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Another slightly angst-filled chapter. I reread Mockingjay and this aspect of Katniss' past stuck out with me. A little more dramatic and dark than previous chapters. Just be warned.
Enjoy! and PLEASE review!
Recovery and Relapse
I thought I had experienced that particular human emotion to the fullest possible extent.
Don't I dream of the faces of the dead? I don't I see their blood on my hands? Hear their voices cursing me in my sleep? Your fault. Your fault.
I know. It's all my fault. And that guilt follows me, waking, sleeping, like a constant stomachache. But I bear it. Because I know I deserve it.
I bear it even though some days I feel crushed beneath it's impossible weight. And when my back breaks beneath its weight, when the guilt presses the air from my lungs, and I gasp and claw at my throat and tear at my hair to try and be free of the invisible hands that choke me, I take comfort in knowing that it can't get any worse than this.
Until it does.
Until the night my visions changed. The faces cleared, the nightmare of fire and arrows and mutts and roses and long blond braids were replaced. By a new fear. And a new, crushing, impossible guilt.
Peeta's arms wrapped around me, ushering me to sleep in the warm, safe fortress of his embrace, the sound of his heart, the rhythm of his breathing, calming me, rocking me, anchoring me. As I drifted to sleep, a small smile tugged at the corner of my mouth and I nuzzled closer to the tiny slice of Heaven that survived the flames of our Hell.
The world is bright, and as my eyes adjust, I recognize this place. From my nightmares. I've seen it before. It's white. And across the austere tiled floor, silhouetted against the white walls, I see him. The metal chair looks black against the brilliant whiteness, and the chains that bind his feet and his wrists to the metal are stained a sickening reddish-brown, caked with his blood. His back is to me, his blonde head bowed over his chest, his dirty and bloody hands hanging limply at his sides.
I tense, dreading what I know comes next in this particular nightmare.
But instead of the faceless doctor who strides through a door, syringe in hand… or the group of Peacekeepers who douse him with water and shock him until his screams die out to a hoarse whisper… or President Snow, watching him writhe under the burning influence of tracker jacker venom, whispering lies about me, about home, about his life, as flashes of video flicker before his panicked eyes, his struggling causing blood to drip fresh down the dirty and stained restraints, and his moans bouncing off the walls like the sounds of a dying animal…
My heart races, my mind flickering to all of the horrible possibilities, my breath locked in my chest as the moment of silence drags on…
Silence. The door remains closed.
Silence. The blinding lights sear my eyes.
Silence. Peeta stirs. The blonde mess of his hair shakes slightly, his head lolling subtly against his chest.
I hold my breath, waiting for the axe to fall. My heart aches, needing to be closer to Peeta, needing to clean his wounded wrists, brush the tangled mess of his hair out of his eyes, ease his tortured mind.
Silence. I ache to move to him, but I have no body. Only eyes, tortured by his distant form. Only ears, throbbing from the deafening silence.
"Peeta." My voice echoes through the empty room. Peeta stirs painfully in response. My pulse hammers in my veins, and my heart drops into my stomach as dread fills me with a wave of nausea.
Because I have no voice. And I had not called out Peeta's name.
Just as understanding crashes over me, a screen flickers to life in front of Peeta's eyes.
And finally, I see who Peeta's torturer is to be.
"Kat-niss?" Peeta stirs restlessly, finally returning to consciousness at the sound of my voice, the sight of me before him on the screen. I cringe at the sound of hope in his voice.
"Well, you've looked better," I hear myself say on the screen, the cold words and image taking me back to my first conversation with Peeta after his hijacking. I watch my grey eyes narrow in anger and my lips turn up in a mocking smirk.
"Katniss?" Peeta moans, shaking his head furiously against the cruel tone of my voice.
I can't watch. I can't listen! Peeta! I want to cry out. Peeta! Don't listen! Peeta!
But I have no voice.
Except for the one on the screen.
The image shifts and I seem to be creeping closer to the restrained and vulnerable Peeta. "I was trying to kill you… trying to kill you all…" My voice slides through the room, slimy and distorted, cold and calculating. And I stiffen in response, remembering saying something very similar… "You had me treed," I had continued… but not now, now the words creep through the room, stinging and biting like tracker jackers.
I have no body, but I can feel them, stinging me, biting me, and I wish I could cry out. My eyes flick to Peeta, expecting him to be writhing in the same pain I feel.
But as always, Peeta is stronger than me.
"No…" he moans, turning his face away from the screen. "No, you weren't! You were trapped, Katniss!" Peeta's shouts echo through the room.
