Author's Note: This was in response to PromptsInPanem's Everlark Week on Tumblr. I was on vacation when this prompt was posted, but went ahead and wrote something anyway. The prompt read:
Peeta in Thirteen
"Frosting under heavy guard. Talking with Delly. Undergoing Prim's experimental therapy. Peeta's life in Thirteen, post-hijacking."
They tell me that he wants to see me.
They say that he's been watching more footage from the Quell. He apparently has questions. I'd have questions, too if the Capitol messed with my brain the way they did his. This place is confusing enough as it is.
They promise me that there won't be another incident. They say the word like it will erase the memory of his hands around my throat. It took weeks just for the bruises to fade.
They can't promise what will come out of his mouth this time, though. They can't promise that he won't spew more venomous words that hurt no matter how true they may be.
My arm stills as I reach to grip the handle. Just down the hallway, the door to the room that I know the doctors use to observe him from is cracked. Craning my neck, I check behind me even though I know that I won't see anyone. I haven't seen a soul since I began my journey to Peeta's room, and there is little noise in the hospital ward this morning. I would hear anyone coming long before seeing them.
My gulp is audible, but my footsteps are as silent as ever as I creep toward the open doorway. The lights are off, but the glow coming from the other side of what they tell me is called a two-way mirror makes it easy enough to see.
Where is everyone?
I'd be more concerned, linger on the question more, but I'm immediately drawn to what I can see in the other room. My hand is against the glass before I know it, and they keep it so impossibly cold in this place that the body heat causes a fog to rise around where my fingers and palm rest.
He's on the other side, of course.
They don't let him out yet, at least not without being under heavy guard. The first time that I saw him, flanked on each side by men with imposing stature, but apathetic eyes, my heart started to chip away and crumble in my chest. Never in a million years would I have thought that Peeta, the boy who's saved my life more than once (sweet, gentle Peeta), would be considered a legitimate threat to my safety. To anyone's safety.
He's watching something on the screen in front of him and, for a second, I'm surprised that they let him do this when he's alone. Surely they should at least have someone here to document his reactions and count the number of times that he lets the word 'mutt' slip from his lips.
I note that his posture is strange – not quite rigid, but nowhere near relaxed.
My mouth falls open when I see what he's so focused on; what he's studying. He's watching the scene of us on the beach. Not where we're talking to one another. No, he skips that part and fast forwards straight to the moment that my lips meet his.
For a second, I'm just as transfixed as he is. I haven't watched anything from the Quell; haven't needed to the way that he has. Seeing us there by the water, each trying so hard to convince the other that they're worth saving, is surreal. I can't tear my eyes from how quickly we really did get carried away that night. I watch as his hands, large but so gentle, reach up to cradle my face. It's like I couldn't get him close enough, pulling his body while pushing my own to close the gap between them.
(I try not to think of those hands around my neck or all of the space that's been separating us since his rescue.)
Even I can admit that one would think, judging by the how my hips pin his down and the way that my body responds to his thumbs trailing up over my ribs, ghosting over the sides of my breasts, that we'd done this before. That we'd had practice with this. Maybe during nights on the train, or even back home in the Victor's Village of District 12. I can almost hear the viewers whispering their theories of him sneaking in through my bedroom window at night, careful not to wake my mother and Prim.
My face starts to heat and I pull my eyes away from the screen. I look at the Peeta that's in the room behind this mirror, watching the video, instead of the one that's in it. I note the way the back of his neck is covered in red splotches. The same red splotches that would be there on the mornings that we woke up in the same bed, our bodies having been pressed just a little too tightly together. The same splotches that I can just barely make out through the staticy, pixilated television set.
The entire expanse of his skin was mottled with patches exactly like these that night in his living room. The night that he obviously doesn't remember. I'm not sure that I want him to. When I think that he may never look at me the same again, his stares now filled with nothing but harsh, hurtful feelings, I don't know if I want to remember it, either.
This reminds me how Peeta doesn't remember the exact way that any of what he's watching happened. He doesn't remember the details from before that night on the beach, either. He is watching this almost as purely as a simple spectator would. He's confused, but that's pretty much the norm for him these days. He wouldn't request my presence on account of a small case of confusion.
