Part 3 Summary: We left Peeta throwing himself at Katniss and Prim in a desperate attempt to protect them during the horrific parachute bombings in front of the president's mansion.

Warning: Adult content ahead

Many thanks to my long-suffering beta, ct522! I'd be lost without her, I tell you. Lost!


Part 4- Not Easy Facing Up When Your Whole World Is Black

Post-Revolution- Somewhere in the Capitol:

Dead.

I must be dead. Not what I expected. For one thing, I thought my pain would be over after I died. I'm not exactly sure what I had thought being dead would be like. Black nothingness, maybe? Well, I got the blackness, but not the nothingness. Fuck. Death hurts a fucking lot. Even my eyelids throb with a pain indescribable. I thought my torture sessions with the sick bastards in the Capitol during my captivity were bad. That was a District 4 vacation at the damn beach compared to this current shit-storm of torturous misery. And why the hell is everything black?

4 Months Prior, Capitol Captive in the Reprogramming Center:

The cloth over my face came first. Not so bad right? Yeah, I was thinking the same thing until they drenched it in water, effectively cutting off the air to my nose and mouth. Gasping through my mouth helped a little, but the drenching didn't stop.

Did I mention I was strapped to a cold, hard, metal table, unable to move my arms or legs or even my head? Can't breathe! I choke up the water pouring over my cloth-covered face, but it just goes back down my throat, into my windpipe, into my lungs. I try to scream, but I can't. I'm drowning! Horrific noises I've never heard before come from my water congested throat. No one hears, no one cares.

Maybe I died then, and I just didn't realize it?

Post-Revolution- New Panem Capitol Hospital- Critical Care Ward

It's pitch black dark when I come back to myself again. At least I think I'm back in my body. It wouldn't hurt so damn much if I were unconscious, and I've decided I'm not dead, though I sure wish I was. Am I back in the Capitol's torture chamber?

"He's coming round," a voice says in a garbled echo, "...restraints will h-hold him. ...Can't risk t-tearing .. new skin."

It's then that I realize I can't move. I'm on my belly, and it's as if I'm weighed down with a lead blanket. I struggle futilely with what little strength I have left in my body. I must fight, but I'm so tired. A hoarse wail fills my ears. They must really be torturing that poor bastard, whoever he is.

Oh, yeah. Turns out that poor bastard is me. I feel a prick on my arm that barely registers as pain among all the rest of my agony, and I slowly sink into welcome oblivion, my last conscious thought being the desperate hope that I never wake up again.

Shouting. Loud voices when I'm back in my body, or what I think is the throbbing mass that is now my body. I try to open my eyes, but I can't. Terror surges through me. Why can't I open my eyes?

"Mr. Mellark?" a cultured Capitol voice intones, "Mr. Mellark, can you hear me?"

My brain scrambles to respond, but my mouth and throat don't seem to receive the command at first. My lips are having trouble with the words I want to say. I finally force out a breathy hiss, "...Esss...".

"Mr. Mellark, talking may be difficult, as you were intubated, that is you've had a breathing tube in your throat until recently. You're in a hospital in the Capitol. You sustained injuries from bomb blasts in the City Circle in front of the former president's mansion. Do you have any memory of what happened to you there? Try nodding your head if you have any memory of that."

I'm not certain I can nod my head, but I give it try. Fiery pain shoots down my neck. The bombs. I must have been burned by the explosions, that would explain the all over tight pain I feel as though my skin has been pulled from my body and put back on all wrong, but why can't I see or even raise my eyelids to see?

"C..cannn't," I rasp out, "Sss...eee."

"Mr. Mellark, you've sustained 2nd and 3rd degree burns over portions of your back, face and neck. You were fortunate in that your heavy coat and hat protected you from far worse injuries. As it is, we are cautiously optimistic that with time, you will recover to some degree. You are very lucky to be alive, Mr. Mellark..."

"E..eyes? Ss-ee?" Panic floods my body. I need to see. I'm helpless and useless if I can't see!

"Dammit, will you just tell the boy the truth! Oh, I guess that's not something you people have ever been good at," an impatient voice cuts into the haze of my fear. Haymitch! Haymitch is here. Wherever here is. Hospital was it?

"Peeta? Can you hear me?" Haymitch asks, closer now.

