Holy shit guys, the response for the previous chapter was absolutely amazing! I'm so glad that so many of you are invested enough in this story as to offer your opinion on the leg thing. Unfortunately, the vote is pretty evenly divided so if anyone of you still has an opinion to offer, there is still time c: This chapter is pretty angsty. We knew that Peeta is naturally pretty inclined to angst since his life was pretty shit but I guess seeing someone die for the first time can also has a pretty big effect on you, especially if it's someone you care about.

So, I guess WARNING: ANGST.

I'm so thankful to each and every one of you that reviewed. I'm really sorry that I don't have time to reply to you all but your observations and thoughts mean SO MUCH to me. I really wanna reach across my computer screen and hug you guys.

Also much much thanks to my beta C.J. Ellison :* :*

Without further ado, HAPPY READING :*


Chapter Seventeen

Katniss


But I'm only human

And I bleed when I fall down

I'm only human and I crash and I break down.


Katniss plucked out her knives from Marvel's body, staring at the two gaping holes in his torso that she had created without the blink of an eye. His blood smeared on her hands, making her fingers slippery, only forcing her to clutch her knives harder. She felt no sense of remorse; she could have as well been staring at the corpse of an animal for all she felt. Instead she wanted to clutch her knife and drive it through his un-beating heart again and again and again until her arms would give out or there was nothing left to strike.

She must have been standing there for a while because the next thing she knew, Peeta's hand was on her shoulder and he was steering her away, like she had done not hours ago when he hovered over the dead boy from District Three. She wanted to shake his hand off her shoulder and she wanted to ask him- was this how it felt? Was this how he had been living since the death of his father?

She had always thought that she understood him better than anyone. Now she felt like she had never understood him at all.

They were walking again. His hand had moved to her elbow and he touched her almost gently, like he was holding china. Her fingers were securely wrapped around her knives, on in each hand, the fresh blood still dripping from the tips and falling to the earth in tiny droplets of red. She didn't know where they were going so she just watched the droplets, sliding, slipping, curving downwards and then dripping and then vanishing. Had they picked up the bodies already or were they still bleeding out into the ground?

They reached the stream sometime later, the exact same spot where they had washed their clothes that morning, dusk following them minutes behind. Her clothes were covered in blood again; washing them had been of almost no use. Peeta seated her on a flat rock and then gently pried her fingers open, extracting both her knives from the desperate clutches of her fingers. He bent by the stream and washed the blood off them before drying them against his pants. Then, he then took out one of their water bottles and took her hands in his, washing off the red staining her fingers. His fingers gently brushed across the shell of her ear and she almost winced at the reminder that it was no longer functioning.

He cleaned the trail of blood spilling down her neck, "What happened?"

"The explosion." she said, numbly. She struggled to gather her thoughts, "I- I think my eardrum is ruptured."

"Can you hear anything in it?" he asked with concern lacing his voice, his fingers hovering over her disabled ear.

"Nothing," she answered.

He handed one of her knives back to her and kept the other to himself. She didn't know where his bow was, only that he no longer had one. He took a seat beside her on the rock, close enough that there were only a few inches between them, but far enough for her to notice that there were a few inches between them. "Do you want something to eat?" He asked.

See you at dinner. "No." she said.

He nodded. "Me neither."

Night fell soon afterwards. Peeta busied himself with taking inventory of their backpacks and filling their canteens. He did the work slowly, as if drawing it out and she just sat there and watched him do whatever he was doing. He picked out some branches and started smoothing them out with his knife, tracing the edges until they were sharp and pointy. He didn't say anything or try to touch her or ask if she was okay and she appreciated it. Once, when he had made two of his makeshift wooden arrows, she held out a hand and he gave her a branch. She took a seat beside him on the cool grass and she made an arrow herself.

She absorbed herself in it, gently scarping off the thin layer of bark and then smoothing out the ridges. She worked on the tip last, scraping off the wood with sudden, jerky movements of her knife until she had leveled out the edge into a sharp point. It was then, with unnatural constellations falling across the sky, that she heard the familiar metallic tink tink noise of a parachute gently making its way down towards them. Peeta plucked it out if the sky and attached to its end was nothing but a big loaf of bread.

