A/N: Yes, you have complete permission to kill me. If anyone's still reading this, please let me know, although even if you aren't, I might update anyway. I have some very small excuses for my absence, and they go like this: German camp. Sophomore year. Lack of inspiration. More inspiration for other projects. Nerdfighteria.

Like I said, very small. I'll try to continue with this story, but I can no longer say I'll try to update regularly: my schedule doesn't allow for that. I'm so sorry, guys. But here's the chapter.


Chapter 44: Nightmares

"Ow! What are you doing?" I can't help but gasp as the medic's tweezers probe the wound in my side. I saw her pluck the bullet out about five minutes ago, so that can't be it.

The medic, whose nametag says she's called Rose, shakes her short blonde hair out of her eyes to look at me with a little annoyance. "If you must know, I'm removing shrapnel from both the bullet and your ribs. And please don't talk; your lungs move and I'm sure you don't want these to poke a hole in your air supply." She brandishes the bloody tweezers at me.

"Is a little anesthesia too much to ask?" I say quickly, before she can continue with my torture.

"Yes, actually. We need all the painkillers for the bomb victims and your friend over there." Rose nods towards Satin, who's surrounded by no less than four medics.

I let it rest.

Eventually, I have to move to a different room to free up my bed—which, to be perfectly honest, I don't need. I find myself in the company of four unfamiliar soldiers plus Gale. The ones I don't know are all but unconscious, and it doesn't take me long to notice the tubes in their wrists. Morphling. The painkiller I've been refused. I look at them in a new light now, taking in their expansive injuries.

Gale notices. "Makes you feel lucky, doesn't it?" He's got a gash on one cheek and his arm is in a sling.

"Yeah."

After several moments, he speaks again, with an oddly uneasy look on his face. "What… In the arena, when you…"

I feel my stomach give an unpleasant lurch. "Look, no offense, but I really do not need to be reminded of that place right now."

He doesn't give up, though. "I'm just wondering about the… killing." He fidgets in his seat. "Does it get easier?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Does it?"

"No. Never." I stare at him. "What's the point of this?" Reliving my nightmares? No thanks. Gale mumbles something that I can't quite hear. "What?"

"I never killed anyone before today." I can see his jaw clench.

"Oh." Then, tentatively, "How many?"

"Eleven."

"…Sorry." I don't really know what to say, because I've killed more, because this hurts, and not least of all because this is the first conversation Gale and I have had without being in some way nasty.

Gale sighs. "Yeah. I just thought it—all of the… well, you know, the horror—I thought it might go away. After a little while."

"You don't want that," I say quietly. "If you didn't feel anything, you'd never stop."

He nods jerkily. "I thought it would be like hunting," he says. "I didn't think there'd be any difference. But then…"

"You saw their faces." And you saw the light leave their eyes. I look at him, and for the first time in the conversation he meets my gaze. "If you have to kill anyone again," like there's the possibility he won't, "it'll only be harder. But you'll learn how to distance yourself from it."

"But you just said that if you didn't feel—"

I cut him off. "I mean distancing yourself in the moment. It'll come back later, trust me."

"It does for you?"

"Every night."

But that night, however, as I sleep overnight in the rebels' medical base, there are no dreams to bother me. It's the first time in a long time, so when I wake I want to hold on to the peace. Yet, as usual, chaos interferes.

Chaos comes in the form of Finnick, who falls off of his bed as he rolls over and flails wildly, smacking his hand right at the spot where Rose the medic was digging around my ribs the day before.

"WHAT?" I don't mean to yell, but the pain's so sharp and unexpected that my intended whisper comes out much louder.

Finnick gets to his feet, grinning sheepishly down at me. "Sorry, Peeta. You gotta take it like a man, though."

We're in the communal sleeping area, surrounded by all of the other members of Squad 657 who came in for treatment. Now everyone's awake, looking at Finnick and me with varying degrees of annoyance. Satin looks particularly worse for wear, and, remembering the giant piece of metal stuck in her arm before, I feel guilty for waking her up—but still upset with Finnick, still uncomfortable due to my own wound.

After much grumbling, we all get up and ready for the day, because now that we're awake there's not much point in trying to go back to sleep.

Breakfast is withheld, sadly, until those of us who are well enough are on the hovercraft back to the bunkers. That turns out to be everyone, even Satin.

"I suppose it's back to border patrol, then," Walsh sighs as we take off.

Finnick gives a surprised laugh. "You're not saying you like to fight…?"

"No! Of course not. But it's a bit boring, you know, if nothing happens in a whole day. Just walking."

I can sympathize with that, of course. But. "Still, I'd rather have nothing than another attack."

Gale's reverted to his closed-off, grim self. "Good luck with that. There's a war on." He's slumped over in his seat, facing slightly away from the rest of us.

Satin pokes his leg with her foot. "Lighten up! It wouldn't hurt to be an optimist once in a while, you know." Gale scowls and turns around so that he's got his back to her. Satin raises her eyebrows. "Well, it was worth a shot."

But I'm thinking about the conversation from last night, where Gale was civil and asked for advice about living as a murderer. And I'm thinking this: what right do any of us have, really, to laugh and be happy, when we have killed? Isn't that more or less the same as saying, we do not care how much blood we spill? We laugh at the lives we have ended?

And isn't that thought so unbearable that we must laugh?


A/N: A shoutout to people who understand: DFTBA! And also Allons-y, and Geronimo, and Fantastic... I bet you can guess at some new things in my life, eh?