He's piping cakes when he hears it. He would've worked in the bakery in town but he cannot. Leaving her alone at home is not an option. Taking her into the town which scares her isn't one either. He just bakes at home, keeping her in sight. It was halfway through designing a pearly leaf, when her voice reaches him.
"What –" she starts her gaze lingering over the sheets. He looks up, bracing himself. She never talks. Ever. He listens, carefully, making sure that nothing can break this mesmerizing spell of her voice. It sounds brittle.
"What is the difference between loving someone and not being able to survive without someone?"
He opens his mouth and closes it again. She is looking at him now, an eyebrow raised. Her pale gray eyes are wary. He opens his mouth to answer, but she picks up the book and walks out of the room. He moves towards the door, blocking her way.
"I didn't even answer the question," he says, praying that she understands.
She furrows those eyebrows. Those inquisitive eyes are now slightly out of focus. "What question?" she asks.
He chokes a little and moves, letting her walk out. He hears a door slam shut somewhere. He sighs and turns to the piping bag again.
He is woken to her voice, her sweet rare voice. It sounds lost. He flips over, pulling her shivering body closer, tightening his hold on her still sleeping form. Her face is pressed against his chest and he can feel his heart thump loud. He's surprised that she cannot feel it as well. He rubs soft circles on her back and blows on the billowy strands of her hair. Her fingernails scratch his torso and he pries them open, tracing the faded outline of the grafted skin. Nobody can see it now, but he knows every line, every cell, like his own. He can feel her soft eyelash brush against his chest and he knows she is awake. She stays still for a moment, then places her chin on his chest and looks at him. She blinks once.
"Why are you in my room?" she whispers, her eyes peeled and darting for demons he cannot see. He's too blind to them, and a part of him is glad. Then there are those nights when she screams at them to leave her alone, he wishes he could see them, too. Fight them off for her because she's been his look out for far too long. But, he has his own demons to deal with, on his own.
"Because –" he starts, but she shushes him.
"Shush!," she whispers, softer. "They'll hear. They'll find you."
"Sorry," he whispers back, humoring her. It is so much easier than explaining every night. "This is my room, too."
"Oh," she says and nods. Her eyes land on his and gray swirls along with blue. She blinks.
"Your name is Peeta, no?" she asks. He nods.
"The boy with the orange."
He doesn't say anything.
"Your favorite color is bread."
He gulps. "Is that a color?" she asks. Before he can respond, she falls against his chest again. She traces patterns on his chest, along the outlines of his unreal skin. She tenses a bit.
"What?" he asks, wishing she doesn't ask. There have been horrors when he'd try to explain the skin or the metal leg.
"I - nothing," she mumbles. He pulls her chin up, to face him.
"What?" he repeats.
"Can I try something?" she asks. He stares numbly, then nods.
She lowers herself and softly kisses the outline of the grafted skin. His stomach clenches and fire breaks lose on his skin. He has to stop himself from groaning.
"Katniss," he says, repremanding.
"Sorry," she says, then falls asleep on his chest. He closes his eyes. He would fight tears but he's sad to say that this is akin to a routine.
She doesn't talk the next day at all, but he can see the way her eyes linger on her father's coat. When she realizes he's watching her, her eyes dart around, scared. He nods and gets her ready to go for a walk. An hour later, though, there is panic.
Where did you go?, he thinks, tears running down his cheeks. Her bow lies on the ground, stained with what he hopes is not her blood. He runs his fingers through his hair, fighting the urge to cry out.
"Peeta?" her voice comes. His breath leaves in a sigh of relief. He thought he'd lost her in the woods. He runs to her, following the trace. A sock here, a scarf there. He picks them up along the way. He even finds under clothes. He runs into the clearing. She is lying naked on the vast ice, swinging her arms. He stares at her form as it beats about rapidly, trying to fight the solid barrier keeping her from the water.
"Katniss," he says, as if talking to a small child. He wishes it was a small child. This is worse.
She looks up at him, wild and crazed. He treads along the ice, watching for thin spots and cracks. When he reaches her, she's hot against him. How odd. He picks her up effortlessly, despite his protesting leg. Ice never works well with heavy metal. She pulls closer to him.
