Aah! My first THG fanfic! My emotions are on a haywire right now I can't type properly! You know, reading THG, my life bounced back from Post-Potter Depression, and then I finished reading the trilogy and I don't know what to do with my life. So this idea came up and it has completely ruined my sleeping schedule and I can't take it anymore so I wrote it when I was supposed to finish my two Scorose fics! *ovaries exploded*


Katniss eyed the pot of soup on the kitchen table that Greasy Sae prepared while Katniss had breakfast just minutes ago. As if reading her mind, the old lady turned around away from the dishes she was washing to face Katniss with kind eyes, and said, "Mushroom soup. For your lunch later. You could just heat it on the stove."

Katniss only blinked, not really caring, but Greasy Sae never really have prepared anything for her lunch. The old lady only came twice a day, breakfast and dinner time, because she was needed in her home during the rest of the day to care for her other grandchildren.

Greasy Sae continued, "It's been three days. The boy missed breakfast today. Maybe he wants to be alone for a while. I don't know how you two are getting along now; pretty civil, really, but too formal. But I know you want the little company he offers. Why don't you bring him a bowl of soup for lunch?"

She smiled at Katniss and continued cleaning up, while Katniss diverted her eyes towards Greasy Sae's little granddaughter distractedly.

The morning Katniss called her mother and cried over the phone with her was the same morning Greasy Sae brought in a surprise. There was a slight squeeze in Katniss' chest upon seeing Peeta come into her kitchen carrying two loaves of bread in a paper bag. She couldn't decide then if the squeeze was pleasant or not. Greasy Sae invited Peeta for breakfast, to which he politely rejected, saying that he needed a lot of cleaning up in his kitchen, but the old woman already pulled up a chair and placed a plate for him. Katniss knew it wasn't his kitchen that made him not want to have breakfast inside her house. She didn't protest though. She also didn't say anything that sounded her approval of the arrangement for the morning. Katniss wasn't indifferent, nor was she comfortable with it. She just sat there, quiet and unmoving, while Greasy Sae cooked their breakfast and Peeta made small talks with Greasy Sae's granddaughter.

He was being gentle and charming and like his old self. Peeta was making noises as he played with the little girl's small wooden toy figures for her entertainment. And he chuckled every time the little girl giggled. Katniss glanced at him. His lips were smiling, but his eyes were sad. Although, she knew that he really liked making small kids laugh. Being the youngest in his family probably made him wish he had a little sibling. Katniss' throat tightened and she looked away as soon as she can. Peeta lifted his eyes to look at her, and then returned his attention to the little girl and their game.

The first breakfast was agonizing, even Greasy Sae could tell, so it was up to the old woman to keep the little of the conversation going, in which Katniss contributed no participation whatsoever. Peeta was being helpful though, and by the time their breakfast was done, Greasy Sae was encouraged to invite him for breakfast the next morning. "Please?" the little girl added.

Katniss looked at him surreptitiously, awaiting his answer, but not anticipating for anything particular. Peeta looked uncomfortable and on the brink of saying an excuse, but he made an accidental eye contact with Katniss, and then smiled at the little girl beside her. "I guess Katniss is just a bright ball of sunshine that you're getting bored of her company, right? Alright, I'll do it."

And so did he, not only for the next morning, but also for the following days, until it became a routine. Eventually, Katniss and Peeta begin to get comfortable. The progress got on a better side when Katniss thought of doing the book about the people who were once a part of their lives, those who they want to keep in their memory. That meant having Peeta as often as the recording in the book permitted. They even had Haymitch over to help upon nearing the completion of the book. And in its ironic sense, Peeta and Katniss got better with each other with every tear they shed for their friends, families and, although they might not identify it, for each other.

But three days ago, the two of them slightly withdrew from one other.

"You're still not getting much sleep," Peeta commented as he sketched Finnick with Annie. He lifted his face from the sketchbook and tried to catch Katniss' eyes.

Katniss tightened her grip on the book of their memories; Peeta's eyes were penetrating. "Nothing abnormal there," she answered hollowly, but in her mind came the gruesome and horrible images of her nightmares, wherein she was being buried alive, hanged, set on fire, chased by everything terrible from mutations to the ghosts of the people who died because of her.

