Word Count: 2,456
Summary: Written for kolms' TGH Ficathon. Prompt: Katniss/Gale/Peeta - I'm all wrapped up in you, I'm all wrapped up in him too.
I manage to keep away for a number of months. I keep busy. I keep occupied. District 2 is new and exciting enough that I can almost trick myself into forgetting about her. It works for a while; the first few weeks fly by in a blur of unrecognisable faces. The unfamiliar smell of soot free air and the ghostly sighs from the bodies no longer trapped under collapsed stone in the heart of The Nut sort of take me over. The situation may not be ideal but as it turns out it’s a pretty good distraction.
I manage to string this out for a couple of months, thinking of Katniss only a couple, a few, maybe a handful of times. In fact, I spend so much of my time trying not to think about her that, when I overhear a poor attempt at a hushed conversation between Plutarch and Beetee, what I hear hits me even harder than I expect.
Peeta’s gone home, they whisper. About time, they add. The poor boy.
And, honestly, I have to laugh a little bit because through all of this, throughout the months of not thinking about the girl on fire, I’d somehow actually forgotten about the baker’s son who lit the fire in the first place.
Half of me tells me to go, while the over half holds me back. I tell myself to wait a month. By then, the urge to see it with my own eyes would be gone. I keep telling myself that.
I make it only three weeks and then I find myself back in District 12, surrounded by the more familiar heavier air. The Victor’s Village stands in front of me, containing the few buildings that survived the bombings. And what a waste, I think, as most of them still rest empty and dark.
Two of the houses are lit up with signs of life and one of those is only barely alight. Whatever amount of light is needed to grasp the nearest bottle without breaking it, that’s how brightly lit the home on the right is. The other is warmer, made nicer by the addition of primrose bushes down the side. Straight away, I know Katniss didn’t put them there.
I knock on the door before I can talk myself out of it, all the while trying to ignore the natural, earthy scent coming from the greenery.
It takes a moment but eventually the door opens and Peeta stands on the other side. It would be hard to say for certain which one of us hides their feelings worse. Of course, I’m looking at him but I know my face pulls down into a frown.
I don’t dislike Peeta. I don’t think I ever really disliked him. He was simply too likable to hate, too affably charming in a way to be distrustful, so there was no real reason for me to be frowning at him. He was always so unassuming in appearance and demeanour, though, that being suddenly introduced to the person in front of me now was a little hard to process because this person is clearly broken and being held together through sheer force of will.
Old scars paint the bits of skin I can see. One of them even licks its way up his face making his eyes look duller. He’s still broad shouldered, something which I think will never escape him, but he doesn’t utilize it. He stands almost hunched over and skittish. For someone that doesn’t know him, it could just be a bad morning except, except for the most telling thing about him, that I can’t ignore, is the way his hands circle his wrists. He continues to rub them while we stare each other down.
“She’s sleeping,” Peeta says eventually and, for someone who once used words so effortlessly, it sounds forced.
I clear my throat. “I know it’s early,” I say, even though I’d hadn’t even crossed my mind that this could be a problem. “I didn’t mean to wake anybody.”
Peeta steps back. It’s an invitation inside so I follow him in. He wanders away, leaving me to shut the door. As he walks, he explains, “I was already awake. I do my best work in the morning.” It’s meant to sound light and friendly but, again, it just sounds forced.
He’s wearing an apron. It’s splattered with colourful dyes that could be from both painting and or icing. It’s reminiscent of the old Peeta and I can’t help but think it looks kind of out of place on this version. He must feel the same because he quickly rips it off, cleans his hands on the fabric and tosses it over the back of a chair.
He then moves around like I’m not even here, sometimes keeping himself in check with a deliberate twist of his wrist. I take a moment to look around. It’s very plain although that doesn’t surprise me. What does surprise me is the lack of warm smells. I expected, or maybe I hoped for, baking bread, rising dough, something of the sort. Now that it was a possibility and not just a necessity, I expected it to be a therapeutic release. However, whatever Peeta’s best work entailed now, it didn’t seem to involve much baking.
All of a sudden, I think, what am I doing here? This is not my place. I shouldn’t be here. It might be cruel to even think but I remind myself that I’m not broken. Not like they are. I don’t belong here with the faces of the revolution. I may be damaged but I’m not as broken as they are.
I’m about to bow out and retreat back to District 2, where I can try not thinking again, when Peeta stops moving and cocks his head. He obviously hears something which I don’t and I find that strange. My years of hunting have left me with a pretty good sense of hearing, or at least, so I thought, and I don’t hear anything, apart from the tired sigh that escapes his lips.
He seems to forget about me further and disappears deeper into the house. I trail after him quietly and he slips into the bedroom. Once again, he doesn’t shut the door behind him so I take it as another silent invitation. It’s not until I’m hovering in the doorway that I finally hear what Peeta’s been trained to pick out as soon as it starts the past few months. It’s more like the past couple of years, I correct myself, but I’m possibly bitter.
The last time I saw Katniss, she was thrashing about in the hands of the guards, having just shot Coin down dead. And, although the motions are pretty much the same here, the curl of her limbs, the tossing of her head, she looks nothing like the soldier she did back then. She lays on the bed now, her body too thin and too pale. The scars are the same, almost making her and Peeta twins, but they do quite a job of making her look more vulnerable than him, something which I had never attributed to her before.
