Something a little different this time, guys. Let me know what you think. Should I continue?
Description in the... well... description.
Disclaimer: Anthing you recognize, such as characters, I do not own. I don't own the images used in the cover, either, though I did put it together to make the overall cover image. So no suing, please. :) This disclaimer pretains to all the chapters in this story.
The security guard gives me a halfhearted glare as I pad past him on bare feet, but doesn't make any move to stop me. Ever since I drugged his coffee, he's let me come and go pretty much as I please. As long as it's after dark.
"Be gone by four thirty," he reminds me gruffly.
Four thirty. The time I will have to leave. Because if I'm not gone before five, one of two things happen. Either the doctors come and find me and throw a fit, probably forbidding me from ever coming again, or Peeta will wake up. He'll see me. He'll get upset. And then I'll definitely never be able to come again.
The door opens and closes with just a whisper of sound, I'm so practiced at slipping in. How long has it been since the first time? When I raced past the guard when his back was turned, with a wildly thumping heart? At least two weeks. I let my eyes adjust to the dark for a few seconds before moving to Peeta's bed and carefully sinking down on the edge. I take a deep breath, and then, as usual, the waterworks start. By now I've trained myself not to make the slightest sound, even when I'm bawling my eyes out, so I don't make any move to wipe away the first few tears.
A soft, small green light pulses from a machine on the opposite side of the bed. There's the quiet rumbling sound of the security guard rolling his swivel chair across the room on the opposite side of the one-way glass, apparently tired of watching me. Everything is exactly like it has been for the past two weeks. Except… Something's different. I raise my head from where it's been resting against my knees and look around. A pair of bright blue eyes meet mine.
I jump and almost gasp, but manage to stifle it with my palm.
"Is this a dream?" Peeta asks. Then he blinks. "Wait… Yes, of course it's a dream. If it was real you'd be trying to hurt me."
Another few tears streak down my face and I glance at the one-way glass. Nothing. Either the guard has the sound system turned off or he fell asleep.
"You're not going to, are you?" Peeta asks suddenly, doubt shadowing his voice.
I shake my head, and the tears hanging from the outline of my jaw and chin are scattered. "No," I whisper. Then I go back to slumping forward, my fingertips almost brushing the cool floor and my forehead pressed into my knees. Like a puppet with its strings cut. I shudder as another round of completely silent sobs runs through me. I wonder if this is what it's like to be and Avox. Maybe I can just stop speaking altogether. It would make my life easier, I think.
"Why are you crying?" Peeta pauses. "People in dreams don't usually cry. They're either happy or trying to kill me. Or both. So, what's with you? Aren't you supposed to be a mutt?"
I wince. Mutt. That's what he calls me now. But he's obviously being bold because he believes he's in a dream, and I might never get the chance to talk to him like this again. So I swallow hard and whisper, "I'm hurting. That's why I'm crying. You of all people must understand that."
"What hurt you?"
I dig my fingernails into my scalp, and the pain helps me wake up a little. "You."
I hear him shift. "I hurt you? I think you have that backwards, Mutt."
This time I can't smother the choked sound that comes out of my mouth. "I'm not a Mutt," I say in a voice full of exhaustion. "I'm just someone who has been completely, irreparably broken."
I stand up and move towards the door, but Peeta says harshly, "Stop. You're not leaving."
"I do. This is my dream, so you can't do anything about it except turn into a nightmare, and then I'll wake up anyway."
"I'm not a dream, Peeta. I'm really here."
It occurs to me a few seconds too late that I shouldn't have said that. Peeta's eyes widen, and he clenches his hands, like he's trying to break his skin with his fingernails. Testing if he's awake. Once he's figured out that I'm telling the truth, several expressions flash across his face. I can make out panic, fear, anger, and, most of all, confusion.
Before I know what's happening, Peeta is standing and I'm flung back against a wall, pinned by my shoulders. I open my mouth to scream for the security guard, but a hand clamps down over my lips.
"I knew it," Peeta snarls. "You came in here to kill me in my sleep, didn't you? Thought I'd be an easier target."
I shake my head slowly. In some strange, backwards way, I'm slightly comforted to feel Peeta's hand on my face. Even though he's trying to keep me from yelling, even though he may start strangling me at any second, I can't help but to notice that his skin smells like nutmeg. He must have been baking today. I let my arms go limp at my sides, no longer trying to push him away.
His hand lifts, maybe out of confusion, and I say quietly, "If you're going to kill me, go ahead. Get it over with."
His eyes narrow and I close mine. Okay. This is okay. Not such a bad way to die. They don't really need me for propos anymore, and Prim can take care of herself now. I won't regret dying. Maybe I'll see Rue. I take a deep breath, not because I'm scared it might be my last but because I want to catch that whiff of spices again.
"You're confusing me." There's an iciness in Peeta's voice that makes me shiver.
For a long time, Peeta says nothing. I focus my eyes on that little green light, wondering what's going to happen in the next few minutes. If I'll be alive in the morning. If I care.
At last he says, "Why have you been coming here?"
I look up, surprised. "You knew I was here before?"
