Winter

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I am flicking through last week's newspaper when there is knock on the door. I glance at the time and it is exactly six o' clock, as he promised. I tell him to come in and he appears, drenched from head to toe. The snow outside is picking up speed, creating a thick misty air that makes it impossible to see past the front gate of the house. He is shaking uncontrollably as he tries to hang his coat on a chair, so I go to the kitchen to quickly pour a mug of steaming tea and place it in his hands. I wrap my fingers around his to still the trembling. It lessens, and when he looks at me I pull my hands back and let them fall awkwardly at my sides.

"Drink," I order before resuming my position on the couch and hastily grabbing the newspaper. I feel Peeta's gaze on me linger, then he sips the tea obediently and walks toward me. I pretend to be absorbed in an article about the new nuclear power station in 5, expecting him to take his usual seat on the armchair across from me. When he plops on the ground and leans his head back on the sofa seat next to me, I freeze. I reluctantly tear my eyes away from the article, not because it is exciting but because I'm afraid of what Peeta is expecting of me. But all of that passes when I see his legs spread out lazily in front of the fire, his wet blonde fringe clumsily sticking to his peaceful face, and the slow rising and falling of his chest. He is asleep.

I bite my lip and glower at the paper. I had been hoping for some company, maybe even to work on our book, but Peeta looks exhausted and I don't want to be the cruel one who disrupts his stolen moment of serenity. The paper rustles as I fold it and set it on the coffee table. Peeta stirs a little to cross his arms tightly around his chest. Despite the warmth from the fire, he is shivering.

I remember that my mother used to dry our hair after we bathed in winter to keep us warmer. I sprint as quietly as I can to my bedroom, grab my blanket and a fresh towel, and sprint back to Peeta. I throw the blanket over his sleeping form, pulling it up to his chin. He sighs and tucks his legs under it.

I look at the towel in my hands. I consider waking him so he can do it himself, but swallow it down because I know that it would be selfish. Hesitantly, I wrap his hair with the towel and dry it as lightly as I can, hoping against all hopes that he will remain in a state of unfeeling. Unfortunately, contrary to Peeta's belief in the first games, I do not possess my mother's gentle hands. His eyelids slowly flutter open and he looks up at me quizzically.

My hands freeze and I open my mouth to explain myself. Peeta notices the towel and gives me a sympathetic smile.

"Let me," he offers, sitting up and loosening the towel from my grip. He quickly rubs it on his soaked hair and takes a quick drink from his mug.

"Thanks," he says with a tired smile. He lays his head on the sofa seat and within minutes his breathing deepens.

I slide down cautiously next to him and hug my knees to my chest. My throat tightens as I look at the scars on his face. I want to thank him too, for being here. For trudging through a snowstorm to keep an insignificant promise. For coming back to a district that has nothing left for him in order to protect me from my ghosts, as he always has.

I lean my head gently against his shoulder. "Thank you," I whisper. When his head rests on mine, I know that tonight the nightmares will not seize us. Because that's what Peeta and I do, protect each other.


fin.