"Denial isn't going to help," Peeta said. "I know it."

"Let's not talk about it then, because that's all I ever will do if we talk about it."

Peeta exhaled exhaustedly and went back with sketching. "You never talk about things. You never admit anything. And before you know it, you lose what you have, even before admitting of having them. And that makes it more painful. Because you realize you needed them but now they're gone."

Katniss felt indignation rise inside her as she stared at her hands. She was afraid that it would turn into anger. What she needed right now was not anger, though she didn't know what exactly she needed. She didn't want to get mad again and start to blame herself. She felt that letting it locked up inside would help her more. So she didn't think of anything to say to Peeta.

"You're doing it right now?" Peeta said seriously.

"What?" Katniss said in a rather snappish manner.

"You're not talking. You're shutting people away. You're shutting yourself—"

"Where's that coming from?" Katniss said darkly. "We talk about all this," she gestured the book. "What more is there to talk about?"

"You're not talking about what you need to talk abou—"

"Drop it, Peeta," Katniss said dangerously low. "I don't want to talk about it, okay? What we're doing is enough."

Peeta was persistent. "No it's not. You don't need to bury anything because you won't forget it anyway. It would just ferment inside you and become stronger. I know what's terrorizing you but you need to face them—"

"Face them?" Katniss' voice rose a little. "I face them every night—"

"No, you don't. They come for you every night. That's different. And you're defenseless against them. Because they live right inside your mind." Peeta stopped drawing and looked at her as he said this. His voice got quieter as he added. "I know."

Katniss' eyes flew down to the book in her hands. The eyes of the people on the page opened were looking up to her happily. Their faces were frozen by ink on a time, perhaps in a different world, where in their fears did not reach them. Her eyes got hot with desperate tears because not only she missed these people, but also because she envied them. "I cry."

"What?" Peeta said, as he didn't hear her properly.

"I cry," Katniss repeated with a slight choke. "I cry for them and because of them, while we make this. I cry with you. Isn't that also facing them?"

"Depends on which context you're using when you refer to them," Peeta looked at the page. "They are not what you have to face. Not the ones you have to stop denying. Not the ones you have to talk about."

"What do I need to talk about, then?"

Peeta knew Katniss was only challenging him, not actually trying to listen to him. He shook his head.

"Stop it," Katniss breathed tiredly. "Why are you even doing this? What're you even getting at? We've been doing fine, haven't we?"

"No. But you don't understand because you don't want to."

With that, Peeta stood up and exited Katniss' living room, leaving his sketch behind. Katniss peeked at the drawing. Finnick's arm was wrapped around Annie's shoulders.

Perhaps Peeta did want to be alone. So Katniss decided that she wouldn't bring him a bowl of soup as Greasy Sae suggested.

"This is Peeta's sketchbook, right?" the old lady said, pulling Katniss out of a tangle of thoughts. "Maybe you could return this to him when you give him the bowl of soup."

Greasy Sae and the little girl bid their goodbye to Katniss and went out of the house. Katniss took the sketchbook from the table, where Greasy Sae placed it, and opened it to the page of Finnick and Annie's sketch. She eyed Finnick's arm around Annie for a minute.

Katniss changed her mind. She was going to bring Peeta a bowl of soup.


That morning, Peeta thought of baking, but decided he wanted to paint. Just paint. Again.

All he did in three days was paint. He didn't know why, but the nightmares got worse, specifically after having breakfast over Katniss' house and spending time with her for that memory book became a routine. Subconsciously, he was getting addicted to it. The feeling he gets when sitting beside Katniss, looking at her, talking to her, seem to takeover once again. Maybe that was why the nightmares were getting more vivid, so vivid that they actually come to him even when he's awake. Because he knew that he's beside her but not with her, and she was slipping away. She was dying in his nightmares. And singing along with her screams were the cries of pain of the other people he once knew and loved. Those who died in the midst of the war and those who were tortured morbidly before him. But the center of Peeta's horrendous dreams was Katniss. It was always Katniss.

