When Danny dreams – and he doesn’t really, not much, not anymore – it is about the children.
Because that’s what they are. They’re children who become liars and murderers and thieves and broken humans in the course of just a few days. And Danny does that to them – Danny is a mentor. The word turns his stomach most days. He is no mentor - he turns these children into blank faced killers. He is complicit in the Capitol’s business of murder and there is nothing that will ever convince Danny otherwise.
And so when he dreams, he thinks about the kids he has sent to their deaths. The ones too young to really understand what he was asking of them when he told them to hide and run until they couldn’t anymore – and then to keep going anyway, because the Games stopped for no one. The ones too terrified to believe that this was their fate, too scared to take heed when Danny told them that fear was the quickest killer of all. Their deaths early at the Cornucopia were almost merciful.
And then there were years where after meeting his tributes, he would excuse himself to go be sick in one of the Capitol’s pristine bathrooms – because he knew that this boy and this girl could survive. Maybe win, maybe not, but they had the desperate, selfish desire to keep living deep within them and Danny knew he would help them come to see it as their strength – help them come to see themselves as weapons first, as soldiers.
And that was as good as killing them on the spot, because even if they won they’d never see themselves as anything other than murderers ever again.
So if he’s particularly lucky, he dreams of Grace. But not the Grace he knows exists, not the Grace who is safe in her new Capitol home with her mother and her stepfather, far now from the horrors of the Games because even if her name is chosen, yet another dead-eyed Career will take her place voluntarily: for honor, for glory, for escape.
No, he dreams of Grace back in District 8, where each year passing was another death knell tolling. Every year closer to twelve meant his Grace was one year closer to something too horrible for Danny to even imagine – because even a victor’s children aren’t exempt from the Games.
So Danny dreams of Grace’s name pulled at the Reaping. He dreams every way possible – rainy days and sunny days, her in a blue dress, a red, her hair in braids or pin straight, her brown shoes, then her black. He dreams her at twelve, at fourteen, at sixteen, her name echoing out over the silent crowd who breathe a sigh of relief that it is not them, not their child going to die - just someone else’s daughter. Every time her eyes go to his, begging him to save her and Danny knows that given the chance he’d fight in every Game, every year, if it meant that Grace were safe. If it meant she’d never have to worry. But he is too old and too far from her to even hold her before she is escorted to the stage, back straight and chin high even as she weeps the low, anguished cries of one who knows they are already dead.
He notes distantly that he is screaming, fighting the arms of the Peacekeepers who hold him back from his little girl. His voice is hoarse and his face is wet as he screams her name over and over again – his little girl, his perfect girl, the only thing that’s ever mattered to him. Gone.
Tonight he wakes and Steve is there, the familiar sensation of hot tears and aching muscles made worse by the knowledge that the other mentor has seen him like this – that whatever it is they are doing together (because he has no name for it, the way Steve looks at him, broken and hopeful, like Danny was ever capable of fixing anything when he can’t even control himself) is tainted with Danny’s nightmares.
“You were screaming,” Steve says quietly into the dark, his gaze settled somewhere near Danny’s feet – a courtesy that Danny is pathetically grateful for as he struggles to sit up in bed. “Grace’s name.”
“The Reaping,” Danny says tiredly and Steve nods his response, understanding without any more words necessary.
“At least she’s safe?” Steve offers, not shifting any closer but not making any moves to go, not yet.
“Yeah,” Danny replies dully, burying his face into his hands as he thinks of his tributes torn to shreds in high definition, of slow motion replays and children screaming their delight at the sight of their monstrous heroes taking the lives of someone else’s daughter, someone’s son. “Yeah, at least she’s safe.” And then, a terrible image appears in his mind, unbidden and somehow more horrible than every Reaping dream he has ever had – Grace, perfectly turned out in her Capitol fashion, under the proud gaze of Rachel and Stan, cheering on the bloodshed as her friends do. Picking favorites and laughing at her starving, screaming, dying peers – and suddenly Danny cannot breathe.
“Go away,” he manages to get out, kicking the covers off. “Go, leave!” Steve rises – unsure, prepared to go to Danny’s side - and Danny has no patience for him, not when he feels as if his world is twisting upside down around him and Steve is just as fucked up and torn apart as he is – he doesn’t have the strength to hold the both of them together and for one terrible, selfish second, he doesn’t want to. “Out!”
And when Steve leaves his lips are twisted in an expression of hurt and uncertainty and Danny wants to call him back the second the door closes behind him – but he is too tangled up in his every waking nightmare to even stand on his own two feet.
So instead he sits alone in the dark, struggling to breathe, remembering every child he has watched die and every tribute he has seen become a victor.
And wondering what it says about him when he wishes he had had no victors, had never seen a deadened and empty-eyed child staring down at him, shining crown on their head.
Danny does not sleep again for days.