A/N: I just needed a little brain break from writing 'The Morning After'. This little drabble/one-shot (I don't really know what's the diff) is inspired by some personal experiences. So...here you go.
Disclaimer: I do not own the Hunger Games or the characters. I do own a gnarly scar to match though!
My entire body tenses under his gentle touch. The soft pads of his fingers trace the irregular edges of my grafted skin. My spine has gone rigid and my slow, even, drowsy breaths have become erratic. I know that his stroke is light, but to me, his fingers feel like razors, scraping at the scar tissue. When he caresses me, the sensation is duller on the disfigured skin and I hate it. I hate the feeling of my scars being touched.
I'm inwardly scolding myself for not putting a shirt on afterwards. I was relaxed at the time, subdued by the rapture of the moment and far too spent to care. Peeta, too, had fallen asleep, but now he is awake, studying me.
I want to shift away, tell him to stop, but I know he would be hurt by my refusal, so instead I shut my eyes tight and try to imagine being in my sanctuary in the woods, hunting, hiking to the lake, listening to the sounds of the birds chirping. I just wait for him to stop touching me on his own.
"Katniss?" he says, just barely audible. His fingers stop their tracing and my muscles finally start to slacken. "You know I think you're beautiful. They're beautiful."
My eyes begin to burn under the hot tears that have started to well up. I turn my head to catch the ones that escape with my pillowcase.
"You don't have to say that, Peeta," I mumble into the pillow.
I feel the mattress shift behind me, and his shadow falls over me as he props himself up on his elbow.
"I'm not just saying that," he insists. His lips ghost over my back and he places the faintest of kisses on the blemished areas. "Why do you hate them?"
Pulling the blanket protectively over my torso, I roll around to face him. My eyes trail down from his concerned expression to his chest with its own patchwork skin. This time, when my eyelids shut, my woods are replaced with a bright inferno that engulfs me, but it is her anguished screams that terrorize me.
"Because they remind me of her."
I expected Peeta to say something about Prim's memory being a good thing or maybe that self-loathing and punishment isn't how Prim would want me to honor that memory. I thought Peeta might tell me something like that because it is what I've been trying to train myself to believe for the past six years. But he just edges closer to me and holds me tightly to his steady chest, soothing me with the unchanging rhythm of his heartbeats.
He takes hold of my hand and places it over a patch of shiny pink on his shoulder.
"This reminds me of you – of us. What we've been through together, how much we've overcome," he tells me. He slides his fingers down my wrist and stops at the jagged bump on the inside of my forearm where Johanna had cut out my tracker. "And this reminds me of how you protected me at the Quell. It reminds me everyday of what you were willing to sacrifice for me. I wish the Capitol hadn't taken away the scar on your forehead from the time Clove hit you on the way to the feast. I want to see it and remember how you saved my life."
Peeta places a soft kiss on the spot on my forehead where another scar would have formed had the Capitol not used their special techniques to remove it. I reach my hand up to bury in his curls, smoothing them away from his face. Besides the creases between his brows and under his eyes that indicate years of restlessness and worry, his face shows no telltale signs of the battle we endured together. I tuck a tuft of blonde hair back behind his ear to study him, but when I do, my fingertips run over a faint line of raised skin just behind his ear.
"What this?" I ask, rubbing it with the pad of my thumb. "I never noticed that before."
Peeta's hand comes up to meet mine, mixed emotions playing on his face. "I've had that scar since I was a kid. It's not from the arena."
"Hmm. How come I've never seen it?" I say, trying to tilt his head to get a better view, but the room is still too dim to see behind the shadow of his ear. "How did you get it?"
He turns away from me and settles on his back, staring thoughtfully at the ceiling. He shrugs nonchalantly.
"It was just from my mom. No big deal." I furrow my brows at him, scrutinizing his face and wondering what truth he's evading. He looks back at me and smiles in such a way that doesn't quite reach his eyes. "But you're here now and everything is just fine."
I eye him suspiciously, unsure of the significance of that scar I hadn't noticed in years. Realization dawns on me.
"Was that from the time you gave me the bread?" I ask, appalled. Peeta's eyes dart away and I know I'm right. My fingers come up again and caress the wound behind his ear – the one that exists for my sake. "You saved my life too."
He rolls back to his side, propping his head on his hand. He takes the blanket I have shrouding my entire body and slides it down.
"I love every single one of your scars, you know that?" Peeta's gaze trails down my body until it reaches one just a few inches below my bellybutton. He paints his fingers over the dark, raised line about four inches in length. "But this one is, by far, my favorite. I remember how terrified you were when it happened. Hell, I was scared out of my mind. But that was the bravest and strongest I had ever seen you in any single moment. And that's saying something because you are bravest and strongest person I know."
"I'm not brave," I admit to him. "I'm petrified… still."
"Hey." Peeta lifts my chin so I'm staring directly into his deep blue eyes. "When have I ever let you fight a battle alone? I'm here… always."
Just as I lean in to cover his lips with mine, a high-pitched wail sounds beyond our thin walls. We smile into our kiss.
"And there's the battle cry," I say, swinging my feet over the side of the bed and reaching for my robe. "She's probably hungry."
Peeta puts his hand on my shoulder to stop me and pats my pillow to invite me back into bed.
"No, stay. I'll get her." He picks up his pajama pants from where we had hastily discarded it earlier tonight. "It's my turn."
I settle back onto the bed, tracing the thick scar between my hips. I thought nine months of anxiety waiting for her to arrive into this world was the worst fear I had ever experienced. I wasn't even sure I wanted her. But that day finally came, three months ago. It wasn't even the physical pain that frightened me. It was bad, but I'd felt worse. Peeta took me to the newly erected hospital where they discovered, through ultrasound, that her umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck.
The song came to my head, "Are you, are you coming to the tree?Wear a necklace of rope, side by side with me." That's when the crippling fear seized me. I never wanted her more than at that very moment when I thought of losing another part of me.
The doctors told me they could do a surgical procedure to get the baby out quickly. I'd vaguely heard of it, but growing up in the Seam, procedures like that were not performed on living women. Less than a half hour later, they had cut me open and extracted her from my womb. At first, she was blue and completely silent, and I thought, I will meet her at the tree. The doctors had whisked her away while one stayed behind to sew me back up.
They eventually got her breathing again after what felt to me like an eternity. Her loud, piercing cry was the most beautiful song I had every heard. When they finally handed her to me, swaddled in a thin, white blanket, I was so afraid to love her as much as I did. Her first second on earth was already tainted by my body's effort to kill her like everyone else I've loved.
But this scar… this scar I wear amongst the vast collection that adorns my broken body reminds me that she lives.