Katniss is the only thing he has now. Or at least, the only thing he's holding on to now. But she was slipping away…dying…

"Nightmares," he whispered to himself as he mixed colors of yellow, orange, red and white to get the perfect shade of his sunset. It was only the nightmares. Katniss is well and much alive back in her house. Actually, as well and alive as her happiness permits her to, whose existence is doubtful. Even if Katniss went back with going through her normal activities again, with the help of Dr. Aurelius of course, he knows that Katniss still suffered. And that drove him to start that conversation three days ago, which told him that Katniss is a hard jar to open, even if she is desperately needed to be.

He understood what he told Katniss, about the need to talk to someone about the nightmares, the feelings, the fright, the insecurity. The hole that engulfed them. Especially the needs. He doesn't have someone to whom he could let it all out, which is why he resorted to the comfort of painting. But that hardly drives the flashbacks away. His nightmares, he realized, were real. They were memories. The only nightmare that remained unreal in respect of what's going on in his world were the ones about Katniss. And he couldn't let that become real, because if that happened, he would be buried alive inside his hole. The last remaining dot of light that reassured him of his salvation should not and would not be extinguished. He needed Katniss, but he knew that she needed him too, perhaps more than his need of her. Peeta was willing to do everything to ignite the fire in her. Not the kind that will burn her, but the one that will radiate warmth and life, real life, not just mere existence.

His thoughts weren't nearly improving. He could still hear Darius' bloodcurdling screams, the sounds made worse by his severed tongue. Johanna's curses echoed in his head, her teeth clattering hard and biting her lips and her tongue and the inside of her cheeks, making her spit blood uncontrollably, as the buzz of the electricity through her systems continue to vibrate her violently. And then there was Portia, like a sister to him and almost like a mother in some instances, her once beautiful face was gaunt and her once sparkling smart eyes begged for death to come quickly.

Then came Katniss, beautiful, deadly and curiously glistening. A flaming torch was on her bloody hands. Her smile was wicked and twisted. Behind her, kneeling and hands tied behind their backs, was his family. The Katniss mutation bared her sharp teeth as she smiled widely. She dropped the torch and Peeta's family caught on fire. But then his family vanished, and the one burning was the real Katniss. The Katniss he loves.


It was not real. And he knew it, but it didn't mean that it did not shake him.

He found himself crouching on the floor, his hands, wet with paint, gripping his hair painfully on either side of his head. Paint was splattered on the floor, his paintbrush snapped into two and his canvas ripped. "No, no, no….no, please no….not real…not real…."

He was about to give in to a sob when he heard someone outside. He was in the kitchen but could see a faint shadow in the foyer of his house. Peeta got on his feet, his body tensed, and waited.


It was Katniss.

The sound of her voice felt strange inside his house. She never stepped foot inside. Peeta didn't move and waited for her to find him. For the first time, he felt it unfair that it was always him who sought her. Let her look for him.

"Peeta, it's me…" She sounded tentative.

"Where are you?" Her voice was louder. Probably because she was getting closer towards the kitchen or because she was getting alarmed about the lack of response. But Peeta only thought, Let her come.

"Peeta? Peeta?" She sounded nervous.

Then Katniss passed by the kitchen and found him, stance rigid. Peeta took his stare away from her face and to her hands. It was a bowl of soup. A small smile was cracking into his face.

"Greasy Sae made this," Katniss informed instantly. "She said I should bring you some for lunch and—" she paused as she remembered something. "I forgot your sketch…your sketchbook."

"Thanks," Peeta neared her and took the bowl of soup from her. "My sketchbook?"

"You left it in my house the last time you were there," she said quietly.

Peeta turned his back on her to put the bowl on the table, which was splashed with paint of warm colors. "Right," he said, facing her again. "I'll get it some other time."

Katniss perused Peeta and his environment, but didn't comment. Instead, she said, "You weren't answering."

"I…got so caught up with painting," Peeta answered, glancing at the mess behind him.

"Seems like it." Katniss probably meant it sarcastically but her voice was just quiet. She walked near to the kitchen table where the ripped canvas was propped against. She spotted the snapped paintbrush and picked it up and turned the two pieces before her eyes. "I never knew painting could look so dangerous."

It could have been a joke, but, again, her voice sounded quiet.

