It is not, but could be considered a companion piece to my other one-shot 'A Stranger's Mind.'
I'm using the name of Peeta's brother from my other multi-chapter fic 'A House Of Cards.' This is in no way related to that fic.
He listens to his brother cry every night.
He listens to his brother torture himself every night.
He listens to his brother screaming…every night.
Sometimes, he thinks he's the only one in the house that can hear him. But he knows he isn't. He knows that his other brother leaves at midnight to wander through the Merchant Quarter, to get away from his broken and fractured family.
He knows his mother waves it off as nothing, that it'll pass and that Peeta is just being overdramatic.
And he knows his father just tries to pretend it isn't happening. That it's not real.
But Whitley Mellark doesn't know what's real or not real anymore.
He was so sure that everything was going to be okay again when Peeta got back from the Capitol. He was smiling, he was laughing, he was Peeta.
But that boy next door, that wasn't Peeta.
He noticed that the new Peeta doesn't smile anymore. The new Peeta doesn't laugh. The new Peeta is paranoid.
The first week was the worst.
It was just after Peeta had moved into the Victor's Village. He had invited his family to come along with, but his mother had refused.
But Peeta came by to the bakery every day, and worked all the hours that he used to, he refused help, he greeted customers. Everything was just as it was before he was reaped.
The only time he wouldn't be there was when the press demanded his attention. His mother had flaunted her way into every one, of course.
But on his sixth day back, Barlee had decided to surprise Peeta and wrestle him just like he used to do when they were children.
Peeta had Barlee pinned to the wall and had his hands around his neck within seconds.
Peeta didn't come back after that day. He didn't come back for a long time.
On the second week, Whitley heard his father crying in the kitchen in the middle of the night when he went down for a glass of water.
His father held a picture of a seven year-old smiling Peeta in his hands.
Whitley had held his father until the dawn rose the next day.
It was then that he decided to pay a visit to his younger brother. And perhaps have an extended stay.
When he told his family that he was leaving to go to Peeta's for a while, his father had jumped to the opportunity, and Barlee had gone along just because he felt guilty and he felt like he owed it to Peeta.
His mother was reluctant. But she always was.
They found Peeta huddled up in a corner of a room when they arrived. Paint was splattered all across the carpet. The house screamed 'Capitol,' there was hardly anything there that reminded the Mellark family of Peeta.
Nothing, but the shell of a boy that used to smile.
His mother had scoffed and said, "That's the Peeta we know. Always weak."
Peeta didn't flinch. He didn't move. He just stayed there staring at them. It was like hours before he got up and gave each of them a hug.
His father was crying by the time Peeta got to him.
Peeta whispered to him soothingly, "I'm fine, dad."
They all knew he wasn't fine.
When everyone left for dinner, Whitley had stayed inside the room, staring at the colourful floor and blank canvases. But some we covered with sheets, as if Peeta hated them, but he couldn't bear to part with them.
When Whitley decided that he was going to sneak a peek, Peeta had turned up and asked him if he was coming for dinner.
He noticed that Peeta had locked the door once his back was turned.
Whitley lost track of the days after that. He didn't count. He didn't want too. Because if he did then he would be able to figure out how much longer it was going to be until Peeta was sent off to go to the Victory Tour.
The last thing he wanted was his brother's adjustment back to District Twelve to become disrupted.
The first night in the house, everything was quiet. Soft breathing echoed through the furnished walls, the wind blew against the window panes.
That is, until someone started screaming.
They all woke up with a jolt. Mr and Mrs Mellark ran out the room to track down who it was, and Barlee and Whitley had done the same thing.
When they realized it came from Peeta's bedroom, something snapped.
They realized what was really going on. What was really going through his head every time he zoned out, every time he locked himself up in the room that was always locked.
They realized that he's living the Games through his mind every day. That even if the Games are over, they're never truly done.
It would explain why Haymitch drinks. And why they always hear another voice that accompanies Peeta's at night.
But on the seventh night of his stay, Whitley cannot take hearing his brother scream any more.
He climbs out of his bed and walks to the next room.
The door is unlocked, and he enters the bedroom. Inside, he finds Peeta tossing and turning on the bed, with sweat shining all over his body. His shirt clings to his body like a second skin, his hair sticks to his forehead like it's been glued.
Whitley's heart aches for his brother.
He closes the door and walks towards the bed, towards Peeta.
He places a hand on his brother's shoulder and gently shakes him awake. Peeta always used to be a light-sleeper.
His eyes snap open. His once cerulean eyes are black in the darkness, they no longer shine.
Peeta's lips are slightly parted, and he's heaving heavily, catching his breath.
"I…I'm sorry," Peeta says.
Whitley rolls his eyes. Peeta was always used to taking the blame.
"There's nothing to apologize about," Whitley replies.
"We hear you screaming every night, Peeta."
Peeta shakes his head, and puts his face in his hands.
"Why do you hide it from us, Peet? We're here, we'll listen to you," he assures.
Peeta moves his head, shakes it from side to side rapidly. He grabs his hair with his hands and tugs on it.
"I….It's just that no one understands."
