Peeta paces. He wanders. He stalks. He doesn't know what else to do when he can't sleep on the train, rolling, rocking train. Peeta is not unfamiliar with the anger and sadness that plagues him at night, but the normalcy of the feelings does not lessen them, doesn't make it easier to clear his head and sleep. If he puts his head down, all he can see is the senseless violence of the arena, again and again Katniss's face with the great gash down her forehead. The dying girl he finished off for the careers. Cato's screams, Cato's knife, Cato's mutilated body. So he is in the dining car. He is in the television car. He sits for awhile in the car where he can watch Panem fly past the windows in the darkness. He can't sit for long; the screaming is quieter if he moves.
He smiles sadly to himself as he realizes that these are the thoughts that are easy to tolerate. They are tangible, and it makes sense that he's struggling with them, he reasons, making an attempt to be gentle with himself. In a way, he embraces the sadness and the fear and the horror. It means that though he has killed a little girl and stood by while the other 21 children were murdered, he is still appalled by the whole experience. He still believes that it is sick, that violence is not the answer to anyone's problems. Peeta knows that he may re-live the arena each night in his dreams for the rest of this life. That he will never be safe from them. He tries to take some comfort in that it has such a great hold on him. They have taken his leg, and his innocence and his privacy and maybe some parts of his sanity, but Peeta is still Peeta. He tries to be grateful.
Strangely, though, the images of the arena are not the worst. It is the future that terrifies him now. For all the horror that the 74th Hunger Games brought him, it is the uncertainty of the future that really keeps him awake at night. It's the look of defeat on Katniss's usually statuesque features. The absolute bittersweetness of her hand in his, her lips on his cheek, his arm on her waist. This is not what Katniss wants, and he has no idea how far this is going to have to go.
Peeta did feel bad for yelling at Katniss and Haymitch, and his apology to her had been sincere. He was glad to be friends with her again. But he worried. Katniss didn't sleep either. The weight of keeping peace in a country that felt, in some districts, about to boil over into revolution was incredibly heavy on her. Though she had probably had the weight of her family's needs on her shoulders for a long time, this was very different. Failure meant death, and not for them. So it was a masquerade. And this, Peeta could tell, took a lot of energy. Because Katniss was nothing if not honest. Peeta tried to be easy to love, to give her every opportunity to play it up on camera, and every opportunity to escape in private.
There is a small, hopeful, quiet part of Peeta that reminds him that she doesn't often take that opportunity. When they are alone she stays in his company. Still holds his hand. Maybe she keeps it up for Effie's sake, or because it would be too hard to slip out of and back into. Like his leg. That's the other part of wandering the train that helps. He feels he is doing something at least somewhat productive, forcing himself to walk around on the mysterious plastic form attached to what used to be his leg. He hoped someday he wouldn't limp. He could tell that day would not be soon. It aches, and he chooses a stool in the bar car to sit down for another moment.
The crowds in the Districts will not be mollified by the Quarter Quell, no matter how gruesome it turns out to be. This is one of the thoughts that frequently haunts him; the reality of the Quell. Somehow, he has the feeling that the crueler the modified rules are, the worse things will get in the districts. But tradition is to modify the rules for the worse. What will it be? Peeta wonders, from his bar stool, whether they will be forced to mentor younger children, more children, only girls, only boys. An irrational thought flicks into his head, that perhaps they will merely reap the children and kill all of them at gunpoint. No games, just death. There are so many reasons the Capitol wouldn't do that, the first being that there would be no spectacle to it. Peeta does wonder, as only a Victor can, whether it would be better if nobody survived.
When he was in the games, Peeta had not planned to be the victor. He didn't believe he had a chance. So, in a way, he was ahead of the others in that he had chosen his parting gifts from the world. He had wanted to die as himself and he had wanted Katniss to win. It was the best he could do. Living onward after embracing death was harder than it sounded.
But there had been the Cave. There had been so much hope in the cave, even as he was dying. He had embraced his death, he was getting his wishes, and even an extra one, to die having kissed the girl he loved. Katniss had said, admitted, that she had been playacting even then. But she had also said that it was not all a farce. Peeta liked to think that he knew the moments she had not been pretending, after looking back. And once it was clear he would get better, and those words were spoken, we could go home, his future seemed magical. A life as a Victor, a life with Katniss, who loved him. Giving his money to his family and to the poor of the District. Mentoring and the continued influence of the Capitol was far from his mind. In his mind's eye, he wants to shake his head at the hopeful boy in the cave. To make him realize that he will never truly go home again.
He had never, ever imagined being a Victor would feel like this.
Just as the reality and sadness of this fact settled on his shoulders and inclined him toward perhaps trying, again, to sleep, a scream splits the darkness.