"Not at first, but you left clues. There was always a shape at the foot of the bed like someone had been sitting there. One of your hairs stuck to the blankets one time. I would dream about hearing someone crying, but in the dream, there was no one there. I figured it out a few days ago, so since then, I've been staying awake trying to see who it was. And it's you. And you came to kill me."
I don't even have the energy to shake my head. I just sigh.
"But, if you've been coming here for a while, why haven't you killed me before?"
"I don't want to kill you." I give a humorless laugh. "You've got that feeling covered by yourself."
Slowly, the pressure on my shoulders is lessening. My arms start tingling and I realize that my shoulders have gone numb since Peeta smashed them against the wall. "So what do you want?" he asks suspiciously.
I give up and my legs crumple under me. Peeta jumps back, like I'm planning on kicking his feet out from underneath him, but I just lean against the wall with one fist over my forehead to try to squelch the headache coming on. I realize that I'm crying again when I whisper, "I just wanted to see you."
"See me?" His voice is dagger-sharp, but then… less so. "Why?"
I grimace. "I miss you." How's that for honesty? I ask myself. Looks like I really can be truthful sometimes. No acting. No cameras.
I'm so tired. In the last two weeks, I've gotten maybe ten hours of sleep total. I'm not even sure how I'm still alive. Shouldn't I have collapsed more than a week ago? I just want to close my eyes and go to sleep. I might not open them again. I start humming, very quietly, and I can almost feel Rue's head in my lap. Oh, Rue, I'm sorry, I think for the millionth time. I should have stayed with you until the Gamemakers chased me away, singing to you. I shouldn't have left you so soon. I'm so sorry.
I feel myself being yanked to my feet, pulled by my elbow, but my feet are too clumsy to support my weight anymore. I try to stand- really try- but a wave of dizziness sweeps over me and I lurch forward, pressing my lips together to avoid being sick.
"What's the matter with you?" Peeta asks, sounding alarmed. I stretch out my fingers and feel cloth. Odd. I must have fallen into his arms. And he's not letting me fall. This is nice, I think hazily.
At last I shrug to answer his question. What is wrong with me? Other than the fact that I haven't slept in days… and I've hardly eaten… and the last time I drank anything was yesterday morning… On second thought, I think I do know what's wrong with me.
My head sinks onto something soft. A pillow. Peeta has placed me on the bed.
He wraps a fist around my bony arm and demands, "When did you last eat anything?"
"What about water? When did you last have that?"
What do you care? I thought you wanted me dead. "Yesterday, I think."
"I don't know," I snap. "When was the last time you ate a grape? Do you remember that? No? Then why should I?"
For some infuriating reason, a ghost of a smile appears on Peeta's face. "That's right. You're stubborn."
"Darn right," I mutter. Now that I'm angry, I'm thinking more clearly. I can't just give up. Letting Peeta kill me is one thing, but starving myself is out of the question. I deiced to eat a substantial breakfast tomorrow, and no matter how sick it makes me, I'll keep it down. God, I'm hungry. Famished. I could eat a cow. I could eat ten cows.
Peeta frowns again. "You're…" he starts. "You're not a mutt, are you?"
"I told you, no. What made you come to your senses?"
He hesitates. "I don't think I'd be this worried if I thought a mutt was killing herself."
"I am not killing myself," I cry indignantly, pushing myself up on my elbows. "I am perfectly healthy, thank you very much."
One of my elbows is swiped out from underneath me and I fall back to the mattress with a grunt. My vision swims. Ow, I think. My head hurts. Why does my head hurt?
"Yeah," Peeta scoffs. "Healthy. I can see that." I open my eyes, although I don't remember closing them, and find myself staring up into Peeta's crystal blue ones. The pupils look almost normal. No black drowning the blue. "You're not going to die," he orders. "I… I forbid it."
I feel my lips part in shock. "You… I… I said that! In our first games! I said that and you remembered!"
Peeta frowns. "Of course I remember. I was there." His frown changes to a scowl of concentration. "Wasn't I?" He shakes it off after a few seconds and suddenly he's heading for the door.
"Where are you going?" I choke, sitting bolt upright and clutching my head at the resulting stab of pain in my temples.
"To get help for you. I may not know much…" Peeta turns around and gives me a worried, almost typical-Peeta look. "But I can tell you're not doing too well."
"Don't leave." It comes out a whisper. "I can do it. I have a coms unit. Haymitch made me wear it."
Peeta strides over and plucks the earpiece off my ear in one smooth motion. Then he flicks it on and says, "Haymitch, this is Peeta." He holds it to his ear, and even at this distance, I can make out Haymitch's stunned, spluttering reaction. "Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, I know," Peeta says, very quickly. "Listen, Katniss is in trouble, she's in my cell- I mean, room. Send help."
With that he tosses the earpiece back to me. I fail to catch it and it hits me in the nose. "You didn't have to do that, you know," I say, but I sound much too weak to reinforce what I'm saying.
"Yes, I did," Peeta counters, sitting down in my usual spot. It's odd, how our positions have become reversed. He smoothes the hair out of my face with tense, controlled movements. He's still scared of me. "I don't know if I used to love you, Girl on Fire. But I definitely care about you."
That's the last thing I hear before I finally let myself fall asleep.