"Sometimes it is," Peeta replied. He studied Katniss study the splattered paint on the table and floor. This was real.

"I've seen you paint and draw," she mused. "You always made it seem so easy."

Peeta's hand moved towards the surface of the table, inches from Katniss' own hand. He drew orange circles on the surface as he spoke, "I never really paid much attention on the difficulty of it. It just comes to me."

"Like the nightmares?" Katniss whispered meaningfully.

"Like the nightmares." Peeta stopped painting circles and focused on her face. They needed each other. To be alive. Really alive. "Katniss, have you thought about what I sai—"

"You never taught me how to paint," Katniss interrupted purposely.


She looked at him in the eyes and repeated, "You never taught me how to paint."

"You never asked me to."

"Teach me."

"It just comes to you, so let it." Peeta glanced at his ripped canvas, then at the broken paintbrush in her hand. "I could get you a fresh canvas and a new paintbrush. Some paint too."

"No, I can work with this."

Katniss dropped her eyes towards their hands on the table inches from the other and said, "You have paint on your hair…Mind if I finish you off?"

The question rang a bell in his memory, but before Peeta could smile about it, Katniss let go of the pieces of paintbrush, held both of Peeta's hands, which were resting on the table, and dropped them gently to his sides. Katniss gathered more yellow, red, orange and white paint from the table and then drew erratic and swirly patterns on the back of his hands, creeping up to his forearms. She stopped hesitantly, slightly drawing her eyebrows together at Peeta's shirt sleeve that reached just above his elbows. Then her eyes climbed up to his neck and her hands reached for it.

Peeta forced himself not to flinch as Katniss' cold paint-covered hands painted his neck and then his jaws and chin. Their eyes met, and for the first time in months, Katniss gave him a smile. And it reached her eyes. "You mind?" Her voice was barely a whisper.

"No." Peeta used the same tone.

Katniss worked seriously on painting his face. With her fingertips, she touched his cheeks, the tip of his nose, his nose bridge, his temples, his forehead…Peeta found himself closing his eyes, just feeling Katniss. Then he opened them after realizing that she has stopped. She was staring at his mouth, the only area on his face not covered with paint. Katniss passed her fingertips around his lips and then drew her hands so that her palms rested on his jaws.

"You ran out of canvas?" Peeta asked, feeling much aware of her hands on his face.

"Do you mind?" she said.

"Go ahead," Peeta answered, even though he doesn't have any idea what he just agreed to.

Katniss lowered her hands to the collar of his shirt, then slowly, as if reluctant, she unbuttoned the first button, then the second one, and then the third, until all buttons were undone. She gathered more paint in her hands and dumped it all on his pale chest and painted shapes like sun and vines and leaves and more. Seeing it was not enough, she held on to the seams of Peeta's unbuttoned shirt and looked at him in the eyes, as if asking for permission. Peeta's mouth had gone dry, uncertain but curious about this peculiar contact. He merely blinked at her, which she most likely took as admission. Katniss slid his shirt off his shoulders and let it drop to the colorful floor.

Her hands worked professionally, drawing circles and curves and lines and shapes on his shoulders, collar bone, then to his upper arm. Peeta, meanwhile, merely watched her paint on him. He wouldn't lie; it was uncomfortable for him, but all the same, he was glad that Katniss was coming to him. Her face didn't show much emotion, except for fascination over her progressive work of art. Peeta shivered for a moment when Katniss' hands passed his burn scars. But Katniss only gently painted over them, more like caressing them.

"The burns hurt." Her voice sounded distant. "But they healed. Turned into scars. Now, they serve as a reminder. Of survival. And the pain inside that would never go away. Pain worse than the burns."

Peeta knew what she was talking about.

Katniss rested her palms on his midriff and edged closer to him, her warm breath reaching his chest. Peeta watched her and she looked like she was contemplating about something. She lifted her face so that she was looking at his mouth again and drew closer and closer…

There was a part in Peeta that wanted Katniss to stop; he didn't know what was driving Katniss to come to him like this, but he knew that it was too soon. But, there was also a part in him that wanted her to continue. Because whatever excuses he told himself, it still was a fact that only Katniss would satisfy his hunger, his need. But, even though things have changed so drastically, Peeta knew that if he wanted things to return as normal as possible between them, they shouldn't rush. Things don't work that way. During their first Hunger Games (it seemed like a lifetime or two ago), they were careful not to eat all the food the sponsors provided at once, remembering feeling sick in the train where they first had a hearty meal. The same rule applied to Katniss and Peeta's emotional situation. They should take their time to grow back to each other.

