Author: holymfwickee PM
Post-CF. Peeta is rescued from the Capitol by Katniss and her band of rebels; however, after months of torture it is unknown if he will survive. It is also unknown if Katniss will survive if he doesn't. Majority written prior to the publication of MJ.Rated: Fiction M - English - Romance/Hurt/Comfort - Katniss E. & Peeta M. - Chapters: 16 - Words: 129,150 - Reviews: 677 - Favs: 968 - Follows: 905 - Updated: 02-20-11 - Published: 12-12-09 - id: 5577232
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A/N: Let's pretend Katniss and her group of rebels is able to rescue Peeta from the Capitol. This is the reunion scene that follows. I imagine there will be quite a bit of fan fiction about such a situation, if there isn't already. Here's my little contribution.
Disclaimer: I don't own The Hunger Game or Catching Fire.
Listen to him. Listen to him breathe. His breathing is shallow, his chest barely rises. It's a result of the quantity of drugs in his system. The poisons running through his bloodstream were injected during months of…torture. Months of sedatives and injections that damaged his nerves and toxins meant to destroy his mind. There is no other word for it. It was torture – an archaic and evil practice done in a brand new style.
The Capitol is certainly capable of other methods. Floggings and beatings are more rampant than ever. Then again, you'd be a lucky one to get out with a flogging. Shooting is far more popular. His case is handled differently. The Capitol isn't stupid. They are not going to destroy someone so beloved by the people; not when there is a possibility they can still use him. Not when there is a chance they could use him to get to me.
His cheeks are sunken, he is too thin, and a dark shadow hangs under his eyes, but that is how everyone appears during these unstable days. If not for the poison running through him, he'd be perfect.
And he is here. And he is breathing.
He twitches from time to time and a vein juts out of his neck. His hands fist the sheets as he endures the painful symptoms of withdrawal. Or perhaps he's having nightmares. I do not know which is worse. It makes me uncomfortable to watch. My throat goes dry and I'm forced to choke back tears when his jaw tightens, but I don't dare move. My back aches because I've been leaning forward for too long. My head aches from the stress. I curse myself. Who am I to even think of my own insignificant aches and pains?
I have been alone with him in the room for several minutes, nearly three-quarters of an hour. The only person to come in from time to time is a nurse practitioner rescued from District 11. She's the closest thing we have to a real doctor. She doesn't do much for him. Just looks over the needle poking into his arm and takes note that his brain is still functioning. For some reason, I don't trust her. She has been a faithful caregiver, but only minutes after Peeta arrived I overheard her saying, "If he doesn't go into a coma, he might have a chance." When she looks him over, it's like she expects him not to make it. So I can't trust her. Not when she's already given up on him.
Everyone else has the good sense to leave us alone. Not even Haymitch steps in. I am glad we are alone. That's how it has been for nearly two years now; the two of us against everything.
My head hangs down low; my chin nearly touches my chest. My neck aches too much for me to lift it and I consider settling it against the edge of his bed. I'm afraid if I allow myself that minimal amount of comfort I'll fall asleep. Before I can decide, I hear someone shuffling against the cold, concrete floor. Probably that damn nurse again. I don't want her touching him anymore.
It isn't the practitioner, it is my mother. She must have taken the next check-in time. I'm surprised the nurse allowed her to do it. My mother has been helping the wounded alongside the nurse, but usually the nurse just ignores my mother's suggestions. She doesn't approve of the homemade remedies of a woman from the Seam of District 12. However, we are extremely low on medical supplies now. She won't have much choice other than to use my mother's remedies soon.
"He's still fighting through the sedatives," she says softly, but I don't look up yet. "We hope he will sleep for only another hour or so." I appreciate her optimism. Already, she's a better healer than the nurse.
"I understand," I answer back.
"Come and get something to eat with me."
"No thank you."
"Can I bring you something?" she asks gently.
"I'm not hungry," I mutter back. As pleased as I am to not see the nurse, now I want my mother to leave. I'm not going to leave the room. I'm not going to allow him out of my sight. I've made that mistake before. My mother ignores my coldness and steps closer. She glances over his still form. She reads the blinking lights and listens to the beeping of the machines surrounding him, and somehow, she understands the meaning for them. I know they mean something, but I don't know what. I can only hope that because they have neither stopped beeping nor begun beeping rapidly, I shouldn't worry.