Peeta frowned, observing the bread. "I would have liked a new bow but I guess this works too?"

Katniss shook her head, her voice a tiny whisper when she said, "It's not from Haymitch." She pointed a low finger at the loaf, illuminated only by the sparse rays of artificial moonlight filtering through the high branches of the forest. "It's from Eleven. See that grainy texture of the crust? They only have that in Eleven." Then, she looked upwards, staring into the sky as if she were looking into one huge camera. Her eyes pricked with tears when she understood the meaning of the gesture. "Thank you," she rasped.

Peeta nodded too. He swallowed once before he said, "Our gratitude to the people of District Eleven."

Peeta tore two little pieces from the loaf and they ate their dinner, staring at the large eleven stamped onto one side of the packaging. But she needn't have seen it to know. It was then, when they had almost devoured half the loaf, that she allowed Peeta to take her hand. He gently pried open her fist -she had been digging her nails into her palm without even noticing- and then intertwined their fingers, giving her hand a gentle squeeze. The gesture only made her eyes tear up again and she was glad that he didn't try to hug her because she knew she would start to sob and she didn't know if she would ever be able to stop.

She remembered how she had told him that morning that she felt like she wasn't entirely whole anymore, with the horrors of the Arena that she had already witnessed, and he had told her that she still was. Like he was speaking from experience. And he had been correct. That morning, she had still been okay. But now, she could feel herself dissolving, like her soul was collapsing in on itself, getting sucked into the black hole that her body had exchanged for her heart.

"I killed someone today," she heard herself say. "District One. That was my first kill. I'm a killer now."

"Don't say that," Peeta said, sounding agonized. "It's wasn't your fault." There was an undertone of something in his voice and she heard the unspoken words all too clearly. It wasn't your fault. It was the Capitol's.

"I would do it again," she said in the same dead tone of voice. "I keep thinking that I could've done something different but it's not true. You could give me a thousand more chances and I would still act the same. I would still kill him every time."

Peeta was looking at her worriedly and it was the first time she realized that she was scaring him. She had barely said two words since sunset and now when she was speaking, she was talking about death and sounding like death.

"You wouldn't," he said finally, looking at her searchingly yet imploringly. "I know you. And I know you wouldn't."

She shook her head, not giving him a reply. It didn't escape her how selfishly she was acting right now. She knew that Peeta at least had one solid kill and by saying these horrible things, she was insinuating that he was a killer too. But wasn't he? Wasn't she?

She suddenly felt repulsed, by him, by herself and she let go of his hand like it had burned her. The flash of hurt passing over his eyes only served to feed her misery and she wondered why she was hurting him like this, why she was sprinkling salt over his wounds when he had already been hurt enough for a lifetime.

"I think I'll go to sleep now," she said. She grabbed her orange backpack and methodically started preparing for another night out in the Arena. She could feel his eyes trained on her but she couldn't bring herself to meet them. What would she see in them now that she had killed and had something killed inside of her? Would she see a murderer when she looked at him? Would he see a murderer when he looked at her?

"Katniss-" He grabbed her arm. She still didn't look at him but she waited for him to continue. For a moment, she thought that he would try to comfort her or say something to alleviate her guilt or beg her to stay by his side. But he only shook his head and let her arm go, walking away from her to grab his own newly-acquired backpack. She almost wanted to laugh, the mad, hysterical kind of laugh. This was Peeta she was talking about. The only way he would beg her to stay would be if he was seconds away from his own death.

They didn't say anything as they both climbed their respective trees only a few yards away and it felt wrong, so wrong. But then again, nothing about this day had been right and it only made sense that the two of them not be right either.

The sleeping bag felt too big without the small presence of another human filling her space and Katniss wondered if she would even be able to sleep. That national anthem started and ended and three faces lit up the night sky. Seven, only seven of them left. Seven kids left out of twenty-four and it was only now that the full weight of their deaths managed to completely knock her out.

Silence again, soul-tearing, breath-catching kind of silence and then Peeta's voice breaking through the night. "I'm sorry, Katniss," he whispered, pained. His voice carried over to her clearly even though she had a hunch that the words weren't meant for her ears. "I'm so sorry."