All in a second, Peeta thought of all of this and decided he didn't want Katniss to hurry in like this. So when Katniss swerved her head down the last moment, Peeta found no intention of protesting after his lips had caught her forehead instead of her own lips. Katniss' arms wrapped themselves around his body and moved her hands all over his back, painting. She sighed heavily and melted into him, resting her head on his shoulder. She stopped painting his back and merely embraced him, but not tightly. Peeta's arms remained on his sides. He was sure Katniss would only recline if he did. This was her moment, and he should just let her.

"You're doing a great job," Peeta murmured. "Katniss, I'm on fire."

"No…I wanted you to be sunset. Because you love sunsets," she whispered. "But your face is all yellow…"

Peeta tried to decode her riddle, but failed.

Katniss closed her eyes and spoke inaudibly, "Like a dandelion."

They stayed like that for a few moments before she spoke again. "I'm sorry. For making a mess."

"Katniss, I—"

She uncoiled her arms from his body and looked at her artwork. She stepped back and glanced at the soup on the table.

"Try the soup."

Katniss started to leave the kitchen but Peeta said before she could go, "You're hard to read. You've always confused me."

Katniss twisted so that she could look at him, "Even before?"

"Especially before."

She left without another word.

Peeta meant it; she was harder to decipher before everything changed. Those nights in the train, in the Capitol, in the arena. Even all before that. He knew when they were in school together that survival was only in Katniss' mind, but beyond that, he didn't understand anything about her. That's what convinced him that he really did love her. Because he knew that love can't find any reason. It just happens.

Now, he understood her more. She is in a lot of pain. Just like him. She misses a lot of people. Just like him. She feels alone. Just like him. And she needs help. Just like him. Coming back into life is a hard and tricky business. When you think you're slowly being welcomed to the world again, the pain attacks you, and then you find no reason to continue. It feels like a miracle when you find meaning again. And the way Katniss painted on his body with her hands, nothing blocking their contact but paint, paint that was his friend ever since, it had meaning. Now, he is willing to get back on track with her again, even if it means putting up with Katniss restraining herself to open up to him.

Peeta went up slowly to his bedroom a couple of minutes after Katniss left and looked at himself in the mirror to admire the artwork. He laughed quietly at himself. Katniss sure did great, if she were going for abstract. His arms, neck, torso and face were covered with white and warm-colored paint. Even his blond hair, but that was his own doing, when he was clutching his hair to draw himself away from the painful and scary images in his mind. His face was unevenly patterned using yellow and a little of white paint. But his body…red, orange, yellow and white fought against and blended with each other simultaneously. He twisted around and saw that his back too was painted, although there were no shapes, only colors dancing. A certain shape on his chest caught his eye in the mirror. It was made of only white color and he stepped closer to the mirror. It wasn't a shape at all; it was a sentence reflected in reverse by the looking glass. But he didn't have a hard time reading it. Katniss' clumsy painted handwriting told it well enough.

Stay with me.


Katniss climbed on the rocking chair by the fireplace in the kitchen and curled up into a ball. The ache in her chest attacked her again. Although she was slowly getting out of the deep dark hole she found herself in after Prim's death, Katniss still couldn't get away from the clawing of the whimpering animal trapped inside her, the one that found home in her when she fell in that hole.

When she came back from Peeta's house, she didn't think of rinsing off the paint on her hands. It had Peeta in it. She missed him. Hugging Peeta like that, and almost kissing him, it sent her the longing, need and desire that she never tried to recognize before, not since after her world crashed down. But now, it came to her like a flash flood. It came to her in surging waves that rocked her grip violently until she almost felt like letting go. But letting go of what?