His wanderings took him past her room many times, and now it is close. He ran as well as he could, the plastic of his new leg digging uncomfortably into him. And then he is at her door, at her side. His heart is pounding, but he sees, as he takes in her shaking form, that she is unharmed. That there is nothing to fear. Not right now.
And she is so beautiful, even with sleep creases on her face and tears trekking down from her silvery eyes and her hair a wavy, tangled mess. Peeta's heart aches for her, aches for him, and he envelops her in his arms. Katniss clings to him miserably as her screams turn to moans, then quiet sobs, then finally to exhausted, drugged whimpers. He murmurs comforting things to her, nonsense things. Lies, really. Just strings of comforting nontruths like it will be okay, it's going to be okay, Katniss, you're okay and the betrayal slips from his mouth as he tells her over and over what he knows not to be true: you're safe. His words, true or not, seem to comfort her.
"Effie's drugs don't work," she mumbles after a long while.
"I figured they don't," Peeta replied, stroking her hair and loosening his hold, so that if she wants to lean away, she can. "Do you dream about the arena?"
"I dream of Rue. And Prim," she says quietly. Her body is very still. Only her fingers tremble, "and every awful thing," she whispers then.
Peeta has no response to this. It doesn't seem like it will be helpful to tell her that he does too, that he is up at night because he worries about their futures and the fact that somewhere, in his heart, he knows a sad truth. That if pretending to be lovers is what is keeping the country together, this is a charade Katniss will never, ever stop having to perform. Having Katniss forcibly tied to him for the rest of his life sounds like torture, but losing her forever feels worse, he thinks. Katniss does not need his nightmares and hers. She pulls herself away from him, and covers her front in a blanket, as, he realizes now, that she sleeps in her underclothes. In the dark, he can just make out a streak of color, a blush, across her cheeks and nose.
"Should I get an attendant to bring you some water, or something?" he asks lamely, politely averting his eyes.
"No," she says quickly, her eyes trained on the hem of the blanket.
Peeta sits there for another moment, unsure of what to do. He doesn't want to leave her, since she still looks dazed. But he feels that he shouldn't stay, either. So much of him happens to her without her permission. And didn't he want to minimize that, if he could? So he stretched out his legs and stood.
But Katniss's hand is on his in an instant, and the words, "don't go," ring through the air, though Peeta cannot believe that Katniss herself has spoken them.
Katniss's eyes are like so many different things. They are like steel, they are like frost, they are like starlight. Now they are like a stormcloud; hazy, dangerous, electric. This is why he loves her. Not her eyes, but the power that lives in her. She is many things, among them brave, and scared, cunning and simple, beautiful and tormented, kind and vicious. No other person he has ever met can match these qualities. And it amazes him, even in his exhausted state, that all of these qualities might exist in the same person; and even being a whirlwind of contradictions, Katniss is also invariably Katniss.
The thing he wants most is to climb into her bed, take her in his arms and fall asleep with her cradled against him. But it is too late to float hope. So he sits instead.
But she has not released her hold on his hand, and gives another, tentative little tug.
His breath catches in his throat. But her eyes are clear now, and calm. There is something dark there, too. But it's not fear, or sadness. It's only exhaustion.
He scoots a little closer on the bed, thankful he is in his pajamas and barefoot. Katniss does not relinquish hold of his hand and burrows under the blankets, against the wall, leaving him in a large open space. She settles in, using her unoccupied hand to brush stray hairs out of her face. Then, another tiny little tug.
Peeta is not willing to go silently, "Katniss, what," he begins, and her eyes flick up to his.
"Do you remember sleeping in the cave?" Peeta feels he does not have to answer, as he feels a thousand memories wash over him, but Katniss persists, "what do you remember?"
Is now the time for honesty? He hopes his eyes are asking her, before he responds. Her sleepy gaze does not waver. She wants to know. "I remember you made me comfortable. I remember your face. I remember you made me eat. It was quiet. It was..." and he wants to say that word again, the word that can only be a lie for Victors of the Capitol's cruel game, "I remember thinking, 'We're safe for now.'"
And Katniss nods sleepily, clearly almost lost to the world of the conscious, and she mumbles, as she now laces her fingers through his and gives his hand one final tug, "safe for now."
Peeta cannot stop the sad smile. He climbs fully into bed with her, sliding one hand underneath her and one hand around. She curls perfectly into his chest and breathes so calmly and so deeply that he holds her tighter, but never tightly. He realizes then, perhaps it isn't such a terrible lie.
"Safe for now," he says, and presses his lips to her hair.
Thank you so much for reading. I fully enjoy, accept and encourage all comments and criticisms. If you liked this please check out my other stories—almost all one-shots, so they're easy to get through. Also be sure to check out my newly-completed Epic fic with SuperV.