The silence the next morning wasn't much different, only more pronounced in the sharp sunlight. Katniss finally understood why Peeta had been such a surly child. She didn't want to talk to anyone or anything and wanted to be left alone to wallow in her own misery.

She forced herself to get up even though the only thing she wanted to do was to burrow deeper into her sleeping bag. She forced herself to smile at Peeta even though he could tell better than anyone how strained it was. She forced herself to talk to him and to clutch his fingers even though she knew that he was internally cringing from the stiffness of her gestures. For the first time since the Games had started, she had to act. She didn't know which one of them hated it more.

Her desperate desire to get him back home hadn't changed, it never would. But she wanted the liberty to ache without explanations, to build a bubble around herself and only come back out when she knew she was okay, she wanted to hurt without the whole world watching as she frayed and splintered.

Instead, she steeled herself, gathered all her emotions in one steel fist and locked them behind a bolted door. Then, she helped Peeta set up a few snares to catch their food. She could feel him sending anxious glances in her direction ever so often. Finally, he asked, "Are you alright?"

No. She gently squeezed his arm. "I'm fine."

That day, they travelled further along the bank of the stream because Peeta was convinced that it wasn't safe to stay in one place for too long. It was then that they discovered a cave, hidden somewhat between an outcrop of huge gray rocks and leading slightly underground, its opening partially shrouded with some wild plants whose leaves travelled down the facet of rocks like thick streaks of ivy.

They crawled inside to check it out in an unspoken agreement. It was snug but still had plenty of room for just two people. Peeta looked at her with his eyebrows raised. "We could stay here for a while?"

She nodded. "But we should hide the opening."

The rest of the afternoon was spent covering the mouth of the cave with discarded boulders and leaves and general shrubbery so that the cave was invisible if you weren't specifically looking for it. Peeta mostly helped her carry stuff but let her set the camouflage on her own, knowing that she'd be better at it. It felt nice to have something to concentrate on; she focused solely on making the cave look as incongruous as possible and for a while, it worked. For a few precious moments, she didn't think about yesterday at all.

Peeta went back to check his snares and the few minutes without him in her sights set her on edge. She was anxious and fidgety until he returned and even then, her nerves took a while to cease completely. He must have seen the relief on her face because his eyes softened almost imperceptibly and he gave her elbow the gentlest of squeezes. They settled down on the rocky floor of the cave and ate their lunch in its cool dampness, sparse rays of sunlight filtering through its roof and lighting the hollow in a murky illumination.

"Tell me a story," she said, quietly. She leaned back against the cave wall and he settled beside her, conscious to keep a few inches between them. She didn't like it but she didn't want to close the space either. "Real, made up, anything. Distract me."

"Okay," he agreed. He thought for a while before he asked. "Did I ever tell you about the gift I gave you on your fourteenth birthday?" She shook her head. She remembered that gift clearly though; he had given her a small collection of hairpins though she didn't know how he had acquired them.

"It was the day before your birthday and I had a handful of coins on me but I had no idea what to get you." he started. "I was just sitting there staring at the coins; I knew you wanted new color pencils but I only had enough money to buy two. So, I was a little pissed." A corner of his lips quirked up in a sarcastic sort of gesture. "Prim saw me sulking and asked me what was wrong. When I told her, she dragged me to the market, telling me that she had an idea. I followed her and she took the coins from me like she was in charge of the trip." He smiled again but this time, his smile was realer. "She was only ten at that time. I just stood there as she walked up to one of those shabby stalls just outside the Square and she bought a handful of pins –those little black ones?"

Katniss felt herself getting lost in the story. She suddenly felt a sharp longing for home as she silently listened to Peeta talk. Staring at the hands in his lap, he continued. "Then she bought about two meters of ribbon and a handful of beads, all of different colors and patterns. When we went home, she dumped the things on a table and brought out a bottle of glue. We wrapped the ribbon around the top half of the pins and then glued the beads on top. She totally saved me that day." He gave Katniss a wry smile. "Otherwise the most you would've gotten for your birthday were flowers."

