A/N: Thank you everyone who has been reading, favorite-ing, and reviewing my stories!
The nightmares came, as they did every night. Nothing could soothe her: the rhythm of the train, a glass of warm milk, pacing her room, emptying her mind (yeah, right), sheer exhaustion – Katniss Everdeen was never allowed a dreamless sleep any more. The only difference between her nightmares back home and her nightmares now were the added horrors, like the image of the man in District 11 getting his head blown off playing on loop behind her eyelids.
Every night was a lottery. Which terrible memory would she relive? Which dead tribute would stalk her steps? How many muttations would tear at her flesh? How loud would the mine explosion be that killed her father? How many of her loved ones would be snatched away and then executed in front of her? How many times, how many ways would she watch Peeta die, unable to save him?
Peeta. The only small comfort Katniss found in all of this was knowing she wasn't alone. His heavy, uneven footfalls wandered by her door endless times in the darkness. Sometimes she would lie in her bed, eyes on the ceiling, and try to keep a count of his passing, picturing the dark circles under his blue eyes, his messy blonde hair, the awkwardness of his prosthetic leg.
It was somewhere around District 7 on the Tour that Katniss finally accepted Effie's offer of sleeping pills. She was bone-tired and there were still 6 more foreign districts and the Capitol to fake through. If she didn't get some sort of decent rest, she worried she'd slip up in her desperate act. The first night she only took one, and though she did grow drowsy, nightmares plagued her all the same, so she startled herself awake and watched the landscape zoom by until dawn. The next night Katniss figured what the hell, and took three. Effie and the other Capitolites swore by these little pills, probably took even more than three some nights, and they were all still alive, right?
What a mistake. If anything, the sleeping pills amplified the horrors that ran through her mind, everything and everyone soaked in dirt and sweat and blood, everything and everyone a threat, everything and everyone dying. And her, rushing through all of it, screaming for Prim, for Gale, for her mother, for Cinna, for Peeta, only to pass by each one, dead and disfigured in the worst ways, and it was all her fault.
Katniss screamed, and her lungs hurt and her throat grew scratchy and she didn't know if she was awake or asleep anymore, just that she needed to get away from the nightmares and memories. But her eyes wouldn't open, and her limbs flailed and she knew she was in bed on a train on the Victory Tour, but the mutt that had Rue's eyes was chasing her, and every vicious howl gave her a new understanding of the word guilt.
"Katniss," it hissed, but she didn't dare look back at it, and her eyes still wouldn't open – why couldn't she pull herself out of this? "Katniss," she heard again, but it was softer, forceful, and something was shaking her shoulders.
And suddenly she was staring into the darkness of her train compartment lit only by the half-moon out the window. Illuminated in this glow was Peeta, his strong hands on her shoulders. His bleary face was scrunched in concern, in fear, and quickly his hands moved to her cheeks, cradling her heavy head.
Katniss could hardly process this, still seeing visions of her nightmares. "Peeta?"
"It's me," he whispered, eyes roving over her face.
Hot tears leaked out of Katniss's eyes and onto the pillowcases and sheets. She placed both hands over Peeta's, gripping hard, disoriented from the pills. The bed dipped as he sat. "Everyone was dead," she managed.
Peeta used his thumbs to brush some wet from her cheeks. His gaze darted to the bottle of sleeping pills on the nightstand and then back to her. "How many did you take?" he asked gently.
"Three," Katniss mumbled, sitting up against the headboard. "I took one last night and it didn't do anything."
"They can be dangerous if they aren't taken correctly," Peeta said.
"I couldn't – open my eyes," she told him. "Usually I can wake myself up, but tonight—"
"The pills dragged you down."
They stayed silent. Peeta tangled their hands together and moved them down from her face to her lap. "I felt like I'd be in my head forever," she said quietly.
"I know the feeling." Katniss stared at him, remembering the amazingly awful paintings he'd showed her a few days ago, when they'd agreed to be friends.
"What do you do, when you wander the train?" she asked.
He shrugged, examining their hands. "Think. Try not to think, actually," he clarified. "Sometimes I count things. Make it into a game." Katniss shook her head. "Beats this," he said, nodding towards her, so disheveled and out of sorts.
She suddenly became self-conscious, but something in her didn't want him to leave just yet. "I can't remember the last time I had a decent night's sleep."
"I can," Peeta said. "In the caves. With you watching over me."
Katniss felt a punch to her gut. Friends shouldn't speak with such naked longing, especially the tentative type of friends they were. "Me too," she admitted.
There wasn't much else to say; they were both exhausted – from the nightmares, from the Tour, from the act, from their lives. Peeta withdrew his hands from hers, and Katniss felt cold.
"Guess I need to start over," he said, standing. Katniss gave him a questioning look. "My counting game. I was doing doorknobs."
"You could stay," Katniss said, and just after the words left her mouth she felt mortified and idiotic and mean. Because asking him to stay wasn't fair, not when Gale crossed her mind every other minute.
Peeta seemed to debate the options, not exactly looking at her. Finally he shrugged. "It's worked before."
Katniss's hands moved by themselves, pulling back the sheet and blanket. She scooted sideways to make space. What was she doing? Her sleep-deprived brain couldn't properly function anymore. Peeta swiftly slipped beside her, his arm wrapping around her shoulders automatically. She rested against his side without thought, and they eased down until their heads were on the pillows, Katniss curled into Peeta's familiar form.
"Go to sleep," he whispered.
"I – I don't think I can."
"Try." His other arm wrapped around her middle, pulling her closer, her ear near his heartbeat. Unbidden, she thought again of Gale, the steady beat of his heart. Shame immediately overtook her. She couldn't be comforted by Peeta and picture Gale's face, and she couldn't compare her recent kiss with her hunting partner in the woods with that one certain kiss from her district partner in the cave, not now. Maybe after the Tour was done.
Peeta stroked her hair, and the sensation lulled Katniss enough that she closed her weary eyes, mind on more neutral thoughts of her sister. She didn't see anything again until they blinked open, sunlight covering the compartment, who knew how long later.
Beside her, Peeta was dozing so serenely that Katniss felt her breath catch. She lifted a hand and stroked the soft blonde hair across his forehead. How could she thank him for this favor he'd done her – for staying when he really didn't need to, for keeping her nightmares at bay? How could she ever repay him for any of the things he'd done for her?
Peeta shifted in his sleep, mumbling as he rolled onto his side. Katniss's arm moved with him, coming to rest around his middle, her chest to his back. This was so much more intimate than in the games, no cameras recording and projecting their movements to the world.
What am I doing? she wondered again, staring at the exposed pale skin of Peeta's neck. The sound of people chattering along the outside hallway jerked Katniss out of her current concerns, reminding her of the long day ahead. She pulled her arm away from Peeta and rolled onto her back, blowing out a breath. This couldn't happen again.