My mother pulls a small bunch of discolored, dried herbs from her pocket. The herbs are used as aromatherapy for nausea and combating sleepiness, but it's only effective on people who have a low tolerance for medication. Some people from the Seam could barely afford aspirin. He has been pumped with chemicals for several months. How will my mother's small plants do anything?
"Will it help?" I ask as she places the bundle on his chest so he will be able to inhale the scent.
"It won't hurt him," she promises. Several seconds pass as we both stare at his unchanging appearance. I need to see his eyes again. I need to know there is still life behind them. I make myself inhale and exhale in the same pattern as he does. I watch the bundle of herbs rise and fall and make the movement in my chest match his. It's a little uncomfortable; like I'm not filling my lungs up the whole way. How can he possibly be getting enough oxygen?
"Katniss, I'm worried about you," my mother says into the silence and I'm snapped from my staring. She hasn't been looking at him at all. She's been staring at me.
"Worried about me?" I question. She shouldn't be, not when there are so many people who need to be cared for.
"You've been in here for hours." Normally, I don't spend much time with the sick and wounded. That is Prim and my mother's place. I can't handle watching people suffer and I'm not much good in helping. In fact, this is the first time I've refused to leave. This situation is entirely different. I don't answer because I really don't know what she wants me to say. Where else would I be?
"Sweetheart, you are not to blame for this," she says as softly as she can while still sustaining her parental authority.
I shake my head roughly. I'm not going to listen to her. I don't want to. She's lying anyway.
"No one can hold you responsible for the actions of the Capitol. He understands this. I will not allow you to carry anymore guilt. You're going to make yourself ill." She pauses and shuts her eyes against tears. "I'm afraid for you."
She's completely right to be afraid. There is more than enough to go around that is worth being afraid of. However, in all the time since I've encountered truly dangerous situations – the Games, the Quell, and the escape to District 13 – she's never admitted her fears to me. Why now?
"What are you talking about?" I whisper. She sighs and rubs her hands over her face. No one has been sleeping well these past months. People have been caught stealing sleeping medication over a dozen times, which could only mean another dozen were successful – part of the reason we are running low on supplies. She moves around his bed and kneels beside me. Her knees crack as she reaches the floor. Gently, her soothing hands push my ratty hair back to reveal my weary face. Her eyes look me over and she runs her hands across the numerous scars on my face, as if her healing touch could wipe them away.
"Look at you, my little girl, my baby. They stole you away from me. Oh, how I prayed for your safety. I couldn't stop reciting the prayer. I was practically crazed with it. Your sister had to take care of me. My daughters have always been so much stronger than me," she confessed. No one with a child entered in the Hunger Games could be expected to handle it with any level of sanity. It had nothing to do with my mother's personality. She is here now, taking care of the wounded, and ushering the dying into the afterlife with dignity and comfort. She is stronger than she knows.
"I promised myself if I got you back, I would take care of you like a proper mother. I feared you might not be the same person."
I am not the same person. How could I be? There are two options when it comes to the Games. You either die or you live on to suffer the nightmares. I am lucky I did not turn to drinking like Haymitch. There is still time I suppose.
"I swore to God when you lived I would do everything in my power to heal you. And then a miracle happened; you were saved. I had you back. And then an even greater miracle, you somehow managed to be strong after the Games. You were affected, we all were, but you didn't need me. You grew into such a beautiful young woman despite the horrible things you witnessed. I was so proud of you and I never felt so blessed, because even with everything you went through, I still saw my little girl from time to time. I could still see the bright spirit of a girl coming from the worst of circumstances." Her hands move to rest on my lap and she sniffles as she holds back tears. My hair falls forward again and I can't see her face nor can she see mine. "But the trials didn't end with the Games. Then there was the Quell, and the uprisings. You had to endure so much more. I prayed and prayed…"
I didn't need the list. I wish she would get to the point, but I allow her to continue talking. She must have been keeping this inside since…since I volunteered to take Prim's place.