"I never knew that you made those pins yourself," she admitted, a little surprised. She had worn those pins so much, some of the beads had started to come off and then she had stored them away, lest she ruined them completely. "I still have them at home."

"You do?" Peeta asked, a combination of surprised and pleased.

"Of course I do," she said. "I loved those pins."

He smiled and almost on reflex, she smiled back. But it faltered as quickly as it had come and they stared at the cave wall in silence.

"It wasn't your fault, Katniss," he said after a while. "Rue wasn't your fault."

"You told me to go with her," she said. "I didn't listen."

"Doesn't matter," he said. "We had no way of knowing it was going to happen. Maybe you could've saved her but you also could not have. Maybe you'd both be dead then."

"Maybe." She whispered. But almost too stubbornly, her mind refused to accept it. Your fault, your fault, your fault.

The silence that encompassed them then was more comfortable than the one that morning but still strung too taught. With the reassurance of his body just a few spaces away and the dark safety of the cave surrounding them, she felt herself growing fuzzy. She must have dozed off then because the next thing she knew she was opening her eyes to the sound of the Capitol anthem spilling into the cave. The shadows in the cave were more pronounced but she could tell that it was still too early to be completely dark. Peeta jerked awake beside her and clumsily got up. He walked over to the mouth of the cave and stared outside.

"Feast?" He posed.

She shrugged. What else could it be?

Oh, how wrong she was. She stood up and joined Peeta at the opening of the cave, staring at the twilit sky outside as Claudius Templesmith's voice boomed across the Arena. "My heartiest congratulations to all seven of you that remain! In light of recent events, the Capitol had decided to announce a slight change of the rules." Katniss met Peeta's confused gaze with her own. A rule change? She struggled to remember if such a thing had happened before but came up empty. And what rules would they changed anyway? The only explicit rule she could remember was the unspoken rule to not to eat any of the other tributes alive. Cannibalism didn't sit well with the Capitol populace.

"Under the new rule," Claudius continued, "both tributes from the same District will be declared winners if they are the last two alive."

She and Peeta continued to stare at each other blankly. Claudius, as if sensing their utter disbelief, repeated. "Both tributes from the same District will be declared winners if they are the last two to survive."

The news sunk in and Katniss bought her hands to her mouth in shock. She looked at Peeta, to his overblown gray irises, and knew she hadn't heard it wrong. Two tributes from the same District. Two victors. Disbelief coursed through her, commanding her not to fall for it, telling her that it was just her imagination projecting her desires but then hope, such a high shining hope that she thought that it would burst out of her and light the Arena alive.

"Peeta…" she whispered.

His eyes were lit up with something she had seen in the Arena for the first time. "We're going home, Katniss," he said and his voice was illuminated with a childish sort of glee. He laughed then, a happy but mad kind of laugh and repeated, "We're going home."

She threw herself at him, forgetting all and everything and when he caught her, he lifted her a few feet of the ground, swinging her on her feet and clutching her tightly.

"We're going home," she echoed, tears catching on her voice.


"Cato and Clove." Peeta said. "They're the only pair left besides us."

"Do you think the Careers are going to split up?" Katniss asked. They sat in the cave opposite each other, wearing their night-vison goggles so they could see each other. "Or maybe Cato and Clove will just decide to kill her- the girl from District Four."

"Maybe," Peeta replied. "Or maybe they'll decide to keep her as an ally until they get rid of all of the rest of us."

"Who's left anyway?" She asked.

"Us and the Careers- that's five," he listed. "And that girl from Five, what's her name?"

"Crimson," Katniss said. "And Thresh from Eleven. That's Seven."

"They're probably having the interviews right now," Peeta said, a little wistfully. "I wonder who they're going to interview for us."

"Our families, obviously. Maybe a few friends?" She took her backpack and placed it behind her back, leaning into it to avoid the hard rock of the cave.

"I wonder if they'll interview Gale," Peeta mused. "Now that's something I'd like to see."

The corner of her mouth quirked up. "They're definitely going to interview him now."