"Who is Katniss?" she asks. He wraps her up in his scarf, his teeth chattering.
"The girl I love," he answers.
She nods, as if she understands everything.
When she's huddled in quilts and an untouched glass of eggnog rests at her feet, she speaks for the first time in ages.
"She's the mockingjay," she says, staring at the dying embers of coal. He remains silent as usual. She reaches her hand towards the fire, but he grabs it and stops her.
"You'll burn yourself," he explains.
"How much more can a girl on fire burn, Peeta?" she says. He shakes his head. She throws her head back and laughs, as if she's said the funniest thing in the world.
That night, everything is silent. Snow falls outside, little by little and he sits at the window, watching. He cries. He's not cried in a long time, not since his family's funeral a year ago. His shoulders shake as he watches a picture of Katniss. She's smiling. He misses that. He lives with an empty shell now. A grenade, without the pin. Blasted to little smithereens and then the broken left over tied together. His Katniss is lost in her own mind, trapped somewhere. It's like Annie, only worse.
She comes and goes at her own pace. There are days when she hides from him in a closet because she doesn't recognize him. There are days she rewards him with a kiss, as if she knows everything. Then there are days like this where she's somewhere in between, orbiting in her head.
He hears equally soft sobs from the bathroom and he gets up and goes. He opens the door gently. She isn't allowed to lock them. She's not allowed to be alone for too long, ever since a scary episode.
He awoke to clattering downstairs. He looked to his side, only now feeling the coolness against his torso. He swiftly stands up, running down the stairs. She's nowhere to be seen. Their things are thrown everywhere. vases crashed, his cakes crumbled on the ground.
"Katniss!" he cries out, scouring every inch of the house. He cannot see her and his heartbeats are increasing. He can feel the lump in his throat.
He hears it from upstairs, the floorboard creaking from right above him. He almost faints in relief. He climbs up, into the attic. She sits amongst his paintings. His paints are spilled everywhere and brushes line the walls.
"Katniss," he calls out. He steps on something sharp and hisses. A knife lays on the ground. His insides lurch. It's not his paints that mar his floors. It's blood.
She's huddled on the floor, shaking, with her back to him. Her body spasms little by little and her teeth chatter. Her clothes are completely soaked in the red. She was sitting on a full blown canvas of his, a painting of her own. As he picks her up, into his arms he sees it. It's her from the first day. A picture of her on fire.
"Fire, fire, everywhere," she cries into his neck and the blade drops and clatters. More blood spurts form her wrists.
It still makes him shiver, a she remembers all the blood that she'd spilled. All her own.
He shakes the image out of his head and grabs a towel as he goes to the tub. She's crying in the water, surrounded by bubbles. She's poking at them, then rubbing them off.
She sees him and a sob breaks through.
"Shiny bubbles. Shiny, orange bubbles. Shiny memories. It hurts," she cries. He nods, knowing the feeling. Everything shiny and painful.
She lifts her hands up, like a small baby. He blinks back tears at her helplessness and carries her to their room. He places her on the bed as he dries the water out. She doesn't shiver in the cold.
He keeps crying but she does not ask anything. She stays still, occasionally twitching. He pulls on layers of blankets and tucks her into bed. He slips under the covers with her and cradles her. She cries against his chest and his own tears fall into her hair. She turns to him and looks him in the eye. It's like fire. He can see that she sees him. Really sees him. It's been months since she's seen him.
"Peeta," she mumbles, planting a soft kiss on his lips. He is unable to hold himself back. It's what the doctor says. When she remembers, don't hesitate. Nothing can scare her off if she suddenly remembers.
Her fingers tug through his hair and she sits up straighter. He can feel their bodies pressed together and he can feel his body's needs make themselves known. She moans into his mouth as his fingers flutter down her bare torso. She pulls his sweater, along with his shirt, over his head. She plants soft kisses on his chest, and then doesn't move. More will come later, but for now she stays there.
It remains – screaming, forgetting, silence, crying, remembering, sex, screaming, forgetting, silence, crying, remembering, sex, screaming, forgetting, silence, crying, remembering, sex – forever unchanged.
He laces his fingers through hers and the rings collide. He can barely see the shiny, tiny diamond on her finger.
He wonders if she remembers that they're married.