And then he screams and the sound nearly stops my heart. His body shakes as the electricity flows through him.
Stop! I want to scream. Stop! Leave him alone! STOP! My heart is bursting under the strain of Peeta's pain and my utter helplessness.
Wake up, Katniss! Wake up! This is a dream, right? I should be able to wake. Peeta is holding me, I know he is. I just have to wake up. But dream-Katniss has other thoughts, and my voice fills the room again.
"Everyone says I loved you. Everyone says that's why Snow is torturing you. To break me," my voice hisses, conspiratorially, leaning in as if to share a great secret with Peeta.
Peeta struggles against his bonds, moaning softly to himself. "No…no…not real…"
But my voice continues. "Let me tell you a secret, Peeta." The voice is too sweet, too cruel to be mine, but Peeta quiets nonetheless. "I've never loved you."
Peeta's struggle resumes and I watch with mounting horror the steady drip-drop of his blood against the white tile floor. "Not real…" he chants, "Not real…"
"Yes Peeta, this is real." I argue, "I'm the reason you are here. I turned you over to Snow. I don't want you. I've never wanted you."
Body or no body, I feel like I'm going to vomit – watching my own words wound and torture Peeta. I struggle anew to gain power over the dream, but I find I have no hold. Completely of it's own accord, the room spins.
And as Peeta speaks, I'm suddenly moving around to face him, "No… Katniss, please!" he pleads with the screen. "This isn't you! This isn't who you are!"
As my voice cuts anew, I'm faced with tear-drenched, bleary blue eyes, desperately searching for the truth. "Now you see me as I really am…" my cold voice slices into him, and I shudder in response to his startling wince.
"No…" Peeta moans, and I watch in horror as another electrical current speeds through him, blood flowing freely now from his shaking, twitching wrists and ankles.
I try to scream but no sound leaves my mouth. I try to rush to him, but I have no body.
Peeta's body stills and for a moment he looks peaceful. Until those blue eyes open and Peeta's face is contorted in abject terror.
"No, Katniss, please," he begs, his eyes bulging, "Katniss, please… please don't kill me."
I try to look around to see what he sees, but the screen has gone blank. I see nothing.
Until I look down.
I have a body now. And my eyes rest, like Peeta's, on the gun in my outstretched arms.
"Please, Katniss," Peeta begs, tears streaming down his eyes. He looks so helpless. So vulnerable.
And as I feel my fingers tighten around the trigger, I hear my voice echoing through the room, "I wouldn't be shooting Peeta. He's gone… It'd be just like shooting another of the Capitol's mutts…"
The gunshot booms. And as Peeta's blood pours from the hole in his chest, I finally find my voice.
And that's when the screaming starts.
I thrash and struggle. The hands are holding me down. But Peeta is dying and I have to save him! I thrash.
"Katniss! Katniss, wake up!" The voice is so familiar, and with a sudden snap I'm free.
"Peeta!" I gasp, breaking into consciousness, searching for those blue eyes that will prove I'm awake and he's safe and we're free and we're safe and that I'm not alone in the darkness.
"Yes, here I am, Katniss. Shh," he croons, and my eyes adjust to the low light, and THERE he is! His face inches above mine, his blue eyes probing my face, his arms cradling me to his chest. Soothing me. Comforting me. Caring for me even when I didn't care for him… Healing me even though I couldn't bear to help heal him… Staying by me even though I fled from him.
And suddenly I'm sobbing uncontrollably, burying my ashamed, guilty face in Peeta's strong, soft chest.
He is startled by my sudden outburst, but his arms wrap tightly around me. "Shh, it's OK." Peeta croons, "It was just a dream. You're OK." He holds me, comforts me.
I don't deserve it.
I start to struggle against his hold, to break away from the comfort I don't deserve.
"I'm sorry, sorry…sorry," I mumble, fighting against him. Confused, his arms tighten around me.
"Katniss?" he asks, concern coloring his tone.
"Let me go, Peeta! I don't – " I argue, finally surfacing from his embrace. But before I can get up, Peeta's hands grab my arms, holding me before him – my face only inches away from his, his blue eyes now flickering with fear and concern. I try to look away, dropping my eyes in shame, but Peeta's hand cups my chin, locking my gaze on his.
"Katniss?" Peeta asks softly, "Please, tell me what's wrong?" His voice doesn't even sound tired. I must have really frightened him. Guilt pierces me again. When will I ever stop hurting him?
I take a deep breath, mustering my courage, and raise my now swollen, blurry eyes to Peeta's.
"How-" I choke, my abused voice catching in my throat. Tears stream down my cheeks.