"Poor Gale," Peeta said. He was smiling, which was pretty uncharacteristic of him, but then Katniss realized that he was just sleepy. Drowsiness made Peeta loosen up better than alcohol. "Maybe Prim could give him a few pointers."

"He'll probably get a slew of fans in the Capitol," Katniss said, closing her eyes and settling deeper against her backpack. "He can be quite nice looking once he gets cleaned up."

"Hey." Peeta reprimanded, sleepily. "I'm sitting right here."

Katniss smiled despite herself and they drifted into a relatively peaceful silence. Katniss doubted that the peace would last too long since there were just seven of them left, and seven could plummet easily into two in less than a day. But for the first time in the Arena, she was brimming with hope. The rule change couldn't have come at a better time. She had been crumbling and drowning and she had needed this, this little spot of hope in the horizon.

Gently, she nudged Peeta with her foot. He had fallen asleep leaning against the cave wall and when he opened his eyes to gaze at her blearily, she pointed to his backpack. "Take out your sleeping bag. You're going to get hypothermia."

He followed through the motions fuzzily and was soon fast asleep. Katniss's mind took a little longer to shut down. A rule change. Who would've thought? It was apparent that this was their doing, hers and Peeta's. Did people in the Capitol really want them both to survive? Would the Gamemakers alter the rules of decades of Games just so they could both live? She hoped so. She hoped so desperately.

When she woke up the next morning, Peeta was already up, sitting at the mouth of the cave and staring outside. He held the bread from District Eleven in one hand and was tearing small pieces out of it and chewing on them thoughtfully. There was a heaviness about him, a dreariness that evaded his years. It was like he had the mind of an adult stuck inside a teenager's body. She still didn't exactly know where the two of them stood after all that had happened in the past two days, but at least they were in the same front now: if two people were going home, it was going to be the two of them.

As she slithered out of her sleeping bag, she felt the silence in her left ear more acutely, accompanied by a dull throbbing that served as a constant reminder of her minor disability. The past day, she had ignored the physical pain in the haze of her emotional one, but now when she allowed herself to recognize it, she was filled with a dull sense of dread. Was her hearing permanently hindered or was the damage capable of being reversed?

She walked up to the cave entrance and sat beside him. "Hey."

Peeta turned to face her and gave her a smile that was barely just. He looked away and almost unconsciously, his hand darted between them to grasp hers. She moved her hand away before she knew what she was doing and his eyes flashed briefly to hers, irises clouding with confusion, then hurt, before he placed his hand in the space between them and pretended like he had never reached for it in the first place. Why did she do that? Why did she move her hand away?

She stared at the olive, tanned hand that lay in the space between them and traced the slight impressions of his veins with her eyes. She knew why. Every time she touched him and felt the small thrill running down her spine, she felt a slither of guilt unfurling in her chest. She felt guilty that she could still feel this jump in her nerves so soon after Rue had died. Guilty that she could still smile when Rue wouldn't be able to anymore. And most of all, guilty because now they had a chance at their lives, small as it may be, and Rue hadn't even gotten that.

Guilt was the worst, she decided. It could devour your insides hollow before anyone even knew it was there.

Peeta didn't try to touch her the whole day after that and this made her feel guilty too. She wished that she could tell him what she was feeling, to voice out the deep pool of remorse in her chest but just as the words fell on her tongue, she stopped. She was suddenly aware of the cameras, everywhere, in the shrubbery, above their heads and even beneath her feet. She swallowed the torrent of words at her throat and forced it down with difficulty. The Capitol would never understand why she was suddenly keeping her distance from him. What did they know about grief? What did they know about guilt?

As the day progressed, her mind had started to count the hours since Rue's death. How much more time until the Capitol started craving more action? How much more time till the next disaster? The two of them spent the morning in relative quiet. They washed their clothes and cleaned themselves beside the stream but this time there were no jokes or even much conversation. Their initial euphoria proceeding the rule change had faded and they seemed to have realized that things could still end badly, that there was still a high chance that neither of them were going home. As for the quiet between them, such a small gesture of rejection from her had completely derailed Peeta. If she had shut down yesterday, he had decided that today was his turn.

