One shot. Mockingjay. Thanks for Reading!
She can't help it. This might be the stupidest thing she has ever done, but she can't help it.
She knows full well what could happen to her. She knows that this is not on the purple tattoo on her wrist. The tattoo shows that she should be sleeping now, safely tucked away next to Johanna in a hospital bed. Probably drugged. Katniss has really never been one to follow instructions.
She is fully aware that it is almost two in the morning. This makes sense to her. What doesn't make sense to her is why it looks exactly the same in this wretched place at all times of the day or night. She knows that it makes more sense to dim lights at night, or even turn them off. Maybe in other areas the lights are turned off, she considers. Not here, not in the hospital.
Katniss is a huntress. She knows how to move quickly, she knows how to move quietly. So here she is, padding heel-to-toe down the brightly-lit hallways. She only vaguely remembers where she is headed. She just knows she has to go there.
The nightmares do not stop without him.
Katniss has done a lot of things in her life to procure a good night of sleep. She has signed up for tessarae and illegally hunted in the woods to feed her family. She has tied herself to a tree and allied with people who she believed wanted to kill her to stay alive in the arena. She has gotten engaged and pretended to be pregnant to keep her family safe. None of these things has ever spared her from the gruesome nightmares that plague her now.
No, the nightmares rage, boil and burn at night without him. Something about Peeta Mellark makes it possible for her to sleep. And Katniss has not had a good night of sleep in a very long time. So long, in fact, that she doesn't particularly care if Peeta strangles her for coming to him. She feels as good as dead as it is. Sleep or die, it is simple. The morphling does not help, any doses of warm milk with honey, chamomile, melatonin, roots of valerian and belladonna do not shut out the nightmares.
So, it has to be him.
And here he is, she thinks, standing in front of the door. It has no window. She insisted, before he was put here, that she would have a key, that she would be let in, no matter his condition. It is possible that they've changed it since then, that after he tried to strangle her, they meant to keep her safe. She doesn't think so. There have been too many other things going on. And she has a feeling. Years of hunting and two stints in the arena make it easy for Katniss to rely on her instincts.
There is no one in the hallway to see her flash the key over the pad. There is no one to see her slip inside of his room, into the darkness. Once she is in, she stands with her back flush against the closed door, ready to bolt. She has a fleeting thought that perhaps she could sleep right here, perhaps his nearness is all it takes. She knows in an instant that it is this kind of thinking that is caused by lack of sleep. It is stupid. However, surprising him seems even stupider in this moment, and so she whispers.
"Peeta?" It is so quiet, so tentative that she hardly recognizes her own voice. He does not stir. Her eyes adjust to the darkness and she can see that he is sleeping, but not well. His brow is glittering with sweat, and he has a grimace on his face that she recognizes. He is dreaming.
"Peeta," she says again, just a little bit louder. This time, he moves. His eyes flutter open and lock on her. She knows he is improving as she watches his eyes narrow, his pupils dilate and retract quickly. He is fighting.
"Real or not real," he rasps, "you are Katniss and you are in my room."
"Real," she says, standing firm across the room.
It is very quiet. The machines hum a strange cadence.
"What are you doing here?" She can tell he is trying to be calm. She feels selfish, ashamed.
"I couldn't sleep," Katniss answers honestly, holding her palms out and open to him. "I wanted to..." she struggles for the words, "to see you."
"To see me?" Then he scoffs, shaking his head and wiping the sweat from his brow, "aren't you afraid of me? I remember staying alive being your number one priority. So why are you here when the last time we spoke I tried to strangle you?"
"If you kill me," she says carefully, "at least I will know I died the way I expected to, in your arms, in the middle of the night, in a very strange place," there is a deep pause, and she says, in barely a whisper, "I'm going to die either way."
He seems to consider this for a moment. In the light from the machines, she sees his eyes do that strange thing again, his pupils enlarge and contract. He shakes himself and looks at her with that steady blue gaze. To her, he seems clear-headed, at least for now.
"You should go. I'm not safe for you. I can't keep you safe," he whispers brokenly.
It is like a safeword. There is enough of him present to tell her to go away. This is how she knows to take a step closer, and when nothing happens, another step, until finally she is reaching for his hand.
From an outsider's point of view, it might look like the two of them have never met, that Katniss is introducing herself, holding her hand out to shake his. This could not be further from the truth. In this moment, she is reaching for him as a lifeline. They look strange, him in his hospital gown, her in the gray pajamas issued to everyone in district 13.
The feeling of relief is almost instantaneous as their hands make contact. Katniss watches Peeta struggle, but she waits. She cannot know what is going on in his mind, and truly she isn't sure whether she wants to know more than anything, or never, ever wants to find out.