"But these past months, I look at you and I search for some semblance of my little girl. I don't see her anymore." Her fingers intertwine. That gesture, in combination with the fact that she's kneeling, creates an alarming picture to me. This is what she must have looked like the entire time I was in the Games.
I cover her folded hands with mine. "Mother, I still love you and Prim with everything I am. I'd do anything for you," I promise.
"I know. When it comes to Prim and me your heart could not be in a more noble and beautiful place. The same is true for all of our friends in the Seam, for all of District 12. But the way you look at him, during the Games and especially now, I am afraid you won't survive."
I glance over at him and attempt to grasp her words. I am only confused. "I don't understand what you're saying," I murmur.
"After he was captured, you were so broken. I never thought I would see you like that. When it comes to this boy, everything is so strained, everything is all or nothing. You were prepared to give your life for him during the Quell."
"He wanted to do the same for me."
"You still attach that feeling to him now. Katniss, what if he doesn't live? What if his mind is broken?" she asks without a hint of emotion. Her tears do not compromise her seriousness. I heard them say things like that from the hallway. Things they didn't try hard enough to hide. Because of all the drugs forced into him, it is likely his mind would be ruined. The words, "nothing but mush," came up. He probably wouldn't remember anything. There is a possibility he might lose control of his muscles or even be paralyzed. He'd be lucky if he retained his ability to speak.
"Stop!" I grunt through my tightened jaw. I couldn't stand to consider those possibilities, even if they were likely. Throughout my time sitting here, I tried hard to keep those thoughts out. It is either that, or lose my mind. The entire time he was at the Capitol, it felt like my chest had been cracked open. I believed I would have to learn how to live with a festering hole in my body, in my heart. But I experienced a miracle just like my mother. We had him back and the opening suddenly sealed shut. I could breathe again. I could think and move and hope again. But to imagine him so damaged, so destroyed, the crack would wretch open yet again. My heart could not take such abuse over and over.
"Will you be able to handle it? Can you handle it?"
I close my eyes so I don't have to see her frightened face. "Stop! Please, stop!" I command as I clench my hands together in fists.
"Your guilt is crippling your judgment," she chastises. Everyone knew I felt a tremendous amount of guilt over what had been inflicted upon him. How could I possibly feel differently? If I felt nothing, wouldn't that make me the most loathsome person in all of Panem? That would put me on the same pedestal as Snow. I nearly choke on the implication. My mother continues, "And I'm afraid if you don't distance yourself from it you'll miss out on what's right in front of you."
My eyes snap open and I lock them with her glistening eyes. "Wait…what? Are you talking about Gale?" I thought throughout her speech she was inferring that I wouldn't be able to handle it if Peeta is too sick, if he becomes a completely different person as a result of the torture. Given how poorly I handle caring for the sick it is an accurate judgment of my character. But that's not what she is trying to get at. She believes I am in love with Gale and I feel so guilty about Peeta I am preventing myself from considering him.
"You've known him your whole life. He loves you," she says quietly and strokes my cheek once.
I take no comfort in her touch. I'm too angry. "What do you want to happen? Do you want Peeta to die or be too sick so I'll throw myself at Gale?" I yell. My mother leans back on her heels, surprised at my anger.
"No! I want you to be happy. Promise me you'll let yourself be happy," she begs.
I breathe out irritably in response. I stand up and take a few steps away from both she and Peeta. I can't look at her. "We can't make promises like that anymore, Mother. We have no right." I cannot even fathom her attitude. How does she think of something as fleeting as happiness when it takes everything we have to simply stay alive?
I hear her knees crack again and I know she has moved from her kneeling position. I hear her footsteps as they are fading away, she's leaving the room. Hopefully, she realizes the ridiculousness of her request. While I am still facing away from her she calls out tenderly, "Peeta has always wanted your happiness, Katniss. Whatever that is."
I pause and revel in my anger for one more second, but when I turn around she's already gone. My chest aches and I collapse into the uncomfortable chair next to Peeta's bed. I am forced to rest my head on his mattress now. I feel so drained, so pathetic and useless as tears fall from my eyes. My mother is right about one thing, my relationship with Peeta is a strain. We are continually placed in the most impossible circumstances neither of us should have to endure. Him more than me. He is and will always be innocent and without corruption. His actions are only motivated by love.
