A/N: Thanks for the reviews. I'm so glad you're still reading! Thanks to the wonderful amelinazenitram for betaing.

Having a day off from school, hunting, and other responsibilities was a luxury Katniss rarely enjoyed, although she wished it were under different circumstances. While she had no fever and little risk for infection, the dog bite made walking painful. Mrs. Everdeen promised there would be no long-term damage as long as Katniss remained in bed for the time being.

It was making Katniss crazy. Prim had only left for school an hour ago, but already Katniss was restless. She needed something to do, something to occupy her mind, but with her mother home, she had no chance of escape.

Unless she left anyway. She could limp straight past her mother, out the door, and spend the day in the woods. The thought was tempting. Mrs. Everdeen had been on the periphery of Katniss's life for so long that she resented her mother trying to take over now.

But Katniss didn't move. After all, it was her mother who had came to her side as soon as Gale burst into the house, holding her in his arms. It was her mother who cleaned and dressed her wound. Her mother would had fallen asleep at her side.

Katniss closed her eyes. The sound of Mrs. Everdeen's footsteps in the kitchen faded away, but the throbbing in Katniss's ankle prevented her from falling into a deep sleep. Images from the day before flickered through her mind: the dog's matted fur, the green of the forest, the backs of Peeta's hands.

The sound of a slap startled her. She propped herself up on her elbows to find the origin, but the room was empty. The second time she heard it, she winced, not from the noise but from the burning on her cheek.

She still didn't know what to make of these episodes. Yesterday, Peeta's voice had felt so real - not just as she clung to the tree branch, but later, too, as she lay in bed.

But no, it wasn't possible.

This is your second day in bed! A voice hissed.

Katniss startled again, and her ankle slipped off the pillow it rested on. This was pain. This was real.

All too quickly, so was Peeta.

Her vision shimmered until she was staring up into his mother's wild blue eyes. She felt sheets beneath her hands, dampened by his sweat, and the dizziness that had not quite left him. His head throbbed, his stomach roiled. But it was the fear that bothered Katniss the most.

You think you're going to sleep the day away? If you're not going to school, you're downstairs, helping in the bakery.

Lydia. Another voice. Deeper. Hesitant. Peeta looked over his mother's shoulder and met his father's eyes. The boy's sick. Leave him be.

I'm tired of you making excuses for him! He's not pulling his weight around here. He doesn't want to help today? Fine. No lunch. No supper. We'll see if that changes his tune.

Mom. Peeta's voice came out small and weak. He said nothing else. Maybe he didn't have the words.

Mrs. Mellark stomped toward the doorway. We never should have had a third, she snapped at her husband. Just another mouth to feed.

She was gone, and there was a moment - an opportunity - stretching between Peeta and his father. But Mr. Mellark said nothing. He stared down at the floor. Finally, Peeta turned over to face the wall. Seconds later, Katniss heard the door click shut.

She gasped at the flood of feeling that washed over her. This was worse than the slap, worse than the pain of her ankle. The worthlessness stole her breath, filled her lungs. She could drown in it.

Before she could consider that he might be embarrassed that she had witnessed such a scene, she said his name.

His brow furrowed. He touched his temple.

"Peeta? It's—"


Her name on his lips was the honey she swallowed when she had a sore throat. Smooth and sweet. Soothing. But she wasn't the one who needed reassurance.

How are you feeling?

Katniss closed her eyes, wishing she had asked first even if she knew the answer.

"I'm fine. I just need to stay off my feet for a little while."

But how will you… He hesitated before completing the question in a much softer voice. How will you eat?

A moment passed before she realized what he meant. She sometimes forgot that so many people in District 12 knew of her illegal activities. She forgot that there were people outside her immediate family that knew her, thought of her. It was strange to think she existed in other people's minds, where she had no control over their perception.

"We have a couple of coins saved up. And Gale will help us."

Katniss felt a jolt of—of what exactly?—at Gale's name. She was almost certain it hadn't originated with her.

I'm glad you have him.

A thought suddenly resurfaced, something she had clearly stored away for when she had time to think. Yesterday, in Peeta's panic to save her, he had called Gale her boyfriend.

"We're not…I mean, I'm not…Gale and I aren't like that."

Like what?

Great. Peeta was going to make her say it.

"He's not my boyfriend. We're just friends." It seemed important to clarify that, though Katniss wasn't exactly sure why.


"You saved my life," she said.

No. Gale did.

"He never would have come looking for me if it weren't for you. I never would have made it up that tree or held on as long as I did without you."