"How what?" Peeta asks gently, wiping the tears away. The sweet gesture nearly breaks me. After all I've done, after all the ways I've hurt him, still he comforts me.
"How can you still love me?" I whisper, "After all the pain I've caused you, after all the ways I've let you down… after all the ways I hurt you…" My voice chokes out between sobs, cracking like a dry whisper.
Peeta's eyes well with tears, and suddenly I can't bear to see what emotion lies there. Maybe the reminder of my cruel, manipulative nature will throw him into a hijacked rage and I'll feel those soft hands strangling me, ushering me into the death I've earned a hundred times over. Or worse, perhaps he'll finally realize how much I've hurt him and leave me forever with only my guilt, my ghosts, and that emptiness in my heart only he could ever fill.
"I'm sorry," I whisper. Whatever he decides, I need him to know that. "I'm so, so, sorry." My voice is nearly inaudible as the tears stream silently. I hear Peeta's breath catch, but still the silence hangs heavily between us.
He's not going to answer, my thoughts accuse. Because he knows you're right.
I keep my eyes down and pull back. He deserves better than this, better than me.
"Wait," he says, softly, holding me firmly. "Katniss," he says, my name like a sigh from his lips. He's waiting for me to meet his eyes. I bite the inside of my cheek, holding back the sudden fear of what I might see there. I feel his finger under my chin and, swallowing my fear, I let him lift my head. My eyes rest heavily on his jaw, his lips, his cheekbones, savoring them, before they reach his eyes.
And then I gasp.
His blue eyes are beautiful! Pulsing with emotion, wide and searching, and brimming with awe, and joy, and need, and… love.
"How?" I whisper, shocked yet again at his ability to love me when I don't deserve it.
"Katniss," Peeta mumurs, his eyes locking me in place. "I loved you from the moment I first saw you. I heard you sing, and your innocence, your spirit lifted us all. And then I watched you almost starve. But you survived. You fought. You saved your family."
He paused, brushing a stray hair from my cheek.
"I know you, Katniss." Peeta said suddenly, taking me by surprise. "You feel. You care. But, in a world where feelings meant death, you fought to survive."
I feel a blush of shame burning my cheeks. There it was again. Talk of me being a survivor. She'll pick the one she thinks she can't survive without. Heartless. Selfish.
"No, Katniss," Peeta urges, pulling me from my thoughts. "It's not what you think. You saved us all. Don't forget that, okay? You saved me!"
"But-" I try to interrupt.
"You're not perfect," Peeta rushes on. "Neither am I. If you remember, I tried to kill you." His eyes are dark with the memory. Before I can argue – and I'm about to – he continues, "I wish we could only have good memories between us, Katniss, but that's not our life. That's not our story."
I'm speechless, momentarily stunned by Peeta's words and our matching tears streaming down our cheeks. We're locked in each other's gaze, and suddenly I realize his lips are only inches from mine. I can feel his breath on my skin.
"Peeta," I whisper, moving unthinkingly closer to him.
"Yes?" he breathes back.
My lips brush against his. "What is our story?"
He smiles, his lips brushing even closer, "I love you more than my own life," he murmurs, and a fire erupts in my belly, "and you love me more than yours," he continues, certainty so strong and sure in his soft, sensual tone. I feel myself melting.
"Yes," I breathe against his lips, my heart pounding strongly in my chest. I love him. My body sings with it. The truth of it floors me: I love him more than my own life! And he knows it!
I press my lips softly against his, feeling a sigh purr in my chest. My body begs me to deepen the kiss, but I feel myself pulling back and the words whisper out.
"And how does our story end?" I murmur, not even blushing at the seductive edge to my tone.
Peeta smiles and pulls me tighter to his chest, rolling slightly over me, his lips still hovering, barely caressing mine, his weight pressing ever so slightly against my body. The heat races through me in a crushing wave and my body tingles with anticipation and need. My hands clutch his shirt, his hair, any bit of him I can reach, clinging, pressing.
My heart hammers in my ears as Peeta's blue eyes smolder like blue flame, but even so, I hear his next words, loud and clear.
"Ask me again in sixty years…" His lips crash down upon mine, and as the heat from our bodies seems to set the very air aflame, the truth of his words crash even harder upon me.
Peeta is mine and I am his. No more battles to fight. No more wars keeping us apart. No more axes hanging over our heads, forcing us, threatening us, chaining us, using our love to torture and manipulate us. We have days and weeks and months and years to live and love and leave the guilt and scars of our past behind. Peeta is right.
Our story has just begun.