My relationship with Peeta is also tainted with a string of failures. I wanted so desperately to keep him safe. Instead, he continued to lose things over and over. His leg, his life for a few awful minutes, and now his mind is in jeopardy. Not to mention the many times I broke his heart. His attachment to me is so ridiculous now it seems wrong. How could he have feelings for me when it only hurts him? It would be better if he hated me for failing him.
Suddenly my breath hitches and the wound in my chest opens a little bit. It's not because I fear for Peeta's body and mind, it's because I contemplated that he might hate me. I have had this thought before, but never this reaction. Since the Quell, and even before, his undying love for me had become a given. Everyone knew about it and I had theoretically accepted it, even if I didn't understand it. If he didn't love me, he could be happy. He could be safe. But that thought doesn't bring me the joy I expect. If he despises me and decides he no longer wants me, this hole will never heal. Then again, it may be just punishment. Peeta has suffered repeatedly as a result of loving me. It is only right that I should take on his suffering. I didn't deserve to be healed.
This is the guilt my mother was accusing me of, the guilt that is supposedly crippling my better judgment. I don't care anymore. I rarely had the chance to make my own decisions. Time and time again I was a pawn in some greater plot I didn't understand. After the Games, my life was being set up to marry Peeta. I had no choice in that matter. Things are different now. No one is threatening to kill me if I don't marry Peeta. People are threatening to kill me for lots of other reasons, but that is beside the point. My mother was only telling me to follow my heart. She believes my heart lies with Gale. Even if my guilt is affecting my decisions, at least they are my decisions. At least it's my guilt. Sometimes, the guilt is the only thing that reminds me I'm still alive. That Peeta is still alive.
Gale is a help. He is my best friend. There's no way I can forget that. I don't want to forget it. He began sleeping nearby after he heard me screaming in my sleep one night. We couldn't sleep in the same bed since we sleep on cots and there simply isn't room for more than one person. He would put his cot right up next to mine and hold my hand until I fell asleep. He does comfort me. He makes me smile despite the war that is going on throughout the country. I don't scream at night when he holds my hand, but the dreams don't stop, they change. I don't see rats gnaw my face or my family being ripped away. In fact, the dreams aren't really all that bad. They're normal. I dream of the Seam and District 12. I dream I'm hunting in the woods and checking the snares. One would think these dreams would make me happy, but they leave me feeling empty and just strange. Those dreams reflect something so familiar and could be confused with reality, but they're not reality. Those fantasies, as simple as they may be, are impossible.
Mentally and physically exhausted, I'm unable to lift my head from the bed. The mattress is thin and the linens are scratchy, but any kind of rest for my aching neck feels wonderful. I don't close my eyes, knowing if I do so I'll fall asleep. Sleeping is risky just now. They might move me, or him, and I can't be separated from him right now.
Colors. Swirling colors. I so rarely see colors these days. Everything is grey and covered in dust and debris. Where are these colors coming from? Flowers? It takes me a moment to recognize the shapes. They are wildflowers. I'm in a field of wildflowers. In my woods. There is no place I feel a greater connection to. No place holds a more positive sentiment. I turn around several times. I'm searching for the person who brought me here. I want to know who I'm sharing this with. I can't see anyone, but I can feel them nearby. I know they're close. If only they would reach out to me…
I hear a clumsy, muffled groan, and while I'm squinting, I realize I must have fallen asleep. It must not have been for very long or the nurse of my mother would have found me when they checked-in on Peeta.
Did he make the sound that woke me up? A shot of adrenaline runs up my spine and I stand up in an instant. I look him over frantically. He has not moved an inch. My eyes move back to his gaunt face and I stand perfectly still, listening hard. He does not make another sound, but he takes a deeper breath, one that causes his chest to expand and the bundle of herbs falls down his side and lands next to his arm.
His eyes open slowly. He even blinks slowly. I think he's about to go under again when his eyes flicker in my direction. He just stares at me. He doesn't smile. He doesn't move. His blue eyes, now dulled out and nearly lifeless, only stare.
"Peeta?" I whisper.