I'm the one that made you sick and disoriented. I nearly got you killed.

Now that was a thought. She supposed she had put two and two together as she was hugging the tree branch yesterday, but she had been dizzy and in pain. Today, though, she knew he was right. His fever had taken her by surprise, sent her to her knees in the middle of the forest. Even now, lying in her own bed in her own home, she felt his headache and nausea.

"Even if you refuse to count yesterday, you still have the first time you saved me."

His breathing changed. Something like wonder crept into his voice. You remember that?

"Of course. You have no idea. No idea what you did for us," she said.

It was just a couple of loaves of burnt bread covered in rain and mud. I just threw them at you. I should have—

"I saw her hurt you," Katniss whispered.

He didn't ask her to clarify whether she meant today or three years ago. It didn't matter.

"And I don't understand how she can do or say those things. You're so kind, Peeta. You're so good."

You mean weak.

The force of his words, the absolutely certainty behind them, took her breath away.

"No. Don't you know how hard it is to be kind? With a mother like that, in a district like this…it is always easier to be cruel."

He was silent for a long moment. The sight of his room faded away, and she thought the connection had broken. Then, just as suddenly it was back. He had only closed his eyes.

I remember when I was younger, like seven or eight. I had this dream about you, he began. It was early morning. Your father woke you up and led you into the woods. It was your birthday.

Somehow, the pain in her ankle had traveled up her leg through her torso and into her chest. She blinked back tears.

He'd made you this beautiful bow. You'd been practicing on this old one, and—

"That's real," she interrupted. "That—that happened."

She felt his smile and the agony behind it. I remember the absolute joy you felt when he gave you that bow. When he let you practice before he went to work. You were so full of love and affection for him.

She covered her face and nodded.

I'm sorry for bringing it up. It's just…that was one of the best dreams I ever had. I remember it so well. I love my family, I do, but I've always wondered what it would be like to love someone that much. To be completely filled with it.

"It's unbearable," she said.

By the time Katniss hobbles back to the couch, Marjorie Vosch sits beside Peeta beneath the overgrowth, her stiff, red fingers ruffling through his backpack. A strip of beef jerky sticks out of her mouth.

"She's stealing from him?" Katniss spits out through clenched teeth.

"But she hasn't hurt him," Prim says softly as she settles beside her sister. Gale lingers a couple of feet behind the couch. He doesn't offer an opinion.

"He needs that food," Katniss says, "At least she can't get his sleeping bag."

Peeta is sprawled out on top of the sleeping bag, his back pressed against the base of a tree. He's passed out though, oblivious to his district partner slipping his half-full canteen into his pack and zipping it up.

Finally, Marjorie dumps the contents of the parachute onto Peeta's lap: a folded piece of gauze sealed in plastic and a vial of liquid.

Katniss looks over at Prim, eyebrow raised.

"Saline, maybe," Prim suggests. "To clean the wound before dressing it."

Katniss's heart soars. This is more, much more, than she could have hoped for. She watches as Marjorie studies the vial.

Leave it, Katniss silently begs. Take his food and go.

Finally, Marjorie returns the gauze and vial to the inside of the parachute, closes its top, and places it in the crook of Peeta's elbow. Katniss breathes a sigh of relief. Her anger at Marjorie melts into a soft affection. She knows Marjorie is just trying to survive. At least she has left Peeta with a fighting chance.

As Marjorie pulls her hand away, she spots a bit of fabric peeking out of Peeta's coat pocket. She pulls out the hat and gloves he hastily tucked away hours ago at the Cornucopia. Ignoring the bloodstains, she pulls on the gloves. For a long moment she considers the hat. She reaches out and brushes a few blond locks of hair off Peeta's forehead. He shifts. His eyelashes flutter.

"Katniss," he whispers.

She didn't know it could hurt like this. She didn't know his voice could be a weight pressing on her shoulders, her chest, boxing her in on all sides. A few hours ago she would have given anything to hear him say her name. Now it only reminds her of how helpless she is.

Marjorie pets his hair once more before taking the hat and gently pulling it onto his head. She slips it down far enough to cover his ears.

"Good luck," she whispers before crawling out from underneath the overgrowth, Peeta's backpack in one hand, his machete in the other.

At least she left his sword.

As Marjorie disappears into the storm, a terrible dread creeps over Katniss. Peeta is alone, vulnerable, and in no shape to tend to his wound.

"He's not going to wake up," she whispers.

Prim grabs her hand.

