"Katniss," Prim says when she gets home from school, before the door is even shut behind her. "Is there any extra money?"
Peeta glances between the two of them. "I should probably…" he doesn't finish his sentence. She's never heard him at a loss for words before. "I'll be back," he amends, standing up.
She's grateful for the privacy because she has to tell her sister the truth once she sits in front of her, taking his place. "There isn't any to start with. Why?"
"I have to… They're making us wear uniforms, and we don't qualify for the financial aid and I…" her voice trails off. Katniss knows that she doesn't want to get in trouble, certainly not if it's anything like what happened to her.
"We'll think of something," Katniss says, echoing Peeta's words from earlier. "Homework?"
She nods. "Plenty."
"Better get started, then," Katniss says. She hates sending her sister away like this, but she has to think of something. She promised.
Prim nods. "Think Peeta will let me use that room again?"
"You can ask him," Katniss says. She's almost certain that he will, but she'd hate to put him in an uncomfortable position.
She does get to be alone for a while, but it certainly isn't enough time to come up with anything that doesn't directly involve hunting. She's loath to admit it, but Peeta is right about it being dangerous, and she thinks she wants to end up like this again even less than Peeta wants her to.
"Hey," Peeta says, leaning against the wall. "You okay?"
"Really?" he asks.
She doesn't even answer him. What could she say?
"No chance you'll let me cover it?" he asks.
She shakes her head. She can't possibly be in any more debt to this boy, no matter how willing he seems.
"I figured you'd say that. I had an idea, though."
"Well, my tour is coming up, and I have to be gone for about three weeks."
"Well, I was thinking that I need someone I can trust to take care of things for me then, and you could use a job. It seemed like a perfect match to me."
"How dirty can things around here get?" she asks.
"I can't let my canvases get dusty," he says. "It's very bad for them."
She wonders if he's grasping at straws to try to keep her out of the woods, but Prim needs a new uniform, and she doesn't think she could ever forgive herself if her sister got in trouble because of her. "I might be able to work it in. You can trust me?"
He pretends to study her for a moment, forming a triangle with his hands to frame her. "Yes," he announces after a while, his smile teasing. "I think I can. You'll do it?"
She has to force the words out. "I'll do it. Do you think…? Could you maybe…? Prim needs a uniform."
"Of course," he says. "How does half now and half after sound?"
She can't help but to let out a relieved sigh at the fact that she won't have to ask him in as many words. "Thank you."
"Oh, no. Thank you," he says. "This is going to help me out a lot."
She doesn't think that she believes him.
"You're welcome," she says anyway. They could go around in circles all night, but she thinks, she hopes, he knows by now how much all of this means to her.
"I'll go get it now," he announces, absolutely beaming at her.
Okay, fine. Maybe it will help him a little. He couldn't possibly be so happy if it was just about helping her.
"Peeta," she says when he brings her the money. "No. Not again."
"This is too much."
"No," he says. "Canvases are expensive."
"This has to be enough to replace two for every one that I save," she protests.
"You'd really be helping me out."
She wonders why it could possibly matter so much to him. She'd hate to argue enough to make him change his mind. "Okay," she says.
Peeta smiles at her, and if she didn't know better, she'd think she really was doing him a favor.
Her mother comes in late that night, and Katniss tries to stay awake.
"How is she doing?" she hears her mother ask.
"She's doing well," Peeta answers. "How are you? Do you need a bed? There are plenty."
"I don't think I want to leave her quite yet," her mother says quietly. "Thank you, though."
"Is there a bathroom or somewhere I could clean up?" she asks. "It's been a very long few days."
"Definitely," he says. "I'll show you. There's a shower upstairs, you're more than welcome to it, follow me."
It's quiet for a long time; Katniss just watches the wall, waiting for him to come back down. It's a lot shorter than a visit with her sister, that's for sure.
They're both asleep by the time her mother comes back down.
When she wakes up, it's because her mother is peeling the bandages from her back. She hears both her sister and Peeta making noises of agreement when her mother explains things, but she can't focus on the words, only the way that her back feels as the fresh air hits it.
"How did we do?" her sister asks.
"Very well," her mother is saying. "I can't thank you enough, Peeta. She wouldn't possibly be healing up this well if it weren't for you."
"Oh, Katniss already thanked me, ma'am," Peeta says gently. "I've been enjoying having her company, to be completely honest. Prim's, too. You have some great girls, Mrs. Everdeen."
Her mother sort of chuckles. "That I do, Peeta. I got very lucky."
Katniss is glad that she didn't try to take any credit for how Prim turned out, considering the years she spent having abandoned the both of them, but lucky doesn't seem like quite right word with all of the effort that Katniss put in.
"Are you sure you don't need to get some sleep? Prim and I are more than fine keeping an eye on her."
"Oh, no, ma'am. I got plenty of sleep last night."
"Are you sure?"
"Absolutely. I'm a baker's son. I learned how to get by with just a few hours of sleep."
"Your father was the same way," her mother says quietly.
Katniss can't fathom why she should know.
It feels strange, more than when her sister came, being watched. She doesn't say anything when Peeta feeds her breakfast, but she exchanges one of those looks with her sister, the kind that Katniss thought she was free from after the Games.
"So, I was thinking," Peeta says when her mother and sister leave to get fresh clothes from the house. "Do you think you'd want to do this again sometime? Not all of it, obviously, but… You know."
"Do I have to stay on the table?" she asks, earning herself a laugh from him. A real, loud one, like the one she got from her joke about the coal that first night that they traded. That seems like so long ago, now.
"Not if you don't want to," he assures her.
There's absolutely no way that he actually wants to hang out with her once she's sent home, she's sure. He's just trying to be nice, no, not trying. He's just being nice. Isn't he always? "That sounds good," she tells him anyway, because maybe she should at least try to return the favor instead of arguing.
The next morning, Katniss' mother decides that Peeta has done enough already, and especially considering the fact that there aren't any jobs for her around town, she can bring Katniss home and take care of her there.
Katniss thinks that Peeta sounds almost sad, but that can't be the case, it just can't.