His forehead barely wrinkles as his eyebrows attempt to come together. His mouth stays in an unresponsive line. I still don't move. The expressionless way he stares at me is terrifying. It's not Peeta. Has he forgotten me? Has the Capitol been successful in burning away his memory of me? Maybe it would be better this way. It doesn't matter if this crack in my chest exists. He could finally be free of his attachment to me and maybe he would discover an existence where he isn't continually suffering.
"That's not right," he whispers. His voice is hoarse and I can barely make out his words. I can hardly tell that his lips move. But he did talk. It is difficult to keep the elation from playing across my face. He has not lost his ability to speak! The most beautiful thing about Peeta, his talent for words, has not been lost.
"What's not right?" I counter.
"You're never here. You're always in the jungle. You're always trapped," he mumbles. He can't open his mouth more than a quarter of an inch. His eyelids hang half-closed.
"Peeta," I begin slowly as I gulp down a growing lump in my throat. I am afraid of startling him. I keep my sentences short and to the point. He only needs to understand he is safe now, everything else can come later. "We're not in the Games. You're with me. You're not dreaming. I promise."
"I'm…I'm…a…you…" His breathing picks up and the machines begin to beep a little faster. I instantly panic and think of running to the nurse, but rushing out of the room might only upset him further or convince him that he's hallucinating. I step forward so my hips hit the edge of the bed and place my hands on the mattress.
"Shhh…be still," I command gently. My voice sounds like my mother's. "You're sick, but you're safe." The beeping begins to slow down and my heart rate slows along with it. It is stupid to tell him to be still; he can't move, even if he wants to. He's been just shy of comatose for months and his muscles have degraded. It will take him weeks to work up the strength to walk again, if he can walk again. I notice the hand closest to me is trembling as he attempts to exert himself. Slowly, I move my right hand underneath his and intertwine our fingers. I place my left hand on top and press gently. He doesn't have the strength to squeeze back, but he is trying. This fills me with hope for his recovery.
I look away from our hands and up at him. The dullness of his eyes has washed away. Even with the small amount of artificial fluorescent lighting coming from the hallway, they are shining miraculously. Tears fall down his cheeks.
"No, please don't," I gasp. If he cries, I won't be able to handle it. I know he doesn't have the strength to lift his arms so I disengage our hands and place mine against his cheeks. My thumbs wipe idly at his falling tears. They feel lukewarm because his skin is so hot. He's running a fever. I would have to get the nurse soon. "Please don't cry," I beg.
"Look at you. I never thought…I never believed I'd ever see you again." He still can't seem to muster any emotion on his face. The drugs have him too fatigued. It's a little off-putting to see him cry without even a wrinkle between his eyes. I'm a mess enough for the both of us.
"Me too," I mutter through a sob.
"They told me you were dead."
"I'm not," I inform him abruptly. In the past months, I needed to inform myself of this frequently. There are times, usually after waking up from a nightmare, when I have to convince myself I am still amongst the living. "Believe it or not, I'm alive."
He begins talking more and more and I don't know what to think. He's so delirious he might not remember this conversation later on. I'm too selfish to stop him. It feels too good to hear his voice again. "I didn't know what to believe. I knew I couldn't trust them. I think that's the only thing that kept me from going insane. I had to believe everything they said was a lie."
I couldn't hold back my sobs any longer. I am too exhausted and too relieved. I pull myself forward so our foreheads touch. My skin is chilled by the drafty room and his is overheating. My whole body shakes with tremors from my uncontrollable weeping. Our tears mix against my hands. My eyes squeeze shut and I regret it. What if he disappears from beneath my hands when I open my eyes? Things far more fantastical than that had happened in the past.
"You're so beautiful. Even when you cry, you're beautiful." His voice cuts through my sniffling.
My breath trembles as I exhale and I force my wet eyes open. I reluctantly push myself back and take a swipe at both of my dripping eyes. I nearly laugh. I must look terrible.
"Yes, well, same for you," I say. Breath escapes suddenly from his chest. I recognize it is supposed to be a laugh, even though he's unable to lift his lips into a smile. "Do you want to know how we got you out?" I ask. I just want to keep him talking and get him as lucid as possible.