Whitley sits down beside his brother and forces him to look at his face. Peeta's face is streaked with tears. No, this isn't the same boy that left for the Capitol, he isn't the same boy that used to leave stale and burnt bread in the garbage bins for young starving children to claim.
"Well then help us understand."
More tears fall.
"It's so hard. You'd think it'd get easier. But, it just gets worse."
Whitley leans in closer, and places his hand on his brother's shoulder. "What? What Peeta?"
"I see their faces every night. The ones that were killed. I see their lifeless faces. I see the fox-like girl eating the berries. I killed her…and I didn't even know her name.
"I see Cato being ripped apart by mutts. And sometimes…I see you, father, mother and even Barlee in their place. And it hurts so much to know that I'm the one that made it out."
He shakes his head and blinks his eyes, trying to keep the tears at bay. "But you deserved it Peet. You deserved to make it out."
"But didn't they deserve it as well?!" Peeta lashes out.
The sound of breathing fills the air.
"The life of a victor isn't easy. It's never that easy."
Whitley shuffles over to sit opposite Peeta. They don't speak. There's nothing Whitley can say.
"The worst part of it is that I'm going to have to face the families of the people I killed. I'm going to have to see their parents, their siblings, and they're going to blame me. And the guilt…it kills me.
"I know I'm not the same Peeta. I hear dad and Barlee talking about it when they think I'm not listening. But the old Peeta died in that arena.
"And it's like I can't get away. Like I can't escape. My mind hasn't left the arena, it's like I'm still there trying to figure my way out. It's like I've been placed in a maze and they've sealed off the exits and everywhere I end up is a dead end."
With this, Whitley realizes why Peeta hides in the locked room.
"That room. You paint the Games don't you?" he asks.
Peeta nods. "Yes. I do. I paint them but I can't bear to look at them. But I can't let go of them either. It's a part of me now, and whatever I do, and no matter how much I try, I won't ever forget."
A gust of wind blows through the open window. A scream accompanies it.
"It looks like you're not the only one, huh?" Whitley asks.
Peeta shakes his head. "No, I'm not. It hurts to know that she's in pain."
Whitley looks out the window, to the houses that line the empty street that spans the Village. Only three houses are occupied. And all three hold fractured people, broken into pieces.
Everyone outside the Village marvels at its beauty, they crave the life inside, how easy it must be for the victors to have all the money that they can ever dream of, to have the luxuries that mirror the Capitol's.
But they don't know. None of them really know that the victors would give anything to trade places. To get rid of the nightmares, to live a simple life once again.
Peeta huffs and lets out a humourless chuckle. "You know, I owe her so much, and I don't even know her favourite colour."
"I don't even know your favourite colour," Whitley laughs, "why don't you ask?"
"We haven't talked in a long time."
Peeta sighs, "Something happened."
"She played you, didn't she?" he says.
Peeta doesn't answer. His silence is enough.
"I'm sorry Peet. I know you love her."
"Yeah, well, I'm not good for her. She doesn't deserve someone like me."
Whitley blinks. "What the hell are you talking about? There is no one better than you Peeta. No one."
"She doesn't seem to think so."
"Does it really matter Peeta? You have to fight for her. What else is there to live for if you can't live without someone that you need to keep going?"
Peeta leans against the headboard and watches the moon pass by in the sky.
"It's not that easy. "
"But it's not impossible."
Peeta looks at his brother quizzically.
"Nothing's impossible Peet. Life isn't easy, there are the good days and the bad days, but you have to try and get on as best as you can.
"You lived for a reason Peeta. I've always believed that you were meant to do great things. You're better than any of us, even now when you believe you're worthless.
"But you're not. You're special and you have the kindest heart. It may not go away, the Games might be with you forever, but we'll be here. We'll always be here with you.
"And if you let us, we might be able to help you find your way out of that maze."
Peeta smiles for the first time that night. "Thank you Wheat."
"Don't worry, even when we leave next week, we'll always visit and you'll come to the bakery right?"
Peeta nods his head. "Yeah. I've missed it."
"Orange." Peeta suddenly says.
"You said you didn't know my favourite colour. It's a muted orange. Soft. Kind of like sunset."
Whitley pulls his brother into a hug and smiles. He realizes that what he can do is simple – just be there.
And so both brothers watch the night go on by until the sun breaks the horizon the next morning.
But that night, the lesson that Peeta learned was that sometimes you have to let go of things to move on. Whitley taught Peeta that he had to let go of his self-loathing to move on with his life, that he wasn't to be blamed for everything, that even the hardest things aren't impossible to achieve.
And that sometimes, you have to let go of that sunset to make way for the sunrise.
Longer than I intended. It's just an idea that popped into my head, so I decided to write about it when I got some spare time. So taaa daaaa! I'm sorry if there are many mistakes, I'm kind of out of it right now. But thank you for reading and if you like it, don't hesitate to tell me (:
And if my dear House Of Cards readers have read this, sorry for no new chapter! Sometimes I like to write new things, but I hope that I can get the next chapter up on Thurs/Fri. Thank you! And sorry that it's taking so long.
Anyways, thank you for taking your time and reading this, it's much appreciated (:
Reviews are always welcome, they motivate me a lot (: