A/N: Because I was bored and it was two in the morning. Thanks for reading.
Peeta takes a break from making lists of real and not real, and he paints.
He does not finish the painting of Katniss he has already started. The woman's existence, the existence of the mockingjay on the breast of her armor, seems like a deliberate slight. Katniss holds a wretched place in his heart and mind, and he has no patience for the havoc that she's writ in his very soul, and Peeta drags the portrait away from the light and toward the southern corner of the room and preps a fresh canvas.
He paints, from memory. President Coin, as he had last seen her, the shadows hinting at how she had been in the very end. Her attire is fine and falling away into tatters. Her eyes are clear and focused beyond the frame. There is unnatural blue in them. There is blue in the light behind her, and blue in the shadows behind her, blue in the drape of her shawl and the black of her hair; there is blue in the swell of scarlet where Katniss' arrow had pinned her. He is meticulous about its position, its exact mark.
He hauls the painting into the empty northernmost corner and begins anew.
President Snow, again from memory, feral and wild with a burning city at his back. The man is shaky; the city in sharp relief. Peeta dislikes painting without a live model. But he remembers the portrait of Rue he'd haphazardly slathered across the floor of the Training Center during his Gamemaker evaluation – it was something he'd been chided about, the illegal act of it; not about the mad brushstrokes and excess paint that beaded across the floorboards and utter disregard for color aesthetics.
He paints Primrose, imperious and cold and surrounded by salt-rimed roses, the blue of her eyes picked out in frost. Her every edge is sharp and severe. Her colors are soft, pale, golden, but oh so deadly cold.
He moves the painting of Katniss and scraps what he'd done; he paints her again, different.
She is not in her Mockingjay armor. She wears a war-torn disguise, her very face a undecided mess of lines and arcs, a braid half-undone, the look in one of her eyes mad and off-focused, reflecting fire, and the other cool and guarded and steely gray. Along one side and down the other, mutt and not mutt.
Lover and murderer.
Friend and foe.
Ally and leader.
He is torn; he steps back and examines it, his hands damp and stained, his face marked.
There is something wrong, something missing and it eats him, tears him apart at his seams.
With shaking hands he mixes the violets and the blues and the white, searching. Memories stir, urge him on and he begins to rearrange the puzzle. He drags the painting of Coin from the shadowed northern corner to the southern, and he sets Snow and Prim to form the east and west points of the compass. He is surrounded by them, once again. As always. He considers sketching a self-portrait and setting it in the center of the room, to complete the image, but that would be too much. That would be unhelpful.
He paints the images of his nightmares; children, on the wreckage of a ruined mansion's front steps. There is fire here, too, but the angry reds and oranges are subdued by the splays of blood, by the blur of skin-toned limbs laying about in the blinding white of the snow. And this painting, too, is unfinished.
He returns to Katniss. But it is too frustrating and he's been rolling too long in his own mind.
He leaves the paintings, for a while. He visits the Hob, and Haymitch's house across the street from his own, checks on the flock with the remaining geese population his past mentor still holds. He visits his childhood, wandering through a newly made Town, finding no memories there. He replenishes his supplies of indigo and carmine paint, opiates, and unstained shirts. He waters the primrose bushes. He paces the side-garden there, amid the yellow blossoms and the pink, looking up at the wretched woman's house; she is inside, hidden, as subdued by blood and death as the fire in his last painting.
Two days, he agonizes himself over the painting. Stares at it for hours, sitting before it, touching it up, here, there, adding the shadows beneath her eyes, a line in her frown, a scar across her chest; where a heart might or might not have been torn out – or may have never even rested in the first place.
On the third, he wakes up on the floor before it, aching, sore, and finally, it is there.
He dashes the yellow into the red, and the white to the orange; but each stroke is precise the moment the spider-leg thin brush tip nears the canvas. It is precious, careful, the lines bladed and frail, as she is not, and the corrupted – the mutt half of it – is black, burnt, but no less precious. Precarious. Fragile.