"It's not enough," she says. "It wasn't enough. I should have—" What? What could she have done differently? How could she have saved him?

She wishes she volunteered in Marjorie's place. She wishes she were in the frozen arena now, nestled into his side, as they wait for the storm to pass. No matter that this would certainly mean her death, she wishes it with every fiber of her being.

He has to come home. He has to.

And with sudden clarity, Katniss realizes he won't. He has a day or two left before he succumbs to his wound. The most she can hope for is that he never wakes up, that he tumbles into the darkness without thought or pain.

Katniss abruptly stands, hobbling on her one good foot. Gale attempts to help her move, but she waves him off.

She's about to close the door to the bedroom when Prim yells out her name. Katniss rushes back to the couch, wincing as her hurt foot hits the floorboards. She freezes as soon as the projection comes into view.

Marjorie has returned.

At first, all Marjorie does is curl into Peeta's good side in an attempt to keep warm. She closes her eyes, but after a few minutes, she opens them again and sighs.

"Fine!" she says. "Fine. I'll do it."

She crawls over to Peeta's other side. The balled up shirt he held to his wound lays on the ground next to his limp arm. With a look of disgust, she pinches the ruined fabric between her thumb and pointer finger and casts it aside.

She peels his coat and sweater away and flinches at the sight of his wound. After a long moment of staring, she reaches for the machete.

And Katniss's heart stops.

She cannot watch Marjorie cut him open, cannot watch him bleed out into the snow.

It can't end like this.

"Wake up," she whispers. She squeezes her eyes shut and focuses on the image of his face. "Peeta, wake up!"

Of course it doesn't work. All it does is earn her surprised glances from Prim and Gale.

Marjorie twists the machete back and forth, studying the blade. Finally, she grabs Peeta's coat, holds it taut, and saws a piece of it off. When she drops the weapon, Katniss's sigh of relief is audible.

Marjorie buries the fabric in the snow. When it's damp enough, she dabs Peeta's side, cleaning off the blood. When she finishes, she picks up the vial of saline. She hesitates before uncorking the vial and pouring the solution over his wound. Carefully, she removes the adhesive strips and lays the gauze over Peeta's side.

"There," she mumbles. "Like new."

She tugs his clothes back over his skin before leaning over to zip up his coat. Satisfied, she returns to his good side and leans against him.

"Did she do it right?" Katniss asks, eyes glued to the scene.

"There wasn't enough saline," Prim says. "His wound might still be dirty."

"But she cleaned it."

"Anything could have gotten inside it."

Katniss bites her lip. "So there's still a chance for…"

"Infection. Yeah. And the bandage might be too tight."

Katniss tries to swallow, but her throat is too dry. The bowl of soup is still by her feet, but she cannot imagine trying to eat. She'll just throw it back up.

She tries to recapture the hope she felt only a little while ago, when Prim told her about the parachute. He's safe for now. And Marjorie did the best she could. More than was expected of her. In a game where only one person survives, she saved his life.

On screen, Peeta stirs again, his stiff fingers brushing Marjorie's leg. She grabs his hand and pulls it into her lap. She doesn't let go.

To Gale's credit, he not only stays at the Everdeen house to watch the Games, but also offers to prepare dinner despite Katniss insistence that she isn't hungry. There is no more talk of marriage or money or the Hob. There isn't much talk at all.

After Marjorie fell asleep beside Peeta, they disappeared from view. They have yet to return, which can only mean that they are both safe.

They are too boring for the Capitol's consumption. Their dinner hour requires fear and blood, but with the heavy snow, there is no action. Even Kai remains inside the Cornucopia, seething and shaking with rage, as he stares into the fire Mira made.

Shortly after seven, Madge shows up on the Everdeen doorstep. Before Katniss can thank her for helping with Peeta's parachute, Madge blurts out, "They're here. The reporters from the Capitol!"

A moment passes before Katniss remembers that the Capitol interviews the friends and family of the last eight surviving tributes. She cannot remember the last time a camera crew traveled here. District 12 tributes don't typically last this long.

"They're looking for you," Madge says.

"Me?" Katniss glances around the living room as if Madge could be referring to someone else.

"Well, the girl Peeta mentioned in his interview. That must be you," Madge says. "He just said your name in front of the whole country."

Katniss shifts uncomfortably on the couch. "I guess."

"Then, let's go!" Madge reaches for Katniss's hand.


"To the Justice Building to be interviewed!"

"I—I can't go there," Katniss says. "I can't be interviewed."

