment he looks down in defeat. He knows I've figured it out.
"Cut it out," I say. "Lurking outside my window like that isn't romantic. It's creepy." But creepy isn't Peeta's style. Besides, he's right: the curtains are always drawn, so it's not like he can see anything. Why bother making the effort?
"Why can't I be creepy?" Peeta asks. "I don't need to be romantic again until the Victory Tour."
The Victory Tour. One look at the frost around my feet reminds me that it's getting closer. We'll have to be reminded again of everything we went through in the Games. Of everyone who died. I swallow painfully, because my throat is still a little sore from all the screaming I must have done in my sleep. "I'm going back to sleep," I say.
"Fine," he says.
But I can't make my feet turn away from him. The thought of leaving him and going back to the bed where I have those nightmares keeps me in place. It's cold out, but it's as if I feel warmer with him.
He looks at me in silence, and for a minute, neither of us move or say a word. Finally, he says, "It's not impossible, you know. To change your dreams."
"What?" I stare at him, unable to figure out how he knew what I was thinking, not sure I even want to know.
"You just have to think a lot about what you want to dream of before you fall asleep," he says. "It doesn't sound like a lot, but sometimes...sometimes it helps."
"Oh, I bet that fixes everything," I say. "Go think about frosting cakes and fall asleep. I'll just be up in my room thinking of all the wonderful things that have happened to me in my life that I want to dream about."
He shrugs again and turns to go.
"Wait," I find myself saying, which is frustrating. I want him to go. No, I don't want him to go. But I don't know what else I can say to him. We don't talk anymore, after all. But there must have been something I wanted to ask him, or I wouldn't have called him back.
"What?" he says.
I finally unglue my tongue from the roof of my mouth. "What do you really think of, to fall asleep? I wasn't...I know it's not frosting cakes."
He tucks his hands in his pockets to keep them warm as he stands there. Then he finally says, "I think of you singing."
My chest goes tight. "Like when I was five." And he first fell in love with me. For real.
Peeta shakes his head. "Not like when you were five. I think of you starting to sing again in the future, because you're happy."
"What do I sing?" I ask despite myself.
"I don't know," he says. "I just think about you being happy enough to sing."
"For you," I say.
He nods, and for just an instant his gaze darts off to the side. Toward my open window.
I get it, then, and for a moment my chest gets even tighter, so I can barely breathe.
"What's wrong?" he asks.
I can speak again at some point, so I say, "Does anyone else know?"
His face is blank. "Know what?"
"That I scream at night," I say. "Does anyone else come out at night to hear me scream?" My cheeks are flushed, and I could cry from humiliation, but that would make it worse. I won't let myself.
Another shake of his head. "Ever since I first heard you," he says, "I've made sure no one else goes out around the time you start having nightmares."
"Just you," I say.
"Just me," he agrees. "Katniss, do you want me to stop?"
Of course I should say yes. I shouldn't want him to hear me like that. "Why do you do it?" I ask.
He fastens blue eyes on mine. "Because it makes me feel better to think that you're a little less alone," he says. "Because..." He hesitates. "Because I like to stand there and think better thoughts at you, after the screaming starts. As if maybe it could help. Maybe make you happy enough to sing again someday instead of scream."
"It doesn't," I say.
"I know," he says.
"Keep doing it, Peeta."
A nod. "You should go back to sleep."
"So should you," I say.
"All right," he says. Then he stops. "Are you going to tell me to wait again?"
I think about it. "Maybe. Can you help me think of things to try to dream about, before you go?"
"They're your memories," he says. "I can't help you decide. Unless you want a memory with me in it."
For no good reason, I think about kissing him here and now in the frost, when I don't have to. It's weird. Then I shake my head. "I'll figure something out."
"You've been happy before, Katniss," he says. "You'll think of something."
I nod. "Maybe...maybe my father singing." I didn't need to tell him that, I realize.
But I'm glad I did, because now he smiles. It's the first real smile I've seen from him since we got back here. "I hope that works," he says. "Let's go back to sleep now."
As if we made an agreement and practiced it, we turn away from each other at the same time. I can't see him go, with my back turned, but I have the feeling that he's walking almost in step with me. As close as he can, with the new leg. But his footsteps fade until I hear the back door of his house click open, and I climb back up to the window of my room. I don't scream in my sleep again that night.
It's already very bright out when I wake up. I must have overslept. I get up and get dressed, and as I pull my pants on, I notice that the hems are still a little wet from melted frost, and I remember last night. When I go outside, I find myself walking past Peeta's house for no good reason. Then I catch a glimpse of him through one of the windows. It's open, which is unusual for that particular window. It feels like an invitation. A tiny spark of hope catches deep inside me. Maybe things will be better between us now.
"Peeta," I call as I approach the window.
He goes still, then turns a little to look at me. "What," he says.
"You were right," I say. "I did sleep better the rest of the night."
"What are you talking about?" he says.
I stop, suddenly bewildered and at a loss for what to say. How can he not remember? "You know," I say. "Last night. When we met outside, and we talked."
He shakes his head—not at all like he did last night, but shortly, brusquely. "You must have been dreaming."
I know I wasn't. The hems of my pants. The barely tangible scrapes on my palm. The window, closed when I woke up even though I'd gone to bed with it open. He must know it too. But his face is a mask that gives nothing away. My heart sinks down to my stomach. There won't be any change. "Yeah," I say. "Stupid of me. Never mind. I'll go now." I start to walk away.
But it's a lie. We both know it's a lie. And for a moment, as I trudge away from Peeta and his open window, it feels like last night is the most real thing I've ever done. Like everything else is the dream. The years of hunting. The Games. The triumphant return. The kiss with Gale. The coldness of my relationship with Peeta now. Everything else—except for one thing, years ago. Except for burnt loaves of bread at my feet, and the boy who'd thrown them hurrying back inside.
Then I hear the window shut behind me, and reality falls back into its new and lonely patterns.