A/N: This is my submission to Ro Nordmann's Write Me a Story Challenge on Tumblr. It received third place in the judge's vote and second in the popular vote and I'm pretty darn proud of it myself.
Please note that the story does include depictions of mental illness and isn't all that happy, so proceed with caution if that is triggery for you.
It's too bright under the fluorescents and the reflections from the shiny tile floors already make her head ache uncomfortably, even though she's only been inside for maybe three minutes. It's surprisingly quiet in the east wing; her footsteps echo off the blank hospital-blue walls as she treks toward the end of the hall, heart pounding so hard in her chest that she's sure it's audible. She twists the simple diamond band on her left hand nervously before slipping it from the digit and dropping it into the pocket of her jeans. She can never be sure how he'll react to it and it's better to be safe than sorry on the all too likely chance that he's having a bad day.
Katniss pauses outside the last door on the left side of the hall, resting her hand lightly on the cold doorknob. She peeks through the window and breathes a small sigh of relief when she spots him at the desk by the window, his head bent over a sketchbook and his right elbow moving furiously. With a deep, shaking breath, she raps twice and waits for him to grant her entrance. It's not locked, of course, but Peeta likes his privacy more than ever and sneaking up on him when he's sketching is the fastest way to set him off now.
He looks good as he pulls open the door. His curls are washed and carefully combed and his blue eyes are bright and lively, a clear indication that he's in good spirits. The charcoal from his drawing pencils is smeared up his forearms and all over his white t-shirt and she knows that it will stain her mint green sweater but she can't bring herself to mind as he wraps his strong arms around her and gently pulls him to her chest.
"Hi," he breathes into her hair, twisting his fist gently into the soft waves that fall over her shoulders. "I'm glad you came today. My sketchbook is full."
She offers him a small smile, still unsure where his mind is. "Of course." Katniss withdraws the spiral-bound sketchbook she's brought for him and hands it over. Gingerly, she picks up his calloused right hand and turns it over and over, studying the way the charcoal is ingrained into the tiny lines and waves of his palm. "I'm glad you've been drawing again."
He nods excitedly and pulls her toward his desk, sliding his sketchbook over toward her. She takes it and flips through the pages. There are a few sketches of his simple room—filled only with a twin bed, his desk and chair, and his chest of drawers, and one of the apple orchard that stretches behind the hospital, but the remainder of the pages are filled with drawings of her: light gray eyes reminiscent of the sky just after a thunderstorm; a thick, dark braid tangled in a mess of bed sheets; a bright smile that lights up her entire face as they trim their first Christmas tree. They're snapshots from the marriage they should still be living. The doctor says they're like scenes from a movie for him; moments that he remembers vaguely but can't place.
It's called dissociative amnesia and it means that his brain is trying to block out everything related to her.
Half the reason she comes to visit him is because she knows that this is really and truly her fault. She should have just been willing to sit down and talk about all the reasons they weren't actually ready for a baby instead of just telling him no and taking off into the night. If she'd just been honest with him, he never would have drank his way through a fifth of vodka and climbed behind the wheel of his car to swerve through the dark, icy streets looking for her.
He had run a red light and t-boned a family of four on their way home from their daughter's Christmas pageant. He hadn't been hurt all that badly, just a mild concussion and the usual bumps and bruises, but hearing about the deaths of the two kids and their mother had been too much, especially after the subject of their fight that afternoon, and he'd woken up one day with no memory of the accident, their fight, or their marriage. He didn't even remember her.
So half of why she visits him every day with new art supplies is because she feels guilty for doing this to him at all. The other half is because she honest to God still loves him, even though now she knows that she absolutely no right to and her sister keeps telling her that no one would blame her if she wanted to see other people.
But she'd meant what she'd said on that day three years ago when she'd slipped the thin silver band onto his hand and promised him that she did, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health. Some days are better than others and the doctors say he might even make a full recovery one day, but it's a slim possibility, one they say she shouldn't put much faith in.
Katniss smiles and returns the sketchbook to him. "They're beautiful. Who is she?" This is the true test of his mental acuity. Some days he remembers exactly who she is and he kisses her palm and her neck and her mouth and apologizes for the way things are. Other times he knows that she's someone important to him, but can't remember if she's his sister or his wife. But commonly, most of the time, he shakes his head and shrugs, just like he does now.
"I don't know. I just keep dreaming about her. But she's gorgeous, isn't she? I'm sure someone loves her very much."
To keep her tears in check, Katniss bites the inside of her cheek hard enough to draw blood. She knows better than to expect more from him on days like this, days when he doesn't seem to know her for more than her art supplies. It's been almost six months since he woke up with no memory of her and by and large there's been little change since then, but she'd be lying if she said that it didn't hurt to hear him talk about her and how he's sure that someone loves her when all she wants is to take him home with her and make love to him until everything comes flooding back.
But it doesn't work like that, as they keep reminding her, and there's a very good possibility that she'll never have her Peeta back. She forces another smile at him as he reclaims his seat at the window by the desk and opens his brand new sketchbook to a blank page.
She clears her throat. "I should get going, but I'll come see you tomorrow, okay?"
He nods and waves her off. "Good, good. Can you bring more charcoals? I'm sure I'll use the rest of these tonight. I'm on the brink of something great, I can feel it."
"Sure." She aches to sneak up behind him and wrap her arms around his broad shoulders, to bury her nose in the soft cotton of his t-shirt and draw in his scent until she's full to bursting with him. He doesn't smell like Peeta anymore, though. He smells like hospital antiseptic and latex gloves and industrial laundry detergent. So she resists the urge to go to him, but she can't help but stop right in the doorway and pull out the faded Polaroid she's carried in her purse every day since he was taken from her.
He'd shot the picture of his uncomfortable apartment bed on the last day of their senior year of college, after they'd graduated but before he had proposed. The sheets were tousled and rumpled from the quick bout of love-making they'd engaged in before meeting his parents for dinner, and he said he'd wanted to remember the moment forever.
She'd shaken the developing picture in the car until the shapes emerged from the dark gray and then, after dinner, after he'd slid the perfect diamond of her dreams over her knuckle and told her how much he'd always love her, after they'd returned to his bed, he'd reclaimed the print, uncapped a Sharpie with his teeth and scrawled the inscription on the bottom of the photo.
"We fell in love here," she recites as she slides the creased photograph onto the small dresser that sits by his door.
She decides to leave it for him. She already knows she'll never forget, maybe it will help him remember.
For now this is a oneshot, but I do hope to return to this universe in the future.
Thank you so much for reading. :) Feel free to visit me on tumblr: meggiemellark. 3