"But you have to go!" Madge insists. "You're part of his story."

Katniss's hands ball into fists at her sides, but there's no point in yelling at Madge. To the citizens of the Capitol, Peeta is just a story. A character to be invested in. A character to cheer for. If Katniss can use that to his advantage, she will.

"Do you really think an interview with me could help him get sponsors?" she asks.

"Of course," Madge says. "You're his happy ending."

Despite Katniss's insistence that Gale head home, he accompanies her and Madge to the Justice Building under the guise of helping Katniss keep off her injured foot.

Madge chatters the whole way there, giving Katniss advice.

"He did really well at the interviews. There are a lot of people in the Capitol cheering for him," Madge says. "But we need to give them more. We need to remind them what he's capable of and what he's fighting for. We have to keep them invested in his ending beyond the Games."

When they arrive, they find Rye standing in front of a camera, wrapping up an interview with a tall, thin man with purple hair. Peeta's father and other brother stand nearby.

Gale places a hand on Katniss's lower back as she makes her way up the stairs, but she shrugs him off. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Mr. Mellark's frown.

Then the camera is on their little group, and the purple-haired man is shoving a microphone in Katniss's direction.

"Is this her?" the reporter asks Madge. When she nods, the reporter stares down at Katniss. "You're Peeta Mellark's girlfriend?"

Katniss shrinks beneath the man's judgmental gaze. He's sizing her up, and she knows she's fallen short. She's skinny, poorly dressed, and not particularly pretty. Maybe this isn't a good idea. Maybe her presence will hurt Peeta rather than help him.

Before the silence can stretch on for too long, Gale speaks. "This is Katniss Everdeen. She's the reason Peeta is going to win."

The reporter looks over at Gale with interest before his eyes narrow in suspicion. He notes Gale's close proximity to Katniss and asks, "Who are you?"

"I'm…" Tension radiates off Gale as he pauses. Finally, he forces out, "I'm Katniss's cousin."

Katniss stares at her best friend, but she doesn't grab him, doesn't shake him, doesn't demand to know what he's doing. She's all too aware of the camera in her face.

"I used to watch Peeta's wrestling matches with Katniss. He's unbelievably strong," Gale continues. "He flipped some of those kids over like they were nothing. If anyone can beat that psycho from One, it's Peeta."

"I've known Katniss and Peeta since Kindergarten," Madge adds. "He liked her for years before he worked up the courage to say something to her."

The reporter points the microphone at Katniss again. Eyebrows raised, eyes wide, he obviously expects her to say something. But what? She isn't sure what the Capitol wants to hear. She doesn't know the magic words that will save him.

"Peeta is the best person I know," Katniss says. "He's brave and smart and strong. I don't know what I'll do if he doesn't come home."

"Do you think he has what it takes to win?" the reporter asks.

"Yes," Katniss replies. "Look at who he's faced already. He'll never stop fighting."

"What are your plans if he makes it back?"

Instead of wincing, Katniss forces a smile. "I'm going to put him somewhere he can't get hurt."

The reporter chuckles, and Katniss finally feels as if she has done something right.

"And then?" he asks. "Will you two marry?"

The question startles her, although it shouldn't. Madge told her that she was Peeta's happy ending. She knows what the people of the Capitol want to hear, her true feelings be damned. Before she can answer the question, another idea takes hold. It's almost as if Peeta is still a part of her, whispering the answer she needs.

She'll make them invested. She'll make the Capitol bring him home.

"We're already married," she says. "Our parents don't approve of our relationship, so we had a ceremony in secret."

A spark of interest flickers across the reporter's face.

"But Peeta doesn't know yet," Katniss says, laying a hand over her stomach. "About the baby."

Fifteen minutes and about a dozen personal stories later, the reporter finally finishes with her, and Gale walks her home. The sun slowly dips behind the horizon, the sky dressed in Peeta's favorite color.

Once they're far enough away from town, Gale asks, "It's a lie, right? The baby? The toasting?"

"It's as truthful as you being my cousin," she says.

He grabs her hand, but it isn't rough or demanding. "What are you doing?"

"Madge said to make them invested in Peeta's story, so I did."

"And if he comes home? What then?"

She doesn't understand. That's what she wants. The only thing she wants.

"What happens when the Capitol expects a baby, and there isn't one?" Gale asks.

She shakes her head and brushes past him. "They won't care by then."

"Of course they will," Gale says. "If Peeta wins, he'll have to go on the Victory Tour. Become a mentor. He'll be in the spotlight for the rest of his life."