Getting motion sickness from the movement of the rocking chair, she climbed down and settled on the floor. The pain was still not gone. Katniss shut her eyes close and the first thing she saw in her mind was Finnick's arm around Annie. The pain intensified. Now she doubted her need to be alone. It had been three long days. These past couple of months of doing the records in the book with Peeta and, in some days, Haymitch, she didn't really deem it acknowledgeable that their presence did her well. Like Peeta said, she never admits anything, and then things are gone and it's more painful that way. But no, Haymitch and, especially, Peeta are not gone. The two of them practically live right next to her.

A small voice whispered inside her head, But they're not here, so they're as good as gone.

You're shutting people away. You're shutting yourself. It wasn't the small voice this time; it was Peeta's.

It would hurt more if you're with them, the small voice chimed in. Bad memories would get fresh. Wounds would open. You give yourself to them and then when they're gone, you'd fall deeper in that hole. You admit that you have them with you and then when they're gone, you'd realize that you're empty. Again. Just like after Prim died.

"Stop." Katniss' breathing was ragged with sobs. She pressed her clammy hands tightly against her ears, but to no avail. The voice continued.

See what just happened. You came to Peeta. Be honest, at that moment you thought you have him in your life, you wanted to have him in your life. And now you're here, alone and you feel like getting lost again in pain. You know why? Because you don't have him. You don't have anyone. And, I told you before, it hurts more, to know something used to be with you but now can't stay with you—

Finnick's arm around Annie. Their faces smiling. They looked like laughing. They had each other. Katniss' father and mother embraced each other. Each morning and each night. She used to watch the two of them and thought that something like that would be nice but never really thought of wanting that. Then the ghosts were laughing at her for being a coward and being weak and lying to herself and to everyone. Prim was dead and there's no point of holding on. She was losing meaning again, and she thought that she was doing so good these past few months. The book about the people they knew and loved. It was a hoax. Why did she do it? Crying over those people and suffering a life thinking of theirs when she could have been with them by now. How could she live better for them if there was too much pain.

The paint on her hands and face mixed with tears as she crawled her way up to her bedroom. She curled on the floor and closed her eyes until she was on the field between consciousness and subconsciousness. She imagined someone's arm circling her from behind, comforting her and never leaving her. Katniss opened her watery eyes and realized no one's coming. Because they were all gone. A choked sob escaped her lips. She weakly opened the closet near her and closed herself inside, begging the world to leave her alone because there was nothing for her anymore.


Peeta found Greasy Sae with her granddaughter knocking on Katniss' front door. He asked what's happening and the old woman said that she came to cook her dinner, as usual, but Katniss locked the doors and wasn't answering. Peeta told her that maybe she was out in the woods but Sae already checked on it with those who wear near the woods.

"She should be in there," Greasy Sae said worriedly.

Peeta sighed, "I'll check on her. You might as well go home. Sorry for this, Greasy Sae."

"You think something has happened to her?"

He shook his head; it hurt to think of it too much. "Anyway, the soup was delicious. I was just returning her bowl."

Sae smiled and noticed the empty bowl in his hands. "Ah, the girl really did bring it to you. She told me she'd do it but I was sure she wouldn't do it."

"Yeah, she…came around…"

The old woman glanced up on the windows above them. "Maybe I should wait here—"

"No, it's alright. I'll see to her, okay? I'll even cook her dinner."

Greasy Sae peered at him inquisitively, "Peeta, did something happen? You didn't come over for three days."

Peeta smiled reassuringly. "I'm fine. Just got caught up with painting."

Sae chuckled as she examined his hair and skin, which had traces of paint on them. "I can see that. Well, if you're sure about it. I hope you and Katniss are alright. And I hope I'll see you tomorrow for breakfast."

"I'll try."

Peeta got the bag of the ingredients for dinner from Greasy Sae and gave her a polite goodbye. He pinched the pink cheeks of Sae's little granddaughter. The old lady and the little girl left Peeta standing outside Katniss' front door. He twisted the door knob even though he knew it would be locked. He tried the back door but it was lock as well. Finally, worry and desperation coming over him, he wrenched one of the windows open and climbed in gingerly. He looked for her in the kitchen, where she was always, and only found the dying embers in the fireplace. His feet took him upstairs, were everything was dark. Katniss' bedroom door lay open so he came inside.


