Katniss pulls the warm down comforter over her head, trying to shut out the feeble early morning sunlight struggling to pierce through the slats in Peeta's bedroom window.
She wraps her arms around Peeta's body and burrows more closely into his side, breathing him in and reveling in the fact that there's absolutely nowhere either of them needs to be right now.
She could definitely get used to this kind of luxury.
When she presses a gentle kiss to Peeta's neck he sighs quietly. He reaches up and begins running his fingers through her long, tangled hair.
He's awake, then.
"Hey," he murmurs, very quietly, his voice thick with sleep. He kisses the top of her head as he continues to work through her tangles with dexterous fingers. They'd both gone to bed very late last night, right after their celebratory dinner… and their shower for two. She hadn't bothered to dry her hair before going to sleep, which she knew was a mistake even at the time. But drunk as she was on victory and on Peeta, in the moment she just didn't care that her hair would be a wreck this morning.
Katniss shoves the covers off her and props herself up on one elbow, looking down at Peeta's face, slack with fatigue and more relaxed than she's seen it in more than six months. His eyes are open, but are unfocused without his glasses. Even still, they travel leisurely down from her eyes, to her lips, to her collarbone until they finally stop to rest on her bare breasts.
He cups them gently in his hands and stares at them, smiling a little. For half a second Katniss thinks he's wordlessly suggesting they resume their activities from last night. She's just about to suggest it herself when his eyes flutter closed on a sleepy sigh.
He's asleep again in seconds.
Carefully, so as not to wake him, Katniss reaches down and pulls the covers back over them both. She drapes one arm across his bare chest and nestles her head on his shoulder. Pressing a gentle kiss to his cheek, she decides to stay awake and watch Peeta for a while. Standing sentinel over him, a guard against unpleasant dreams.
After everything he's been through the past six months he deserves a full night of restful sleep.
Even though their agreement from the beginning has been that Katniss would stay in a behind-the-scenes role for this trial, once they're only a few days out she realizes what she really wants is to be there, agreement with Peeta be damned. Not holed up in her comfortable downtown office, doing what increasingly feels like completely unimportant work during the day and conducting research for Peeta's trial on the sly at night.
She wants to actually be there as Peeta nails Capitol to the wall for what they're doing in Guatemala. She wants to be the one to use her research on international trade law to cross-examine Capitol's CEO. She wants to be the one to make the goddamn closing argument at the end of trial that she wrote for Peeta two days ago.
After spending months surreptitiously helping Peeta prepare, Katniss feels prouder of her work on this case than of anything else she's ever done in the law. By now it's truly their case. Theirs. Not just Peeta's. Even if Katniss won't, and can't, get any of the credit for it. And Katniss hates that she can't be there with Peeta every single minute of this trial to see it through to the end.
But every time she brings it up to him Peeta's answer is always the same. "You can't," he always says. "You know that." He usually follows up his words with a heated kiss that, while more than pleasant, does little to placate.
He's right of course. Cinna would have her head if she ditched her billable work for a whole month to try this case with Peeta. To say nothing of what Haymitch or the firm's name partners would say about it.
But none of that changes how she feels.
Katniss does manage to be there for Peeta's opening statement.
She has to come up with an excuse involving a fictitious aunt and a sick puppy to get out of her weekly team meeting with Haymitch and Cinna. But even if she can't be present for as much of the trial as she'd like, she refuses to miss this first part of it. No matter how much time and hard work you put into the rest of the trial, the opening statement can often make – or sink – your case. She can't let Peeta do this alone.
When she arrives at the courthouse that morning, Peeta is already sitting at the plaintiff's table – the larger of the two counsel tables; the one to the left of the judge's bench. There are books and stacks of documents three deep and piled up nearly a foot high on either side of him.
"Peeta," she says.
His head snaps up at the sound of her voice and he looks at her, eyes wide with surprise behind his glasses. She hadn't told him she was coming today.
"Katniss!" Peeta says happily, if more than a little shakily. He stands up to greet her with an enthusiasm that belies the exhaustion she knows he's feeling.