"No. I wouldn't understand. I didn't know what was going on most of the time."
I drag my hands down so they are resting on his chest. It's foolish to keep him awake. He is very sick. "You should rest."
"No!" he croaks suddenly. I am startled and one of my hands shoots up to the side of his face where I gently caress his hair to calm him. His hair has grown out; it's the longest I've ever seen it. Or perhaps his face has become so thin it seems longer. "Please, don't let me sleep. I was unconscious almost all the time, and when I would wake up I didn't know it if was day or night. It was always dark," his voice wavers as he finishes.
"Shhh…," I shush him again and continually caress his hair. I need him to stay calm. I remember the herbs and pick them up from where they have fallen on the mattress. I hold them near his nose while he takes a few cleansing breaths. "This will help clear your head."
"From your mother?"
"Yes. And by the way, it's night. It's two-thirty in the morning. We're in District 13. We—"
"Don't say anymore. I don't care." He clears his throat and I do the same, but more awkwardly than he does. I place the herbs back on his chest.
"I'm sorry. I don't really know what I'm saying," I confess. I notice his hand begins to shake again. "Don't do that. You're too sick to move. Just tell me what you want."
"Hold my hand?" he asks tentatively. I nearly laugh again, thinking back to the time when it was required of us to hold hands. I decide to do one better. I take his hand like before, but now I sit on the bed, facing him, and lay his arm across my lap. He still can't smile, but I can see in his eyes he's happy, at least for the moment.
"Tell me about you," he instructs.
Of course. His favorite topic of discussion. "I've been here, waiting for you to wake up."
"I was waiting," I answer enigmatically. He's already said he doesn't want to know what the resistance has been doing. I don't want to confuse him with news of uprisings and deaths and the rebuilding of nuclear warheads. He is still unaware of those things, and he will remain that way as long as possible. There's no point in filling his head with fodder for more nightmares.
"What does that mean?" he questions.
Instead of giving him an answer, I look down at our hands. Mine are callused and dry; all of my nails chewed away. His hands are surprisingly soft without a speck of dirt under his fingernails. It's amazing the attention the Capitol will give to personal hygiene and appearances even as they put you through hell. Before I can think of something to say, Peeta interrupts the silence.
"Katniss, tell me what to think. Tell me what I don't know."
I understand I directed him to tell me what he wanted, but this kind of information will be too much for him to handle right now. "Not now," I say simply.
The hard line of his mouth manages to fall into a slight frown. "You're Gale's now? Aren't you?"
I look up at his empty face and wipe away another stream of tears that have fallen down his cheeks. We always avoided this conversation in the past. We had to. We were always under the eyes of the Capitol. Now, for the first time in two years, we are completely alone. We could say anything without risking ourselves or our families. Even with less outside pressure, this moment feels more monumental than any other. I couldn't hide behind my fears of the Capitol any longer. I would have to face both Peeta and my heart.
"If the Hunger Games had never happened, I never would have known you, would I?" I think out loud. If it is a good place to start, I don't know. It is simply the first place my mind goes.
"Probably not. I'd never worked up the courage to talk to you before then." Oh Peeta. The boy with the bread. A title I gave him for an event that feels like it occurred a thousand years ago. I never actually knew that boy, despite how well I know the boy lying before me. My mother said how we were all affected by the Games, which is brutally true in my case, but I doubt its truthfulness when it comes to Peeta. He had nightmares like me, but his personality was still so genuine. I may not have known him before, but I believe he is the same. He is still kindness and light in a darkening world. He is still in love with a girl he shouldn't be in love with. I sigh and stroke his knuckles with my thumbs. He sighs in response and his eyes look like they are becoming heavy.
"I can't help wondering what it would have been like if they didn't call Prim's name that day. What it would be like to still be living in the Seam right now. Would anything be different?" I imagine my life would be the same. I would be taking care of Prim and my mother. I would go hunting on Sunday. I would walk through the streets making my illegal trades and taking things day by day. Of course, Peeta would have still been in the Games and he'd probably be dead. There is a possibility he might have won, but neither event would have affected me much. I would have grown into a young woman with one choice, not two. I know what I'm going to say will hurt him, but I force myself to continue. "It would have been so easy to fall in love with Gale. I understand that now," I whisper. I don't want him to remember this conversation. I hate myself for saying these things to him. "Gale and I, we come from the same place. We lost our fathers the same way. We're so much the same person. It's the way my life would have gone," my voice shakes at the end as I struggle against a sob. "But even as I entertain those thoughts, at the same time, I despise them, because even if they hadn't called Prim's name that day, they still would have called yours. I would have lost you."