It isn't pretty in there, that is a certain thing. Peeta is trying to think scientifically about what he is experiencing. The doctors have coached him what feels like a thousand times. He has slowly learned how to recognize that strange shininess that comes from the Tracker Jacker memories. What he is feeling now is called a tactile delusion, the sensation that the feeling of Katniss' hand is alternately warm, rough as he thinks he remembers it being, and hard, cold and like strange marble and yes, weirdly beautiful and shiny. Tactile delusion, he reminds himself as he runs his thumb up her palm. Feeling something that isn't really there, or misperceiving what is there.
It isn't that some part of him doesn't know that she's real, a human, the girl who sang in class when they were children, the girl who saved his life in the games. But the part of him that feels things and experiences is severely confused. That same part of him feels overwhelming love for her, relief that she is here. He breathes deeply and tries to connect more steadily to that part of him. He has tried to do this before with the doctors and with Delly, but it has only been marginally successful. This feels a little different. He had felt certain that she wouldn't return to him, in fact, the part of him that loved her so deeply didn't want her to come back, fearing for her safety.
Now that part is rapping quietly at his being, asking to be let in as Katniss looks at him. His eyes have adjusted to the light some and he can see her more clearly. Peeta can tell something is wrong with her, maybe she's sick, maybe she's upset, but mostly she looks tired. She looks like she did in the arena, but that quiet part of him, the only part of him that doesn't feel cold and angry, wants her to be close to him. She seems to be waiting for him, for his permission. He tugs gently at her hand and immediately regrets it, as she transforms into a muttation almost immediately.
He is trying to keep a grip on that tiny part of him. She looks incredibly dangerous. Her teeth look incredibly shiny and sharp, her skin shifts from purple, to green to pink and back again, her eyes are a strange, unsettling shade of emerald green that certainly doesn't occur in nature.
This though, is where the Capitol has failed. They have made her look dangerous. They have made her look different. They have made her look unhuman, but the nature of the tracker jacker venom is such that she is still beautiful. Her usually dark-brown hair is incredibly sleek, black as night, her lips a violent red, like she painted them with blood. And she shines. Though he fears that her shiny skin holds an incurable poison, he pulls her close to him.
He is right, her skin is strange, and his hands slide weirdly, wonderingly down her arm. It feels too smooth to be the arm he knows is incredibly damaged. There is a disconnect between what he is seeing and feeling and what is really going on. Her terrifying, emerald eyes flash up to him as she climbs into the bed next to him, cold and hard, like a lizard, shining all the while.
Then, she is back to herself, warm, chest-nut haired, smelling like the forest. He exhales deeply and holds her close to him. He has so many things to say to her, to ask her in this moment, but all he can do is bury one hand in her hair and use the other hand to hold her close to him. Perhaps he knows that this is all he can handle.
Then, she is cold, and that part of him that loves her seems oh-so-quiet. He knows it is the venom, the torture telling him this, but all he can think is that Katniss came here for herself. She clearly did not come to see if he was okay, she is here to fulfill her own needs. To use him as she has always used him.
With her strange, elongated fingers, she reaches up and strokes his face.
"Peeta, are you okay?" Her voice is so real to him that she is all earth-tones and warmth against him again.
He takes a deep breath, drinking her real form in with every sense he has as he nods carefully. She is Katniss. Her body is solid, warm and soft. Her breathing and her voice is quiet. She smells, as usual, like outside, but also like medicine, and much like all the other people living in 13. He kisses her head, feeling her soft hair against his lips. The part of him that knows her, loves her, wants to protect her is quietly gaining strength in the back of his mind.
She moves against him, nuzzling into his neck like a cat. She makes a quiet, blissful noise, and he catalogues it. This is Katniss. This is what it is like with Katniss. She has not come to leech life from him. She has come because this is how it should be. She has come, he knows, because she cannot sleep without him. Because there is something between the two of them, between him and his...
Enemy is the first word that pops into his head. Her lizardlike body is coiled around him now, dangerously, like a snake. She has come to finish the job, finally she has used him up to the end, broken his mind. Now she will crush him to death with those lissome fingers. It is clear to him that this is the end. That Katniss has come to kill him. That he is about to die by the hand of his wife.
And this thought sparks the memory of the not-so-secret toast. Her hands now seem to be resting harmlessly, one at her side and one right where his heart beats. His wife. His wife. No matter what anyone said, no matter even what Katniss said, he had married this woman. She now seems to have normal hands, but they are still glowing, their color shifting like a dark sunset, green, purple, black, dark pink.
He hears her breathing. She has fallen asleep. The image of her face is so bizarre that he cannot take his eyes from it. The strange colors are draining off of her like so much paint until she is her own color again. Sleeping peacefully, taking deep, slow breaths, nestled perfectly against him.
It is only now when he remembers he had been sleeping only minutes ago. Looking at her again, and pressing a kiss to her forehead for good measure, he holds her securely and closes his eyes. Peeta is not sure how many more times, or if he will ever, get to sleep next to her again. He also knows that whatever form she takes, she will ward off the nightmares of the arena.
This is enough for him, as he slides back into blackness.