The courtroom where Peeta will essentially be living these next four weeks is much smaller than Katniss imagined it would be. It's really not much larger than their Moot Court room was at Michigan. It is ornate, though. Or at least, as ornate as a room in a Federal building ever is. The Federal Government's seal hangs prominently over the judge's bench alongside a richly decorated tapestry displaying the State of Illinois' seal. And the two counsel tables appear to be made of real mahogany.
Katniss wastes no time in walking over to Peeta and wrapping her arms around him. He pulls her close and buries his face in her hair. He sighs, and kisses the top of her head before resting his cheek against it.
Ordinarily, Katniss wouldn't feel comfortable engaging in public displays of affection like this in a courtroom, but right now she doesn't care. The trial won't start for another hour. And the only other person in the room is a bored-looking bailiff who's ignoring them and messing around on her iPhone.
They stand there together in silence for a very long moment, enjoying each other's company and the last precious moment of peace they'll likely know for a month.
"I don't know if I can do this," Peeta eventually admits to her under his breath for what must be the hundredth time. He's said it to her so often it's become a sort of mantra for him. "I just don't know, Katniss. It's… it's so much."
She presses a gentle kiss to his neck and snuggles more closely into him. She can hear his heartbeat – steady and strong and sure – under her ear.
"You can," Katniss assures him, just as she always does whenever he begins to doubt himself. She holds him tighter. "You will."
Peeta lets out a muffled noise that sounds a little like a sob.
"Okay," he says slowly, sounding unconvinced.
Peeta's opening statement is little changed from the presentation he made to her that night in Guatemala, when it was just the two of him in his cluttered hotel room. The night when they'd finally both let down their defenses and slept together.
Over the months he's added a few additional facts about La Maquila's operations that they've gleaned from discovery. There are a few extra paces around the counsel's table they'd choreographed together, a few nights ago in HP&C's library over a midnight dinner of greasy pizza.
And the jury is rapt, watching him, slack-jawed and riveted, as Peeta masterfully holds them in his thrall.
It is, by and large, the same speech Katniss has heard dozens of times before. But it is no less powerful and affecting for that. She has to dab her eyes with a Kleenex by the end.
The following day, Katniss is able to sneak into court again for a few hours so she can watch Peeta question the Plaintiffs' first witness: La Maquila's CEO, who is at least as nervous and easily rattled in court as he was in his videotaped deposition, if not even more so. Katniss wishes she could come tomorrow for Peeta's questioning of La Maquila's Guatemalan Chief of Operations, too; but she knows she won't be able to swing that.
About an hour into Peeta's direct examination, the courtroom door behind Katniss opens very quietly and then closes again. Katniss turns her head and sees Delly walk in, wearing a Neiman Marcus suit that must have cost her over a thousand dollars. Delly stands by the door, holding a giant briefcase in both hands, too distracted by the trial to notice that Katniss is here and staring right at her.
"Delly," Katniss whispers. Loudly enough for Delly to hear her, quietly enough that the other people assembled in the courtroom won't notice.
Delly turns to look at Katniss and she pales. She holds up a hand and waves a little, smiling weakly.
Katniss glances at her wristwatch. It's nearly noon. No matter how much she wants to stay and watch the rest of this she needs to get back to work. And soon. Sighing, she stands up from her seat and walks to the back of the courtroom where Delly is still standing.
When she gets there she put her hand on Delly's shoulder. Delly flinches a little at the contact.
"Game over," Katniss mouths deliberately and soundlessly to her friend, trying to look intimidating. She can't do much to help Peeta now that trial is underway, and this stupid gesture probably won't do much. But Delly's eyes go wide at Katniss' implication, and in spite of herself Katniss feels a small flash of pride.
She hopes Delly will forgive her when this is all over.
"Good luck," Katniss whispers to her before opening the courtroom door and walking through it.
Katniss isn't able to get back to the courthouse until the trial is very nearly over.
Cinna's on to her. He hasn't said as much but Katniss knows it's true. He's a very intelligent man, and she knows that somewhere along the way he started suspecting what's been going on right under his nose for months.