"Yesss.." I hiss, "H..mitch. Mm' I ..blind?" I can't even finish the question.

"They're not sure. Try not to panic. They've treated and bandaged your eyes in hopes that in a few days..."

Here the polite voice from before seems to murmur something that I can't make out.

"In a few days, they'll remove the bandages and we'll see what 's what," Haymitch finishes rather lamely.

So, I was likely facing blindness on top of the excruciating pain. Well... that would be tomorrow's problem. It would all be worth it if Katniss and Prim had survived the bombings. My heart lurched in my chest when the thought occurred to me that they might not have.

"K-katniss and Prim..mmm?" I manage to get out.

"Oh, you're quite the hero there, boy," Haymitch replies with what I can only think is a smile in his voice, "They were hurt, but not near as bad as they would have been if it weren't for you. They'll be right as rain in no time thanks to you."

It hurts so much, but I grin back at him. At least, I think I do. I feel myself being pulled away into the deeper darkness of unconsciousness soon after.

A small, soft hand is clasping mine when I awaken again. All is still darkness and pain, but this time I'm expecting it, so it doesn't seem as bad.

"Peeta? Can you hear me?" a soft voice so like the one I love washes over me. Prim? Yes, of course.

"H-hey, Primmm..." I try for more strength in my voice, but it still comes out hoarse and halting, "Y..'re okay? S-sorry I pushed you. Thought I could keep you s-safe..." I trail off unsure if this is a true memory or one of my bizarre imaginings. Pretty sure my mad dash to shove Katniss and Prim against a cement barricade before more bombs exploded in front of the president's mansion really happened.

Prim chortles girlishly, a sound which makes my heart lift, "I should be very angry with you, Peeta, but how can I be? You saved us. Both of us. How did you know? Katniss said you knew it was a trap somehow like in the arenas, but how did you know that more bombs were going to explode?"

"I-I just knew... I saw the p-parachutes hadn't all exploded. D-delayed for m-most casualties," I shrug, and my shoulders scream in agony as the tight, burned skin pulls across my back.

I must have winced, because Prim's hand tightens on mine, "Peeta, be still. They've grafted new skin over the burns on your back. You're still healing."

"I-it does hurt," I reply weakly, the pain making me feel fuzzy.

I hear other voices I don't recognize and then feel the familiar rush of oblivion as the pain washes away into the void of nothingness.

Just before I'm swallowed by unconsciousness, I murmur, "T-tell Katniss I-I..."

I wake up later wondering what I wanted Prim to tell Katniss. I'm not sure what I would have said, what I wanted to say. Tell Katniss I still love her? Tell Katniss that making love with her in Tigris' basement was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, and she was right when she said that we should seize the moment to be together? Oh, yeah. Not sure that was even real. I'll have to ask her about that. Soon. I fall asleep again wondering where Katniss is. Is she in the hospital nearby? Prim said they were both okay. Didn't she? I can't remember.

Gradually, I remain conscious for longer periods of time as the days pass, but my eyes are still sealed in a kind of silky bandaging that prevents me from opening them. They must still be giving me morphling or some other drug for pain, because I can't bring myself to move around very much, though I do feel a little more alert. Around the third day, or what I believe to be the third day since I woke up in the Capitol hospital, I wonder why I've been visited by Prim and Haymitch and countless other medical staff, but Katniss has still not appeared at my bedside, as I'd hoped and longed for.

Even Plutarch Heavensbee drops by for a chat that afternoon. It takes him all of five minutes to suggest setting up a televised interview with me for the new liberated Panem broadcast network. The revolution may be winding down, but apparently, there are still propos to produce. The time has come to establish a rapport between the new government and the districts. I wonder if Coin sent Plutarch to talk to me for that purpose. Probably.

"Think of it, my boy," he says with his usual enthusiasm, "All of Panem could see with their own eyes that you survived your ordeal in the City Circle. It's all anyone's been talking about, really. Peeta Mellark, the Victor turned revolutionary, injured protecting his lady-love and her sister in those monstrous bombings at the president's mansion. We could even have Katniss and little Prim in here sitting vigil at your bedside. It would be marvelous for ratings. Now that not everything we produce is mandatory viewing, we have to actually care about what the citizens of Panem want to watch. Can you imagine?" He laughs loud and long, making my head pound. His laughter takes on almost a maniacal quality that batters against me like a fist.

