AN: Not an actual Cinderella ref... but what's a fairy tale without a victory kiss? This is more of Peeta's gradual recovery leading up to that kiss, though.

8. the kiss

While they keep assuring him otherwise now that he's been rescued, Peeta can't feel safe as Katniss Everdeen roams outside his hospital room, a monster no one tries to capture despite his pleas.

He doesn't just hate her - he's terrified of her, too. Yet sometimes she looks just as sad and disoriented as he does, and a kind of familiar pity stirs within him. For some reason, he wants her to smile. He also really wants her to die.

Remember how he understood everything? Now it's all confusing again. However, he doesn't admit to the doctors that he's mostly frustrated with himself because he doubts they'd understand. He doesn't understand himself. Peeta doesn't know what's real and what's a fairy tale fabricated or stretched by the Capitol or by Katniss anymore.

Without a doubt, he mistrusts the Capitol. He is almost certain Katniss does as well or else she wouldn't be working with the rebels, so they must share some common ground. But then Peeta remembers how often Katniss manipulated him and worries she's betraying them by smuggling information for the Capitol. Even though the Thirteen doctors are much nicer than the ones he met in the Capitol during his imprisonment, they just drug him and ignore him whenever he expresses this concern.

Katniss' sister Prim starts showing him the same recaps he saw so many times in the Capitol. She stands on a chair to insert the tapes into the television, switches off the light, and stands by him as they both watch with glossy azure eyes. Peeta's sedated whenever they get to a part where he responds chaotically. After numerous failures, he's able to watch himself and Katniss in both their Hunger Games with discomfort average to any victor.

Haymitch, who's jaundiced and haggard from the absence of alcohol here, is trying his "fucking damnedest" to help him piece questions and answers together. He must not trust either side as well. Then again, Haymitch doesn't trust people much in general. Peeta had trouble convincing him that Katniss Everdeen was a mutt before, though now he can tell Haymitch is upset with her about something else.

Peeta still holds some resentment towards his mentor for not telling him about the plans for the arena breakout and the rebellion - then he'll see Haymitch tremble and hold his head in his hands when he thinks Peeta's sleeping, and it becomes very difficult to think anything mean about him. Once he wakes from a nightmare to find the older man asleep in a chair at his bedside (a cautionary distance away, of course). Peeta covers him with his sheet, lies back down, and dreams with his eyes open, using the blank ceiling as a canvas. The nurses give him glowing reports the next morning; he's improving.

President Coin visits him, then. To Peeta, she's the epitome of colorless: dull starched suit, flat gunmetal hair, matte lips that only turn upward a little when he asks her why she's here. In an assertive, firm voice, she tells him he's being sent to fight with "the Mockingjay". They're going to overtake the Capitol together, except not really because it's all a show.

Peeta's just sick of all the lies.

He's really confused and he hates war.

He's really confused and he hates fighting a war alongside Katniss Everdeen, the Mockingjay. What's he?

He likes to believe, somewhere, he is still the boy with the bread. It's the only part of him Katniss seems to love.

Apparently, he still is as she kisses him during an anxious lull in battle. "Don't let him take you from me. Stay with me!" She looks at him like he's good. Gray never looked so alarmingly beautiful.

"Always." Strained or not, he says it.