Even from the beginning of her time at HP&C, Cinna always did the best he could to keep from piling her up with meaningless busy work. And to the extent possible he's always been flexible about deadlines. But suddenly, and without warning, all of that has come to an end. Now that Peeta's trial is ongoing Cinna keeps Katniss' inbox so full of depositions to review and pointless pleadings to file that Katniss is tied to her desk until nearly ten every night just to keep her head above water.
Katniss had become very used to having dinner with Peeta every night during their months of trial prep, but that's over now as well. Given that she's still trying to help Peeta behind the scenes – late at night, once her work from Cinna is finally complete – and given that Peeta is even busier than she is, all that they have time for now are supportive texts to each other before collapsing in their respective beds.
Sometimes they're both so exhausted from the day's work their text conversations make no sense.
One week before the jury is set to begin deliberation, and at two in the morning, Katniss reaches her breaking point. Even though she hopes Peeta is sleeping at this hour she needs to reach him. She needs to know that he's okay, that he's hanging in there. And that he still believes they'll come out of all of this alive on the other side.
She grabs the phone lying on her bedside table and begins texting him.
I wish I could be there with you, Peeta.
She waits a few moments for him to respond. When he doesn't, she puts the phone back down on her table and lies back down, eyes wide open and staring at the ceiling.
Her phone vibrates and lights up with a text a few seconds later. She scrambles to the phone and picks it up.
I know, Katniss. I wish you were here with me too.
She closes her eyes and grits her teeth, trying to work up the courage to tell him what she's been wanting to say for months now.
When this is over….
She pauses and takes a deep breath. Tells herself she can do this. She can tell him.
When this trial is over, I don't want us to be apart like this anymore. Ever again.
He doesn't text her back right away, and Katniss can hear her heart hammering wildly in her chest.
Finally, her phone vibrates in her hands with his return message.
I don't want us to be apart like this anymore either. This really sucks.
She lets out a shaky breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding.
Can we find a way to fix this, Peeta? Make sure it never happens again?
His response is instantaneous:
Yes. If it's what you want. Because that's definitely what I want, Katniss.
That night, Katniss doesn't fall asleep until after three in the morning, her phone clutched tightly in her hand. When her alarm goes off four hours later her fingers stiff are from having held it all night.
The morning Peeta is due to give his closing argument in front of the jury Katniss doesn't even bother going into the office.
She has another meeting with yet another irritating corporate client that afternoon. But she doesn't care. Missing the prep meeting with Cinna and Haymitch will earn her a reprimand but she'll be damned if she's going to miss Peeta making his closing argument in front of the twelve men and women he's been trying to win over the past four weeks.
She arrives at the Federal courthouse after trial has already been in session for a few minutes, and so she pushes the door open as quietly as she can. Unlike the first two times she came here, the room is packed with people. Including, to her great surprise, journalists. There are no cameras allowed in the Seventh Circuit's Federal courtrooms but after a lifetime of watching CNN she'd recognize the telltale recorders and notepads they use anywhere.
There are so many people gathered in the small room that Katniss has to crane her neck at an awkward angle to find Peeta. And when she sees him – his back to her, standing in front of the judge's bench with three of Capitol's attorneys – her jaw drops.
In the three weeks since she last saw Peeta he's lost weight. A lot of weight. The suit he's wearing is one he had tailored specially for this trial. Six weeks ago it fit him perfectly, but today he's swimming in clothes that are clearly two sizes too big for him.
Katniss strains her ears to listen to what the judge is saying to Peeta and the other attorneys. But she's a good two hundred feet away from them and she can't quite make out the words. Whatever it is, though, she can tell it has Capitol's counsel agitated. The man Katniss assumes is their lead attorney shakes his head from side to side. She can see his profile, and his face is a mask of disappointment.
Peeta, for his part, is nodding along as the judge speaks and writing whatever she's saying down on a notepad. His face is hidden to Katniss. She wishes more than anything that she could know what he's thinking right now.
"All right," the judge says eventually, loudly enough for the entire courtroom can hear. The row of journalists seated in the back row sit up straighter at her words and stop fiddling with their recorders and iPhones. "Counsel for the Plaintiffs?"