I watch as he wipes his palms along the legs of his pants and my mouth falls open slightly at the way he leans forward, using the remote to rewind the footage again. Back to the beginning of our embrace. He presses his legs together and the sudden heat inside of me makes me do the same. When he shifts in his seat, his gaze flickering over to the mirror, I wonder if he thinks that they're watching him. I wonder if he can feel my eyes on him.
I wonder a lot of things, really.
By the time that I enter the room, his finger is already hovering over the button to rewind the footage yet again.
When he looks up at me, startled, but at the same time not, there's something different about his eyes. There's no snarl to his voice when he speaks, and my chest tightens when I realize that he sounds the same as he did before. The only difference is how tired he seems.
"I had some questions."
I let out a long breath before crossing the room. There are no chairs, so I sit on the edge of his bed, turning my knees and body to face him. He does the same, but doesn't quite meet my eyes. Gesturing toward the screen in front of him, he starts to speak.
"This seems so real." His voice breaks on the last word and he shakes his head and starts over. "I mean, I know that it was real. That this is what happened, but... It seems real."
My hand twitches and, before I know it, it's hovering over his forearm. It's not that I'm scared to touch him. I'm more scared that he won't want me to. I'm scared that he'll never want me to again. That he'll never want me again. And it really is a shame because, somewhere along the way, and maybe because him not loving me made it easier, I've fallen in love with Peeta Mellark.
He surprises me by taking my hand in his, and I look down at where we're connected. He's so pale against my dark skin and suddenly all I can think of is how my legs, wrapped tightly around his hips, looked in the moonlight that spilled through his front windows all those months ago.
He squeezes my fingers, and I find myself back in the present.
"It was real."
His fingers tip my chin up and, somehow I'm looking back into the eyes of the same boy from that night. Even if he does still seem confused, I know that he's here. I can feel him in his careful, steady touch. I can see him in his crooked grin.
"We... We were together before that night."
His eyes are shining brightly and beginning to rim with red, but the simple fact that his last sentence... That it was a statement, rather than question... That's all that I can focus on.
I nod my head and my throat starts to burn before I can talk. He waits for me to gather the composure it takes to continue. He's always waiting on me.
"Just the once."
"And..." The word is strained and he leans forward. With his forehead pressed against mine, I can see the tears in his eyes as clear as day and it makes it impossible to hold back my own. I know what he's going to ask already. My breathing turns shaky as his gaze flickers down to my stomach. "And there was something... Something else that was real, too..."
I bite hard on the inside of my cheek and try not to shake. His eyes turn sad, and I can see that this is the only confirmation that he needs.
It was a mistake and something that I never wanted before, something that I'm not sure that I'll ever want. When I thought he was gone, though, when I thought that I'd lost him forever, I was surprised to find myself thinking that at least I would have a piece of him with me. That maybe, hopefully, I wouldn't have to live the rest of my life without ever seeing the bright blue shade of his eyes again.
"Yeah. For some reason, that one didn't really feel like a lie to me."
When his lips press against mine, I'm so overwhelmed that I don't even have time to respond before he pulls away. His eyes lack the harsh, cold look from the last time that we saw each other, and I follow a single tear as it tracks down his cheek. I figure that I've got nothing to lose, and I've just missed him so much that I find myself leaning forward and into his arms as they raise around me. His fingers dig into my shoulder, but it's easy to determine that there's no danger in his touch. This is a completely different kind of desperation than the last time that his hands reached out for me.
His tongue is tracing the line of my lower lip when the door swings open, violently crashing into the wall behind it. There's a stampede of feet rushing toward us and as soon as Peeta's mouth freezes over mine, I know that he's already slipping away. He's ripped from me and when his eyes fly open, I can see that, just as quickly as he came, he's already gone again.
There's a strong hand around my bicep and I'm being pulled toward the door. As it closes behind me, I can see the snarl that's forming on his lips. I can see the way that his eyes have hardened once more. I blink away the tears and fall to my knees in the hallway as I can almost swear another corner of my heart crumbles away.