If even the demagog, Plutarch Heavensbee can find his way to my hospital room, then why hasn't Katniss? I hadn't seen her, poor choice of words as I see nothing but blackness these days, I hadn't spoken to her since we'd been huddled together against the cement barricade before the bombs went off. Where was she, and why hadn't she come to see me? Maybe her injuries are graver than Haymitch and Prim let on. Alarm rolls through me at this thought. I'm on the verge of making an excuse to get Plutarch to leave when he drops a bomb of a different sort in my lap.

"Well, what do you say, dear boy?" Plutarch begins cajolingly, "Shall I set it up? I'm off to visit Katniss next, so it would be so simple to arrange a time, as she's just a few steps down the hall."

"Oh. D-down the hall? Y-you're going to see her next?" I repeat his words dumbly.

"I suppose they put you close together given your relationship," Plutarch continues his careless talk, oblivious to my surprise and distraction. Guess I have the bandages masking most of my face to thank for that. "Although, as you probably already know, they expect to release her in a few days, but I'm sure she'll be visiting here often after that, eh?"

So- she's well enough to be released soon and has been nearby the entire time and hasn't bothered to come see me? Not even an obligatory thanks-for-saving-my-sister's-life visit. If I want proof that any connection between us, imagined or otherwise, is at an end, this is it. I feel bitter disappointment, and yes... fury course through me. Dark whisperings commence in my throbbing head, each pounding beat seems to tap out a tattoo of venomous, angry hatred and all of it directed toward Katniss.

She doesn't need you anymore. She's always used you when it suited her purposes. Once again, you served your purpose, so she tosses you aside like the fucked-up mutt you are. When will you fucking learn? Over and over you've let her do this. She never cared, and here's your proof. Wake the fuck up, you idiot.

Plutarch leaves soon after with promises to return soon to set up an interview. I absently refuse, suggesting I'm not strong enough yet. No way in hell I'm sitting in the same room pretending undying love and affection with a woman who can't be bothered to even come and check to see if I'm alive or dead! Don't think I could manage to convince anyone that I even like her at the moment.

Who would really still give a flying fuck now anyway, despite what Plutarch said? The revolution is over. The Capitol has fallen. The Star-Crossed Lovers of District 12 were just another lie created by the Capitol. I am done being the Capitol's bitch. Done being Katniss' bitch. Just... done.

I lean back in my hospital bed and let the blackness embrace me. The burns across my shoulders howl in pain, and I welcome it. I welcome anything that will distract me from the roiling anguish brought on by the realization that the woman I've loved most of my life, the woman which I've been willing to sacrifice everything, even my life, repeatedly and gladly, the only person left alive that I love- this person, this woman, cares nothing about me.

Quit your wallowing you blind, pathetic mutt. Next you'll be crawling down the hall on your belly begging her to show you a bit of attention. Yeah. Not happening. I lie there instead desperate for sleep or unconsciousness to end my suffering at least for a little while.

It's a long time before the tension leaves my body, but my dreaming mind must retain its uneasiness...

Surprisingly, I still dream in full color despite being blind. The vibrant blue of the water and the blinding white of the sand of the beach in the clock arena are too vivid, making me squint and shield my eyes. Looking down I realize I'm standing chest deep in crystalline water, and Katniss is standing next to me in what's left of her undershirt. Even under these circumstances, I feel my traitorous body react to her taut nipples on display under the thin, clingy fabric. I try not to think of the cameras likely trained on them and us at this very moment.

I know this memory. It's familiar and one of the more pleasurable recollections I have from our time in the Quarter Quell arena. I wonder, not for the first time, why the hijacking bastards chose to leave some of my best memories with Katniss while decimating others.

Dream Katniss gives me a small smile, "Let's see if you can float on your back, Peeta? It's as good a place as any to start, if you're going to learn to swim."

"Uhh.." I hesitate, not wanting Katniss, not to mention all of Panem, to see clear evidence of what I'd been contemplating a few moments earlier.

"It's alright, Peeta," Katniss reassures, mistaking my embarassment for fear, "I won't let you sink to the bottom. It's easy, see."