"But you didn't know me then. You would be happy." His voice sounds gravely.
I keep staring at our hands, even though his face is probably still petrified by the drugs and won't betray his emotions. I know I will be able to recognize when I break his heart again. "Maybe," I admit. Happiness is never a given in the Seam no matter if one falls in love or not. "I'm not sure if I understand love or fate or destiny or whatever its name is. But, I believe timing is part of it. Perhaps, it in the end, it defines all of it. Maybe Gale and would have fallen in love, but we never had the chance, and we never will, because I met you." I finally look up at him and I recognize the hope that suddenly enters his eyes. He understands the significance of the words I choose. Gale and I did not lose our chance because of the Games, it is because of Peeta. Our meeting changed everything. There is no more denying it.
"Katniss," he murmurs.
"I can't live with myself knowing you're hurting," I acknowledge. It feels so freeing to finally accept the truths I have been struggling to understand these past months. It no longer feels like I am trapped underneath them; it feels like relief from the strain of fighting against them.
"If it's guilt that you feel—"
"It doesn't matter if I felt guilt in the past or if I feel it now!" I say back at him sternly. I pause and swallow once so I can calm my voice. "And I know it's more than that." I begin shaking my head like it's an uncontrollable tick. "Peeta, I'm broken. I can barely function when you are away from me. It hurts too much." I think back on the months I have been living with a massive rift in my body. Yes, I filled it up with grief and guilt as my mother like my mother accused, but no one offered any other kind of solace to me. No one, not even Gale, closed the rift completely.
"Is that love?" he dares to ask.
I have been surrounded with nothing but hate and violence as of late. I know punishment, I know fear, and I know grief. What do I know of love? Instantly, I think of Prim. I love her. I think of my mother. I think of Gale. I love them all. Loving them had always been easy and natural. I look over Peeta, who looks increasingly more worried with each passing second I take to consider his question. I lean forward, so my chest is hovering over his and my hands rest against his shoulders.
"Peeta let me protect you. Let me take care of you. I don't want to be separated from you, ever. Please don't push me away."
"Katniss, I want you to be happy. I swear it," he groans as his teeth grate together.
"Peeta, you heal me. You are the only thing that closes up this hole in my chest. You make the nightmares go away. I want to do the same thing for you."
"You always have. Even when you didn't want me."
"Peeta…" I lean forward even further so my nose aligns next to his. His eyes close and his hot breath fans over my lips. He's still too warm and I'm distracted by the heat radiating off his body. I have to go get the nurse.
"Can I kiss you?" he asks.
I smirk. I can't stop myself. "You can't move, and you probably won't remember this conversation," I tell him.
"I remember everything," he vows. We've never kissed without a camera on us, without some underlying reason to. If we kiss now, it's because I want to. The idea is momentarily overwhelming to me. My body position is uncomfortable because I'm not putting any weight onto Peeta; there is no sense in making it more difficult for him to breathe. It strains my back and my neck simultaneously. Peeta is swimming in a sea of drugs and I'm positive he won't remember this the next time he wakes up. Maybe it's that thought that convinces me to move forward, close my eyes, and press my lips against his. It's an odd kiss, he can barely push back, nor can he lift his arms to embrace me. Still, something electric and indescribable sweeps through me – something I only had a fleeting memory of. It flows through my shoulders to my fingertips, from my spine down to my toes and back again, until it whirls around in my chest sewing up the last of the rift, permanently. I will be left with a scar in the end. It isn't a scar anyone could see, and even if someone could, they would never understand it. People think of scars as evidence of a painful event, but that isn't the only thing they are symbolic of, it's not even the most important thing. Scars may be a result of a pain, but more than anything, they are a mark of being healed.