After they had cleaned themselves up and refilled their water bottles, Peeta went to check up on the snares he had set earlier and Katniss ventured into woods to try her luck at finding some herbs or berries. She found some roots that suspiciously resembled radishes and came across a sweet smelling herb that she had tried earlier with Rue. Then she discovered a bush of blackberries and she gathered a bunch of them in her shirt to carry them back to their cave. She made the journey once and doubled back to get some more berries.

When she returned, she could tell that something was wrong. Two of her radishes were missing and her stash of blackberries had mysteriously halved in size. She dumped the rest of her berries on the ground, feeling an anxious twinge at the base of her neck. She turned around, eyes flashing everywhere for any sign of movement and –nothing. It had to be some animal, she decided.

And then, she spotted it. A barest indentation in the soil in the shape of a foot. And then another. The footsteps led to the opposite direction from where she had emerged and against her better judgment, she found herself following the footsteps. It couldn't be the Careers, of that she was sure. They would kill you and take your food, not sneak off with it.

Unfortunately, the footsteps vanished somewhere along the way where the soil was too sturdy to bend. She had almost turned on her feet when she heard a choked kind of gasp. Some other sort of noise followed, sounding like someone was stuck between laughing and suffocating. A scream was mixed somewhere in between and Katniss followed the sound, breaking into a little jog.

She reached the source of the noise and there, on the ground was the girl from Five. Crimson. She was writhing on the ground, her torso convulsing in pain, her skin turning blue from the lack of breath. Her eyes were wild and she clawed at her throat with fingers that were stained with purple. On the ground beside her was a splatter of berries and it was only she focused on the girl's purple fingers did Katniss realize what had happened. Not blackberries. Nightlock.

And these black ones there are called nightlock. Don't even go near these. Highly poisonous, most likely to kill you before they hit your stomach.

She bent besides the dying girl and saw Crimson's wild eyes flash towards her. Her lips were stained with purple too and with her eyes bursting out of her sockets and her choking breaths, she looked almost grotesque. Panic gripped Katniss, hard and fast and she struggled to maintain a coherent stream of thought. All she knew was that there wasn't much time left.

"Why did you help me?" She demanded from the dying girl. She gripped Crimson's arms, shaking her so that she would focus her gaze on Katniss. She demanded again, her voice bordering on hysteria, "Why did you help me?"

Crimson's fingers had lost their fight at her throat and now they seemed to flutter and spasm without direction. Her large eyes had focused on Katniss and she opened her mouth, taking in a large struggling breath. "I- I had someone t-too."

She gasped again, her body rising partially from the ground with the force of the poison infecting her body. Her eyes lost focus and Katniss shook her arms again to command her attention, "Tell me! Why did you help me?!"

The brown irises managed to hone in on Katniss's face for a second time. Red capillaries had invaded the white of her eyes and tears laid a messy pattern along her cheeks. "I had someone too." she repeated in a single large intake of breath. "Someone I l-loved."

Katniss jerked back as the weight of the confession hit her and her palms met the prickly earth almost painfully. Crimson's body still shook and slowly, the force behind her convulsions diminished as if her body was losing a hard-fought battle. It was not long before her eyes rolled back into her skull and she forced out one last choked breath that was no more than a gurgle at the base of her throat. Then her body went still, the forest immediately becoming silent as the sound of her suffering finally ceased. A cannon sounded in the air.

Katniss forced herself to stand up, feeling the familiar floating sensation she experienced after Rue's death. Her mind was reeling with shock and remorse. All she could think was that somewhere in District Five a person was probably devastated, mourning the death of their lover.

She was mindlessly stumbling back to their cave when she heard Peeta's voice shrilly shouting her name. She stopped dead in her tracks and then mentally cursed herself. He probably thought the cannon was for her.

She broke into a run and Peeta's body was a blur when it collided against hers, wrapping her into an almost painful hug. He was shaking, literally trembling as his arms held her against his chest. She could feel his quivering breaths against the skin of her neck and his sharp inhales and exhales as he struggled to get a grip over himself. Feeling his tremors so sharply against her own skin, she realized just how devastated he would be if she were to die in the Arena.