Katniss moves to lie back in the water. I blink down at her, my eyes traveling from the top of her dark head over her sun-pinked face to land on her dewy lips, just begging to be kissed. Beads of water glisten on her skin, refracting the sunlight, bathing her in a kind of wet radiance almost like fire. So beautiful. My girl on fire- spread before me virtually naked for all the modesty her wet, translucent undergarments offer.

I move my hand through the water to clasp her braid half-floating with the current close to her head like some exotic sea animal. My fingers tighten, and I wrap her braid around my hand giving a gentle tug, causing her to bob closer to me, her hip brushing against my flank. She stares fixedly up at me, an intent look of awareness spreading across her face. Her arm snakes out under the water's surface to curl around my waist, just above the waistband of my undershorts with her cool fingers ending up splayed across the sensitive skin at my opposite hip, just where my muscles slant downwards toward my groin. I gasp at her intimate touch; zinging arousal surges to my already erect shaft causing it to pulse with my heartbeat.

I feel my eyelids droop as I allow my feet to drift off the soft, sandy bottom, and I move to float on my side next to her, wrapping my arm around her shoulders. We dip and bob alarmingly in the warm current for a few moments before settling, our limbs tangling in an effort to keep from drifting apart. Holding my head above the water, I lean into her, intent on kissing her invitingly wet lips. I can't seem to look anywhere else, think of anything else. Her lips are surprisingly warm and taste of the sea. She laughs, which comes out as soft puffs of air against my lips.

She raises her arms to wrap them around my neck, pulling me to her, causing us to sink lower into the water, submerging us in the aqueous world beneath the surface. All my senses are muted except the touch of my open lips pressing on hers forming an almost water-tight seal, our tongues writhing together in an erotic dance. I tighten my arms around her to bring our bodies together, my erection pressing into the intoxicatingly soft hollow between her thighs.

Suddenly, her arms tighten painfully around my neck. At first I think she's forgotten herself in her own passion, and I feel the corresponding pull of my own arousal, but then she's pulling me down toward the sandy sea floor. Opening my eyes I scan the bluish underwater world and realize we've drifted further out than I'd realized- too deep for me to stand up and touch the bottom to catch my breath. Mild alarm causes me to loosen my grip on Katniss, but her arms hold fast around my neck, and somehow she manages to propel us still further into the shadowy blue depths. I gesture urgently with my hand toward the surface, and a small air bubble leaves her lips as she smiles eerily and shakes her head. She twines herself around me, both arms and legs clinging like seaweed, with no intention of leaving our underwater refuge. My lungs scream for oxygen, as we sink- down, down, down to rest on the sandy seabed. I struggle to see Katniss in the sudden dimness. I can just make out her eyes gleaming at me through the shadows. All is peaceful and quiet before the watery colors fade to black.

I wake in my Capitol hospital room gasping and trembling...

I can't do this anymore...

Sitting alone in my darkness. I reach up with shaky, blistered fingers and begin to pull at the dressings covering my head and face.

I have to know. She took my leg. She left me to rot in a Capitol prison where they tortured the sanity and life out of me. She killed my family. Maybe not with her own hands, but because of her all these things happened to me. Now- am I to be blind, too?

I'm panting and sweating as I tug at the surprisingly strong fabric-covering over my eyes. The bandaging starts to pull away, and it feels like it's taking some of the skin on my face with it. Fine. Add hideously scarred and blind to all my other troubles. Whatever. I just have to get them off! I'm suffocating under all the layers of... of lies.

"Peeta! Stop it! Stop!" Her soft exclamation cuts through my frantic silence. I hear quiet footfalls approach my bed. She rests her hands gingerly on mine, which are still raised in the act of tugging desperately at my bandages. I wrench my battered hands away as if they've been burned anew by fresh fire.

"D-don't touch me!" I scream, "Don't you ever touch me! S-stay away from me!"

"Peeta... please. Please! I-" I think she's sobbing. Her voice sounds wet and broken. I don't care. I won't care.

"Get. Out." I grit, my voice shaking with loathing and rage, "And don't ever come back."


Shameless self-promotion: Paint It, Black has been nominated in 2 categories of the Everlark Smut Awards on Tumblr. Humble thanks to the person(s) responsible! Such an honor! I'd like to encourage anyone reading this to pop over and vote. Thanks!

Reviews would also be very much appreciated!