It is all so fragile.
Victor and loser.
The Victor crown on her head tips on the black side. Top-heavy. Awkward. Unfitting, but perfect. An illusion of the greatest scale, as Peeta admires the work and drags the painting to stand beside the other.
It is complete, but the puzzle remains; it is a game of rearranging furniture and memories.
For weeks, the paintings stand about his attic, turned one way, in one corner one night and another before dusk the next day, others bathing in the occasional sunshine from the opened shutters and some (Snow's) never allowed to touch the light again. Around and around, wall from wall, he drags them.
The gears of the lock are turning, tumbling, sometimes clicking together, others grating loud as breaking bones when near each other (Coin's and Prim's) and it is only until he's got them into a semi-snowflake formation, that he feels somewhat content; Katniss next to Prim, Snow across them, Coin facing the children-splattered mansion. To make the snowflake complete he'd need a sixth painting.
So he does paint himself.
The amount of black used is overpowering; the background salt and wet, sand and arena. His features made sharper by the electricity sent crackling through a nearby tree; the strike of midnight. There is a maze of lines spidering across the flesh of the left side of his neck, down his arm, spreading across his chest in a tangle of shapes; a confusing mess of things, of black, of a madness. Angry red scars on corpse-white-blue skin following the pattern of his nerves. By the end the painting represents what he feels.
And surrounded by all the others, it clicks; the key sliding into the lock.
His portrait sits beside Snow's, because that is fitting, because it gets to face Katniss, and that fits.
It is oddly soothing, to get it right, to have it so plainly laid out before him; the tidings of his mind drawn, real and not real crashing together in the most physical way it could ever manage.
Better than any list ever will be.
Over time, he refers to them, studies them, and they collect dust, cobwebs.
Slowly, the snowflake melts:
At some point President Snow's painting falls over and Peeta never finds it in himself to right it. He allows his portrait to stand alone, throwing a long shadow across the fallen, now forever in the dark.
He grows tired of the way Prim's braid falls against her shoulder and he adds a shadow to her side, underneath her arm, the wound apparent but hollow and bloodless. Empty. He throws a white sheet over the canvas a day later and puts her to rest. She is already long gone, lost in the coldness of it all.
It's him and Katniss now, facing each other. The east and west, to Coin's north and the mansion's south.
In a hi-jacked fit, a momentary slip of composure in the middle of a dark, stormy night, Peeta back-hands Katniss' portrait to the side, and it wedges itself beside a table and a can of paint; mutt-side up.
He leaves it that way for a week.
He locks the attic door, vows the puzzle is gone and resolves to heal.
A year later, he moves into Katniss' house, and the act of moving his things to her place inevitably drags him up into the dingy uppermost level. He moves around the room, avoiding the cube of facing portraits, collecting his paints, his brushes, throwing open the shutters to let the fresh air mingle with the stale. It is only with the utmost reluctance that he approaches them; to leave them or move them?
But moving them would be wrong, he decides.
The moment his eyes retrace the familiar brushstrokes, perhaps the thousandth time his eyes have done so, an urge rises in his chest. It is time he finished one.
The children on the mansion's front steps remain the way he first depicted them; twisted and broken and burning. Instead he opens a fresh canister of black paint and then gray and amid the smoke a hovercraft is painted. Same as Prim's the details are incorrect; if he were being correct Prim's portrait would be nothing more than pink mist and ashes, and if he were being correct about this, the hovercraft would have the Capitol's symbol on its face. He paints across it the seal of District 13, and tosses the still-drying canvas at the foot of President Coin's portrait; laying the blame just where it belongs.
Just before leaving, locking the door, and then burying the key underneath the primrose bushes; he makes one last rearrangement, dragging Katniss' portrait to his side, deepening the shadow over Snow.
She is on his right; where the spiderwebs do not crawl down his throat. He is on her left; where the crown is golden.
When Katniss' asks him if he'd gotten everything he needed, he tells her he left only memories.