"Shit, Katniss," he cursed tearfully. "I saw the nightlock and, and, shit-"

She was just as rattled by his reaction as she had been by Crimson's death. "It- it was the girl from Five," she stuttered, blinking rapidly. "She stole some of the nightlock-"

Suddenly, his despair seemed to transform into anger. He broke away from her, taking a large step back. "What were you thinking?" He snarled. "Nightlock? You should've known better!"

Katniss felt herself physically shrink, feeling a small bloom of shame in her stomach. How many times had Peeta taken her to the woods back home and yet she couldn't even recognize nightlock, the one berry he had explicitly told her not to touch?

"I wasn't thinking," she said. His shivers had probably diffused into her skin because suddenly she was the only who was trembling.

"Damn right, you weren't thinking." He turned around suddenly, facing away from her and he ran his hands through his hair, clutching the black strands in his fists.

"I'm okay, alright?" She said, clenching her fists. Her eyes were tearing up but she couldn't identify the emotion behind the tears. All she knew was that she felt overwhelmed with everything, the Games, the constant fear, Crimson's death, the way Peeta had just yelled at her. She wanted to go somewhere, curl up in a ball and cry but she held her ground, willing Peeta to look back at her. "It was just a mistake."

Peeta's hands dropped to his sides, his body taught with suppressed anger. He turned to face her with dead eyes. "A mistake that could've cost you your life."

Katniss hugged her arms around herself feeling his words like an icy breeze that washed over her. "It didn't, did it?" She said defensively. As if he had any right to pass judgments when he was the one trying to constantly run into danger.

Peeta shook his head and started to walk away, his fists clenching and unclenching at his sides. His shoulders were still too tense and he looked winded, but he didn't look back as Katniss followed him to the cave. She wondered why the things that were supposed to bring them closer together were the very ones that were forcing them apart. In her mind this particular scene could have gone quite differently. Instead of being pissed at her, Peeta could've grateful that she was still alive and they could've made out under some tree and be back to normal.

Except ever since the Games started, she didn't know what normal was anymore.

It was almost dark when he spoke to her again and she knew that he was sorry for the way he had reacted.

"I shouldn't have yelled at you," he said, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands "I was just scared. I overreacted."

"It's okay," she said stiffly. Her fingertips were stained purple just from carrying the berries around and she couldn't get the color to come off as much as she rubbed her fingers against her pants. "It was her, you know. District Five; she was the one who helped me that first day."

Peeta removed his palms from his eyes to look at her. Katniss explained, "I asked her why she did it, why she helped me." She let out a disbelieving sort of laugh. "She said that she had someone too. Someone back home that she loved. She actually felt sorry for us." And now she's dead. "It was all some misguided gesture of empathy."

"No." Peeta said after a while. "She just understood."

Katniss sniffled and it was only then that she realized that she was crying, silent tears streaming down her face and leaving paths of clear skin against her dirty cheeks. She hastily wiped them away but it only made them appear faster. Peeta was looking at her with sympathy and pain and guilt, but still, he didn't move towards her. She cursed him mentally, having the urge to let it all out on him in one big scream. Just because she had moved her hand away once, didn't mean that she'd do it again. But instead of waiting for a gesture that she wasn't sure would come, she scooted towards him until their arms touched. She laid her head against his shoulder and it was a few fearful seconds on her part before his arm came around her shoulder and pulled her deeper into his side. She let out a relieved breath she didn't realize she was holding.

For the first time, she didn't fear for their survival, she feared for something else entirely. Even if they did manage to win, would they really be winning? If they did manage to live, would they actually be living? And what about the two of them? She had always thought that they were certain, their relationship constructed with concrete, unable to break or bend or rust. But now, she could detect tiny cracks on the surface, webbing and dispersing, soon to encase the whole foundation, only becoming more jagged, only sinking deeper and deeper.

She wondered if she would be able to salvage the structure before it broke.


Phew. This chapter was a little hard. Hope you guys liked it!

Mockingjay was absolutely amazing! But a little too less Peeta for my taste :c The Everlark feels were through the roof though.

Anyways, take care everyone!

-EG xoxoxo