She digs her nails into her palms at the thought. She is so fixated on him coming home that she forgets there are consequences. He'll be awarded a fortune, but he'll have to sacrifice everything else. His life will no longer be his. Every year, for the rest of his life, he will have to watch as children under his care march two by two to their deaths.

But no. She cannot consider this. No matter what the Capitol expects of him, he will be alive, and that is everything.

"He can tell the world I lost the baby," Katniss says. "It doesn't matter."

"Of course it matters!" Gale swears under his breath and runs a frustrated hand through his hair. "Just be careful. Okay? You know how dangerous they are."

"I know," she says softly. But right now, she doesn't care. She'll say and do whatever she needs to ensure Peeta survives.

Once they arrive at her door, Gale wishes her a goodnight. Before he can walk away, she grabs his arm.

"Wait," she says. "Thank you for what you said during the interview. I know you don't like Peeta—"

"It's not that I don't like him," Gale interrupts. "He seems like a good guy. I just...need a little time to get used to the idea of you and him."

"Thank you," she says again.

He pulls her into a tight hug. "I want you to be happy, Katniss. I'm just sorry it's not with me."

The quiet, insistent noise of a second parachute wakes Marjorie. As she leans over to open it, she feels something tug on her hair. She looks up. Confused blue eyes stare back at her. She bats Peeta's hand away.

"Don't do that," she scolds.

"Sorry," he says. "I thought you were someone else."

Marjorie tugs her knotted, dirty hair into a ponytail. "Katniss Everdeen?"

Every part of him freezes. He even holds his breath. "What did you say?"

"You said her name earlier. And we have the same color hair." She returns her attention to the parachute and opens it. A container of hot soup and a spoon wait inside.

"I did?" he asks.

"Look!" She pulls out the container. "We've got an appetizing dinner on our hands. Much better than that canned crap. I guess we can split it. It's probably meant for you anyway." She purses her lips. "Unless the Capitol is rewarding my generous nature."

He winces and reaches for his side.

"Careful," she says. "Don't make it start bleeding again."

"Did you...am I wearing a bandage?"

"Yeah. They only sent one, so no sudden movements."

He rubs his forehead and startles when his fingers brush the fabric of his hat. "It's still winter?"

"Good observation," she says.

"I guess I haven't been out that long."

She shrugs before popping the top off the container. The steam hits her face, and she closes her eyes and sighs. "This smells so good."

Peeta studies her as she begins to shove spoonful after spoonful into her mouth.

"Why did you help me?"

She wipes her mouth with the back of her hand. "You and me are allies now."

He frowns. "You want to be allies?"

"Just until we take out the Careers. As soon as they're dead, so is our alliance. I mean it. I don't care about the other tributes that are left. As soon as One and Four are dead, we're back to trying to kill each other. Got it?"

"You could have just let me die."

"I can't take Kai out on my own," she says. "Besides, I didn't do much. You would have woken up eventually."

Peeta looks doubtful.

"Maybe I was just sick of being alone," she says, staring down into the soup. She nearly upends their dinner in surprise when Peeta yanks off his hat and tugs it over her head.

He smiles at her. "I was sick of being alone too."

After Peeta finishes the soup, he and Marjorie share the last of the water in his canteen. He offers to keep first watch while she sleeps. She agrees and immediately curls up on top of the sleeping bag.

Although it isn't that late, Katniss decides to go to bed. Peeta has someone else watching his back, so she may as well get some much needed rest. Prim remains on the couch and promises to come in soon.

Katniss undoes her braid and slips into bed. Her dark hair spreads out like a fan across her pillow. She twists the long strands around her fingers and thinks of Peeta touching Marjorie.

Besides their brief hug in the Justice Building, he has never touched Katniss's hair or face. He's never run a hand along her side or traced the scar on her ankle.

His lips have never touched hers.

She runs a fingertip around her mouth, closes her eyes, and pretends it's his touch that she feels.

For a moment, it works. For a moment, the frosty air blows against her face and her stomach roars with hunger. She hears the rustle of the sleeping bag and the wind in the trees. The heat of the soup lingers on her tongue.

Katniss? Are you there?

She sits up in surprise, the blanket pooling in her lap. The house is dark, quiet. Her sister is asleep across the room beside their mother.

A dream, then.

She doesn't remember falling asleep.

She lies back down, unable to shake the feeling that she was there beside him in the frozen arena.

Despite the summer heat, she pulls the blanket up around her neck.

Despite the summer heat, she can't stop shivering.