The bed was empty. She was not inside the room. Peeta's heart raced as he thought where she could have gone. The most plausible place was the woods. Maybe the people Greasy Sae had asked just didn't see Katniss coming towards the woods. It was already dark but he wanted to find Katniss. But when Peeta was ready to go downstairs and out to look for her, he heard a sniff from somewhere inside the room and stopped. He spun around but there was nobody there, not even Buttercup. The closet made a creaking sound as it moved. He ignored it but then he heard a sniff again and realized it was coming from there.

Peeta pulled the closet doors open and found Katniss curled up inside, her arms tightly around herself and her feet trembling like the rest of her body. He was sure that she was sleeping although her face was distorted into a grimace. Her lips twitched and her breath hitched every now and then. Beads of sweat built up on her forehead and her nose and on the top of her lips. Peeta crouched beside her and shook her awake. But Katniss lay in her troubled sleep.

"Katniss," he whispered urgently as he tugged on her elbow.

In response, she moaned something and deepened her frown. Peeta, feeling like his chest was going to collapse at the sight of the state she is in, pulled her in his arms, meaning to transfer her to her bed. But Katniss flinched violently and cried. She yanked her hands away from herself and hit everything she could hit. She kicked her legs and screamed and cried. Peeta took hold of her wrists and called her name. Katniss woke with a start, her dreams ending, but her nightmares continuing to play in her head.

Peeta drew her clamped hair back and held her face to look at him.

"Children—running around—gutting me, crying for me—burning, cutting me—crying—" Shudders interrupted Katniss' feverish narration.

"Not real," Peeta whispered to her and then hugged her. Katniss wrapped her arms around his neck and wept hoarsely. "Not real."

Peeta looped his left arm under Katniss' knees and carried her to her bed and laid her there. Katniss refused to let go of him and only tightened her grip.

"Let go, Katniss," Peeta said gently. "It's okay."

"If I do, you'd be gone," she croaked. "And then they'll come."

"They won't come—"

"They will! Because I'm alone—"

"You're not alone, Katniss."

"But you're gone! You're going away!"

Peeta screwed his eyes shut as he felt tears preparing to fall from them. He felt exactly the same. It was like Katniss was voicing out what he was feeling. With Katniss' arms still around his neck and her face buried on his chest, he gently pushed her from the center of the bed to the side to make room for him. He climbed on the bed with difficulty, as Katniss still was not letting go, and laid himself and Katniss on the bed.

"I'm here to stay."

Minutes later, he felt Katniss relax slowly, and then she was sleeping again.

It was still dark when Katniss woke up suddenly. Her eyes trained down to her waist, where an arm slung across it. She wanted to scream, thinking it was an amputated arm possibly from her nightmares, but stopped herself when she felt breathing behind her. She twisted around carefully and came face to face with Peeta, his eyes were closed and the rise and fall of his chest was peaceful and rhythmic. It was then that she realized this was what she needed, what she was lacking. She squirmed back to her original position and snuggled deeper into Peeta's arms, feeling the air of his breathing tickle her ear.

Katniss carefully laced her fingers in between Peeta's and pulled it tighter around her. Judging by the slight disruption of the rhythm of his breath, Peeta was woken up.

"Katniss," he whispered groggily. She didn't answer. "Is this alright?"

"You never asked me that before," she finally said.

"So much has changed since the last time we did this."

Katniss thought about it before answering, "You haven't changed."

Peeta chuckled bitterly, "What are you talking about?"

"You're still the same Peeta; you bake, you paint, like the old Peeta—"

"You hunt, like the old Katniss."

"That doesn't mean that I didn't change—"

"Exactly," Peeta said. "Just because I bake and paint again doesn't mean I haven't changed…I wanted to die, remember? I wanted to die because I knew I've changed. I knew something corrupted me. And instead of killing, I preferred to die."

Hijacked Peeta. He was talking about the hijacked Peeta. Katniss remembered this. When they were on their way to Snow, she remembered each moment Peeta begged Katniss or just anyone to kill him. He wanted to do it because he didn't want to hurt anybody anymore, and especially he didn't want to hurt Katniss.