She continues to thrash about on the bed, making quiet noises of protest and sadness until Peeta crosses the room smoothly and climbs up next to her, positioning his back against the wall just in time for Katniss to reach out and grab a fistful of his shirt. He then goes about rubbing her arms, her back, pushing her hair out of her face and murmuring things under his breath. Katniss stops moving about quite so much, now that she has something solid to brace herself against. The noises stick around.
This happens a lot. I can see that straight away.
They are so lost in each other that they don’t notice when I step fully into the room. They’re huddled up on one side and there is more than enough room for me perch gently at her back.
“You should try and sleep too,” I say and Peeta looks up, eyes bleary from lack of sleep and the stress of being the rock here. It’s hard not to feel sorry for him. “I’ll be here, if she gets worse.”
Pointing out that I’m here to help her and not him seems to seal things for Peeta and he nods and wriggles down slightly around Katniss’s hands. Neither one of them makes more than the occasionally whimper. I stay until Peeta jerks awake about an hour later. When I leave, he doesn’t walk me to the door.
I come back less than a week later. I try to keep to the same time but it’s possible I’m earlier.
Peeta answers the door, just like he did before. There is a moment when surprise registers and his fingers jump to his once manacled wrists but it’s gone as soon as it appears and is replaced by a weak smile.
As we walk through the house, I notice a drab coloured canvas propped up in the kitchen. I still don’t smell any bread.
The nightmares strike almost immediately and part of me wonders if my presence has anything do with it, maybe even subconsciously, but Peeta slips into the routine so smoothly that I’m forced to remember this happens every day.
I wait before I follow him. Instead, I run my fingers over Katniss’s leather jacket, where it hangs by the door. I flip through the thick book on the table, taking a moment to marvel at Peeta’s illustrations. I even spot Buttercup hiding under a chair, but I steer clear as he never took to me either.
By the time that I step into the bedroom, I can already see that Peeta is starting to struggle with his constant stream of comforting words. I settle onto the bed, mimicking Peeta’s position on Katniss’s other side. I tell him to sleep and he manages to hold out for another twenty minutes before he finally succumbs. He sleeps for two hours this time and he wakes, not with a jerk, but with a stretch.
I leave before Katniss wakes.
Three days later, it’s even earlier and I’m back.
Peeta opens the door without really glancing at me. His fingers keep up a steady manipulation on his wrists and he heads straight for the bedroom.
I’m about to follow him when I spot the same drab coloured canvas lying snapped and broken on the kitchen table. It might have been an accident but some of the gouges are edged with a soft orange colour that is just too pretty to have been applied with such force.
When I get to the bedroom, Peeta is already in place but, for the first time, he seems stiff and uncomfortable in Katniss’s grasp. His touches are still soft but he has to keep stopping because his hands start to shake.
I take up my usual place and, from here, I can see the dark rings under Peeta’s eyes more clearly.
Very slowly and very carefully, I pry Katniss’s hands away from Peeta’s shirt. She doesn’t wake but Peeta watches, body tense and untrusting. Once he’s free, I lace my fingers through hers to give her something to hold onto and tell Peeta to sleep. He doesn’t have any more room than he would normally have but he can shiver himself to sleep this way.
An hour later, when they’re both still, I untangle myself and head for the door. Every other time, I’ve stayed until Peeta gives up his attempts to keep sleeping. They don’t need me today. As I leave, they have already found each other, hands clutching hands, even in sleep.
I make it only a day before I’m back again.
The door opens and I’m shocked to see Katniss on the other side. She isn’t surprised to see me, though. She rubs her arms and lets me in. I never once thought that Peeta would tell her about my visits. I guess I was wrong.
I make a note that the destroyed canvas is absent from the kitchen table as Katniss leads me towards the bedroom.
I expect things to be weird but it’s exactly the same process as the previous few days. Except, this time, it’s Peeta that needs the help. Katniss doesn’t slip away like Peeta sometime does but I assume that’s because she’s actually pretty well rested for a change.
She strokes his hair and I catch his leg if it kicks out at one of us. I leave an hour later when one of his hands wraps around my arm. Katniss doesn’t see me out either.
This setup continues for the next week.
The details change. Sometimes it’s Peeta who lets me in and sometimes it’s Katniss. We don’t talk; we just sit with each other. It doesn’t take long for either of their subconscious to pick up on the fact that they’re being bracketed in the bed and every now and then I find myself with a hand clinging to me somewhere. It only bothered me the first time Peeta did it but then I realised it was no different from when Katniss sought me out. After that, I let it happen.
It becomes its own little routine until it’s made different by the morning I fall asleep.
It’s Katniss who’s the victim of nightmares today. They’re pretty bad and even though Peeta’s exhausted, he keeps shaking himself awake. By the time she settles, he’s wiped and quickly drops off with her.
I watch them both, wondering whose idea it was that these two should be left alone to their own devises. Having your rock, your basis of reality, be someone who is as messed up as you can only work for so long.
I sit there, hands clasped with Katniss while she rests on Peeta’s chest and I am hit, all of a sudden, by how tired I am. I’ve watched over them both for days, never once drifting off, thinking they need someone to do this, someone who is whole. It’s then that it occurs to me, maybe I do belong here, and then I fall asleep.
When I wake up, it must be some time in the afternoon if the light is anything to go by, and it’s the latest I’ve ever stayed.
Peeta’s gone, leaving just Katniss and I. At some point, she rolled over and is now curled against my side.
The warm, comforting aroma of baking bread fills the room and I close my eyes to sleep a little longer. I knew Peeta would be back soon to close off the bracket.