"We rest, your Honor." Peeta's voice is hoarse – Katniss' heart clenches painfully in her chest when she hears how scratchy it is – but to her amazement it still conveys strength and confidence.
"Very good," the judge says. "And counsel for Defendant?"
"Rest, your Honor," the lead attorney says.
"Very well," the judge says. She pushes up the long, flowing sleeves of her black robe and turns to Peeta. "Counsel, your closing argument?"
"Yes, your Honor," Peeta says. He slowly makes his way over to the jury box and stands in front of the twelve men and women who've been listening to his every word for four weeks.
"Men and women of the jury," Peeta begins.
As he walks around the courtroom, all that can be heard aside from his voice is the occasional quiet cough and the whirring of the journalists' recorders.
Peeta is just as magnificent in front of crowd as he's always been. But he leans against the jury box railing for support far more than they'd practiced a month ago – and to Katniss he just looks so, so tired.
And then, just like that, it's over.
As the jury files out of its box, Peeta carefully winds his way to where Katniss is sitting in the back.
He places his palm on her shoulder.
"I need to get out of here," he rasps.
She covers his hand with hers. He's shaking. She gives his hand what she hopes is a reassuring squeeze but he doesn't stop.
"I love you," she says. He smiles at her, but the smile doesn't reach his eyes.
"Please, Katniss," he pleads. "I need to go."
Wordlessly, she takes him by both hands and leads him out of the courtroom.
"I can't lose this trial, Katniss," he tells her as soon as they're outside the courthouse.
He insisted they go outside, despite the frigid late spring temperatures. He has a cigarette in one hand and a fistful of his own hair in the other and he's pacing so quickly Katniss worries he'll wear out his shoes.
Katniss decides to spend the entire day with him, right here, waiting for the verdict. She has mountains of work to do for Haymitch but she gives exactly zero fucks about any of it right now. She holds Peeta's hand when he stops pacing long enough for her to do so, and tries to say sweet, encouraging things to him as he frets.
Mostly, however, Peeta is full of far too much kinetic energy for her to do anything for him but sit there, quietly, listening to him rant when he needs her to listen.
"This is it," Peeta says at last, to no one in particular. He stops his frantic pacing and stares off at an invisible point in the distance. "This is it," he repeats. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath; and then buries his face in his hands and begins to sob. Huge, racking sobs that shake his entire body.
Alarmed, Katniss jumps up from the bench she'd been perched on all afternoon. She runs over to his side and gathers him into his arms.
"It's ok," she murmurs to him very gently, although she isn't entirely certain he can hear her in this state. He's tall, and he dwarfs her frame – she only comes up to his shoulder, and her face is buried in his chest and his starched white button-down – but she attempts to rock him a little anyway. "You'll be all right, no matter what happens. I promise."
He makes an incomprehensible strangled noise in the back of his throat by way of response. And simply stands there and lets her try and rock him as his tears fall on her hair.
Katniss isn't certain how long they stand like that, clutched in each other's arms, in front of the Federal courthouse. An hour? Four hours?
Either way, the sun is beginning to set when Peeta's phone vibrates in his pocket. The interruption startles them both and they break apart.
Peeta looks at her from red-rimmed eyes. His face ashen, but at least he's no longer shaking. He fumbles for his phone and looks at the screen for a long moment.
"The bailiff," he says. His voice is distant and strange. "It's the bailiff."
"Go on, then" Katniss says to him, trying to sound encouraging. Trying not to vomit from nerves herself. "You need to answer it, Peeta."
Peeta nods and pushes a button on his phone, his eyes wide.
"Yes?" he says into it.
A short pause.
"All right," he says. He's shaking again, and Katniss' stomach sinks. "Yes, sir. I'll be right in."
He shuts off the phone and puts it back in his pocket.
"The jury has a verdict," he tells her.
a/n: I'm chaining myself to my desk until this story is finished. Just one more chapter and an epilogue to go. For those of you who are still reading and who haven't given up on this story, I thank you!
If you'd like to yell at me for how bad I am at updating – or if you'd like to just say hello – you can find me on tumblr as jeeno2, where I blog about THG, Game of Thrones, and my naughty cats.