"You wanted to die because you didn't want to hurt or kill anyone. To me, that means the old Peeta was fighting the hijacked Peeta," Katniss mused loudly.

"The hijacked one is gone."

"That leaves the old Peeta," she concluded.

"No, that just leaves a scarred Peeta. A broken one. Someone haunted by nightmares."

"Was that what you wanted me to talk about? My fears and nightmares?"

Peeta placed his mouth near her ear. "I already know about them. It's obvious we're having the same crisis. What I want you to talk about is what you want and need."


Then Katniss said, "You've always been strong, you know that?"

Guess she's not ready for that, Peeta thought.

"Remember what you told me about your mom telling you I'm the survivor? I think she got it wrong. I think you're the survivor."

"Mentally disoriented is right," he joked weakly. But Katniss remained serious.

"You said you didn't want to be just another piece of the games. You said you weren't going to change in the arena. And then I find out about you preparing to die in there just to protect me and help me live. I think I realize now that that's the real kind of survival…" Katniss paused. "You die as yourself and you win…"

"You want to tell me more," Peeta stated.

"Y—your family died," Katniss said reluctantly. "You've witnessed people get tortured and die in front of your eyes. You got tortured. And then you were forced to believe lies. You were confused and you were suffering. You thought I was a monster. And then you thought that you were the monster. And then you wanted to die…but here you are, alive. Compared to me, you've suffered a lot more. You've had things worse. But you're still smiling and making jokes and helping me and Haymitch and planting prim—primroses around my house and baking bread and giving it to people—"

"Katniss, stop."

She didn't realize that she was crying again, but she continued. "You're stronger. You're the survivor. How do you do it?"

Peeta lifted her head so that he could place his other arm underneath her head. "I'm holding onto something. Something that's slipping away. And when it would slip away, then I slip away because there's nothing to hold on to. So I do as much as I can to prevent it from being gone."

"What is it?"

"You. So please don't go. Don't give up. If you do, I would to."

Peeta's eyes got blurry as tears finally flow.

"So now, it's my turn to say this to you," his voice cracked as he tried his best to control it. "Stay with me."

"Always," Katniss answered instantly.


Like the breakfast and the book, sleeping side by side with each other became a routine, too. Katniss would scream and thrash but this time, she wouldn't feel empty and alone when no one comes to reassure her, because Peeta is there and calms her down by wrapping his arms around her and talking to her. And when Peeta gets attacked by his own memories, Katniss holds him until he opens his eyes and relaxes. But then, they realize it wasn't just a routine, it was a necessity, a way of survival and a reminder of hope in life. They didn't have to be broken anymore, because they know they have each other and the only way for the other to be gone is when one decides to go. They wouldn't dare do that.

Although Katniss was doing well, she still has a problem that Peeta was determined to fix. Katniss still was keeping a few things to herself, possibly afraid that if she admitted the things she was locking up inside, somehow, bad things would happen. She was holding on in the wrong way, so one night, after Peeta comforted Katniss from a nightmare, he went for it.

Katniss was still whimpering and shaking against him. He lifted her chin and kissed her softly. She responded with a stronger kiss, desperate for the gruesome images in her head to be erased and forgotten. Finally, after long seemingly infinite moments, Peeta drew back and looked at her. They both felt like their lips were bruised and their lungs were going to explode either from the lack of air or from overusing it. Katniss' lips were slightly swollen and her breaths were ragged.

It was expected of Katniss not to say whatever's in her mind. It happens on a few occasions but usually, something prompts her. Peeta realized she was not going to do it on her own tonight too. "I want to know the truth," he said in a hushed gentle voice.

Katniss tightened her embrace on Peeta and nodded.

He whispered, "You love me. Real or not real?"

"Real." Katniss tangled her fingers in his hair, pulled his head down to hers and kissed him ardently.

It was a start towards Katniss saying the three words. He has to be contented with that. He smiled through their kisses. After that, Katniss buried her face on his chest.

"I love you, Katniss."

Minutes later, before they could go back to sleep, Katniss lifted her head and whispered in his ear.

"Peeta. I love you."

Apologies for wrong grammars and spellings.


Sorry about that.